So. This is a completely abstract, non-verbal 2-player collaborative game about feelings.
I’ll let anyone who knows me well guess how I feel about it overall and refrain from rambling too much about my opinions of it as a game (subjecting you only to my opinions of it on the representation front, which are strong enough), because I know people who are not me who are better at feelings and shit in general who quite enjoy it.
For those of you unfamiliar, the theme of the game is that you’re in a relationship dealing with a difficult situation (it’s not specified what the situation is); you have to work smoothly with your partner to move through the situation by coordinating your efforts, predicting their behaviour, and acting in consideration of both them and yourself–all without talking or communicating in any way other than through your game place.
As mentioned, the actual game play is an abstract puzzle, matching emotion-themed coloured cards to coloured dots on a board to progress around and into the middle of several concentric circles, all while staying in ’emotional balance’ and not harming/blocking your partner. It has a few interesting mechanics–the way the cards swap orientation, being able to play with your own or your partner’s cards, etc.–but that’s about it. 1
This was one of the games named explicitly in early discussions by some of my friends as an example of why representation issues are basically a non-issue in many tabletop games, due to their completely abstract nature. And as you’ll see in the article, this game is actually a good example of why that thinking is a fallacy in many cases. We can see this specifically with…
Exhibit A. At a first glance, it may seem this game is too abstract for race to play a role at all. The player tokens are just red & blue circles. There isn’t anything indicating what your player looks like or where they’re from or what their background is. There’s no explicit setting (although I would argue it’s implied modern times and probably also implied western developed world). You essentially play yourself, against your co-player who plays themselves-as-your-partner.
These are the circumstances where we might rate a N/A, where a game might truly be too abstract to look at issues of race/nationality.
EXCEPT–the emotion cards feature a lot of different artwork. 16 of which feature depictions of people (mostly children). Who are all white. 2
The only way issues of representation and diversity are a non-issue in this game is if you don’t actually think games frequently and consistently showcasing only people who are white is a problem.
I’m giving it:
Here we do a bit better. Of the 16 cards featuring people, 9 depict female-presenting people and 7 present male-presenting people. This might be the first game I’ve written about where women/girls outnumber the men/boys, and the rulebook is written in gender-neutral language (more on that below). However, there are no indications of gender-diverse, trans, or non-gender-conforming characters.
Still, a solid:
This is the one area where this game does well, specifically in its presentation of game dynamics to be queer-inclusive. As noted, the entire premise of this game is based around a relationship dynamic. The rules and all game text uses clear gender-neutral language, making no assumptions about the gender of the players or the gender of the people they choose to partner with.
This is appreciated and well-deserving of full marks according to our scale.
All the human art features slender, nearly identical able-bodied children. If this game is abstract and the features of the people in the art don’t matter, don’t have any historical or game-play relevance… why can’t we get a diversity of bodies up in here?
Sometimes people argue that all the characters HAVE to be white or HAVE to be men or HAVE to be able-bodied because Setting or History or Theme. So in an ‘abstract’ game absent a setting, absent a historical time period, and very light on theme… why do we still not see any diversity in representation of the people who are depicted in the game art? It’s extremely disappointing. (But explicitly allowing queer relationship dynamics is appreciated!)