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Origins Online cancelled following backlash over Black Lives Matter silence

Trade body organiser GAMA admits it was “too late in making that statement”.

Black Lives Matter protest
Image credit: Patrick Behn/Pixabay

Origins Online, the virtual gaming convention due to be held later this month in place of the postponed Origins Game Fair, has been cancelled following criticism of its organisers’ silence regarding Black Lives Matter.

The online event was announced earlier this year as a replacement of Origins Game Fair, the US tabletop event originally planned to be held from June 17th to 21st. The physical show was delayed to October 7th to 11st as the result of health concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, with Origins Online revealed as a digital counterpart due to take place from June 19th to 21st. The “fully virtual convention” was touted to feature board game demos, virtual workshops and seminars, and the ability to purchase new releases, all accessible via the internet.

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The event, hosted by trade body GAMA - the Game Manufacturers Association - included a number of panels and talks from designers, artists, influencers and other members of the tabletop industry due to be broadcast via its Origins TV livestream. Among those due to appear during the three-day event were Wingspan designer Elizabeth Hargrave, Blood Rage designer Eric Lang, Jeremy Howard of YouTube channel Man Vs Meeple, The Dice Tower host Mandi Hutchinson, Rap Godz designer Omari Akil and members of the BoardGameGeek team.

On June 1st, GAMA appeared to acknowledge the recent protests held worldwide in support of Black Lives Matter and in opposition to police brutality and racism in the wake of the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many others. The Origins Games Fair Twitter account announced that it would not hold a livestream as planned, writing, “Our time is better served reflecting on the current state of our world and how we can all support the Black members of our community better,” and inviting “Black creators and designers the space to make themselves seen and heard on our platform”. However, neither the Origins Game Fair or GAMA accounts or websites made an explicit statement in support of Black Lives Matter.

Following GAMA’s lack of statement in support of and solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, a number of Origins Online hosts and guests - including Hargrave, Lang, Hutchinson and many more - announced they had withdrawn from the event. They were joined by publishers due to exhibit as part of the event, including Return to Dark Tower studio Restoration Games and Root maker Leder Games, who respectively announced they had pulled out in response to the silence. Many of the replies were collected in a Twitter thread by Hargrave.

GAMA subsequently announced in a Facebook post that it had made the decision to cancel Origins Online as the result of the backlash, writing: “We cannot responsibly hold our virtual convention, Origins Online, in this setting. Even if it were possible to hold it, it would not be appropriate to do so.”

The post - which, at the time of writing, is yet to appear on the GAMA or Origins websites - opens with an explicit statement in support of Black Lives Matter, followed by an admission that the show of solidarity had come too late: “The Game Manufacturers Association believes that Black Lives Matter. We unequivocally condemn racism and violence against people of color. We have been too late in making that statement with force, and we apologize. The injustices of today demand that every person of good conscience make clear where they stand and we wish we had been more proactive, more strident, and more effective with our voices.”

GAMA confirmed that all attendees, sponsors and exhibitors would be offered a full refund, with the option to instead donate their fee to organisations including Black Lives Matter, the NAACP, Black Trans Advocacy Coalition, Columbus Freedom Fund, The Community Justice Exchange and The Innocence Project.

GAMA added that it would match any donations made, but seemingly did not commit to donating a minimum amount itself, saying: “It is difficult to predict how many will take this opportunity, but the potential exists for the matched amounts to exceed $100,000, which we wholeheartedly hope will happen.”

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