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Increasing Diversity In The Netrunner Community


#1

Introduction

Android: Netrunner, as a card game, in its current incarnation, is full of diversity. It’s almost like the designers have been making a positive effort to balance gender and ethnicity - who’d have thought‽

Yet, like many communities in modern gaming, the community of Netrunner players is much less diverse than the wider population. The field at the recent European Championship was more than 95% white male, with very few female/NB players. The reasons for this are complex but not unknown; the gaming world has a particular reputation for being unwelcoming to women, femme-presenting people and people of colour, but that’s something that we can change. Imagine more than doubling the player base for Netrunner, how great would that be‽

This thread is intended to let us explore how we can do that, individually and collectively.

Thread mission:

  • To discuss actions that would encourage a broader diversity within the Netrunner community.
  • To provide a highly visible and safe space for non-cis/straight/white/male netrunners to provide feedback and make suggestions to the rest of the community.
  • To develop, collaboratively, an inclusive code of conduct for stimhack.com which would then be posted in a similarly visible manner.
  • To serve as an example to the broader community of how to be properly inclusive and welcoming.

You may find it valuable before contributing to read the following articles about inclusion and diversity in gaming, and in Netrunner in particular, and to listen to The Winning Agenda’s podcast episode with Alexis Spicer from The Women Of Netrunner.

http://meeplelikeus.co.uk/busting-myths-around-sociological-accessibility/
http://boingboing.net/2015/07/27/how-card-games-became-cool-aga.html
https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-22asg-5eefdc

This thread will be moderated by @tolaasin and @babyweyland.

Thread rules:

  • This thread will be actively moderated in a way that has not previously been the norm.
  • We make the baseline assumption that work to improve diversity is necessary and valuable. Posts questioning the premise that we need explicit action, or suggesting that this is somehow discriminatory against those majority demographics who don’t currently need any special diversity efforts to feel welcome (e.g. accusing organizers of women/non-binary only events of ‘reverse sexism’, etc ) are unhelpful and will be removed.
  • Replies to these kind of posts, even if themselves constructive, may be removed to keep the thread on track. If you think a post doesn’t belong, flag it and move on.
    • Backseat moderating is not recommended. If a post is deemed worthy of moderation, flag it and let the mods get it. Don’t try to handle it yourself.
    • Contributions by members who are not from the currently dominant demographic are particularly valued. If you do not understand the sentiments or ideas expressed by these members, ask constructive, clarifying questions. Seek to understand, not to challenge their perspectives.
    • We are particularly interested in practical ideas that would make Netrunner events or content more welcoming to currently marginalised groups.
  • Before making your first post, we expect new contributors to have read all previous comments in the thread.
  • Participants are expected to hold moderators accountable for accurate moderation. The moderators welcome feedback via PM or Slack and will review with other community regulars to ensure an unbiased response.
  • These rules are not exhaustive and we will hold participants to the spirit of their contents.

Why Skorpios is bad for Netrunner
Why Skorpios is bad for Netrunner
NISEI Real Talk™: Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion
NISEI Real Talk™: Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion
#3

#4

Maybe I can start the ball rolling by suggesting that we actively work towards more diversity on streamed tournament commentary, and with guests on Netrunner podcasts. Non-cwm commentators are the exception rather than the rule - but we could encourage local streamers to look beyond the usual suspects when commentary is needed.


#5

From the looks of things, having read a few of those articles and thought about it for a bit, that the problem is less “How can we increase diversity of race, gender etc in the community” and more “how can we increase diversity of profession in the community”. Netrunner is not an especially easy game to learn/teach, and this barrier to entry is usually lessened if someone has an interest in the tech sector or cyberpunk genres, areas which have been unfortunately predominately dominated by white men.

I think we could take a page out of the superhero industry for this. People who don’t usually read comics still love the marvel movies, because they are very accessible even if you don’t get all the references and easily get people talking, which is how you build a community. In the same way, people who aren’t immediately excited by the strategy and programming-like complexity of netrunner could still end up interested in the game through stories of all the crazy lore in the android universe, or through tales of epic matches that went down to the wire. Maybe podcast hosts could spend more time talking about the lore of the game, or people could share livestream highlights, basically anything to get people interested in the game that doesn’t contain the nitty-gritty of matches, because that only appeals to people who already play the game seriously.

TL;DR: This might actually be a problem about getting ‘casuals’ interested in the game on some level other than mechanical complexity/tech interest, so we need to push the more ‘fandom-esque’ aspects of netrunner to rope people in. Anyway, that’s just my thoughts on the matter. What do y’all think?


#6

I think the main reason why there are few women playing Netrunner is that it draws its players mostly from male-dominated pools:

  • Gamers in their 30s
  • Gamers interested in a “lifestyle” game
  • Hobby boardgamers
  • People who have played other CCGs (Most players in my area are ex-L5R or ex-AGOT players)
  • People who like Cyberpunk
  • Programmers and computer people (Like 80% of players in my area seem to be on this career path.)

