by: Zoe W.
I started playing Hex TCG in October of 2015. Hex had a lot of features, with more in development, that made me hopeful that this would be a game that I would be playing for a long time to come. Unfortunately, this was not the case. It is especially disappointing because Hex had so much potential but seemed as though the creators worked to make things less inclusive. First, I want to talk about why Hex had such potential in the first place.
Hex TCG is a relatively new game. It was successfully funded kickstarter in May 2013 and it just came out of Beta this January. New games are exciting to me because it means that there is a community being formed. The chance to be a part of a new community means that I get to be active in trying to foster the inclusive and helpful environment that I enjoy in the communities that I am a part of, gaming and non. The reason why I was so excited to be a part of the Hex community is because Hex, from the start, seemed like a game that would appeal to all sorts of players. Hex marketed itself as a mix between a digital trading card game (TCG) and a Massive Multiplayer Online game (MMO). As with an MMO there are two forms of play: Player vs Player (PvP) and Player vs Environment (PvE). HEX has the potential to form a community that has multiple types of gamers, which to me meant that there would not be such a homogenous community that many more singularly focused games have.
Hex was also exciting to me because it was creative. It had traditional fantasy races, orcs, elves, dwarves, trolls etc. but it also added several cool new races and elements, like stormlings, shroomkin, vennin (spider people) and robots (which worked unexpectedly well in the fantasy setting.) It is great when a new piece of media comes up with creative material in a unique way. These types of things add so much to the game that it is great to have.
And of course, the game itself. I really love the game, how it plays, the complexity and strategy, and the ways that the digital format has been incorporated. The game is in some ways, very similar to Magic the Gathering (to the point where a lawsuit was filed by WoTC against Hex, which was settled in 2015). But it has much more to it as well. The basic game is using your deck of cards to defeat another player or the AI and their deck of cards. Each player has a champion that has a special ability. Cards can be upgraded through gems, which give the cards powers. Cards can transform into other cards or even make more cards that go into play or into yours or the opponent’s deck. These are just a few of the multiple mechanics that make this an interesting and fun game.
Hex started from such a positive place, it was a game that was designed to appeal to a wide range of players, it was a good game and it had some unique and creative lore. Hex had so many good aspects to it but it has turned out so poorly in terms of inclusivity. How does a game go from this to something decidedly exclusive and offensive?
It was lazy
Instead of coming up with unique twists on fantasy tropes and creating original content for all its lore, Hex used marginalized cultures to flesh out its universe. Not only did it use these cultures but it stereotyped them and conflated them with other cultures. There are eight main races that players can play as in the PvE campaign and that the champions can be. Human, Orc, Elf, Dwarf, Vennin, Necrotic all seemed fine. However two races, Shin’hare and Coyotle are not. The creative content behind these races is lazy and appropriative. Shin’hare are anthropomorphic rabbits based off of stereotypes of Japanese culture and Coyotle are similarly anthropomorphic coyotes and foxes which are based off of stereotypes of Native American culture.
It was uncomfortable for me to play and I can only imagine that it could drive people away from the game. I dealt with it by not playing with those cards if I could but to be honest, I was selfishly ignoring the issue because I liked the gameplay. This is something I should not have done, especially when you look at how these cultures are represented. The creators of this game clearly do not care about accurately depicting the cultures that they shamelessly used for their own profit.
The Shin’hare are shown as samurai, ninjas, mystics or, of course, concubines. The mysticism is either traditional fantasy based-warlocks, or based off of Asian mysticism. I say Asian, instead of Japanese, because while there are cards that use Japanese mysticism there are also cards that poach off of Indian culture. It seemingly doesn’t matter which Asian culture is taken from.
The concubine cards, or “concubunnies” as the game calls them, work by having the “concubunny” card have the ability to make more Shin’hare. They are just rabbit baby makers. If it was just bunnies that might be ok but by tying in a culture representing real people makes it a clear problem as people already fetishize Asian women as it is. I can’t see what this really adds to the game. It honestly makes me wonder if the reason that the Japanese race is rabbits was just so they could make the “concubunny” pun.
