Exposing our children to a wide range of diverse role models has been something my wife and I have always focused on with our kids toys and books. I hadn’t thought about this too much with our board game purchases until recently when playing an old copy of Guess Who? with my four-year old daughter. The version of Guess Who? that most of us played growing up has five female characters and nineteen men. Me being overly competitive and assuming my daughter would associate with those female characters, started off the game asking ‘is your character a girl?’. I then watched her face sink as she watched me proceed to put down most of my characters and easily win the game. ‘Dad-ing’ fail, but it was an eye-opening moment as a parent and led to a great discussion about fairness/inclusion.
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Why Diversity Matters in Board Games
This experience led me to doing some more research about gender and racial representation in board games. I stumbled on this article about a six-year-old girl who faced the same dilemma and went straight to Hasbro about the injustice, she’s my new hero. While the initial response from Hasbro was exactly as lame as you’d expect….there is now a more diverse version of Guess Who? available. It’s not perfect, but it’s a dramatic improvement over the original!
I also found and shared this article analyzing gender and racial representation in the board game industry. Sharing this brought some really thoughtful responses, and some of the typical, closed minded responses. People said things like ‘don’t politicize my board games’ and ‘kids don’t care what game tokens they use’. Those questions made we want to write this post, not only to clarify why diversity matters in board games to myself, but also to encourage you to think about this with your future board game purchases.
So… Why does Diversity in Board Games Matter?
Kids Learn SO MUCH Playing Board Games
Studies have found over and over again that there are huge benefits in allowing kids to learn through play. Board games are an amazing tool because they are 100% play based but they also allow you to direct kids learning toward a specific topic. With this in mind, its important to keep in mind that kids aren’t just learning what you are targeting. Kids are absorbing EVERYTHING as they play board games.
So many games are focused around white dudes as the strong protagonist, kids can quickly start to internalize that and equate it with real life. ‘If this is what the heroes in my stories and board games are like, you must have to be like that to be a successful’. By ensuring games include a diverse mix of cards/characters, this internalization is flipped. Rather than the majority of kids being left feeling excluded, they play a game and walk away reflecting on how different card and characters (and by extension people) are. It also solidifies the message that appearance is irrelevant in regards to success!
Early Exposure to Diversity
Exposing kids to the world around them is SO important! Board games are a great avenue to give kids a window into different cultures and traditions. Games like Passport to Culture are amazing tools to help kids understand different parts of the world. Board games are also an ideal setting to allow kids to question and improve there understanding of different cultures. So many times our kids have seen something in a game that was new to them (a turban for instance) and brought it up later that day. It’s such an important reminder that kids are absorbing so much! If we put the right things in front of them it allows them to gain a greater understanding of the world around them from the comfort of home!
Diverse Board Games = Higher Self Esteem
Studies have shown the lack of diversity in kids toys and activities leads to lower self-esteem. With games that contain diverse characters, all kids have an opportunity to relate with something in the game. Interacting with characters in board games that are modeled after you is empowering! This gives kids the opportunity to see someone they relate to accomplish something amazing, and their brain says “Hey, I can do that to!”.
What to Look for When Picking a New Board Game
The next challenging question becomes, what to look for when trying to find board games that promote diversity? This can be a real challenge with the massive variety of board games out there, most of which aren’t particularly diverse. Here are some of the things we consider when picking board games:
Check the Cover Art
I won’t say this is fool-proof, but you can get a pretty good idea about a lot of games through the cover art. A game like Pandemic is a perfect example of this. The cover art features a diverse cast of characters…and the game also has a great mix of characters players can use during gameplay.
Gender Equality of Player Tokens
This doesn’t apply to all games but when looking at games where our kids will be picking a player token to control, we try to find games with a balance of male and female characters. After a few experience of my daughter not wanting to play games solely due to the lack of female player tokens we learned to keep an eye on this! What some games have been doing (which I LOVE) is using two-sided player cards where one side is a male version and the other side is the female version of the same character. I think this gives an awesome, subtle message to kids about equality!
Consider Who the Game Designer Is
A great way to support more diversity in games is to support a diverse group of game designers. The world of game designers is, generally speaking, not a very diverse space. The best way to change this is to support more diverse game designers. If you’re looking for a place to start, check out Qwirkle, designed by Susan McKinley Ross.
How Will You Add Diversity to Your Board Games?
I hope this article helps you consider diversity in your board games! I’d love to hear what you do to encourage diversity in your board games, comment below!
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