Edmontonians work to increase representation, inclusivity in tabletop gaming

Alyx Bui is building the game Chinese Ghost Stories We Tell Ourselves, a tabletop role-playing game that’s part of a wave of more representative stories popping up in the industry. (Submitted by Alyx Bui - image credit)
Alyx Bui is building the game Chinese Ghost Stories We Tell Ourselves, a tabletop role-playing game that’s part of a wave of more representative stories popping up in the industry. (Submitted by Alyx Bui - image credit)

Alyx Bui started playing tabletop games in university but never connected with the stories as a queer, non-binary Asian player.

"You're going to a dungeon, you're looting, getting some treasure and coming back," Bui told CBC's Radio Active. "That's really representative of colonization … and I didn't really see myself wanting to go off and colonize."

Bui is part of a growing community in Edmonton working to make gaming more inclusive and accessible to all communities.

They received a 2022 Edmonton Arts Council Grant for their own tabletop gaming project, Chinese Ghost Stories We Tell Ourselves, a horror story based around a Chinese family.

"Chinese ghost stories and Chinese superstitions are so different," Bui said. "I wanted to create a game that was representative."

Bui started building their game in 2020 after years of playing role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons.

"I really gained the confidence to design games when I realized that there were a lot of gaps in the industry," said Bui, who wanted games that spoke to their experience.

For research, Bui used tales told by their parents growing up and other popular Chinese ghost stories, especially those with larger societal messages.

Hoard of Tales/Youtube
Hoard of Tales/Youtube

Bui said the game leans into etymology, including how in Chinese the letter four sounds like the word death and the pictogram for ghosts represents a mask.

In the game players act as a family — taking on roles like father, child, grandparent and mother — and work to identify and create superstitions, confronting their own demons through the process.

"I wanted a true to life experience where I could enjoy it with other Asians at the table," said Bui.

Changing the game

David Plamondon owns Pe Metawe Games, an Indigenous-owned tabletop board game and role-playing game shop on 118th Avenue that focuses on inclusivity.

"You're seeing a very big explosion in people of colour coming out and making games," he said. "Games themed around traditional African folklore and other kinds of non-Western mythology."

Plamondon references the Indigenous-made role-playing game Coyote and Crow, which is set in an alternate future where the Americas were never colonized. It raised over a million dollars through crowdfunding.

"I think it shows that there is an appetite for representation of all kinds."

Submitted by David Plamondon
Submitted by David Plamondon

Bui's game is still being developed but they hope to release it in 2023. In the meantime, the Edmonton Arts Council funding will support its testing.

"A lot of people are telling me that they feel connected to the culture," Bui said. "One person told me they didn't feel any gender dysphoria when they played this game."

Bui said that players who are BIPOC, queer or come from immigrant backgrounds are connecting with the themes and story.

"People want to see themselves represented in the media that they consume," said Plamondon, who's seeing an increase in games from 2SLGBT creators.

At Pe Metawe, Plamondon works with the local 2SLGBT community, running programs with the Pride Center of Edmonton and the Institute for Sexuality and Minority Studies at the University of Alberta.

"I think board games have really lagged behind when it comes to representing those people. And so I think you're starting to see that kind of catch up."

Bui hopes that at the very least, stories on the board will make people think.

"The most exciting thing is being able to change minds and to have that representation," Bui said.

"I want someone to look at my game and feel seen."