Earlier this year, an Indigenous gamer (who’d been very kindly spending their time to give me thoughts on a Dahan-centric Spirit Island expansion) asked what I was doing to find, create, or advance actual Indigenous voices in the board game industry.
Upon hearing my answer, they suggested that I really ought to make that information more public, to help raise awareness of this sort of action, and to promote it being a more widespread norm. (Tied to the concepts of showing your work or paying the rent.)
While I find it somewhat uncomfortable to talk about support I’ve given others (self-aggrandizing, kinda?), I do see the point & the overall benefit, and a bit of discomfort on my part seems far outweighed by helping to normalize this sort of consideration. So:
As a white male game designer, I believe I have a responsibility to try and support / elevate underrepresented voices in the board game industry – which is overwhelmingly & disproportionately white, male, and non-Indigenous.
Some actions I take include:
- Monthly support of the Tabletop Mentorship Program, which (among other things) provides micro-grants to underrepresented creators;
- Regular support of AB Con, and support of their other crowdfunding endeavors;
- Crowdfunding support of games designed by BIPoC / non-male designers (whether by ordering the game or just chipping in);
- Trying to make the Spirit Island playtesting group more diverse, not just on general principle (or to better represent a diversity of viewpoints), but because playtesting can sometimes serve as a stepping-stone to paid opportunities in the industry. (And has, for Spirit Island.)
- Trying to be generous with professional assistance to BIPoC / non-male folks I’ve met who are in (or would like to get into) the boardgame industry – conveying industry information, signal-boosting projects, playtesting (if in person), networking (on those rare occasions I have useful contacts), etc. This is honestly a pleasure in and of itself! – it’s just not something I can do for everyone I meet, so when allocating my time and attention, I try to prioritize folks who face systemic barriers / underrepresentation.
If you’re making money in the board game industry and are part of any of tabletop’s disproportionate majorities (white folks, guys), I encourage you to join me in addressing the field’s inequality in some tangible manner.
As the designer of Spirit Island, and as a non-Indigenous resident of the United States, I believe I have a responsibility to try and support Indigenous and environmental causes in general. Although Spirit Island doesn’t portray a real-life Indigenous culture, it draws on the history, stories, and zeitgeist of colonial-Indigenous conflicts, so it seems right to pay some of that back. And like all board games, it has an environmental impact1, so I also see an imperative there.
This largely takes the form of donating to charities (listed below), though I’ve also found occasional one-off opportunities to help in other ways, financial or otherwise. From 2017 – 2021, my contributions were around 20-25% of gross royalties (roughly 30-35% of post-tax income); as of mid-2022 changes to my family’s financial situation mean I’m stepping that down to around 8-10% of gross royalties (roughly 12-15% of post-tax income).
The primary groups I’ve supported have been:
- Native American Rights Fund – a legal-assistance group that’s been fighting for the rights of Native Americans since the 1970s, taking on all manner of court cases, winning many of them.
- Rainforest Action Network – pressures the companies and industries driving deforestation and climate change to shape up. More scrappy/confrontational than the big environmental charities like WWF, Sierra Club, etc (who often take more of a “partner and persuade” approach). Works with front-line Indigenous communities.
- Cultural Survival – an advocacy and partnership group for Indigenous peoples worldwide. They work primarily through grants and other support of local initiatives. While the environment is not their primary focus, it’s very much on their radar as an issue that has huge impact on Indigenous peoples. (See here, about halfway down.)
- Fonkoze, which empowers Haitians to help break the cycle of poverty. Haiti has massive economic and political problems, which can be traced directly back to the colonial & imperial pressures it’s been forced to contend with for its entire existence.
I think everyone should support Indigenous and environmental causes, but I particularly encourage folks who live on land taken by colonists to provide tangible support of money and/or time, and board game publishers/creators to actively support environmental causes – there are loads of things you can do, some as straightforward as changing your bank. Any designer whose game has benefited from the heritage of other cultures will hopefully have already respected that via paid cultural consulting, but if not, post facto support is vastly better than none at all!
1 I am keenly aware of the irony of the game’s “plastic = the enemy” framing resulting in the manufacture of so many plastic Invader pieces.
I acknowledge that I am deeply fortunate to be in a financial situation where I can afford to help others to the extent I have – board games are not a super-lucrative industry, and many people in the US (let alone the world!) must make do with far too little.
None of the above is meant to make people feel bad, nor to prompt any sort of toxic comparisons of who’s doing more / most / the properly sanctified things / etc. Rather, it’s about making certain types of actions normal and no big deal, rather than something exceptional or unusual. I hope this might prompt people to act, because it’s not about whether you did the Most or the Best, it’s about whether you Did at all. And if you have: thank you!! Keep up the good work.