Shadows of Inclusivity: Why We are Using Silhouettes for Our Artwork

box-15_125x125x30-1_v2_RAINBOW - 08-12-18

Inclusivity has become a buzzword in the board game industry, even more so given the current sociopolitical climate of the country and the world. Historically, the industry has been dominated by white, middle-aged males. Thankfully, I’d say that most are trying to be more inclusive, which has been very much appreciated. Lately, women and people of color (POC’s) have taken great strides in the industry. But as the pendulum swings towards inclusivity, there are low grumblings here and there, mainly behind the “safety” of computer screens, that perhaps it is swinging too far the other way. While I personally disagree as a POC myself, it is also incumbent of me as a human being in general to do my best not to ignore or disrespect anyone’s point of view. I mean, that’s one of the main reasons we are where we are today, right? Consequently, all this helped to inform our team’s decision to use silhouettes to represent people in Upstaged and Icon — so everyone can see who they want to see for themselves in the games.

Of course, early on I had considered full-blown, beautiful art to represent characters in Upstaged. After all, Kickstarter is dominated by games with absolutely amazing art — it’s a huge selling point for the community. At one stage I discussed this with a couple potential artists, but it just didn’t feel right. Conversations of what the breakdown of ethnicities and genders would be began. In Upstaged, one of the mechanics is matching people with similar traits. It would have been easy to say, “make an all-boy band or all-girl band, gain X bonus points.” But where would that leave the LGBTQ+ community? Naturally, with inclusion being our end goal, androgynous characters worked amazing well with the concept of wild cards in Upstaged. However, none of us on the core team being part of the LGBTQ+ community ourselves, would we be doing the community a service or seen as exploitative? On an even deeper level, as a POC myself, I began asking myself, “At what point do we tokenize ourselves as POC’s? Will fellow POC’s see this as still too little representation? Too much?” There are way more ethnicities to be represented in this world than the 26 Artist cards in Upstaged would allow.

Luckily, by virtue of the music themes across Upstaged and Icon, we have serendipitously been granted the rare opportunity to be all-inclusive via silhouettes as our artwork. Not only is it reminiscent of some of the old iPod advertising of a decade ago, but it is still a go-to way for music artists to make a dramatic entrance during their live performances.

As fate would have it as well, I met Josie Noronha at Protospiel San Jose in 2018, a member of the LGBTQ+ community and very talented illustrator and game designer to boot. Through their illustrations in our games, perhaps everyone can have their own interpretation of who each character is and relate to each silhouette in one way or the other, regardless of what they believe their race and gender may be.

Upstaged has subsequently evolved, in part, into a mission to bring inclusivity to another level. And personally, since I want to grow as a person, I want to take this to another level as well.

To that end, I’m gonna do a little exercise with Upstaged and I invite you to join me in this journey. I’m going to go through all 26 characters currently in Upstaged and answer the following questions:

  • Who is this character to me?
  • What do I have in common with them?

I believe true inclusivity begins when you can answer these questions, especially when you begin to think more about what you have in common with someone than what is different. So please, indulge me in this little exercise, and feel free to partake as well in the comments of this and subsequent articles. I’ll start with the first two artists here 🙂


Genre: Rock
Points: 8
Focus: Image

Who is Aisha to me?
Aisha is rebellion, personified. The short, properly unkempt hair matches with a fashion style that exudes both toughness and allure. All this combines to present a confident, almost cocky rock star who refuses to play to the crowd for the sake of playing to the crowd (which, on an Inception level, plays to the crowd).

What do I have in common with Aisha?
On a down-low level, I like to think of myself as a rebel as well. Asking questions and presenting myself in a way that is against the norm was once my default norm. As I age, however, I guess I’m conforming to society, especially at work. No longer can I rock the unkempt hair on a daily basis. Unfortunately, some of my T-shirts do shrink a little bit, so they turn into bare midriffs and I occasionally expose my belly like Aisha.

