Submission and Design Guidelines

Racial Equity Board Game Showcase Submission and Design Guidelines 

For October 2020 – April 2021

The Racial Equity Board Game Showcase invites anyone in the University of Waterloo community to design a board game that addresses, in an informed and serious manner, one or more issues in racial equity, racial violence, racial discrimination, and/or anti-racism primarily in Canada and online communities, though we are open to relevant concerns in any culture or location. Everyone in the University of Waterloo community, student, faculty, or staff, may submit. Games must be submitted online by Monday, Feb 15th through a link on the GI website. Submitted games will be showcased on the GI website and at a virtual exhibition in April. Commendations will be awarded to certain games by a panel of experts in the fields of Game Studies and Racial Equity. 

The most tried-and-true game modes for helping to understand complex issues are simulation and role-playing, and we expect many or perhaps all the submissions to use these modes. All game modes are welcome so long as the players engage with the issues and their importance in depth.  These kinds of games are known, in general, as “serious games”. That name communicates what we want designers to keep foremost in their minds: Racial Equity is a highly serious issue, and designers must be careful not to trivialize it. 

Your task is to design a game in which the gameplay itself forces in-depth consideration of the issue(s). Please do not submit re-designs of existing games like Monopoly that have a racial equity theme on the gameboard and on the cards, nor re-designs of CLUE where players “solve” racial equity issues. All elements of the game must contribute to the depth of discussion that the game will include and encourage. Additionally, we are not looking for games that take the trivia game concept and simply make every card one that a student might write an essay about. 

This showcase is made possible by three University of Waterloo groups - the Research, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (REDI) Council, the Games Institute (GI), and the Council for Responsible Innovation and Technology (CRIT) - under the guidance of the University of Waterloo’s Office of Research and with consultation from the Equity Office. 

Submission and Design Guidelines

Submission Checklist 

Each submission should consist of two parts: 

  • A set of files for a functioning board game 

  • A document describing learning outcomes 

Submission Guidelines 

  • The design must be a functioning board game: 

    • It will have a playing board and all necessary pieces for play.  

      • The board itself must be integral to the function of engaging players with the chosen issue(s) and may be a map, a grid, or whatever fits your design goals.  

      • Other game components can be cards, dice (or other randomizers), charts, tables, tokens, and so on. Refer to board games you have played and use them for inspiration. 

    • There are two primary types of board game: competitive and cooperative.  

      • Your game may be competitive, but resist the urge to simply make one or more players represents an evil person, movement, or concept.  

      • We encourage you to consider designing a cooperative game (look to games such as Pandemic) in which players work together against the game’s system. They can be a challenge to design, but are crucial to encourage players to think critically about the issues under discussion. 

    • Your game must have a complete set of rules that explain the function of the board and pieces well enough so that anyone can play your game.   

    • We are looking for games that show some signs of playtesting – not formal testing – to ensure that the game is playable. Gather players (virtual or physical) and play through the game according to the rules and components. 

  • Please include a section called “Learning Outcomes” describing what you want your players to learn having played your game. Outline what you aimed to achieve with this game, and why you designed the game to meet that outcome. Explain how the design creates the conditions for players to undergo that learning process.  

    • This section can be as detailed as you want, even to the degree of explaining what each card means or what each play mechanic or system brings to the discussion, though concision and clarity will be appreciated by the judges.  

  • You may design individually or in teams. Considering the time constraints for this event, we encourage team designs because discussions of the highlighted issue(s) can take place among the designers well before it gets to the players. 

  • Due to COVID-19 restrictions, please submit all submissions digitally. Prepare your board and playing pieces in a digital format, such as Word and PowerPoint files. (There are numerous other possibilities.) 

If you cannot complete any of these guidelines outlined above, please let us know why this is the case. 

Design checklist 

My submission: 

  • Is a functioning board game, 

    • With a complete set of rules, 

    • And digital components (board, pieces, etc.). 

  • Has been informally tested to ensure it can be played. 

Design Tips 

  • Use your mechanic to reinforce your message 

    • A good analog example is Flanagan's ZombiePox. The game is designed to teach the value of vaccines in controlling a viral outbreak. Players have two main actions: they can either vaccinate NPCs ahead of time or treat them after they're infected. The game is designed such that, in order to contain the virus and win the match, you need to focus on vaccinating; treating people after infection makes containing the virus nearly impossible. If you discover this strategy, then you also discover the message behind the game: vaccines not only save lives, they're our best strategy for doing so. 

    • The need for this approach comes from the research of Hinrichs and Jenkins and their conclusion that "[m]ost educational games have failed because they use generic game templates (e.g. Pac Man) rather than original game rules designed to illustrate the rules of a system." 

    • There are obviously exceptions to this rule too but even then, the mechanics are ideally reinforcing the messages (e.g. Amanda Phillips oversaw a group of students who reworked Frogger to show how people from different racialized backgrounds have various degrees of mobility in urban spaces due to racial profiling, repurposing the mechanics of Frogger in a very savvy way). 

    • See the Swain article (also on this site) for additional info 

  • No 'roll-and-move' games 

    • This builds off the 'no trivia games' point asking people to avoid the Trivial Pursuit/Monopoly problem. In these games the mechanics are often not in line with the messaging. From a learning perspective, the game shouldn't simply provide a pretext for acquiring knowledge external to gameplay (e.g. landing on a space and reading a trivia card) but the gameplay should encourage players to create new knowledge in order to perform their in-game roles and achieve their in-game goals.  

      • If you’d like to learn more about this topic, research about “situated learning”; “feminist epistemology” or read works like Edelson, Norton, 'roles and goals' design or James Paul Gee, What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. 

  • Show solutions, not just problems 

    • Serious game designers tend to use game systems to show systemic problems but offer little in the way of solutions. This impacts the player's sense of efficacy, demonstrating that there is a problem, but providing them with few ways of addressing that problem (or, worse, representing the problem as something unsolvable).  

    • If designers come in with ways of addressing racial injustice that they want players to put into practice, they should consider creating in-game situations where players need to discover those practices and apply them in order to have success. 

  • 'Every simulation is an interpretation' 

    • Designers should be mindful that simulation is a form of interpretation. Designers aspiring for an accurate representation might be better served by focusing on what they want players to learn and designing the simulation such that it facilitates that learning first and foremost. 

    • Because of this, simulations can also promote misinterpretations. Spent is a game designed to raise awareness about poverty where you play from the perspective of an impoverished individual. Despite this laudable goal, in practice the game appears to generate apathy rather than empathy towards those in poverty; this could be because the design of the game misrepresents larger structural issues as problems arising from poor personal decision-making. 

  • Games create contexts 

    • Designers should keep in mind that games create contexts in which certain actions and behaviours become permissible (i.e. the Cards Against Humanity effect); be mindful of the context (and thus permission) you create through your designs, lest you embolden rather than problematize negative actions and behaviours. 

  • 'Games are hard' 

    • Game design for social change is not easy. Designers should not try to 'fix the world' with their submissions, although they should identify at most one to two learning outcomes that will serve as their design goals and recognize that achieving much beyond those outcomes likely extends beyond the scope of a boardgame. 

    • Designers might be better served thinking of their games as a means of fostering an informed conversation after the fact, as opposed to trying to contain the learning entirely within the game itself. 

Design Tips from Dr. Steve Wilcox, Wilfrid Laurier University 

Showcase Guidelines from Dr. Neil Randall, University of Waterloo 

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