Where Do We Go from Here?
The gaming community has gotten a little tense lately. I’m not going to talk about that specifically, but I will say that this last section suddenly became extremely relevant in my mind as I watched an entire local gaming community collapse in on itself.
I think the points I’ve tossed around in the previous parts can offer some things to think about, but I want to throw out just a few ideas for positive action in shifting away from focusing on our own personal experiences and growing our empathy as a community.
So…with all that said, what is it we’re missing? What design opportunities is the gaming community currently lacking because of its more subtle and pervasive biases?
In this part, I would like to offer for consideration some themes, concepts, and open-ended questions that I hope may spark discussion and even inspiration in the game design community.
I started Part 1 by mentioning the Backstory podcast by Alex Roberts. Since that one was a minor quibble, I think it only fair that I mention the podcast again in a much more positive light.
If you haven’t heard the episode with Jonaya Kemper, you need to go listen to it either right now or (if you’re not in a podcast-listening space) after you finish this article. You then need to go visit Kemper’s website and read and follow everything she does, because she’s amazing. This interview – and all of Kemper’s work – is a master-class in intersectionality.
That’s important because it is the topic for this part. Here’s a headline:
The Intersectionality Gap in the Game Design Community
This is something I’ve been chewing on for a while, so buckle in – I have a lot of thoughts.
I had planned to start writing about this at some point in the coming weeks or months, but I decided to accelerate that timeline because of a number of things that I witnessed recently – negative responses to an awesome new gaming venture by people I respect greatly, a nice overview of a common gaming question that Phil and Senda did on Panda’s Talking Games, and a recent episode of Backstory, the wonderful podcast by Alex Roberts.
In that episode, both Alex and her interviewee, Jeeyon Shim, were largely enthusiastic about the topics they were there to discuss, but they fell into a common habit among gamers – they defined something they liked as the opposite or absence of something they didn’t like. This is a practice we notice easily in jerks who speak out against something like New Agenda Publishing, but we often don’t see that it can still be a problem in media and discussions that are otherwise positive and progressive. (Sometimes we even cheer along when we agree.)
Yet it is one example of an overall issue that I have observed in gaming specifically and geek culture in general – the Primacy of Personal Experience. Fandom cultures are particularly susceptible to it because they are built on personal preference and enjoyment rather than an external structure or overarching philosophy. It causes problems in every aspect of our interactions: our social engagement, our habits of gameplay (and game selection), our approaches to design, and more. However, it’s not something we can erase or escape. Instead we must become aware of it and find ways to work within it.
The Last Jedi has been around for a couple of weeks now, and everybody seems to have a strong opinion one way or the other. There have been plenty of good and even a few great articles written about how the disruptive nature of its narrative is a positive direction for the franchise, while some supposed fans have complained that it is too much of a departure, that it is somehow no longer Star Wars.
This latter complaint is the one I want to address, because I believe The Last Jedi to be VERY much in line with Star Wars lore and (more importantly) its thematic elements. Those who want it removed from the canon are not only ridiculous but also clueless about the fact that this movie continues traditions that are in every part of the canon.
I will not be addressing scene-by-scene questions that other people have called “plot holes” in the movie. I have found that multiple viewings with these questions in mind demonstrate that Rian Johnson already put the answers to nearly every one of them in the movie itself (from “why doesn’t Holdo tell Poe?” to “how does DJ find out about the shuttles?”). Nitpicking lesser details may be possible, but that’s true of every Star Wars movie, including the supposedly holy Empire Strikes Back. Star Wars has never been perfect.
Rather, I want to talk about two primary themes of The Last Jedi and how they relate to the rest of the canon. I will talk far beyond the 9 theatrical movies and delve into shows and books and games as well. You see, I like Star Wars. And I am tired of people who only like two and a half movies trying to tell everyone else what Star Wars is about.
[SPOILERS below for pretty much all of Star Wars.]
Okay, that does it. I’m changing my attitude.
For the past couple of years, I have watched a variety of steampunk settings appear, some for existing systems and a few with their own systems. Each time a new one showed up, I have breathed a sigh of relief when I saw that they were doing the same old ahistorical, pro-colonial claptrap with magic (or sometimes horror) thrown into it, because it meant that Steamscapes remained unique.
But no more.
I am here not only to encourage but to demand more postcolonial steampunk RPGs as soon as possible.
A few days ago, I was inspired by a frustrated (I think we should give more credit to frustration as inspiration) article written by Tanya DePass of I Need Diverse Games. Her article led me to think about what I do in both my consumption and production of media with regard to people that are different from me and experiences that are different from my own.
Note – Before I dig into this topic, it’s important to acknowledge that anything I say here is built on the work of many other people who have done much more thinking about this than I have. If you are a writer of any kind, you should absolutely read Writing the Other by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward. That’s a good place to start.