Link Roundup: April 2022

Why is board gaming so white and male? I’m trying to figure that out | The Conversation – The author doesn’t answer the question in the title, but does share a bunch of statistics they’ve been collecting in their research on board gaming.  Regardless of the cause, board gamers and board game designers ought to make a conscious effort to make the hobby welcoming to demographics that may, at first, not appear to be present.  As a simple example of this, Dominion used to have predominantly male characters in its art, and reportedly this is because the game publisher hired a bunch of artists, most of whom independently decided to depict male subjects.  So the designer started specifically requesting that artists depict women, and this led to the gender ratios becoming more balanced.

The Ethics of Looking and the “Harmless” Peeping Tom | Pop Culture Detective (video, 28 min) – A serious discussion of peeping toms in film.  Usually this is depicted as a harmless action, performed by sympathetic protagonists, with the camera’s point of view chosen to simulate the audience’s participation as well.  I highly appreciate Pop Culture Detective’s ability to find lots and lots of examples in film, often in movies I’ve already seen, but in scenes I had forgotten, or were just beneath my awareness.  While the fictional depiction of peeping toms does not directly lead to people becoming peeping toms, it becomes this sort of cultural background noise where invading privacy is normalized and not taken very seriously.

Investigating Three Indie Superstars Accused of Emotional Abuse | People Make Games (video, 41 min) – Some investigative journalism into three examples of indie game studios led by “auteurs” who were abusive of their employees.  Sexual harassment and crunch are widely extant in the video game industry, with multiple huge scandals ongoing at any given time.  It’s disappointing but not surprising to hear of abuse happening in smaller studios as well, and Indie publishers just don’t care.

Teaching Indigenous Knowledge in the Science Classroom (also see part 2) | Skepchick (videos, 27 min, and transcripts) – A while ago I wanted to write about this subject, how “Indigenous ways of knowing” has some superficial similarities with ideas that skeptics have opposed–but isn’t necessarily the same.  But, that would have required a lot of research, and ultimately nobody expressed interest in my perspective.  (Some people expressed interest in learning about Indigenous ways of knowing for itself, but I emphatically have no expertise on that, that’s not the perspective I would be providing.)  I’m glad that Rebecca Watson covered the subject I wanted to write about, but couldn’t.

There is one particular argument that I hate as a former physicist: post-hoc matching of traditional eschatology to modern cosmology.  This argument is used a lot in favor of Christianity and Islam, and basically every major religious tradition.  Christians argue that the Bible says the universe came from nothing, which agrees with Big Bang cosmology.  Hindus argue that they have a traditional belief in a cyclical universe, which agrees inflationary cosmology.  I don’t think this bad argument suddenly becomes good when it’s made by Indigenous scholars.  But, with that small thing aside, I do think there’s a legitimate and important point to be made how Indigenous traditions all over the world have traditional knowledge about, e.g. medicine or taking care of the land; and that this knowledge has been unfairly dismissed and erased by colonialism.


  1. Bruce says

    My thought about gaming being white and male is that, until recently, those with the most assets for leisure time were white males. Not all white males, but much more than nonwhites or than females with extra tasks. So white males were the customer market. Parents of white males bought games for them, much more than for females. And guys who got jobs making games (yes, guys) thought of their customers as being like themselves. It became self-reinforcing. Change is happening but still on the margins, in the perception of companies. But who can know?

  2. PaulBC says

    This is way after the post, but I was thinking about the first part on board games. I don’t think tabletop games (including card games) are male-dominated, but certain games themselves are highly gendered. I’m not really a gamer, so pardon me if my references are out of date, but a game like Avalon Hill’s Axis and Allies will appeal at least stereotypically to male players. A more mass-audience war game like Risk might have wider appeal but I have to admit most enthusiasts I’ve known are male. When I was in college (80s), D&D seemed less male dominated than these. That is, if you start with the skewed distribution of men and women in fan subculture, D&D doesn’t skew it any further.

    But for another example, I remember a friend of mine in the 70s whose mother had a weekly bridge club. I don’t think that was male-dominated at all. When families get together to play monopoly, I don’t think there’s any gender skew. I think it depends a lot on what you mean by “board gaming.” Wargaming and other stereotypically nerdy themed games are likely to skew male. I don’t think that’s true of classic games though.

    Wingspan has received a lot of positive press and I know my brother and his wife both like it. I have never played.

    I skimmed the article, and I also question the premise that you can figure out who likes board games by watching the customers at specialty game stores or who is on BoardGameGeek. This is a gaming subculture, but may be no more representative of game players than, say, a Star Wars costume competition is representative of people who have enjoyed the movies.

    I realize I haven’t addressed the “white” part but again, I think if you look further than hardcore “gamer” games, that is less likely to be the case.

  3. says


    You seem to be saying that, though you don’t have much recent experience with board games, board games aren’t very male-dominated because you just don’t think they are? I don’t find that very convincing.

    You mentioned a lot of games from far-flung genres. The set of people who play Risk are very different from those who play Axes & Allies, are different from D&D, Bridge, Monopoly, or Wingspan. I would divide those into: mainstream games (Monopoly and Risk), war games (Axes & Allies), tabletop (D&D), lifestyle (Bridge), and hobbyist (Wingspan). Each genre has its own things going on, and I expect some are a lot more gender-balanced than others. For example, D&D used to be very male-dominated, but people say it’s become more diverse with its new boom in popularity.

