Engrish

It’s not ok to mock an Asian accent. Let me say that again…

IT’S NOT OK TO MOCK AN ASIAN ACCENT.

This post was triggered by another instance of a board game podcaster using a mocking Asian accent. Board gaming is the community I’m part of and that I contribute to. And both I and the community deserve better than sad dated racist jokes.

“But Suzanne,” you say, “it’s just a joke!”
“It’s harmless.”
“It’s not racist.”
“It’s no different than making fun of a French accent.”

Ok. Let’s talk. I am far from a scholar on this topic, but I feel compelled to provide a historical primer to try and help people understand why it’s not an ok joke, why it is racist (even if it’s unintentional) and even a bit on why it’s not the same as making fun of certain other accents. Instead of just being angry about it happening, I want to try and help you understand the context and meaning. It’s my hope that if you understand the context and history you’ll understand why it’s not ok to mock Asians.

First of all, as a Korean American, I’ll be talking about specific elements related, primarily, to Chinese and Japanese Americans. My apologies if I overstep. But conflation of Asian Americans is common in the USA, & when anti-Japanese or anti-Chinese sentiment rises, that conflation means many Asian Americans are impacted – no matter their actual ethnicity.

Conflation of Asian Americans is how Vincent Chin happens. (Google him.)
Conflation is why, when slurs are yelled at me it’s more common to be called a “chink” or “jap” than a “gook.”

But I digress.

Contextually, the history of Asian Americans, specifically people of Chinese & Japanese descent, is rife with discrimination & abuse in the USA. Here is a small listing of the systemic anti-Asian history of America. And because I care that you try to understand these things and learn, I’ve tried to make it easy and hyperlinked for you.

Citizenship denial laws, alien land laws, Chinese Exclusion Act, Asiatic Exclusion League, 1924 Immigration Act, Jap Hunting Licenses, Yellow Peril.

The above list is just a sampling of the institutional racism (not opinion – not anecdote… historically factual things that happened here) aimed at Chinese and Japanese immigrants that set the cultural tone for our population’s perception of Asian people. Anti-Asian sentiment in this country runs deep and long…seeded well before WWII and the internment camps. And while some may look at modern America and say “that’s ancient history” it’s that history that distills down to a reduction of Asian Americans’ humanity, the dismissal of them… of us, that led to the normalization of misrepresentation, whitewashing, and mockery that continues today.

To move us in the general direction of the catalyst for this post, which is essentially entertainment media…

Movies through the mid 1900s highlight the discrimination, othering, and mockery of Asians with the practice of “yellowface” in such roles played by: Mickey Rooney, Rex Harrison, Warner Oland, Katherine Hepburn, Yul Brynner, Marlon Brando, Linda Hunt… to name a few. These castings and representations reflected the country’s dismissive discriminatory attitude towards Asians. But lest you hand wave this as a relic of the Black and White era…

Thanks to the automotive industry collapse in the US, a whole new wave of anti-Japanese sentiment rose in the 70’s and 80s. It was literally called “Japan bashing” and was reflected in (and fueled in part by,) movies of the 80s like Gung Ho, RoboCop, Back To The Future, Rising Sun… These films portrayed Japan as a threat, a foreign invader ready to take over the country with its funny writing and rigid behavioral rules. It didn’t matter that Japanese Americans (or Chinese or Korean and other East Asian Americans who might “look Japanese”) were Americans. Their ethnicity meant they would be subjected to anger, hostility, mockery, and violence. I cannot count how many times I was called a Jap back then. And when the Japanese weren’t trying to take over the country in a film, their otherness was raided for humiliating laughs (Long Duck Dong) or exotic mysticism (Mr. Miyagi.)

And, of course, there’s a whole fresh crop of whitewashing in modern film and media to highlight that we have not learned a lot from the past. Doctor Strange, Aloha, The Martian, The Last Airbender, Ghost In The Shell, etc. Entertainment media continues to reflect that deeply ingrained othering, erasure, and discrimination against Asian Americans.

And, let’s take a little cultural context detour here. Asian and Asian American are two different things. For example, in Japan, Japanese people are the unquestioned majority (with contextual racism issues of their own.) I speak from an Asian AMERICAN perspective. It is this context that matters here. You cannot compare how a character or culture is represented and received in the USA vs Japan because the cultural context is completely utterly different.

Back to the matter at hand…

And all of the above is why it’s different to mock Japanese people than Vikings, French, or other non-marginalized people. The difference is the historical institutional racism that embedded itself so deeply in our culture that people of those ethnicities still suffer from the ramifications of that history today. Asian people are still discriminated against and marginalized on a daily basis (“Oriental” wasn’t removed from federal laws until 2016!) in America.

