Representation of Women in Gaming

I’ve been playing games on Xbox gamepass for a couple of months now and selecting games based solely on if they matched my preferred style of gameplay (puzzles, narrative, turn-based). It’s occurred to me that 6 of the first games I chose to play (the ones I’ve posted reviews for) have a woman for the protagonist – well I guess in Donut County you could argue that you play as the hole, but due to the way the game started I felt like Mira was who I was supposed to identify with. In each of these games there was no gameplay or plot reason for this (except for one relatively minor plot point in What Remains in Edith Finch), each role could have been played by a man. But it wasn’t and I feel the videogame world is better for it.

There have been several recent discussions on representation in modern boardgames. Some boardgames do it well, such as Scythe, Pandemic and Sub Terra – they have a good variety of characters in the game that are not based on stereotypes. Here is an interesting article discussing representation in boardgames from both a designer and content point of view. It also discusses poor representation in videogames, but it is from a couple years ago. I wonder if I have just been fortunate with the games I selected or if there has been a real change, at least in the content of indie games. I’m less sure about designers as I don’t know who designed most of the games I play.

Elizabeth Hargreaves designed one of my favourite boardgames – Wingspan. She also wrote an insightful piece on representation in boardgames as a guest post on the Stonemaier blog. I wonder if increased representation in cover art and characters in boardgames would lead to better representation in designers in time. You need people to be interested and included in games before they’d consider it a serious career choice.

I’ve been to the UK games expo a couple of times and enjoyed it. A trip to the local boardgame café is always fun. After an initial feeling of nervousness, I’ve not felt out of place in either of those places. Although maybe that’s because I’m comparing it with model railway exhibitions, which are even less diverse. I do feel a bit awkward going into boardgame shops, but have always found them welcoming once inside. Interestingly I don’t feel the same awkwardness going into a videogame shop, I’m not fully sure why this is – maybe the shops are more mainstream (generally chains) or the fact I went into lots of videogame shops as a teenager to browse games for my Gameboy.

Even though I’ve always felt welcomed and can put my initial hesitancy to one side when entering a shop or exhibition, I can see how others would be put off. What else could retailers do to put people at ease? Would better representation in games, both characters (which would be easy to implement) and creators (which may take more time) lead to a more diverse environment in shared areas? Or is there another course of action that would have a greater effect?

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