Xenophobia, racism, sexism, stereotypes: board games also give rise to criticism in individual cases. At regular intervals, independent authors and publishers publish board games or role-playing games that use at least stereotypical simplifications and clichés: the woman in the tight dress, the intelligent white man, the blonde giant as a swordsman, the dark-skinned natives with raffia skirts and bone piercing. This is not appropriate for a cultural asset, even more: Despite the ever increasing focus on stories, authors and editors fail to critically examine backgrounds and topics.

“Questionable topics” is something like the fine expression for, among other things, racism, xenophobia, stereotypes or sexism. Topics that also appear in board and card games - sometimes more, sometimes less clearly. Yes, there are obviously racist board games that are propaganda tools and not toys - most of them were published during the Nazi era to deliberately attack people. The ravages of time have gnawed the vast majority of these actual Nazi board games from history. Swastikas and similar symbols still exist in parlor games, mostly in historical war games. There the representations sometimes provide a topic of conversation. Players usually react sensitively to military board games, even more sensitively if the titles want to reflect the history of the material. The arguments mostly range from “glorifying the Nazi dictatorship” on the one hand to “exposing the Nazi rule” on the other.

However, it does not always have to be such offensive topics that prompt players to take a critical look at a work. The discussions are long, the matches are short: There is a lot going on in social media when xenophobia, racism, sexism or stereotypes are reflected in the rules, material or the course of a board game. Are board players completely over the top these days? Not at all: You are more enlightened and are more attentive to the content you have consumed.

Dark skin, bast skirt, bone piercing: that must be Umdidumdi

The card game “Tukdatu - Who will survive the jungle?” Was recently hit. by the authors Heim, Jonas P. and Thao Pham, published by Verlag Riva. It was more a coincidence that emotions heated up again on social media. The card game appeared in mid-November and was criticized in some online shops shortly after its publication. “Very questionable, racist and sexist graphics and 'story'”, said one of the online users in the area of ​​customer ratings. The publisher and authors could have pried themselves at this point in time. They weren't, however. The card game continued to eke out its existence on the market - until coincidence led to the work being the subject of a Facebook group. Long discussion, short fuse: tempers heated up. The covers, names of the characters and even the publisher became the main points of criticism. The arguments made do not always hit the mark, but they make you think.

The native "Umdidumdi" causes discussions about stereotypes. Image: Amazon / Authors

The representation of the native “Umdidumdi” causes discussions about stereotypes. Image: Amazon / Authors

And indeed: the criticism expressed by Tukdatu cannot be dismissed out of hand. The characters are particularly noticeable. There's Professor Whity, a clever man - more precisely, a clever white man. White hair, white mustache, old age, fair skin. He uses the stereotype of intelligence. Also part of the group: tourist Tiffany as the epitome of the overwhelmed woman in the jungle. Blond, tight dress, unsuspecting, innocent gesture. And then there is the figure that really gets the discussion going: Umdidumdi, the dark-skinned native with a bast skirt and bone accessories, tooth gaps and childish, stupid facial expression included.

Many players have spoken out loud and clear. Others, however, still see no cause for criticism. Are publishers and authors, but also gamers, still too uncritical when it comes to dealing with stereotypical topics? In fact, there is an often-voiced, supposed argument in favor of it: It's just a game!

In any case, it becomes clear how different the opinions of the players are when it comes to stereotypical representations in games.

Tukdatu: "Shouldn't have happened like this"

Yes, the images could have been treated more critically, even should have been. When faced with the criticism, Riva Verlag showed its understanding. Even the first reaction turned out accordingly: Neither the figure of Tiffany corresponds to the image of women that we have - nor “Umdidumdi”, whose portrayal “really completely failed”, according to press spokesman Julian Nebel's first statement, “it can do not give two opinions ”.

A little later it became more concrete: "The representation of the characters shouldn't have happened like this," said the publisher's spokesman. "We are all very sorry, the authors as well as us as a publisher." Even if it is conveyed differently in the discussions in the social media, there is no bad intent behind the clichéd presentation of the topic. "It can be explained a little by the fact that we are all newcomers to the world of games," said press spokesman Julian Nebel in an attempt to explain. They concentrated very much on the playability, the gameplay and the production, so that “we didn't notice what we should have noticed”. The authors themselves had approached the publisher some time ago and asked to change the presentation. “We agreed to that right away,” says Riva Verlag. However, the setting - escape from the jungle - was successful and allowed a different representation, explains press spokesman Julian Nebel. "We will implement this as soon as possible."

What the authors and the publisher want to clarify: “Choosing these representations was a mistake in any case, there are no excuses. They do not represent the values ​​that we, the publisher and the authors, believe to be right. "

In the meantime, author Jonas P. Heim, also on behalf of co-author Thao Pham, has spoken in the Facebook group and has indicated that the representations will be changed for a second edition. “It was tough for us because we were really happy about our first game,” writes Heim. “Nevertheless, we want and have to take such a relevant criticism of racism seriously. Even if we did not create the graphics for Tukdatu, we are not allowed to reinforce stereotypes and prejudices. Not now. Not ever. ”, Clarifies the author. It could have been some kind of happy ending. Long discussion, short fuse: The second round is on Facebook.

Game design challenge: still humor or already agitation?

Usually it takes a lot less cause than Tukdatu to start a discussion about a parlor game. In Istanbul by Pegasus Spiele it was the title in combination with the cultural representation à la Gelsenkirchen Baroque, in Mombasa it was colonialism. Again and again there are board games in which the demand for more information and an editorial preparation of the topics is imposed.

Would slavery in a board game be the stumbling block if the plot and representation were critically embedded in the game? Probably far less than is the case if you present such settings without comment. Publishers often act neutrally when it comes to editorial design, even though the topics are anything but neutral. If board games want to be a cultural asset, then they should convey cultural values. Whether one goes the path of less resistance: Instead of a clear message, there are changes in new editions that make any points of criticism invisible. The discussion should at least show one thing: embedding the mere game mechanisms in full board and card games is a real challenge for publishers, editors and authors.

Authors and publishers do not act in discussed cases because they would be evil per se, want to discriminate or represent questionable positions. Often overdrawn representations should underpin a humorous game concept. The line between humor and agitation has become narrow, however, because players no longer accept without comment what games, topics and material are presented to them. The work “Tukdatu” recently demonstrated that a joke that is too obvious can sometimes turn into a boomerang. With all the criticism, the insight that followed and the eventual impetus for changes: the game now serves another purpose. It can serve as a reminder, especially for small publishers and authors.