EXPOSED: The Game Behind The Scenes – Social Activism in Gaming

*This article explains why there is a place for social activism in gaming and describes the thought process that Mythic Games as a publisher followed and was led to that conclusion. Please read until the end. 

Welcome to another weekly post of “EXPOSED: The Game Behind the Scenes” series. Today we are taking the chance to talk about an issue that is a bit different than your typical process of the various stages that a game goes through until it reaches the shelves. And though it doesn’t have to do with the game itself, it has to do with the people who work in order to make this game a reality and with the people who will put the game on their tables. Today we talk about social activism in gaming. 

In the light of the recent events in the United States primarily, and the protests that have been taking place globally, many people, us included, asked themselves: “Why should I take part in all this? It is a political situation, we make games. We don’t express our opinion about the elections, why should we make any statement now? We are making games, we are not here to discuss politics.”  And this is true, we as a publisher, and all other publishers, are not here to discuss politics, we are here to make games. Games that people will buy and put on their table. And they will invite other people to play with. We are here because we make a product that we are proud of, because it promotes people socialization. And different people will be sitting around a table, primarily to game and have fun, but also bringing with them their background and who they are. So essentially, even the very innocent gaming activity, to an extent, brings social norms at the table. 

All this may not be intuitive to everyone. It takes some thought. So, the first thing that we, as a publisher did, was ask the question to ourselves, then discuss with each other and think of the above answer. It now becomes evident that discussing the protests that are erupting around the world, is not any sort of political statement, it is about addressing a societal issue, that eventually will be brought to an extent at the table where someone plays one of our games.  This brings a second question into our discussion. “Come on, maybe they are exaggerating? It can’t be that bad”. Again the answer here is not intuitive and it has to do with the background that everybody has. Which leads to the second step of this whole process: Education. 

All these protests were triggered as a response from people on a case of police brutality against people of colour, and it has become so much more in the process. It has become an act of advocating a general change in society about how BIPOC are perceived and how they are treated by others in general. The societal situation between the USA and the different European countries is different to a significant extent, so again, the answer was not intuitive. At this point we decided to educate ourselves. Understand where the roots of the problem lie. And all the research that we did, showed that at the end of the day, a great amount of BIPOC do not feel safe in their everyday lives. They do not feel safe doing normal things, like going to the groceries, or going for a jog with a family member. Since we have already accepted that to an extent, social norms are brought to the gaming table, this means that it is likely that BIPOC do not feel safe in the gaming environment. And this has nothing to do with politics, it has to do with basic human rights. Motivational human psychology, and in specific Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, classifies safety and security as the second most important basic need a human has, with the need of belongingness (so having friends to game with in our case) right above it. 

Let’s discuss this a bit more. What does “not feeling safe in the gaming environment” mean. This feeling can be interpreted in different ways. It could mean that a BIPOC does not feel safe working for us as a publisher, because they fear that they will be treated unfairly, they will be discriminated against, not be given equal opportunities, or even be ridiculed for their efforts. It could possibly mean that POC would fear to join our online events, our Mythic Day or come to our booth at a convention, because they believe that there won’t be a safe enough environment for them to sit and just enjoy a game. Maybe it means that when someone buys one of our competitive games, the only reason why they would invite a BIPOC to play with them is to “crush them” and show them how inferior they are. There is a huge list of “micro-agressions” that can happen against POC, things that one might say that they don’t even consciously do. So us publishers, need to ask ourselves. Is this who we are?

The answer to this is clear. None of the above represents us. This is not who we are as individuals, as a publisher, and this is not how we would like our games to be used. Which leads us to the million dollar question: “And what do we do?” Enter social activism. 

It is not easy to identify the whole situation if you are not affected by it. Especially when as a publisher in your everyday life it is not something that you have to deal with. You are packed with issues that have to do with game development, production, game deliveries. And when you identify what is happening, it is even harder to make a change and it most certainly is not something that happens overnight. So what can we do?

  1. Educate ourselves. First and foremost we need to understand how BIPOC feel, even a little bit. So we study. A lot. 
  2. Start with baby steps. We as a publisher want to tell every single BIPOC out there that we want them to feel safe with us. You are all safe in your interactions with us, whether digital or face-to-face. And you should feel safe when you are sitting at a table playing one of our games. 
  3. Work on becoming better. We actively need to make things to show you that you are safe and that you are represented. This is a two-fold process for us. The easy part is to make sure that BIPOC are fairly represented in our games. This is not something that we have actively addressed, it has mostly intuitively happened until now. We are now discussing internally how BIPOC can be better represented in our games. We are planning ahead so that our future releases are aligned with this effort. The difficult part, is to contribute to broader societal change. To help change the societal norm that makes BIPOC not feel safe. And though we cannot change the world alone, we can do our part as a single cog in the larger machine. We will therefore be donating money to NAACP in order to support their work to ensure political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights in order to eliminate race-based discrimination.

In case it has not been clear. Our silence until now, was because we decided to educate ourselves before making a statement, that we believed without knowledge, would just be vacant. We stand with POC to champion for change and will stand by your side through this. We will keep on working to become better. For us this is not a one-day drill. It is a constant effort, to ensure that you feel safe at our tables. 

If anybody reading this article today believes that everyone should not have equal opportunities and BIPOC could be treated with prejudice or hatred, know that we do not have a difference in opinions. We have a difference in ethics. And this will not be tolerated. 

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