    You’re right that BGG users are not equally representative of all the groups, likely skewed towards hobbyist and war games. But even if those are the only groups that are male-dominated, that’s still a significant fact–the male dominance of hobbyist gaming is important in its own right. And, without being elitist towards mainstream games, people who only play mainstream games probably spend less time on them. So if mainstream games indeed have more women (a fact we have not confirmed), that would raise the question of why women are less interested in spending more time on games.

  4. PaulBC says

    Siggy@3 No real disagreement here. I accept that a particular subset of board games is currently male-dominated, possibly for some intrinsic reasons (but I’m not going to try to argue either way) and definitely for incidental and cultural reasons. Women as acculturated in US are probably less interested in these games to begin with, and those who are interested may feel out of place or unwelcome. This is not unique to sites like BGG.

    Is Xiangqi (Chinese chess) a “board game”? It is played on a board by many millions of enthusiasts. It is not “white” though it might be male. What does “board gaming” mean and is the title an accurate statement? (Aside from the article, which rings true.)

    I think if I had a point at all, it was just that the title seemed to use “board gaming” to refer to something more specific than general readers might interpret it, effectively “Why is our white, male gaming hobby so white and male?” Well, I bet for one thing, it was established by white males mostly in Western Europe and the US, who were not that interested in outreach to people unlike them. So… no big surprise, right? I am white and male with some white male interests. I even like games and puzzles, but I’m not a “board gamer” in this restricted sense either.

    Incidentally, it is not hard to find examples of things that seem like they could be similar but diverge into “male” and “female” categories. One I noticed recently after getting a Cricut die cutter (after trying to decide whether I wanted that or a 3D printer) is looking at how highly gendered these devices are, though both are “maker” devices. Even the how-to videos are different, die cutting typically presented by a woman in a decorated craft room, and 3D printing by a man in a utilitarian workshop or garage. In fact, my die cutting needs are very “male nerd”. I am prototyping some tile puzzles and a die cutter made more sense. So I could ask why is one male and one female? Well, mostly incidental. (There may even be marketing niches for crossover products.)

  5. says

    When we’re talking about gender and racial diversity in board games in western countries, I feel like it’s derailing to bring up board games in Asia. That’s clearly its own topic.

    Well, I bet for one thing, it was established by white males mostly in Western Europe and the US, who were not that interested in outreach to people unlike them. So… no big surprise, right?

    Well no, the results are not very surprising at all, to any board gamers who have been paying attention. And there are plenty of possible reasons to choose from. That’s why, in the OP, I did not express much interest in the “why”, and was more interested in “what do we do to address it?”

  6. PaulBC says


    That’s why, in the OP, I did not express much interest in the “why”, and was more interested in “what do we do to address it?”

    Fair enough. As I said, I kind of got stuck at the title, which struck me as parochially phrased.

    It will most likely require effort at outreach beyond just making the artwork or game themes more inclusive (but definitely that’s a necessary step). For instance, the present of mostly white male customers in brick and mortar speciality game stores is unlikely to change. I expect the number of such stores to shrink over time, leaving a short window for making them more inclusive.

    Suppose instead you shift the focus to BGG and other online communities. There’s probably something that can be done, but I’ve seen this issue in many subcultures I intersect with. As a member (actually briefly president) of a college science fiction club in the 80s, it was a running joke that it was a mostly (not exclusively) male club. What do you do about it?

    If I had one hunch and piece of tangible advice, I would get back to my statement that women may feel out of place or unwelcome in the community. If there is a sincere interest in changing the culture on BGG, it can’t be done indirectly. It will require finding out why people go there (I have occasionally and casually for reviews) and why they participate.

    I am not sure what to make of “I found that 92.6 per cent of the designers of the 400 top-ranked board games on BoardGameGeek were white men.” What percentage of published games are designed by white men? Are ones designed by women lower ranked or are there just fewer of them?

    What can you do about it? I wish I knew, not just for board games but for other communities. E.g., i have worked with many excellent female software engineers in my career, but women are still a minority. How do you fix that? I think it will be a lot of work and will require people who care about doing the work.

  7. PaulBC says

    Actually, I feel I too easily conceded some of my initial thought. Define “board gaming” narrowly as in the article and assume women are not well represented in this community. I want to rule out one point that isn’t the problem.

    The problem isn’t, as far as I know, that women don’t enjoy sitting at a table with other people and playing a game with a set of manipulable objects and rules governing the significance of these objects. There are plenty of counterexamples here. (As I noted, my early memory of my friend’s mother’s bridge nights, though bridge is a card game, not a board game). Mahjong was also once popular among non-Asian women. I remember seeing an old set when I was growing up, possibly my grandmother’s. I think many women enjoy games, probably just as many as men do. The games preferred by men and women on average are different for cultural and incidental reasons.

    So how do we remedy a lack of women in a community such as BGG? It could be the community itself. It could be the artwork. It could also be the choice of games themselves. I really don’t know. I can think of several women I know who really enjoy Settlers of Catan. I have played a couple of times and didn’t enjoy it (I blame me, not the game). I played Power Grid a number of times and enjoyed that. I don’t know offhand if the designers or the most enthusiastic players are men or women, but I think these games are a closer fit to what we’re talking about.

    So, OK. Another obvious idea. If there were more women game designers, there might be more games that women would find interesting. There is clearly an opportunity for making games that women like. We already know that women play some games enthusiastically. Assuming (as I have tacitly) that for whatever reason, men and women on average prefer different games, there is an opportunity to change the balance, but it cannot be done superficially just by changing packaging and artwork. We need different games.

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