Code of Respect and Responsibility … more about the topic

After several months, the international working group consisting of SAZ, the French SAJ and several unaffiliated game designers went public on July 09, 2021 with the Code of Respect and Responsibility, addressed to everyone in the game industry involved in the development of games. During this process, questions about the content kept coming up, which we would like to address here.

Origins and goals: The board game world does not live in a social bubble, and while we can probably congratulate ourselves on a fairly healthy and positive environment – the SAZ's good relations with many game publishers, the German Cultural Council and other creators' associations – it is difficult to ignore the general situation of our society and its impact on our own cultural sector.

As cultural assets, we want board games to make an important contribution to respect and tolerance. However, there are sometimes problems with accessibility and tensions regarding themes and content in board games. In addition, we believe the game industry lacks diversity. Many people do not see themselves represented in games or at events. Representation can lead to participation, and the games industry as a whole would benefit greatly from this.

Foundational: It became clear very quickly that we needed to divide the work into two segments: the Code itself and supplementary documents. The aim of this Code is to establish a set of general principles that we consider important for the healthy development of our profession. But it is difficult to make general statements and to be concrete at the same time. That's why this code will be followed by documents that provide concrete examples of action and resources for authors who want to learn about these issues. One of these will be the Creator's Guide from Meeples for Change.

The Code includes an introduction that affirms our values and responsibility as authors (game designers): to do what we can to make the world of games more tolerant and respectful to others, and to be inclusive and welcoming to as many people as possible. It contains a set of principles that are important to us and that we want to explain so that there are no misunderstandings. We therefore invite you to read the Code carefully if you have not already done so or signed it.

Three main principles: We have set out three main principles in this Code. The first of these is diversity. The diversity of themes and illustrations is a strength of our works, and we think it is good that this diversity is thought through by the authors beforehand, so that as many people as possible can find themselves in our games.

The second principle is accessibility: we want to encourage everyone to play our games. This ranges from the authors' reflections on physical accessibility (e.g. for color-blind people) to the rules text (e.g. gender-sensitive), so that everyone feels at home in the game world.

The last principle is about our responsibility as authors, which ranges from reflecting on the topic and tone of our games, to our behavior, words, and actions as members of the professional worldwide game industry.

Legitimate questions: This Code, with its clear positions, naturally raises a number of questions. We may find that it does not go far enough or that it exceeds the limits of our capabilities. We may also find fault with individual formulations or the content of certain points. There is no such thing as perfection in this world, but we have held constructive and thoroughly controversial discussions, making changes again and again in order to achieve the best possible result in the end.

This code has, of course, no legal consequence and no binding force, except the individual will to adopt these points of view. It exists only to create awareness of the progress that still needs to be made in the world of games. The Code does not attempt to censor or impose anything on authors. It is not meant to expose people in public, but rather to create a dialogue between everyone involved. It simply seeks to encourage authors and others involved in the games industry to question their practices, sharpen their focus, and thus promote a more professional approach. It provides guidelines for the future.

The code defends both creative freedom – from theme to mechanics, from sound to physical design – as well as consideration for others in our actions. Not all games can be fully accessible. Some mechanics are inherently exclusive. Not all themes appeal to everyone. Not all graphic treatments or narrative choices will appeal to everyone. Not all thematic research can be equal, for example, between a game with realistic references and a game whose theme consists only of an illustrative background. But by questioning our choices and decisions and making them consciously, we automatically act more considerately and respectfully.

Choosing a divisive theme, using humor, using clichés, writing rules a certain way, including or excluding certain historical or cultural aspects – all of these can serve a purpose and are part of our freedom as authors. Think about this, too. Acknowledging that someone might be wrong – including ourselves, listening to others, discussing difficult issues – these are all part of our job, and if we want the full consideration that authors deserve, we need to include these considerations as well.

Of course, this code will not immediately revolutionize the gaming world and solve all its problems. It is published in several languages and covers countries with very different cultural backgrounds, and not everyone will necessarily agree on all points. Also, we are aware that authors are only one essential link in the chain of creating a game and that we do not have the ability – or always the desire – to control everything related to our game. Publishers of course play an important role in this process, but we believe that we cannot ask others to change and act without first questioning our own practices.

We believe that this collective consciousness can and must come from us, the first link in the chain, the authors of board games. As authors, we also bear the central responsibility – always within the bounds of possibility, of course, but they are OUR games! Therefore, we should always demand a voice in the realization of our games and implement them through a dialog based on partnership. See also our position paper on the participation of game designers.

Concrete actions: Therefore, we invite you to support this Code of Respect and Responsibility by signing it – if you have not already done so. This link leads directly to the code on our website and to the possibility to sign it online. We also welcome all publications, activities and discussions in the media and social networks to promote even more participation. The more signatures we get, the more radiance this code will have ... and thus hopefully also concrete impact.

We will keep you informed about further supplementary publications on this topic. Currently we are working on the translations of the Meeples for Change website into German, French and Spanish. We are also preparing a small guide for gender-appropriate language in game rules which is currently only in German, since the cultural realities of languages are extremely different.