Aditionally the community moves through male-dominated spaces:

  • Hobby shops
  • Internet forums, Reddit
  • Slack, private Whatssap groups

I’ll explain the last one. It’s an open secret that the activity and level of discourse of Stimhack dropped after Slack was created and something similar happened when European hubs of discussion moved away from forums (That everyone can read forever) to chats (That are very time-sensitive and generally less accessible).

So if you are someone with a smaller amount of access to the game (New player, less involved in the community) you miss out on a ton of info. This disproportionately affects women as they tend to be less involved and have less access on average than men.

Unfortunately, I think there’s very little the community can do to change things. Most are social issues that cannot be solved by any given group and the rest require amounts of work and effort that the Netrunner community cannot give.

I think it’s a non-starter, sadly. Netrunner is not the right product for this kind of fandom. It’s just not where its strenghts lies.

Also, keep in mind that this is work. Worse, it’s unpaid, often ungrateful work and someone has to do it.


#7

I’d respectfully disagree with this sentiment. There’s very little the Netrunner community can do to change diversity in the wider gaming sphere, and there’s little chance we can ‘fix’ diversity within the Netrunner community, but there absolutely is a lot that can be done to improve diversity/inclusivity within our own community.

Some of those may require significant effort, like organising events designed to cater for those currently underrepresented, some require minimal effort, like podcasts and streams striving to be more representative, and some require basically no effort, like people stopping using exclusive language.


#8

I think you raise a good point with your post, but I have to disagree with this part. It’s true that Netrunner draws from populations that are typically dominated by white men, and that’s certainly a major component in the lack of diversity within our community. That’s an issue bigger than us - one niche card game isn’t going to balance the gender gap in the tech industry (although if you happen to be part of other groups facing this issue then I highly encourage you to take on board the sentiment from this discussion when operating in those spaces as well).

But this doesn’t mean we can’t do something. Things can be improved, and they can be improved through direct actions like promotion of events where underrepresented groups can feel more welcome or through more indirect things like watching out for exclusionary behaviour and calling it out if you see it. I would love to see Netrunner become a more diverse community because that means more people have the opportunity to enjoy my favourite game. I don’t know if we’ll ever make it perfect - in part due to the points you raised - but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to make it better.


#9

I know at least a few male players who have girlfriends/fianceés/wives who play at home, but who rarely or never come to events. And it’s not that uncommon to see reddit posts from someone who plays Netrunner against his female S.O. at home and is joining the online discussion about it or dipping his toes into organized play, but similar posts from women seem to be a lot rarer.

There may be a lot more women than men who never play Netrunner because of the social attitudes around this sort of game, and that’s definitely something to worry about addressing, but it also seems like there are a fair number of women who do play Netrunner but who have no interest in participating in the community. I think that might be a more manageable problem to address than the problem of women being less likely to want to try the game. And I think that successfully addressing it would increase the game’s appeal to women who currently dismiss it.


#10

I suspect that the reasons for these players not taking part in tournaments/the community are probably similar to those who do not generally feel comfortable/safe/welcomed in a broad gaming environment - but I agree that this may be a more tractable approach in the short term.

In the spirit of this thread, what kinds of actions do you think could we take to encourage those who play only at home/with a safe group of friends to take part in the community?


#11

I’ve been thinking about this a bit in the wider context of increasing participation in Netrunner full-stop, rather than specifically for minority groups, so forgive me if this is a little too broad.

As someone who started playing just a few months ago, literally kitchen table with my housemate and who has now built an almost complete physical collection, played a lot on jnet and played in one GNK so far, I think something could definitely be done to make the competitive (or non-casual, however you want to characterise it) Netrunner experience more welcoming.

Now don’t get me wrong, when I decided I wanted to play a GNK (and it did take some convincing of myself to get me to go along), everyone seemed super friendly, I didn’t experience any negative behaviours from other players or anyone involved in the tournament, but it was intimidating and made me feel anxious, simply because it was competitive, organised play.

So I wonder if we could devise a new tournament structure or set of additional “rules” (I prefer guidelines) to help make this first (or second or third or tenth) time experience just a little less frightening and thus encourage more players to come along and keep coming along and progressing to GNKs, Store Champs, Regionals, etc?

Maybe something that revolves around not playing all of your games against people you don’t know yet? So somehow skewing the schedule of games so that if you came with a partner you usually play with, a larger proportion of your games are with that person, to provide a “safer” feeling portion of the tournament, while still exposing people to playing new people and facing unfamiliar decks, mechanics etc?

I’m definitely going to think about this more and try to come up with some more actionable and full-formed ideas, but I thought this perspective might be at least a little helpful for others as a way to think about some solutions. In short, the main concerns which made me anxious about attending a GNK were:

  • Not knowing the people I’d be playing against, and specifically how they might act/behave (I don’t play any other LCGs, so I had no evidence-based impression of what a “typical” Netrunner GNK field might look like, people-wise)
  • Not knowing what kind of decks I might face and how comprehensively my own decks would be beaten
  • Not knowing what would be expected of me in terms of my proficiency in the mechanics and tactics/strategy of the game

The other thought which keeps coming into my head is some form of well-publicised “beginner’s night” or some kind, where people can come along, learn the game using suitable, provided decks and try it out with no investment beyond their time. Perhaps there would still be barriers in attending such an event for people who fall into the minorities we’re trying to reach out to, but it might be something to explore (if people haven’t already).

