Tabletop Tuesday – Origins Game Fair & the Pitfalls of Being ‘Apolitical’
Like many conventions in 2020, Origins Game Fair faced the difficult choice of rescheduling because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Gaming Manufacturers Association (GAMA) decided, however, to additionally host a virtual conference on the weekend their event was initially planned.
Many people, including those of us here at PCU, were excited to see how an event such as this could be pulled off. However, we were shocked and saddened when GAMA decided to cancel Origins Online a mere week before the event.
The canceling appeared to stem from a significant faux pas given the current unrest in this country.
After May 25th and the death of George Floyd, many began to show support for the protests against police brutality and the ensuing clashes with police. From local governments to organizations to corporations, the message was the same: we stand with the protesters, oppose the abuse of police power, and believe that Black Lives Matter.
Despite this trend in public statements, GAMA and Origins Game Fair remained relatively quiet. On June 1st, after the first full weekend of nationwide protests and civil unrest, their only response was a single Twitter thread offering a single Friday-night live stream dedicated to black game designers.
For many, the tweet was not what was desired as there was no mention of George Floyd, police brutality, or BLM, merely talk of a “time of crisis” and wanting to support the community’s black members. Whether other statements were performative or not, the request was the same: openly support BLM and decrying police actions.
Various sources suggested GAMA was heavily encouraged to release a proper statement mentioning George Floyd, condemning police brutality, and supporting BLM and the protesters. Over a week later, however, the organization was still silent.
Whether their silence was an attempt to remain ‘apolitical’ or not, the fact remains that the majority see silence as complicity, and Origins was about to face the consequences. Although it’s unclear who was the first to pull out of Origins Online, the mass exodus of publishers, designers, and contributors began on June 10th.
On June 11th, a little past midnight, the GAMA Board of Directors finally released a statement. In the post, they apologized for their previous silence and showed support for BLM and the protesters and against police brutality.
Simultaneously, they canceled Origins Online, although nowhere did they mention the mass exodus of participants. Instead, they tried to suggest that it wasn’t “appropriate” to hold such a convention during this “setting.”
As before, GAMA tried to distance itself from its responsibility. They were playing the “apolitical” card again!
The problem with being apolitical in gaming — and pop culture in general — is two-fold.
First, the fight for social justice and civil rights is not a “political” issue. You either believe everyone deserves equal rights and that systemic and societal bigotry should be abolished, or you support discrimination and are therefore a bigot.
There is no middle ground on this topic.
Second, pop culture and geekdom reflect the society we live in, and when something is essential to the consumers, the industries should follow suit. You can’t remain silent because these things are happening, whether you like it or not.
Those who aren’t on board with their audiences will face the consequences.
The majority responded to GAMA with comments about “too little too late” and “why not admit why you really canceled.” Although they were glad that a statement was released, there were still questions on why it took the loss of contributors and staff for them to do something so simple.
Others suggested Origins was canceled due to downsizing (during the pandemic), and the BLM statement was just a cover. The theory was that GAMA didn’t have the resources or planning to run a virtual convention, and instead of admitting their ineptitude, they just blamed things on the social movement.
Some voices spouted the usual rhetoric of the privileged and ignorant. “I just want to game,” “I’ve never seen bigotry,” and “why do you have to bring politics into this?!” are among the few that we’ve refuted in the past.
Plus, the smattering of “social justice warriors ruin everything,” but they’re not even worth a rebuttal.
GAMA and Origins messed up royally by remaining ‘apolitical,’ whether it was purposeful or not. They faced the consequences of their silence, which canceled not only their online convention but also their rescheduled real-world one.
These happenings should serve as a warning to other aspects of the gaming industry and community, from conventions to organizations, FLGS to individuals. You cannot remain ‘apolitical’ in tabletop gaming, and it’s time to step up or step out.
If there’s one thing that this debacle involving GAMA and Origins has taught us, however, it’s that the majority will not stand for silence (or regression), and their actions have power.
We, the tabletop gaming community, stand with the protests worldwide. We believe Black Lives Matter, decry what happened to George Floyd (and all the other black lives lost), and oppose police brutality and militarization.
If you want to support Black Lives Matter, the protesters, and racial justice, please check out these resources:
- Black Lives Matter Charity Event – A variety of bundles on DriveThruRPG that spotlight racial justice and black designers.
- Black Lives Matter: A Board Game Raffle for Social Justice – Meeple Mountain is holding a raffle with proceeds going to Black Lives Matter, Black Legal Action Centre, and Campaign Zero.
- Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality – A bundle of 1400 games, from tabletop to computer, with proceeds going to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Community Bail Fund.
- Punk Pride Pixies – An RPG that’s “pay what you want,” but for June they will be donating all proceeds to Black Visions Collective.
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