Gen Con 2016 Sends Clear Message that Gaming is for Everyone

Gen Con Indy, America’s largest tabletop gaming convention, has a storied history going as far back as 1968, and is perhaps the most influential event in the global tabletop gaming community. With over 61,000 attendees in 2015, Gen Con is both a barometer of taste and a precedent setter.

Every year, Gen Con selects a cohort of up to 25 Industry Insider Featured Speakers who represent the best and the brightest in the industry. These are designers, writers, artists, academics, activists, and other gaming professionals from all walks of life who have unique knowledge and insight to share with gamers. Each Featured Speaker gives talks and workshops aligned with their areas of expertise.

For many years the Featured Speaker list has been very white and very male, a reflection of the larger gaming community’s struggles with inclusivity. Women, people of color, and other minorities have always been a part of gaming, but have often failed to gain recognition and prominence, staying sidelined while others take the spotlight.

Five years ago, only 6% of Gen Con’s Featured Speakers list consisted of female game professionals. Two years ago, that number had climbed to only 16%. This year, for the first time in the convention’s 48-year history, the Industry Insiders slate has gender parity: of the 25 featured speakers, 13 (a whopping 52%) of the cohort are women. The convention has also expanded its efforts to include LGBTQ game creators and authorities, including trans women, among the featured speakers.

Representation of people of color remains fairly low, but this year’s Guest of Honor at Gen Con is Mike Pondsmith, a black game designer who founded his first gaming company in 1985 and has produced games like Cyberpunk 2020 and Castle Falkenstein. Gen Con’s shift to recognizing and honoring industry professionals from minority backgrounds makes a clear statement: We see you. We value your contributions. We want to hear what you have to say.

By signaling to minority gamers that their contributions are welcomed and valued, Gen Con invites more gamers to participate, growing both the community and the industry’s collective coffers. A more diverse selection of games are then created and played, making even more room for people to join a much beloved hobby. It’s a win-win for everybody.

Gen Con’s move sets a great precedent, and is a positive step both for Gen Con and the tabletop industry as a whole. Gender parity of the Industry Insider Featured Speakers list is a great success, and should be lauded. As always, however, there is still more work to be done. Gen Con and the rest of the gaming industry will hopefully continue to work to promote the representation of women, ethnic minorities, LGBTQ, issues of accessibility and disability, and others who love games and are looking to find their voice.

Whitney “Strix” Beltrán is a narrative designer, writer, consultant, and advocate in the gaming community. She hosts the show Weekly Affirmations on the Twitch channel HyperRPG. Find out more about her at her website or on Twitter.

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