Even if you don’t think the history is relevant… even if you disagree with my take on everything above… If nothing else, there is no compelling reason to use a fake Asian accent in board game content. There’s no amount of theme, or setting, or character that demands you gutterly add “-san” to the end of names or pronounce “Ls” as “R.” It’s a throw away affectation that, AT BEST, is lazy.

And that whole “engrish” thing? It’s a “joke” so dated… so tired… so unoriginal that even people who aren’t offended by it can’t really find it funny. They’ve heard that joke dozens of times from their Grandpas, and 70s comedians, mediocre local shock jocks, and the dude in the booth at the diner.

When I say “don’t use a mocking Asian accent in your content,” it’s because I know the history. I’m directly impacted by the lingering effects of this history. And we don’t need board gaming content to perpetuate it.

Educate yourself. Find your empathy. Write a better joke. Stop punching down.

Posted in Diversity and Representation | 5 Comments

5 Commitments For Inclusive Gaming

Change is hard. Change can be scary. Change takes work.

Change, often, comes slowly and in small increments.

Change, in the best scenarios, is an evolution. Growth. Improvement.

Evolution is worthwhile.

Board Gaming needs to evolve.

 

I think about the super niche market of hobby board games a lot. I’ve created board game content for 2+ years now for the largest board game media network, The Dice Tower. I love this hobby and have been a gamer for over 20 years. And I dedicate a lot of energy in social media to promoting diversity, inclusion, and representation in gaming. I’m passionate about it. I get criticized for it. I believe it is one of the most worthy efforts we can undertake as board gaming stalwarts.

 

Most agree that hobby board games are reaching a new breadth of awareness in the world. Major publications are writing articles about board gaming and mass market retailers are dedicating more and more shelf space to hobby games. This growth invites more and more people, from all walks of life, to explore the awesomeness of board gaming.

 

While some disagree, I believe growth of the hobby benefits all facets of the hobby from publishers to old time gamers. While revenue potential does drive a certain level of commercialism, it also creates vast new opportunities between mass market dollars helping to fund smaller niche projects to new gamers entering the hobby and becoming passionate about it and delving deeper into the wide variety of games that exist.

 

I believe our hobby has issues both content-wise and community-wise that need to be addressed to ensure the growth of the hobby continues, the health of the hobby grows, and for board gaming to live up to its immense potential. I believe the evolution of our hobby is attainable – but all major facets of the industry must commit to supporting positive change.

 

How do we get there? Here are the 5 commitments we need from this hobby, industry, and community in order to evolve.

 

  1. Publishers and Game Designers – commit to diverse representation and inclusion in games
    1. Consider setting. Change the setting to a more diverse location/scenario or research the way underrepresented people were part of the setting you have and incorporate them
    2. Consider character spread and be thoughtful about tokenism
    3. Consider art style and presentation
    4. Leverage subject matter experts and other resources within the community
    5. Take input/feedback on issues around representation and appropriation
    6. Ask “why” of yourselves more when making content decisions
    7. Diversify your workforce and development team
    8. Break from the status quo
  2. Media outlets & Content Creators – commit to using their influence to raise awareness
    1. Speak up about positive inclusion and criticize negative representation
    2. Prioritize speaking about and to a holistic community
    3. Make it normal to talk about diversity, even if you’re part of the majority
    4. Invite underrepresented people to talk about their work
    5. Support and encourage underrepresented people creating content
    6. Set a good example
  3. Game Retailers – commit to prioritizing creating a positive experience for all gamers
    1. Ensure behavior policies are posted and enforced
    2. Work with the community they have to figure out what’s needed and invest in implementing that
    3. Keep stores clean and well lit
    4. Be smart about product placement and display
    5. Train your employees on how to greet and speak to customers
    6. Train your employees on how to handle problematic behavior
    7. Consult with local law enforcement for tips on how to handle problematic behavior
    8. Set the tone for a healthy gaming community
  4. Conventions – commit to creating safe, inclusive, and diverse gatherings
    1. Commit to diverse and representative panels and featured speakers
    2. Ensure behavior policies are prominently posted online and within the convention space
    3. Ensure policies are enforced. Make plans on how you’ll handle issues before they come up
    4. Have a clear way to safely and privately report issues
    5. Be prepared to respond swiftly
    6. Believe
  5. Gamers – commit to holding each other accountable
    1. Educate yourselves. Make an effort to think about and research social issues in gaming. Don’t dismiss it as undesirable “politics”
    2. Listen to your fellow gamers. Everyone just wants to have fun. Be part of making that possible
    3. Stretch your empathy. Your experiences may not involve problematic behavior but you can play a role in spreading the positivity
    4. Raise your awareness. Learn to recognize problematic behavior online and at gaming events
    5. Address problematic behavior within your group
    6. Address problematic behavior you see in public gaming events
    7. Realize that if a person feels unsafe or uncomfortable, you have an issue that should be addressed
    8. Let publishers and designers know you want inclusion and diversity in games
    9. Let stores know the kind of environment you want to shop and play in
    10. Let convention runners know the kind of environment you expect to have for all gamers
    11. Be the kind of gamer you want in your community

