Reviews | We wanted to play Bunny Kingdom. Gen Con wanted to talk about abortion.


Timothy William Waters is a professor at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law.

On August 5, the Indiana legislature approved a near total ban on abortion. Down the street my son and I were playing the Bunny Kingdom board game. Unfortunately, these things are related.

We were at Gen Con, the annual gaming convention where, this year, over 50,000 people walked around dressed as Batman or Darth Vader or the same person they were in high school — and it was pretty good.

Gen Con supports various identities: Convention badges feature ribbons that read “Gaymer” or list wearers’ pronouns. With many conventioneers dressed as elves, the welcome goes far beyond the gender binary: become the sexy vampire you’ve always wanted to be, or just the person you really are.

Which, for some hardcore geeks, means being conservative. They might like the “gays” and Donald Trump. They might be celebrating the latest Magic: The Gathering release and the reversal of Roe vs. Wade.

There’s no badge for that ID, and that was fine, too, but this year Gen Con Chairman David Hoppe attacked Indiana’s abortion bill and threatened to move future conventions elsewhere.

The day after the abortion legislation was passed, two major Indiana employers, pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly and engine maker Cummins, sharply criticized the law and said they would direct their growth plans towards other states.

They are part of a trend. Companies are increasingly under pressure to take a stand on political issues unrelated to their business. Progressives, long suspicious of corporate politics, are now insisting on it. Many business leaders have lined up: in 2016, American Airlines, Wells Fargo and the National Basketball Association opposed a North Carolina “restroom” law they deemed transphobic; last year, hundreds of companies spoke out against voting restrictions in Georgia and elsewhere.

For organizations dealing with consumers and employees empowered by Twitter, it may be a good idea to align with their policy. For activists, lobbying corporations helps their side win.

Except it’s not, really. We are all losers, because turning markets into a political battleground harms our common moral economy and damages the apolitical spaces that help preserve a decent and tolerant society.

The shared spaces of civil society loosen the boundaries of entrenched identity, allowing humans to escape tribal, religious or political isolation. This is true in open markets, or in universities teaching diverse ideas, or in places where people can play and learn that victory is not absolute and that coexistence is possible in defeat.

Life is not a board game: everything seems political in our eternally urgent “now”. But the push for ideological supremacy is doomed. Boycotts and corporate relocations can put pressure on lawmakers, but they also separate us from each other.

Despite its earlier threats, Gen Con said after the abortion legislation passed that the convention would return at least next year. But if the organizers end up fleeing, where would they go? The South and Midwest would be mostly off limits. More likely, the convention would go into deep blue exile, leaving behind the Indiana Convention Center — the same hall where I attended the 2019 National Rifle Association convention. Stands that sold 20-sided dice that month were then selling Glocks. The NRA returns to Indianapolis in 2023. How does politics improve if the elves give up Indiana to the orcs?

Politicizing business makes sense when there is a real connection to politics. Organizations naturally take positions on social issues that affect their functioning. But activists are pushing tons of preferences under this guise: In 2013, Indiana University opposed a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage on grounds that went well beyond institutional concerns. . (Selectively: I have never seen a university oppose laws contrary to conservative teachers or students.)

Gen Con also opposed this amendment and now opposes the abortion law. Besides saying the legislation would “directly impact our team and our community,” Gen Con isn’t claiming it’s a business decision – “hurt, angry and frustratedhe simply sees the law as unjust.

Maybe yes, maybe not. I don’t know if the Gen Con community agrees on abortion or something else: the man playing Galaxy Trucker with us didn’t mention his voter registration.

But what about the women who support freedom of choice who might feel alarmed in “The Handmaid’s Tale” Indiana? This is Gen Con’s business is to make them feel welcome – because it is the duty of the convention to make every attendee feel welcome, including players whose stance on abortion Gen Con has stated inhuman.

The answer is to make sure no one is preferences dominate our shared space. Basic game design: Don’t set the rules so that only your side can play. Politicizing everything ignores this lesson.

In Bunny Kingdom, players lead competing clans of carrot-picking rabbits. I hate to admit it, but when play was suspended for the day and we walked out into an Indiana summer where politics never stopped, my son was beating me. But there was no card called “Boycott” or “Grab your bunnies and go.” Winning is good, but the main thing is to keep playing.

It might be too much to expect next year’s convention to include a ribbon celebrating the “Gen-conservatives”. But I’d love to wear one that says “Everyone is welcome – let’s play.”

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