I think the fact that Aisha is facing away from the audience is awesome. I also tend not to look straight at people when doing musical performances myself. Though I think Aisha and I do it for different reasons. Maybe one day I will learn to be unshy, like Aisha.

Genre: Hip-Hop/R&B
Points: 8
Focus: Image

Who is Alonzo to me?
Semi-bowl cut? Wearing a hot sweater while keeping it cool on the mic? Alonzo to me is a dapper rapper.

What do I have in common with Alonzo?
On the surface, nothing. I hate sweaters. I can’t rap. But on a deeper level, I like to think of myself as super chill, like Alonzo. Instead of doing the super power play with bent knees and leaning in to the crowd, Alonzo chooses to stand straight up, but in an approachable way despite his outstretched arm.

I don’t know that I have much in common with Alonzo necessarily, but he is able to be approachable despite his naturally unapproachable stance — something I’ve hoped would happen for me but has not. For myself, I often sit or stand with my arms crossed. This comes off to many as being unapproachable. For me, it’s just a thing I got from my dad, and it helps me relax the tension in my oversized shoulders. Oh well. Maybe someday I will be able to pull off being myself physically and still come off as super chill, like Alonzo.

4 thoughts on “Shadows of Inclusivity: Why We are Using Silhouettes for Our Artwork

  1. Mike,
    Thank you for the interesting post–it’s really making me think. I have to be honest–my first thought upon seeing the choice of silhouettes (before I read your explanation) was that it was a way of getting out of choosing identifying characteristics. However, upon reading all the thought that has gone on behind-the-scenes, I completely change my mind. The thematic tie-in is really cool (for some reason, I never made that connection), but I love the idea of a game player being able to see themselves in the silhouette.

    As a cisgender white male, I have spent my entire life seeing myself represented in every aspect of American culture–board games, TV, children’s books, movies, consumer products, etc. I’m not saying it’s a cop-out to use silhouettes, but I think it’s important for non-whites to see themselves *actually* represented. I think it’s important for gender non-binary people see themselves represented in our culture. Everyone should see themselves represented in culture.

    Take Pandemic, for example. What if the box cover had a silhouette (or some similar feature-less) doctor on the front? To me, it’s so important that the cover has a female doctor on the cover.

    I know it’s not possible to represent the entire spectrum of humanity in every game. And the worst case scenario is to be yet ANOTHER game with artwork featuring lots of white males. But I don’t think it would be the worst thing in the world to have game artwork represent many of the different races, body types, gender expressions, etc that exist in the world. I don’t think it’s exploitative at all.

    Since silhouettes have such a cool tie-in with live music, I think it fits well to use them this game, but it’d be cool in your future games to see humanity reflected in the artwork.

    Thank you for making me think!


  2. Jeremy,

    Thanks for reading the post! I think we’re lucky enough with the theme that we’re doing that the silhouettes do work very well. This kind of artwork in the board game medium is not explored as much, in my opinion, so we get the opportunity to do so.

    We do plan on using similar artwork for our next game, Icon, as it directly ties in with Upstaged as an “origin story” and is music-themed. However, for other games in the future, we are definitely not opposed to non-silhouette art in differently themed games. Especially art that represents the diversity of humanity on a large scale. We know that we’ll never be able to truly please everyone if and when we go that route, and that’s okay. We will still do our best.

    Anyways, hope to see you on Kickstarter on April 16th when we launch Upstaged!



  3. Whaaaaaaat!?!! You’re launching a Kickstarter? That’s awesome! I had no idea. I don’t do facebook, so I’m guessing you’ve announced it there and not on your blog. I found a link to a BGG page, but I can’t find a Kickstarter page. Can you share a link?

    Thanks and Good luck!


  4. Haha. Yeah. Upstaged (formerly Center Stage) is launching Tuesday, April 16. We are doing the pre-marketing at the moment. I’ll have the link to the Kickstarter page soon. Still working on getting all the assets in 🙂



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