Board Gaming needs to evolve.

Evolution is worthwhile.

Change, in the best scenarios, is an evolution. Growth. Improvement.

Change, often, comes slowly and in small increments.

Change is hard. Change can be scary. Change takes work.

Please be willing to be part of the change. Please be willing to do the work it will take to make gaming accessible, inclusive, welcoming, and fun – for everyone who just wants to sit down around the table and play a game.

5-Commitments-For-Inclusion

Posted in Diversity and Representation | Leave a comment

Waka Tanka

Conflation of non-white races, cultures, and communities often happens in the USA and other western countries. You see this in games as well and the latest example of this is Waka Tanka. When the art for the game released, it created enough of an issue that it was changed for the US release. Although the cover art changed… the native tribes conflation remained intact. Whether you want to call the treatment of tribes romanticizing, simplification, appropriation, racism, or insensitivity… it is undeniably conflation.

Here’s a short (and incomplete) list of the root of the appropriated content to help us remember that “Native Americans” are actually a diverse group with cultures, religions, practices, and symbols reflecting their geography, ceremonies, and histories. They deserve respect, even in games.

Waka tanka – Lakota meaning, loosely, “The Great Spirit”

Totem Pole – Tlingit and other Northwest Tribes

Feathered headdress – Sioux

Horned Bonnet – Sioux

Dream Catcher – Ojibway

There is a difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation. Waka Tanka is an example of a game that appropriates First Nations religions, images, iconography, and languages with disregard to their roots and meaning. It’s disrespectful and unnecessary. Does this mean non-First Nations people can’t make a game about Native American culture? Not necessarily. But such an endeavor should be tackled with thoughtfulness, research, consultation, and respect. There’s no evidence Waka Tanka took that approach.

waka1 waka2 waka3 waka4 waka5

Posted in Diversity and Representation | Leave a comment

THIS POST has started a lot of discussion in the board game/tabletop “community.”

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For all of you who claim board gaming is welcoming, different than the “other” hostile hobbies, or somehow better than other groups… I present to you the Playbook For Responding to Harassment Reports (as summarized from the actual men in board gaming.)

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I’ve never seen it.

Is she credible?

She’s doing it to get attention.

She’s a man-hating feminist.

I’m offended you’re associating me with men who harass.

Police always properly respond and report crimes.

Bullshit.

Don’t ruin my hobby.

I would stop it.

I don’t believe it.

I would say something.

She’s over the top.

Why aren’t any women commenting on this?

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 sc1 sc2 sc3 sc4 sc5 sc6 sc7 sc9

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I am not in the mood to try and be action oriented right now. I am not in the mood to tell you how you can help. I am in the mood to show you what women face when they report harassment. You figure out how you can help. I’m tired.

Posted in Diversity and Representation | Leave a comment

The choices an under-represented minority has to make with board games

Lots of games do representation poorly. When a game the gaming community is excited for – maybe it’s a game from a great designer or something with innovative mechanisms or that has phenomenal minis – I have to make choices many others don’t. Sure – everyone has to decide will this be fun? Is it affordable? Will I be able to get it to the table? I have to ask myself all those questions just like any other gamer.

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But also…

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I have to decide if I want to choose between playing the male character of color, the white female character, or one of the 4-10 white male characters. I have to decide if I want to make a tiny statement by not purchasing it. I have to decide if I want to open myself to internet ire by publicly saying why I’m not buying it to raise awareness with the public and the publisher. I have to decide if I keep my mouth shut every time someone talks about the game completely ignoring the representation issues of the game. I have to risk alienating people, even friends, who are so deep in their own privileges they can’t understand why I’m so sensitive about something so unimportant (to them.)