Just as accurate representation was thrown out the window with the Shin’hare, the Coyotle are stereotypes of Native Americans with whatever elements of their culture the creators wanted thrown in. The creators clearly don’t care about the peoples whose culture they are using for their game. Just as Indian culture was incorporated into the Japanese based Shin’hare, differences between Native American culture was ignored as the Coyotle are described and mostly shown as a nomadic people living on the plains of the this fantasy world but they also have Totem Poles, a part of the Native American cultures of the groups who lived in the Pacific Northwest of North America.
It ignored or didn’t care about how art may be received.
Overall, the art in the game is pretty decent regarding depictions of feminine bodies. However, there is still some clear objectification going on in the art, a problem that is rampant in fantasy art in general. In a game about fighting there is no need for excessively sexualized bodies. There is no reason to go out of the way and commission extra art that is overtly sexual. Hex has alternate art versions of some of the cards, which are for special in game events, promotions and a random prizes. While most of the artwork is fine, it is telling that several of the alternate art versions of cards with a feminine subject are sexualized. They took cards that had fine artwork and commissioned special pieces that made the artwork sexier.
I have to wonder what the art prompt was and what the art director was looking for that they thought this was ok.
Along with this, is the lack of representation of people of color. Of the 119 “human” cards fewer than 5 show someone who isn’t white or white-passing. Even if this was not a conscious decision it is still shows how little regard for non-white people the game creators have.
Personally, I don’t believe that depictions of men in dresses is inherently transphobic or misogynist, but when the whole point is to be a joke then it almost always is. One of the AI bosses is named Princess Cory after Hex’s creator. It was based off of something that Cory did to end the initial kickstarter video. Cory dressed in drag, pretended to be a sex worker and said “Clearly, there’s nothing I wouldn’t do to get this game made.” This then turned into the joke boss Princess Cory. There are so many things wrong with this–transphobia, misogyny, whorephobia–that I won’t bother deconstructing it and just let it speak for itself.
It was purposefully exclusionary
Anytime a change is being made to the game the question that should be asked is, “Does this change make things more welcoming for players or less?” If the answer is less, why is it there? This January, the main part of the PvE campaign was released. I had been lukewarm on hex for a while but decided to check it out. The idea is, like in an RPG, you choose a race from the eight races and a class, either warrior, mage or cleric. The character creator also had a gender option. It is disappointing to see any game or content being released these days that still has a binary male/female gender selection but it got worse than that. Something like a gender selection should only be there for aesthetics in the character creation process. It should not exist as a way to limit player options.
But, surprise, two of the races, Dwarves and Vennin, can only be played as male. I asked why and the response was that it had to be that way because it’s the lore. Falling back on sexism because it’s lore is an intellectually bankrupt argument as it ignores that it was consciously made by people who had to sit down and write it. People who thought having two all male races was a good idea. The creators of the game consciously and purposefully made their game less inclusive towards women.
The lore from hextcg.com states that dwarves: “Formed from the very stone of the planet’s crust …All dwarves are male. When a dwarf dies, it shatters into a pile of rough stone and pebbles. This rubble, combined with freshly dug rock and gems, is then used to make new dwarves.” There is no reason for them to be male (or female for that matter). Beings formed from rock don’t need a gender, yet, inexplicably, the creators decided to give them gender just not one that let them be women.
About the Venin: All vennen are male. They generally call each other “brother”, as they are all the children of Xentoth.” Who is Xentoth? She is a goddess who made the Vennen. “Vennen are a hybrid of orcs and spiders that were created by Xentoth, who is known as the Spider Mother, the Queen of Eyes, and the Primal of Blood Magic. …Xentoth is not only the mother of all vennen, she also serves as the object of their fanatical religious worship.” So the Vennin can be created by a Goddess but there can be no female Vennin, which is especially confusing since there are female Orcs.
Now that my initial reaction has subsided, I find myself filled with disappointment. Disappointment that there are so few good, inclusive games that I suppressed my feelings about Hex’s representation just so that I would keep playing, along with being disappointed in myself for doing so. I’m disappointed that I can’t play Hex anymore. Games have every right to aim thing towards certain audiences; towards the types of gamers who like those games. But the things that determine if a gamer is right for a game have nothing to do with gender, race, ethnicity or anything else other than what the gamer likes to play. The new content looks great but it’s pretty clear that it wasn’t made for me. I have no reason to play and support something that actively excludes me or numerous other groups of people. Games should represent the people who want to play them, not add things that keep them away.
Zoe W is a trans woman who has been gaming since she can remember. She is a coder and a couch potato.