Sorry for the essay, kinda just bashed out a stream of consciousness - hope it’s at least somewhat useful!


Ready Player New: A Primer on How to Build a Netrunner Community
#12

I was lurking in the Women of Netrunner facebook group a couple weeks ago, and someone started a discussion about how they should crowdfund to start a bursary to send more women/non-binary players to Worlds. I thought at the time that it would be a fantastic idea if, instead of just awarding the bursary to someone they select, they could hold a tournament for woman/nonbinary players to compete for the bursary. I didn’t feel like jumping in and suggesting it on the Facebook group, because it felt a little like I would be mansplaining to them how to do the thing that hadn’t even been my idea, but I feel like such a tournament would do a great deal to increase the visibility of female players, and make the ones who only play with their male partners feel more at home in the community.

You could charge a small entry fee to supplement the crowdfunded prize pool, and possibly also allow anyone to enter the tournament to increase the amount collected (though of course rule that only women or non-binary players are eligible to win the bursary). I suspect that the ANRPC folks might be able to help with custom promos for extra prize support too, though I wouldn’t presume to speak for them, especially on here.


#13

Not only is a lot of information missed if you aren’t on the Slack/reddit/stimhack but starting this game from where we are now is difficult. the sheer volume of cards you need to purchase to start the game is overwhelming even with rotation coming up. I am not sure how to solve this but I know many people sell full collections, which we can try to advertise more on WoN, and many threads are started in Dorks and on WoN about what packs are necessary to start the game help. However, it is still very daunting and expensive to start the game now.


#14

That is an excellent idea. We haven’t really gotten around to trying out the bursary idea you mentioned yet but we can definitely look into a tournament.


#15

I don’t know what we can do to encourage people to come out for the first time. I do know that the experience people have the first time they come out is probably a major factor in whether they come out again. Of course, that’s true of all players, but for the groups we’re discussing, there’s a higher risk that they won’t have a good first impression of the community if the sorts of issues discussed in Ajar’s article aren’t addressed.

I think this might be wandering a bit far from the thread topic, but it has given me some ideas for how a bring-a-friend tournament might work. Will post in a new thread if I actually get around to trying them.


#16

[quote=“Absotively, post:15, topic:9064”]I think this might be wandering a bit far from the thread topic, but it has given me some ideas for how a bring-a-friend tournament might work. Will post in a new thread if I actually get around to trying them.
[/quote]

Fair enough, as someone who is not in any of the minority groups which we’re attempting to encourage participation from, it might be difficult for me to separate barriers/issues which are specific to those minorities and barriers/issues which are more universal to all players new to organised play.

Sorry if I derailed the thread at all!


#17

@3n1gm4 - your observations are welcome - the challenge is that current minorities face the same ‘entry’ problems that everyone has with this game (cost, etc), PLUS the challenges of a (currently) exclusively CWM environment. We’re trying in this thread to focus on the latter - thanks for recognising that.


#18

You might try shifting the locus of events from an intimidating one (game stores) to a more familiar, comfortable one (coffee shops, microbreweries).

Hard to do for really big events, but helpful as a first step.


#19

I can’t contribute much to this thread, but want to signal boost higgs_bozo’s point here, as I think it’s a significant one. I can relay that my wife and several other women I know have been interested in Netrunner, but simply do not want to go to a “game store” to play it. The negative stigma associated with these stores – loud, nerdy men doing loud, nerdy things – is hard to overcome, and has to be factored into any initiatives to increase diversity in the community.


#20

It should be factored in as a huge gain, too. If increasing diversity goes hand in hand with shedding that stigma, that would be a massive improvement for everyone.


#21

It could be, I suppose, but we shouldn’t overreach nor negate short-term gains for potential long-term ones.

I’ll be clearer: I strongly support increasing the variety of places/venues that Netrunner is played in, in order to move it away from the perceived stigma of the “game store.” While FFG is obviously all-in on supporting these venues, and I generally support the idea of financially supporting FLGSes, they come with baggage that are likely excluding a lot of people who would be interested in games like Netrunner. They already have the MtG/Yu-Gi-Oh/Pokémon players, and Netrunner/LCG players are small potatoes for those venues financially. It shouldn’t be on us to diversify the “game store” in general – it should be on us to diversify this game’s community.

I’m all for shedding the stigma that game stores have earned, if possible, but that seems beyond the scope of this discussion. Given the dwindling numbers of players at our local meetups, I’d much rather look into new places to play that could be welcoming to a wider variety of players without having to worry that the MtG players at the next table will be obnoxious.