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I can’t say I’m consistent on this front. Some games are too alluring to resist for me. Some days I am steeped in my own privileges and blind spots. Some days I don’t feel like fighting a battle. Some days I want to pretend representation doesn’t matter.

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If you want to know how you can help? Or what you can do? Why don’t you start by asking yourself some of the questions I have to.

Posted in Diversity and Representation | 1 Comment

Diversity in gaming – my take

Well, Part 1 of my take.

It’s amusing to me how popular I become when women in gaming or racial diversity in board gaming pops up in the social media sphere. As a non-white woman, I count towards MULTIPLE check marks in the diversity list. Huzzah! I, so far, have declined all invitations (which are now in the double digits) to appear on video chats or podcasts to discuss diversity in gaming. My standard response is this:

Thank you for the invitation, but I have to decline. I just end up frustrated or disappointed in friends or friends end up frustrated or disappointed in me.

And this is true. I am lucky to know many people in this hobby. People I like and enjoy gaming with. And it hurts more when these people say things that feel like a dismissal of my experiences. It’s one thing when an anonymous stranger on the internet says “you’re an overreacting feminist who hates men and gaming.” It’s completely different when it’s a friend who, in essence, says the same thing. Avoidance is cowardly. And I am a coward.

But what I don’t say is that it feels (and I use these words carefully – IT FEELS) like many of these invites are an attempt to capitalize on a wave of topical popularity. Many in the board game media community are driven by follower counts, and hit counts, and view counts. Controversy always drives these metrics. It’s true in all media channels. So when someone, who has never spoken about social consciousness topics before, says they want to help facilitate and open and honest discussion about these issues – it feels disingenuous.

And many invites come from people who have openly stated they don’t see or believe there’s an issue. But they know, to have any credibility, they should include someone that fits the “other” category they want to voice their opinions about. And they invite me because – well, who else will they ask? Of course, I’m being facetious. There are a number of wonderful women who are prominent in board gaming media. It’s nothing close to the number of men…but I don’t want to minimize the contributions of women in my community. But, the number of non-white women* who are in the public eye at all in board gaming is extremely small. Heck, the number of non-white PEOPLE in board gaming design or media in the USA is minuscule. And, as such, I am sensitive to the sense of tokenism these invites carry.

I also don’t say, I’m scared. EVERY time I make statements about women in gaming or race in board games – I get backlash online. EVERY SINGLE TIME. So when people ask me to join a podcast about diversity in gaming, they are not just asking me to give them an hour of my time. They are asking me to open myself up to harsh criticism, accusations, and personal attacks. They are asking me to filter through strangers telling me why my experiences aren’t real, why they aren’t part of the problem, why there can’t really be a problem because they see women at their store or they have a black friend in their game group. They are asking me to put myself on lists awful people keep of their enemies. I don’t get to simply record and walk away happy that I’ve contributed to a growing discussion about diversity…the way these hosts do.

Well, I originally created this blog to have a space to have more than 140 characters of my social media home, Twitter, has. If I’m going to express my thoughts on this topic, I might as well own the space I choose to do so. So let’s get to it.

 

*Yikes! I touch on intersectionlism! I wonder if I can blow some minds with that one!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

What I had to write to a friend in board gaming

Let’s say there is some very real poor treatment of and statements made to women and minorities in board gaming. I’m not arguing it’s pervasive or overwhelming. Let’s just say – on some level it exists…it does happen. And let’s say some people do have an agenda and they escalate individual incidents beyond necessity. I’m not saying that’s true – but let’s just say it.

Can you see how responding to voiced concerns with “well, I’ve never seen it” as a way of dismissing those concerns does so much damage to the people who try to raise their concerns and share their experiences? Can you see how “victim mentality” and “stirring the pot” creates an environment hostile to people looking for support and help in dealing with negative things that happen to them? Can you imagine how “you’re not making the argument/complaint the right way” can be taken as a way of recrafting the situation or minimizing it?

And yes – I also understand that crying wolf at every slight can degrade the ability of significant issues to be heard and treated with the gravitas they deserve. But that doesn’t mean these things don’t happen. It doesn’t mean a problem doesn’t exist. And it doesn’t mean people get to say “well, THAT was blown out of proportion/context, so none of the examples are valid.” And, a thoughtful adult, who cares about their friends who are saying “these problems exist!” will make the effort to find out more.

Of course, if you don’t think a problem exists…if you think the many voices speaking up about it are all just a “vocal minority” that you can dismiss… Then, clearly, there’s no conversation to be had.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Game On! Convention 2015

Just a quick note about my weekend.

