Table Top Gaming & Accessability
How do we make tabletop gaming more accessible?
I’m half Mexican, which you wouldn’t really know unless you saw me standing next to my mother and grandmother.
That said, demographics like mine are incredibly underrepresented in tabletop gaming. While there’s nothing wrong with similar people loving something together, it does indicate that there may be an accessibility problem when it comes to certain hobbies and it's our job as hobbyists to help bridge that gap. Why? Well, there are several reasons:
1. Diversity is good for your bottom line
2. Diversity and inclusion fosters a more creative environment which benefits everyone
3. Global connections help expand our communities’ reach and diversity increases that expansion exponentially
4. It helps people develop a positive understanding of themselves and others
So how do we increase the diversity in our community and help inspire the next generation of tabletop gamers in an effort to keep our hobby alive and well? Well, we need to solve for the 3 things that make games accessible; having the time, money and space to play.
Ways to solve time:
Time is the most challenging of the three problems to solve. The official poverty rate is 12.7 percent, based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 estimates. That year, an estimated 43.1 million Americans lived in poverty in 2016. When you have to work all the time just to make ends meet its next to impossible to make time for leisure activities.
I worked 2 jobs my entire pregnancy with Hailey. I went to work, I came home, I watched Grey’s Anatomy and I cried myself to sleep each night. I was 19, pregnant, and in and out of an abusive relationship. None of those experiences were things I had factored into my 10 year plan after high school. During this time of my life, I didn’t even have time to play the Pokemon TCG, but not long after Hailey was born, I jumped back in feet first and started playing the World of Warcraft Trading card game. I also played more casual party games in between matches many of which I was ridiculed for playing.
If tabletop gaming wants to grow, we need to collectively work toward making entry level gamers feel more welcome in our community. Don’t talk down to them for only playing games like Munchkin. They might not be your favorite games, but those people might be limited on time and only have time for casual games. The best thing you could do is encourage them to keep exploring gaming, regardless of what kind of games they’re interested in. Even if they are not your favorite and if you have the extra money, buy them a cheap game or two and if you want to take it a step further, take the time out of your day to teach them the games you have purchased for them. The labor that goes into learning a game can often times put someone off of tabletop gaming in general and you can be part of the solution.
In addition to taking the time to teach people face to face how to play games, we can cut back on the amount of time it takes to learn a game through creating video content. Channels like Watch It Played and Gaming Rules in addition to some of my previous content do help bridge the education gap in tabletop gaming. You can also take this concept a step further by using interactive apps that players can access on their phones or mobile device.
There is an app currently in development called Dized that aims to do just that: help make games more accessible. Their dream is to help everyone enjoy board games without the friction of having to ever pick up a rulebook. Think about it! Wouldn’t it be great if your one friend who knows all the rules were simply sitting in your pocket all the time? Not literally, of course, but they’re looking to step in for that friend of yours. It will teach the games with interactive tutorials and answer all rules related questions so you can focus on what really matters: having fun & playing games.
Ways to solve for money:
How do we make games more accessible from a financial standpoint? I don’t know about you, but the cult of the new really leaves me with stacks and stacks of board games. I believe I would technically qualify as a board game hoarder. I wish I could keep all of them, however, my attic is only so large. Once a game reaches the 3 year unplayed mark, I typically tend to donate it. To where you say? Well, everywhere in a way.
To start, I think if I know anyone locally who is full time and in college, single parents, friends in between work and I ask them if they need any board games. One person’s shelf of shame is another person’s Friday Night Game! I’ve also donated a whole stack of games to a local barcade in West Seattle called Vidiot. (Many of them were small box games designed to be played in louder environments and admittedly I did hand pick them based on their bar playability.)
If you simply can’t bear to get rid of any of the games you currently own and love, you might consider checking out some of the games on clearance on various board game websites. The next time you go to place an order and need to add money to your order to hit a free shipping number just add some clearance games to your cart. Take them to the local barcade, library, or school. You might even consider starting an after school board game club at a local venue or school. A great website for this is www.meetup.com.
You may look up any board game ever made on the website, www.boardgamegeek.com. Here you’ll find difficulty ratings, game play ratings, forums talking about the games, descriptions, information about the game designers and artists. I recommend identifying popular games that you already like and finding games that are similar. But, if doing some research seems like a daunting task, I have a simple list of gateway games here!
If that doesn’t work for you, I have a simple list of gateway games here. (This link will actually work by the time this is published, I polled Twitter and we just need to photograph a bunch of games and write up some descriptions)
The best thing you can do to help make games more accessible is to share them. The second best is offering to lend them out to people you know. We all have magical memories playing board games, that’s why we’re here and it’s important to remember to share that magic.
Another thing creators might consider doing is adding a pledge level to their Kickstarter campaigns that allow the backers to back a copy of the game for themselves in addition to a copy of the game that would be donated to a local charity, school or library. (Shout out to Alice Davis for this recommendation, you can find her on Twitter: @pa8ted)
Ways to solve for space:
This is the easiest problem to solve. Open up your doors and invite new players in. I know, it’s not always easy to stop playing heavy euro games but if you can afford euro games, you can afford a night of casual gaming. If this doesn’t suit you, talk to your friendly local game store about hosting an event there once a month. You bring the friends and traffic, they make some money and everyone has a fun night.
Another option is to talk to your local library. Remember, the biggest barrier to entry is learning the games themselves. Offer to teach the games if you’re comfortable doing so. Knowledge is the best thing anyone can share with another person, maybe it's time to share some of yours. Talk to you local librarian about joining a distributor program like the one Peach Hobby Distribution offers, where they can get discounted games from publishers. Another thing you might suggest to the library is having a dry erase component checklist taped to the side of the box that way people can make sure that all of the game components are back in the box before returning the game to the library.
Working with a local business to host events, like bars, pubs, cafes and other various venues is another option! These businesses have off days and if you have the free time, you might consider bringing your personal game collection to a public space. Ask a few other board game savvy friends to join you in helping teach and host game nights for people.
The last thing you need to remember in addition to all of this is to of course, make your space accessible. This means pick somewhere with a wheelchair ramp. Welcome people with disabilities. Have a wide variety of games available so anyone with a physical disability can find a game that works for them. Think about the kind of games being represented and try to pick Games that have disabled people and people of color positively represented. This might mean doing some research and asking your POC friends if they feel positively about the representation in a game but more importantly, compensate them for their time spent giving you advice.
The solutions aren’t simple, they aren’t easy and for some of us, they might even be impossible with the limited time we have but it’s important that as a community, we become the solution. If we want to make tabletop games more accessible, there’s one thing we need to remember, the feeling we had when we played a board game for the very first time. It’s the child-like wonder that stirs in your soul when a game clicks in your head for the first time and the smiles on the faces of the people you love sitting around the table. Gaming transcends barriers and backgrounds to bring people around a table where they can share laughter, conversation and magic. The best thing we could possibly do is make it more accessible and share the hobby that brings us so much joy.