Since 1969, the LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and more) community has celebrated June as Pride Month. This is designated as a time to reflect on the hard work and activism of queer ancestors, celebrate one’s authentic self, and acts as a yearly reminder to continue to fight for LGBTQ+ rights.
The LGBTQ+ Community and Board Games
You might be asking, “what does this have to do with tabletop games?” And We’re here to tell you, quite a lot! When you pick up a new RPG and find the character has multiple options for sex and gender expression or read a set of instructions using gender-less pronouns, you are witnessing the immersion of LGBTQ+ identities into board games. Just like the players at your table, designers come from vastly different backgrounds and experiences. This gives us the opportunity to sit in their perspective in a world that, the majority of the time, assumes a cisgender heterosexual audience.
Here at Mox, we decided to take this month to highlight four LGBTQ+ designers behind some of our favorite tabletop games to find out more about them and how their identities helped shape the worlds we immerse ourselves into every day. This week, we introduce you to…
“The experiences we have while playing games are treasures that can be incredibly meaningful and even save lives.”– Nikki Valens (they/them)
Games: Quirky Circuits, Legacy at Dragonholt, Mansions of Madness 2Ed, Arkham Horror
Mox: Hi Nikki. Tell us a little bit about who you are.
Nikki: I’m currently a freelance board game designer. I’ve been making games professionally since 2013 and as an amateur for many years before that. I spent just over five years as an in house designer for Fantasy Flight Games before deciding to spread my wings.
Mox: How did you originally get involved in the board game industry?
Nikki: I’ve been playing and designing games since I was a kid. Middle school roleplaying club was my first step into designing my own RPG systems and playing them with friends. I continued to design supplements for D&D and my own systems through high school and college. After graduating, I was interested in pursuing a career in game design either in table top or video games. Finding the opening at FFG was a great fit and I’ve been making board games ever since.
Mox: What do tabletop games mean to you?
Nikki: To me, tabletop gaming is about the connection with others. I roleplay to understand myself and the other players. I play card and board games to strengthen my connection with my friends. Gaming is primarily a social activity for me.
Mox: What inspires your game design?
Nikki: It’s really those same connections with people that drives my designs. I want to have fun with my friends and I want others to be able to have fun too. I focus mostly on co-op games because I really enjoy working together with others to create something unique. The experiences we have while playing games are treasures that can be incredibly meaningful and even save lives. I want to use my position to bring as much happiness to our world as I can.
Mox: What has been your favorite title to work on, and why?
Nikki: I love all of my designs for what they are. Right now, my favorite to show people is Quirky Circuits. It’s a co-op action programming game where we’re trying to help cute little robot friends with their daily routines. We start off helping Gizmo the roomba clean up the house and eventually work our way up to helping Lefty the sushi chef. The mechanic is very simple, but with limited communication and limited actions available, it can lead to some very unexpected results. If you’ve ever wondered how your roomba managed to get itself stuck under a chair, this game will show you how that happened.
Mox: What theme would you love to see in RPGs/ board games that you haven’t seen or would like to be more prominent?
Nikki: I would love to see more social games. Not like social deduction or trading games, but something closer to Stardew Valley or Animal Crossing in nature. A game that’s mostly just about living your best life with your neighbors and friends. It feels like a hard design challenge, but with the success of those two games and Minecraft, it feels like there’s a market for it. At least that’s something me and my friends would be really excited to see.
Mox: How does your gender and sexual expression impact your game design?
Nikki: I think my identity helps shape the themes and content of my games. So many games assume the players are cisgender and heterosexual, and that shows in ways many designers aren’t even thinking of. But in those details, the games feel like they’re not for me. So when I’m designing or writing, I create things based on my experiences. I write characters across the full spectrum of gender and sexuality. The worlds I build don’t carry the same ingrained bias we see in our real world. And I hear from my players that they really appreciate that. We all just want to feel comfortable and happy, and I want to give that to the players that are missing it.
Mox: What would you like to tell young LGBTQ people who want to break into the game industry?
Nikki: Please don’t be intimidated. It’s scary, I know. But you have every right to do this as anyone else, and you bring your unique experiences and strengths to the table. The games you can make can’t be made by anyone else. And when you bring your experience into design, you create something where others like you can feel at home. More LGBTQ+ designers means more LGBTQ+ friendly games and more of us feeling welcome in the community.
Make sure you pick up one of Nikki Valens’ games next time you’re in Mox, and check back next week when we continue our series with graphic and layout designer Simeon Cogswell. Currently, we are offering Curbside Pick Up from Mox Bellevue and Mox Seattle.
– Meet you at Mox