Game On Con, in little Issaquah, WA, grew out of the ashes of ConQuest NW. It was focused on war gaming … huge maps with tiny hexes and even tinier cardboard chits. Last year, I joined the volunteer staff to help coordinate the “Euro” room (that’s how war gamers view all non-war games apparently) and it was a blast. But THIS year, I had the experience to even better plan the Euro room. I leveraged Social Media (in which some of you supported by retweeting etc.,) BGG, and online forums and this year’s Game On was a phenomenal success.

This year, the Euro room was packed Friday-Sunday and we ran out of table space. We had dozens of new attendees. We had people bring their kids. I taught dozens of games to lots of new faces. Last year there were 3 women in attendance. This year we had around 16. Game companies donated raffle prizes. I was up and gaming for 20 hours a day for 4 days in a row.

Board gaming is a happy place for me. It’s a place where I make friends, I conquer them, I lose to them. Fates rest on a die roll and sometimes the Seer sees 2 werewolves in the center. I had 4 amazing days of board gaming…and I’m left wanting for more.

I can hardly wait to meet up with you at the next gaming convention. Thank you for helping grow this marvelous hobby and community. I had a great weekend because of it.

 

playing lords of xidit

The Staff Vest. Not my favorite accessory ever...but functional!

The Staff Vest. Not my favorite accessory ever…but functional!

Aquasphere

The Games Library (i.e. the games I brought)

The Games Library (i.e. the games I brought)

xcom

XCOM. We lost more than we won – but had fun doing both!

 

Posted in Events | Tagged , | 1 Comment

#Tweetsterium 3

Another #Tweetsterium for you! Don’t worry – I won’t use the blue for indicators again – too hard to see. I will also make bigger layouts to make everything line up better next time.

Can you solve this mystery?

Tweetsterium3

 

Don’t know what the heck #Tweetsterium is? Check out previous posts on it:

 

Posted in Social Media Games | 1 Comment

SPYFAUX

Spyfall was a hit at BGGcon. I played this social deduction party game dozens of times there. The asymmetrical game put everyone under suspicion, forced subtle word play, and always had wild accusations of “SPY!” thrown around. Tons of laughs and perfect for a quick party game.

spyfallcover

Unfortunately, for those who wanted to buy the game its publisher, Hobby World, was negotiating its deal for U.S. distribution leaving people outside of Russia unable to purchase this wonderful game. They were kind enough to grant permission to make print-and-play (PnP) versions of the game as long as you did not duplicate the game’s (great) art.

Thanks Hobby World

Thanks Hobby World!

Thankfully, it sounds like Cryptozoic picked up distribution rights for this game so you’ll be able to purchase the real deal (hopefully) in 2015. But personally, I didn’t want to wait to be able to play this game again!

Enter SPYFAUX. This is my simple, icon-based version of Spyfall. I used icons found online and created cards in Photoshop. I was going to call it “Faux Spyfall” but my pal, Patrick Hillier, on Twitter (@phillier937) helped coin the much better name “SPYFAUX.”  This is a near replica of the game (locations and roles) with only minor changes to a few roles (i.e. “stewardess” became “flight attendant.”) The additional change I made is I added an additional card for every location upping the player count slightly. So now each location deck contains 8 location cards and 1 spy.

Full game rules and additional details can be found on the Spyfall BGG Page.

SPYFAUX cards are designed as mini-cards (1.75”×2.5” or 44.45mm×63.5mm.) I had playing card quality decks printed at Printers Studio but have created printable sheets (8.5″ x 11″) of the game you can print at home. You can purchase mini-card sleeves if you like sleeving your PnP cards – the “mini euro” size will fit – but will be a bit tall.

Spyfaux decks printed at Printers Studio

Spyfaux decks printed at Printers Studio

Please PLEASE PLEASE respect the publisher’s rights to this game. Do NOT attempt to sell these files or decks you make from the files. Print the game, have fun with it, and then pick up the snazzy version when it’s available at your FLGS.

DOWNLOAD SPYFAUX file 1
DOWNLOAD SPYFAUX file 2

You need both files for the complete game!

Additional notes:

  • I added a card back sheet but it is NOT designed to align to the card fronts for two-sided printing
  • I created a “Location List” card each player can have as a reference sheet…especially helpful for new players who are not familiar with all the locations yet
  • The card backs are also a hint system as they contain icons from all the locations
  • There is a sheet of just “SPY” cards in case you want to try a variant that involves 2 spies in play for larger games
  • I am not the spy.
Posted in PnP | 5 Comments