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The Board Soul - Fuck Colonialism | Unwinnable
"The board game community continues to have a big problem when it comes to theming certain games. Designers still fetishize and romanticize the so-called “Age of Discovery.” So many games portray settlers as the protagonists of games, lionizing them while casting native peoples as either savage enemies to be defeated or resources you need to use. What’s more, designers on the whole refuse to reckon with the violent history of colonialism even as they use it as a theme for their game. The result is a whitewashed genre of board game that paints over every uncomfortable part of what happened during this era, costuming a game with an uncritical, damaging theme.

Settling lands by developing them up via buildings and other improvements is a incredibly common theme among board games. Arguably the biggest name in the hobbyist side of the medium, The Settlers of Catan, has it right in the name. Though you never really see any natives in the game, you’re importing and trading resources with other settlers to build settlements, roads, and developments to try and win the game. It’s all very innocuous on first blush, but there are hints of a Eurocentric viewpoint when you stop to consider the Thief, who steals resources from whoever they’re next to when someone rolls a seven. It’s not explicit that the Thief is a native from the fictional Catan Island, but the solution of playing Knight cards to move the Thief somewhere else suggests a militaristic approach to setting land and pushing around hypothetical natives.

Catan skirts the colonialism issue somewhat by being set on a fictional island, but plenty more board games represent real historical locales and events with varying degrees of self-awareness. One of the more unfortunate examples of this is the classic game Puerto Rico, where you’re tasked with building up your piece of the city of San Juan through shipping goods and constructing buildings. But to make said buildings function, you had to place little brown discs on them to represent workers working in them.

You can probably already see the problem with this. The simple act of making the discs brown loads them with political meaning, as it’s clear they represent the different people of color that the conquistadors enslaved during the age of discovery. In Puerto Rico, these brown discs act as resources to be accumulated and spent, which takes a pretty nasty turn once you realize what this parallels – new ones even arrive by ship, further cementing the allusion. That alone could have made for a powerful statement about the true face of colonialism, but it paints over this fact by calling them “colonists”. By calling them colonists and not what they are – slaves – Puerto Rico reveals itself as a game that isn’t interested in grappling with the realities of colonialism, instead merely being content to build its mechanics on the back of a particularly ugly time in history."

[See also:

"How Board Games Handle Slavery: A medium that often looks to the past, board games often have to confront questions about slavery's place in game design."
https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/vvj39m/how-board-games-handle-slavery ]
via:tealtan  boardgames  colonialism  gaming  games  play  2017  jeremysignor 
november 2017 by robertogreco
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