Talking About Board Games and Bad Behaviour

One of the things I was struck by as I was conducting my PhD research into representation and the board game community was the heartbreaking realization that I could only get perspectives from the people who STAYED (opted to remain in the community despite negative encounters). I could only hear from people who tended to stay specifically in online board game communities such as BoardGameGeek, r/boardgame on Reddit or Twitter. So the people who participated in my PhD research were the ones who decided, despite unwelcoming, even threatening experiences, to stay because board gaming was so awesome, despite it all.

What about the people who never came back? How many times does that happen? That’s a huge question for the industry. And, I believe, that’s a huge delimiting factor for the growth of the industry.

There’s an incredibly toxic dynamic in the hobby that delimits and stunts the potential of the entire hobby and business of board games. Of my survey respondents, 29.1 percent agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: “When I engage with board game topics online, I have received online threats, insults and/or rude messages.” This strongly informed their behaviour based on the qualitative data.

Respondents also strongly agreed or agreed with the statement “I have experienced incivility (being interrupted, talked over, talked down to, dismissed, ignored)” at 66.4 percent.

I can also share that, as a researcher, I have been subject to the very issues you talked about here that I’ve been recording in my research. Invariably, whenever I publish research findings, I receive threats and insults. Which, to me, seems an odd strategy to disprove the validity/necessity of my research :-). I have a vast collection of those threats (it is very useful data for the dissertation). Here are a few.

I can share that this toxicity is a massive problem that stunts the growth of the entire sector. I am hopeful that the funders, game companies and other financial interests behind the sector will recognize this toxic threat and take steps to mitigate and eliminate it. This is strictly a dispassionate argument, said not as a person who receives threats (which unfortunately I do) but as a market analyst, sharing experiences from other sectors. This dynamic hurts companies, sectors from a financial perspective profoundly.

Not to mention how, more broadly, it hurts communities and individuals. One lecture I attended Dr. David Williams, Harvard University professor and internationally recognized authority on racism as a determinant of health, changed the way I thought about the implications of toxic behaviours (sexism, racism, transphobia, ableism, homophobia, etc.) negatively impacts community and individual health. Here’s a great overview of Dr. Williams’ work.

This kind of toxicity hurts people. It harms business.