If you've been watching the news (Harvey Weinstein, gross) or reading about women in tabletop on Twitter (#womenintabletop, yay!), you are probably aware that our society is not as inclusive as it ought to be. This is even more true when it comes to people of color and members of the LGBTQ community.
But making your game night more inclusive does not have to involve an incredibly complicated process of self-reflection and social overhaul. At least not right away. You can start very simply by trying a few of the following things:
1. Don't make assumptions about people's gaming backgrounds.
That guy with the geek-chic glasses may never have even played Catan before, while his girlfriend is an avid war gamer. Until you actually talk to someone, you just don't know what their interests and relative gaming strengths are. I can't tell you how many times people at gaming meetups have looked at my boyfriend like he was the hardcore board gamer, or how many GameStop employees have assumed that a PS4 game is for him. Why create an uncomfortable situation by making assumptions? Just wait and let people tell you about themselves in their own good time.
2. If you are playing with someone who is unfamiliar with games, be kind.
Nobody popped out of the womb knowing how to game. And some things come easier to people than others. When you have a new gamer in your group, try to remember that there was also a time when you didn't know how to discuss the fine distinctions between worker placement and action selection. There was a time (and there probably still are times) when a quick verbal explanation of a game taught you nothing about how to play it, and it took you a few turns to get into the rhythm of things. Don't lose patience with people who are learning, even (especially) if they don't learn as fast as you think they should. As a teacher, let me tell you: You might think that something is easy/obvious, or that your explanation was crystal clear, but prepare to be shocked by how wrong you are.
3. Don't dismiss people's concerns without actually listening.
If something was bothering you and you brought it up in a mature, reasonable way, wouldn't you be pissed if the other person just waved a hand and dismissed you? That is how women feel all the time when they say that something is making them uncomfortable. No conversation, group tradition, or joke is so important that it needs to be defended to the death against a reasonably stated concern. Try actually listening to people and at least wondering for a moment if they might be onto something.
4. Joke, but don't tell "jokes."
I am a smartass. I routinely tell my students that they are failing my class, or that they don't get a bathroom break, or that their next test is two hours long. Why is it funny? Because I have an actual relationship with my students. Also, those jokes are "mean," but they are also totally outlandish. Sarcastic jokes stop being funny when they hit too close to home. You don't have to totally change your personality to please other people. Go ahead and be a little bit edgy and sarcastic. But "edgy" and "sarcastic" are not the words I'd use to describe gross jokes about women's bodies or racist remarks. If you're the sort of person who makes those "jokes," you probably already know that.
5. Be respectful of other people's tastes in games.
We all like to bag on Monopoly, and I'm not saying we have to like it. But if I went to a board game group and said that I used to love playing Monopoly as a kid, I would immediately want to run screaming into the night if the people I had told dismissed me so coldly. If I had worked up the courage to go to a game meetup and try to make new friends, I would be crushed. Even among more experienced gamers, I see a distinct hierarchy that places heavier games at the top and party games at the bottom. If you're having fun, a game is a game is a game.
These suggestions will work in any situation, with any new gamer. And they are not just about "pandering" to certain demographics. These are basic rules of engagement that will make your game nights more fun, no matter who is at the table with you.
My name is Liz, and I play a lot of games. By day, I am a teacher. By night, I am an avid gamer.