Written by Dalia
Since the announcement of Stella Clark, The Letter Carrier, a few months ago, everyone has been talking about the significance and importance of representation in Arkham Horror the Card Game. Stella is a trans person of color, something H.P. Lovecraft never would have stood for in his original stories. But, let’s face it: Lovecraft had some pretty trash political views, and it’s great that the developers are going out of their way to reimagine the themes of his work without bringing with it all the racist and sexist and homophobic and ableist baggage.
That said, how well have the designers done in creating a space of diversity within card games? Stella is the first openly trans person in the entirety of the Arkham Horror Files lore. And she’s a person of color. She is a phenomenal example of the ways in which we can showcase diversity and represent marginalized communities. Plus, her backstory was clearly created as a labor of love by people who understand trans issues. She’s not perfect, because people aren’t perfect, but she gives a voice to many people who have not up until this point had the option to play as their authentic selves.
So, beyond Stella, how are we doing?
If we look at just the representation of women and men in the wider Arkham Horror Files, it’s about equal. There are five more men than women, but there are 55 investigators in total. That means 25 women, 30 men. In the card game, there’s one extra man in a 39-investigator pool of released packs, as of the Starter Decks (counting the announced investigators), we get 44 investigators and they are dead even. That’s promising.
Continuing the numbers game, let’s count the people of color and of non-white ethnicities. Zoey Samaras, released in Dunwich. Nathaniel Cho, recently released as a starter investigator. Minh Thi Phan, released in Carcosa. Sefina Rousseau, released in Carcosa. Winifred Habbamock, recently released as a starter investigator. Jim Culver, released in Dunwich. Akachi Onyele, released in Carcosa. Father Mateo, released in The Forgotten Age. Calvin Wright, released in The Forgotten Age. Rita Young, released in The Circle Undone. Stella Clark, recently released as a starter investigator. So that’s 11 people of color out of 39, and even if we include the announced Innsmouth investigators, we get a whopping….11, out of 44. A 25% rate of non-white peoples is not nothing, but it certainly could be better, and to see zero non-white investigators in an upcoming cycle is somewhat disheartening.
This is not intended to be a definitive list of the ethnicities of the Arkham Horror investigators. Some of these people are only identifiable as non-white by name (looking at you, Zoey), rather than their backstory, and it is possible I am overlooking someone. Most backstories do not specify an ethnicity. The art is always slightly ambiguous, and I spent several minutes arguing with my roommate about whether Tony Morgan, the Bounty Hunter, is black or not (he’s not. He’s half British, half American). And it’s worth noting that Calvin Wright was depicted as white in Arkham Files games prior to this one. But there are no non-white investigators in the core box. And every cycle after that has had to try to make up for that.
Of the eleven non-white investigators I named, seven of them are women, and four are men. Which means that there are 12 white women, and 16 white men, released so far as investigators. All the LGBTQ investigators thus far have been non-white, and they have all been Survivors. In fact, there are only two of them: Calvin Wright (gay) and Stella Clark (trans). Now, Mark Harrigan is the only explicitly straight character, and he could always be bisexual, but in general, sexuality and partnership is not mentioned in the investigators’ backstories. But the fact is, that is a form of diversity and representation that is not being explored. While it is great to introduce intersectional diversity and have characters be representative in more than one way, it is a bit telling that Fantasy Flight Games is cramming all their diversity into 25% of the investigators.
This game does not exist in a vacuum, nor does it exist as the perfectly disconnected brainchild of the developers. There is a problem with the existing canon characters in the Arkham Files universe being overwhelmingly white. The LCG designers have made attempts to fix this with creations like Sefina Rousseau, a Tahitian artist whose paintings come to life. However, they are hamstrung by the fact that there are canonical assets within Fantasy Flight Games’ Arkham Files IP that are overwhelmingly white, and male, and the developers have to use some of them. Calvin was an exception because there was not much preexisting art of him, so they weren’t doing away with and recreating dozens of images. I do not blame the designers of the game for using existing assets, and I in fact applaud them for intentionally introducing new characters to the Mythos. But we can do better.
If we look at the range of subtitles and career paths attributed to these non-white investigators, there is a notable lack of normalcy. In some cases, we see stereotyping. For example, Akachi Onyele is a shaman from Nigeria. Although she is one of my favorite characters across the Arkham Files games, the trope of the African magic woman is more than a little stale. Father Mateo is a Mexican priest. Jim Culver is…wait for it…a black jazz musician. Zoey Samaras is a chef, and I assume she’s Greek based on her name. Minh Thi Phan is a Vietnamese secretary (who was originally labeled as Korean in her first appearance in Arkham Horror 2nd Edition, until the public outcry over her name forced FFG to retcon her backstory). Rita Young is a black athlete (specifically, a runner). Calvin Wright is…haunted? He gets stronger as he gets closer to death, which is actually a really cool mechanic for a Survivor.
Nathaniel Cho is a Korean lightweight boxer. Which would be fine, except that there is already an existing Asian martial artist in the Arkham Files universe: Lily Chen. She is one of my favorite characters in the other Arkham Files games, and I am really looking forward to her appearance in the card game. I personally hope to see Lily be very different from Nathaniel, but making your Asian characters martial artists is definitely not the most creative solution to the diversity issue.
Stella Clark is probably the closest we get to a normal person, with a normal job, who happens to be non-white and happens to be queer. We also have the aforementioned Sefina Rousseau, and Winnifred Habbamock, the Native American aviatrix. But a few investigators ticking all the diversity boxes simply isn’t good enough when you have 44 to choose from.
We have two non-white Guardians and all of one non-white Seeker. When people are first getting into the game, they are consistently advised to stick with Guardians and Seekers, as they are the most straightforward classes. The fact is that Minh is the only Seeker of color, and she’s an Asian secretary. The Southeast Asian assistant role is far too overplayed. The rest of the Seekers are professionals in their own rights. This is a problem.
We need the millionaire to not be a white man (even though Preston Fairmont is one of my top investigators). We need to not get two old white professors as Seekers (Harvey Walters and Norman Withers) before we get a second gay investigator. We need the black and African investigators to be normal people, not mystical shamans, and we need the Asian investigators to be more than martial artists and secretaries. Forget the believability of being in 1920’s Massachusetts; we went to the Dreamlands and escaped. Forget the fact that black people could not and still can not amass the same kind of wealth as white people; we fought Yog-Sothoth and won. This game already suspends our disbelief, already tests the limits of our imagination. Wendy Adams, one of my favorite investigators, is a child urchin who can evade anything, but we can’t have a black Guardian? We need representation because it allows for more interesting stories; we need diversity because it means something to the people who can finally see themselves in the roles they want to fulfill. We need a reimagining of the canonical Arkham Files universe because we as a community are so much more than just stereotypes and white men.
I do want to note that the new investigators that have been released since the card game started have been really good examples of what is possible. Sefina Rousseau, Daniela Reyes (not yet in the card game, but a lesbian woman of color who is a mechanic!), Nathaniel Cho, Winnifred Habbamock, and Stella Clark are all great additions to the Arkham Files universe. Plus, Calvin Wright got reimagined. This is not an attempt to rail against the designers for making a shitty game with shitty representation. I love this game more than any other game I own. Again, the designers are fighting against a predominantly white, male IP. But moving forward, now that we know Stella and her ilk are a possibility, we have to maintain this momentum and continue improving. We have seen the capabilities of the developers time and time again when it comes to gameplay, mechanics, and creating a fully realized, representative character. I say this with all the love in my heart: we can do better. We can be better.
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