Women underepresented in board game design because they’re ‘socialised to avoid harsh criticism’ – Alderac COO

Male board game designers vastly outnumber their female counterparts because women are socialised in the West to avoid situations involving harsh criticism, the chief operating officer of veteran game publisher Alderac Entertainment Group has said.

Ryan Dancey made the comments on Twitter in response to a thread from Wingspan designer Elizabeth Hargrave, who had presented data criticising the structural issues in board gaming which had seen so few women nominated for the Spiel des Jahres prize – widely considered the biggest award in board gaming.

This year’s Spiel des Jahres nominees were announced yesterday, with Austria-based designer Sara Zarian the only woman present across the longlists for the main prize, the Kennerspiel prize aimed at games for more experienced players, and the children-focused Kinderspiel award.

Just eight non-male designers were involved in the 290 games considered for the Spiel and Kennerspiel awards this year, with chairman Harald Schrapers acknowledging during the livestream reveal how “unfortunate” it was that so few women were represented.

Hargrave took to Twitter earlier today to highlight that just five women had their games nominated for the Spiel des Jahres since 1999, with none at all in the last two years.

The Kennerspiel prize, aimed at games for more experienced players, also made for grim reading – just five women nominated since the award was founded in 2011, compared to 52 men, and no women nominated this year.

Hargrave, who won the Kennerspiel for her game Wingspan in 2019, was at pains to point out that the issue was structural rather than specifically with the the Spiel des Jahres.

She said, “This is not a SdJ problem. This is a problem of: who tries to make a game, who pitches games, whose games get chosen by publishers.

“Making game design and publishing accessible to the other half of the population will lead to better games at the SdJ level.

“I would also like to revisit this data with a lens of region/race. The pics would look v similar, with white guys from Europe and the US vastly dominating.

“Again, that’s restricting the brainpower and life experience that goes into games. Our gaming choices are poorer for it.”

Alderac COO Ryan Dancey responded to Hargrave’s tweets to say he had taken more than 1,000 pitches since 2016, estimating that less than 10% were from female designers. One of its few published games by a women, Mariposas from 2020, was designed by Hargrave.

Dancey said, “I think there is a significant gap between when someone decides to try and become a game designer and when they produce their first publishable game.

“Life in that gap consists of a lot of rejection and negative criticism. I wonder if that gap accounts for a good part of the missing female design cohort – females are socialized in the West to avoid situations where they’re subjected to fairly harsh criticism of their abilities and creative ideas.

“Males are socialized to take the punches and keep moving forward. Getting across the gap is how you turn someone into a ‘real game designer’ who gets paid for their work and who makes designs that are attractive to publishers.”

Hargrave was among a string of Twitter users to call Dancey out on his comments, saying “If you assume women can’t hack it, you’re biased against their pitches.”

Dancey replied to say he absolutely believed women can ‘hack it;, to which Hargrave responded, “Really? Because above you appear to argue that the main reason that women aren’t pitching you publishable games is that they aren’t willing to weather the same amount of criticism that men do.”

Dancey later apologised and acknowledged that the greenlight process at AEG “needs more diverse inputs”.

Fun Facts, Next Station London and Dorfromantik: The Board Game will go head to head in this year’s Spiel des Jahres prize, it was revealed yesterday.

Planet Unknown, Challengers! and Iki made the shortlist from the Kennerspiel des Jahres award, aimed at games for more experienced players, while the contest for the children-focused Kinderspiel will be between Gigamon, Mysterium Kids and Sara Zarian’s Carla Caramel.

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