I reckon most of us have heard about toxic behaviour in our hobby. Some of us will have experienced it directly. Many of us can probably name at least one bad actor who is still present in our community. There are also publishers who still work with these people, despite there having been public outrage about the person’s behaviour or actions and the person not showing any remorse or accepting any responsibility. As a reviewer, my initial reaction is not to review games from those publishers, let alone if a toxic person has worked on them in any capacity. However, as I want to discuss in this article, things aren’t always that black and white.
Let me try and define what it is I want to talk about. Let’s assume a board game publisher has a multi-year contract with a known bad actor. The contract was signed before the person showed any toxic behaviour, but its term is not due to run out for a number of years. Let’s also assume that the bad actor is a board game designer. Of course, it could also be anyone working in the industry, but for simplicity’s sake, let’s go with “designer” and let’s call that person “the toxic designer”.
I don’t want to define what “bad actor” or “toxic behaviour” means specifically, other than by saying that I would definitely not buy a game that the person was involved in. I definitely would not want to promote this person or their work in any way. In fact, I think the person should leave the industry altogether. Feel free to choose a person from any of the recent events that you may have heard of happening in our hobby in the last few years.
Guilty by Association
So my stance is clear. I don’t want to promote the toxic designer in any way. That’s straightforward. However, the next question is if other people or companies are guilty by association. After all, the publisher having a contract with the toxic designer should probably have cancelled it. They should have severed all connections with the person. They should have publicly distanced themselves from this bad actor. Instead, they chose to continue working with them.
So it should be my duty to take the next step and not promote the publisher, because I would be promoting the toxic designer indirectly as well. The publisher is clearly not helping the situation. The publisher is allowing the toxic person to continue to work in the industry and therefore be a part of our community. The obvious choice for me would be not to promote any games released by the publisher, let alone review them.
You could potentially take the concept of guilt by association even further and include everyone working for the publisher. You could even include anyone promoting the publisher. The circle could be widened further and further, but of course, at some point, the link between the toxic designer and the people who are considered to be supporting the bad actor becomes extremely tenuous and meaningless.
Personally, I think drawing the line at the publisher itself makes sense. Including people working for the publisher is already going too far in my view. After all, chances are they can’t just change jobs that easily. They have bills to pay. So even though the people working for the publisher might consider moving to another company themselves, it doesn’t feel right to condemn them for working for the publisher. Consequently, it makes even less sense to widen the circle further.
So far it has been quite black and white and I reckon many of you will agree with my stance. However, let me complicate things a little. Let’s assume the publisher does a lot of great work in the industry. Not only have they published games designed, illustrated or otherwise worked on by women, people of colour or other marginalised groups, but they have a woman director and employ other women and people of colour in key positions within the company. These are all things that should be promoted and supported in whatever way possible.
In fact, I strongly feel I should buy, play and review some of the publisher’s games. However, given my stance of not wanting to promote the toxic designer and making the publisher guilty by association, I am unable to do so. It’s a moral conundrum I have wrestled with for a long time and I think I have found an answer. At least, I think I have found a possible answer and one that I am basing on an ethical theory.
“Consequentialism is an ethical theory that judges whether or not something is right by what its consequences are. For instance, most people would agree that lying is wrong. But if telling a lie would help save a person’s life, consequentialism says it’s the right thing to do.”1
Consequentialism takes many forms and there are many ways of weighing up the pros and the cons of actions versus their consequences. I’m definitely not an expert in the field of ethics, but I feel I understand consequentialism well enough to be comfortable with applying it to my scenario. In fact, I think it’s utilitarianism that I want to use to back up my decision about whether to support the publisher or not.
“Utilitarianism holds that the most ethical choice is the one that will produce the greatest good for the greatest number.”2
In my view, reviewing games where women, people of colour or other people from marginalised groups were involved is important and the right thing to do. The more of these games I can review, the better. If the publisher, who works with the toxic designer, publishes games from women, people of colour or other people from marginalised groups and they publish more games from these people than they publish from the toxic designer, then utilitarianism seems to agree that it is the right thing to do. Consequently, utilitarianism also says that reviewing these games is the right choice.
At least that’s my interpretation of these ethical theories. It also feels right to me that I should review games from the publisher who works with the toxic designer, as long as these games deserve support, such as in the case of games made by women, people of colour or other marginalised groups.
What About You?
What do you think? Does that make sense? Is that the right thing to do? Or do you feel I should not support the publisher in any way, due to their connection to the toxic designer? Maybe you have another viewpoint altogether? As always, please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below. It would be great to hear what you think about this rather complicated topic.
- Consequentialism – Ethics Unwrapped: https://ethicsunwrapped.
utexas. edu/ glossary/ consequentialism
- Utilitarianism – Ethics Unwrapped: https://ethicsunwrapped.
utexas. edu/ glossary/ utilitarianism
Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.
Music by AShamaluevMusic.
These are the songs I listened to while I was writing this topic discussion article: