My last post was a rant, so now we get to the follow-up on how to do better.
Specifically, I want to discuss how we can do better as designers. Private games are private games, and we don’t really need to discuss what you do on your own time with your own friends.
But if you’re designing and publishing or talking about your games on a public platform, then that is my concern. It’s everyone’s concern, because it’s public. What you contribute to gaming is part of the ongoing conversation of who we are as a community.
I’ve been debating with myself how I want to handle this, because what I have to say affects people who are friends of some of my friends. On the one hand, that seems like a place to walk carefully, but on the other hand that’s exactly the problem that perpetuates privilege: not speaking out just because you “know” the people. It perpetuates privilege because it leaves the task of criticizing people to those who are outside the group, people who are inherently less likely to be listened to.
So screw it – I’m going to be blunt.
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.
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.
Expecting Stealers Wheel? Sorry for the fakeout, but Malcolm and TMBG are much better expressions of where I’m going with this post.
Over the last couple of months, I have come to realize that a number of us who are small publishers and/or freelance game writers are stuck in a gap between two thriving sections of the RPG industry. Continue reading
As we come to the end of the summer, I wanted to reflect on the winners and losers of a variety of contests and awards (including my personal experiences).
The Origins Awards have historically been more focused on card and board games. They contain only two awards for RPG: “Best Role Playing Game” and “Best Role Playing Game Supplement.” As you can see from the nominations, these awards tend to be focused on prominent companies and popular products. The nod to Atomic Robo is probably about as far out as the Origins Awards are likely to get. Continue reading
The critic has to educate the public. The artist has to educate the critic.
This year, for the first time, I participated in the annual Game Chef design contest. I enjoyed the process very much, largely because the theme – “A different audience” – led me on a very unexpected design path that has resulted in what I believe is one of my most important pieces of writing in recent history. There will be more about that product in another post. Right now I want to discuss the last step I have just completed as an entrant: the peer reviews. Continue reading
All our shows are secret shows.
-Kim Pine, Sex Bobomb
Mentioning a project on the internet is one of the ways that I commit to doing it. With that in mind, I would like to announce that work is underway on my first major RPG project outside of Steamscapes.
Rockalypse (working title) is the post-apocalyptic game of musical adventuring. It will be powered by Fate Core and will use the full advantages of that system. There will be no physical combat whatsoever – all conflict will be resolved by how hard you rock.
I have already started developing the game, but I am going to save the details for later. For now, I’ll just leave you with a short list of influences so you can get a taste of where I’m going with this:
- Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
- Tank Girl
- Six String Samurai
- Brutal Legend
- The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension