Recently, over on Beastsofwar, there was a series of discussions on the forum about whether Games Workshop was racist or not. As is the way with these things, it bled sideways into various related topics and became somewhat heated at times. I’m not interested in pointing fingers at specific companies as I don’t think it’s helpful (or provable). What I’m more interested in is seeing what can be done to make a positive change, and I’d like to know what you think too.
To start with, let’s define the problem. I think we can all agree that the representation of race, gender and other minorities in science fiction and fantasy media does not reflect the relative proportions of these minorities in the real world. I mean this both in the context of their fictional creatures and stories as well as the audiences that enjoy them. This is probably worse in fantasy than SF.
Actually, let’s narrow that down. What I’m interested in here is games. Specifically, I’m thinking about miniature games. Board games and video games are different topics (as are movies, comics, etc), and for various reasons the games themselves as well as their audiences include more women. Whether the racial bias is any different I couldn’t say as I’ve not seen any stats on that. Sexual preference is something that is rarely touched upon in anything other than as an assumed heterosexuality.
So, miniature games, and SF/F ones at that.¹
It may not always seem obvious that there is this bias, but look at a big crowd of gamers and you can’t miss it. In my many years in the gaming world I’ve been to a lot of events. One thing that has always puzzled me is the obvious lack of non-white faces in the crowds. Sure, there are often a couple of individuals, but we’re talking here of a couple of percent rather than a couple at each game. The 2011 census data for the UK says that 13% of the population is non-white. I’m pretty sure we don’t get near half of that. This may be different in other countries (in which case I’d be interested to hear about it). In the USA the non-white percentage is higher (c20%). Do they do any better? Not on any evidence I’ve seen.
I suspect there is a bit of chicken-and-egg going on here. Companies make models in their own image and that of their customers (the majority of both of which are white heterosexual males). Without strong minority characters potential players from minorities feel excluded and are pushed away. Round and round it goes.
Is a lack of diversity a problem? I think it is. It matters for a number of reasons. Let’s ignore the quicksands of morality, fairness or whatever, and stick purely to selfish motives. Miniature gaming is a niche hobby and there aren’t many of us. We are a minority ourselves. Adding a representative number of new gamers from the various ethnic, gender, sexual preference and other minorities that are currently woefully underrepresented would help in two obvious ways:
- More people playing = more money within the industry. A stronger miniature gaming industry benefits anyone that enjoys its products.
- More opponents. Everyone needs someone to play against. More gamers = more opponents.
So even if you have no interest in helping anyone other than yourself, it is in your best interests to remove barriers to new gamers, whatever their race, colour, creed, or anything else.
Many of the comments I’ve heard from the few gamers I’ve met from ethnic minorities suggest that it is, in part, a lack of characters to identify with that is off-putting.² The same goes for many women I’ve asked.
Obviously there is a cost issue as well. Some games are expensive to play and miniature gaming is a middle class hobby at least in part because of this. If fewer minorities are in that income bracket then that would clearly reduce the number taking part. This aspect we can’t do much about. However, I’m a long way from convinced that gaming is so expensive compared to other hobbies that it is genuinely not an option for the bulk of people. Certainly, when we talk about a gender bias or sexual preference rather than ethnicity there is much less economic argument.
Is this as simple as:
- Including cultural analogues of Chinese or African countries and mythologies in the background?
- Including a gay hero?
- Making miniatures of women without their boobs on show?
- Introducing someone from one of these minorities to miniature gaming?
- Making more models of ethnic minorities?
- Painting our models in a variety of skin tones?
What do you think? Specifically, what can we practically do to increase the diversity of miniature gamers? Is there anything, or is this too large an issue?
It would be especially interesting to hear from people who are already bucking this trend.
1: Historical miniature games are full of potential for non-PC jollities for the simple reason than history itself is. Our 21st century, decadent-West view of morality is not one that has been shared by many races and cultures, and if you want to represent a historical situation you need to deal with all of it. Nor was this confined to the distant past. For example, in WWII US Army units were segregated by race, and black units frequently got grave digging and other menial and unpleasant tasks rather than combat duty (with all its social connotations of heroism and nobility). To show them otherwise is inaccurate. Incidentally, the photo at the top of the page is from the Korean War.
2: Not always though. Sometimes it’s the overtly racist behaviour of an individual staff member or gamer that puts them off, and that behaviour should be challenged where it occurs. Unfortunately, such fools exist across society, not just in miniature gaming.