In this section, we talk about both player characters and non-player characters. We provide you with guidelines on how to include diversity in your game.
There are two ways of approaching the problem of representation.
You can think of the problem from the game perspective. You should then include in the game a reasonable number and proportion of the various social groups.
Gladius is an excellent example of gender and ethnicity balance. It also features a lot of physical diversity, which is even more rare in games.
Or you can approach the problem from the tabletop game industry perspective. You can then concentrate your efforts to include only one or several of the under-represented social groups leaving the over-represented groups out of the picture.
One Deck Dungeon has made quite an impression by including only female characters.
The best choice will depend on the type of game, its theme, and its mechanics.
Next, we discuss the challenges associated with visible attributes and invisible attributes. Of course, none of these are mutually exclusive. For example, queer community is not necessarily white, as we often see in media.
# Visible attribute
When creating the appearance of your characters, you should consider representing the following attributes diversely:
- Gender (Female, Male, Non-binary);
- Physical diversity (e.g., Body type, Vision impairment, Physical disabilities, Malformations);
Double-sided player sheets are a common practice to give players more options on the character gender. This is a great way to bring more inclusion without adding more components to the game. It doesn’t have to be only female or male options. You can also include non-binary gender characters.
# Invisible attributes
Having the character sheets with a personal story (character backstory or flavor text) is the perfect opportunity to talk about:
- Sexual orientation, for more details, read this article from the NY Times about The ABCs of L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+;
- Neurodiversity (e.g., autism, dyslexia, ADHD, dyscalculia …).
When the game presents romantic relationships between characters, it is essential to allow or represent same-sex relationships.
Fog of love is a board game with roleplaying that gamifies love relationships. It is known for its LGBTQ+ advocacy. Each player chooses a gender for the character they create, allowing mixed-sex or same-sex relationship.
Diversity is an integral part of inclusion, but it cannot be achieved without a positive representation of all individuals. Gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, and physical differences often fuel stereotypes of appearance, roles, skills, and jobs. A few among many stereotypes that are often portrayed in games:
- Female characters are underdressed and sexualized;
- Short people are made fun of;
- Disabled people are weak and pitiful.
Villains and criminals are another category to watch out for in stereotyping.
To avoid stereotypes:
- Challenge yourself and accept that we all have biases. That way, you can work on deconstructing your stereotypes;
- Create your character’s backstory without thinking of which social community it belongs to. This often leads to clichés;
- Humans, animals, and all other living beings are all concerned by these guidelines. For example, giving the role of child care and householding to a female mouse still qualifies as a stereotype;
- There is no possible humor when it comes to clichés. It only perpetuates false beliefs and prejudices the targeted individuals.
Characters are usually found on the character boards, rules, box covers, and game components. Remember to check all of these. Hire someone to give your characters a read for sensitivity to diversity issues. Diversity should not be an additional component (expansions or promo components) but a core concept of the base game.