CRIT Council's Pallavi Sodhi presents "Inclusive Board Game Design"

Thursday, February 18, 2021
by Marisa Benjamin

Pallavi Sodhi, Research Intern for the Council for Responsible Innovation and Technology (CRIT) and Dr. Jason Lajoie, Research Associate for CRIT, gave a guest lecture about inclusive board game design for students at Branksome Hall in Toronto.

The 8th grade classes at Branksome Hall are learning about inclusive design through a project involving redesigning board games with diversity, equity, and inclusion in mind. Over Zoom for 40 students between 12 and 13 years old, Pallavi focused the presentation on the meaning and importance of inclusivity in game designs. Throughout her presentation Pallavi provided explanations of how exemplary games like Rise Up, Spirit Island, and Arabian Pots employ design mechanics, characters, and narratives to embrace difference and welcome participation.

Watch the full video of her presentation at this link.


What is an inclusive game and what does it involve?

A game is inclusive if it can be played by a diverse group of people and its characters represent a diverse group of people. More specifically, our definition is that an inclusive game seeks to embrace difference and welcomes participation. It can look like anything as long as it is designed with diverse audiences and themes in mind.

When you’re designing for inclusivity, you should also consider exclusivity by asking “who is excluded from this?”. No design will be universally inclusive, nor should it have to be. For example, the game Arabian Pots is designed to be inclusive for players who are blind, however, it is not very inclusive for people with motor control disabilities.

Importance of Inclusive Design

People need to see people like them reflected in media in order to feel more included and represented. More tangibly, inclusive design extends the playability of the game to other groups of people. Making games with the intention to include more groups of people doesn’t necessarily mean that all other groups will be excluded. Rather, it creates opportunities for more diverse groups to come together and play.

Qualities to consider when designing inclusive board games

  • Consider how all players’ needs will be met through the stages of the design process
  • Consider the characters in the game and reflect on how and why diversity is included
  • Consider how the mechanics of your game contribute to that inclusion
  • Consider how you can make your design more accessible and use inclusive language

How should you represent diverse characters?

When you have characters in a game (playable or not) include a cast of diverse players in a respectable manner. When designing your character spread, consider who is represented and why. Don’t limit the characters you include to stereotypical roles. Women and minorities are typically limited to lower quality roles or even excluded, for example in Agricola, women are tokenized (45 cards with men and 2 with women) and in the few examples that are present women are caretakers of children and animals.

Conversely, the game Pandemic is good example of including representation without stereotyping. The game features women and POC in technical fields and the narratives about these characters are not specifically about their gender or racial identities.

Cooperative game mechanics

Consider designing game mechanics that foster collaborative play. Incorporating multiplayer collaborative mechanics can encourage people to work together, share ideas, and learn from each other through cooperative problem solving. An example of this is Rise Up, which is about people coming together to promote positive social change.