Several articles and videos addressing colonialism & board games came out recently (Feb 2021). It’s made me think I should start keeping a reference list of links on the topic. If there’s a good read/watch/resource that I’ve missed, or if you’re a creator who’d like to be credited differently, please drop me a line! When I know that a creator is speaking as someone from a colonized culture, I’ve marked the title with a *. (It might also be true for some unmarked ones if I’m unaware / uncertain.)
- Colonialism – the Board Game Struggle*, by Efka of No Pun Included – both very personal and broadly applicable. (30m, 2021)
- Checking Slavery and Colonialism in Board Games* (and a follow-up), by Jason Perez of Shelf Stories – about history and erasure, plus a pair of case studies / closer looks at Puerto Rico and Endeavor: Age of Sail (25m, 2021 and 16m, 2021)
- Jason also has a video re-imagining Puerto Rico as a non-colonial and more-thematic game .
- Decolonising Games*, by Conquest of Dread – more focused around video games and tabletop RPGs, but many of the core explanations and points apply to board games as well. (33m, 2019)
- Better Board Games Through Cultural Engagement, by Rik Eberhardt and Mikael Jakobsson of the MIT Gamelab – a GDC talk presenting findings from design workshops engaging with residents in Colombia and Puerto Rico. (30m, 2019)
- Spirit Island Cultural Analysis – a 3-way discussion between Jason Perez of Shelf Stories(*), Cole Wherle, and Dr. Mary Flanagan about colonialism in board games through the lens of Spirit Island. (62m, 2023)
Posts / Essays / Editorials
- The Board Games That Ask You To Re-Enact Colonialism, by Luke Winkie in The Atlantic. (2021) A really good mainstream-oriented overview of the problem.
- Colonialism In and Of Board Games, part 1 and part 2, by Nicole H of The Daily Worker Placement. (2021)
- Playing Games with History: Philosophers on the Ethics of Historical Board Games, a trio of essays by Stephanie Patridge, Chris Bartel, and C. Thi Nguyen in the wake of the controversy about Scramble for Africa. Each essay has its own insights to offer; don’t stop at just one! (2019)
- Should Board Gamers Play the Role of Racists, Slavers, and Nazis?, by Kevin Draper in the New York Times. (2019) Also a reaction to the controversy over Scramble for Africa, though pitched much more mainstream rather than for a gaming audience.
- ‘Civilization’ and Strategy Games’ Progress Delusion, by Gabriel Soares on VICE. Focused on videogames, but applicable to the entire 4X genre in any medium. (2019)
Note: a comment elseweb on the above article mentions that the complex kinship relationships depicted aren’t static / set in stone as is implied, but are dynamic, linking to this journal article by way of reference.
Waka Tanka: a Response to Bruno Faidutti, by Brendon on Reading and Gaming for Justice – a response to Bruno Faidutti’s writings on Waka Tanka and ‘Postcolonial Catan’ essay. It explains quite well why they’re problematic, and covers a number of important issues. (2016)
I’ve decided to unlink Postcolonial Catan, by Bruno Faidutti (French version at top, English below – keep scrolling, it’s long) because while the overview of colonialism and Orientalism is decent, the article also has some real issues – e.g., the author’s defense of how Europeans see Native Americans is a textbook example of erasing real, modern peoples by appropriating and romanticizing their past while ignoring their present-day existence. However, it’s certainly worth mentioning; if nothing else it really helped boost awareness of and discussion about colonialism & exoticism in the board game industry. If you’d like to read it, you can find it linked from “Waka Tanka: a Response to Bruno Faidutti”, above. (2014)
- Playing Oppression by Dr. Mary Flanagan (2023)
- Games & Colonialism at the MIT Gamelab – a list of projects, workshops, and more.
- Ludology Episode 197: Empires Up in Arms – podcast episode with Mikael Jakobsson and Rik Eberhardt of the MIT Gamelab as guests. (2019)
I’m using * to note entries where the creator / speaker / author is speaking as someone from a colonized culture. It might be true for some unmarked entries as well where I’m just not aware of that fact.