Progressive Gaming: R U DOIN IT WRONG?

There’s a fundamental problem in creating female-friendly, race-friendly, morally complex fantasy worlds that discard moral black and whites and treat everything with an even hand, in that they’re boring as fuck. I think this is a large part of the reason that Blue Rose didn’t really grab anyone, despite being a great implementation of d20 as a system.

There’s a paradox inherent in this viewpoint in that the people objecting to, say, objectification, racial stereotyping, oppression etc do actually have a very developed moral compass and a palpably strong sense of right and wrong. This gives them everything they need to make a real go of a genuinely progressive game about fighting these evils, in the context of the game.

Stories, games, thrive on conflict. If you remove all the things you don’t like in the real world – where you have little or no power to truly affect them in your lifetime – then you have nothing to fight against or contrast with in the game world, where you do have that power.

I am becoming obsessed with the idea of changing game worlds where players can make a genuine difference and improvement upon the world that they find themselves in. Underground was my ‘road to Damascus’ moment for this aspect of gaming, making a wider change in the gaming environment and I’ve flirted with the concept myself, indeed it’s the whole point of @ctiv8.

If you’re against sexism then surely it can be a great source of tension and accomplishment to fight it in the gameworld, to be an exemplar of the potential women have. If you’re against the idea of slavery or the evils it has done in the past, then fight against it in the game world.

There’s a huge amount of tension also to be had in ‘monsters we are lest monsters we become’. How far will you go to fight these things you hate? What lesser evils will you perform in order to make that change?

Two things crystalised these thoughts for me recently. I’ve been reading The Cold Commands (sequel to The Steel Remains) by Richard Morgan and I’ve been made aware of Farewell to Fear which is currently in Kickstarter mode.

Richard Morgan’s fantasy books are set in a nasty, dark, horrible world and the heroes are morally questionable, but it is a progressive book in that women play a leading role, the main character is gay and numerous other factors. In The Cold Commands the lead character, Ringil is fighting to eradicate slavery, and to that end slits the throats of helpless men and orders the vicious gang rape of a woman (a slaver) before killing her too.

These things make for interesting, complex (if not altogether sympathetic or comfortable) characters and stories.

For me, Farewell to Fear seems, from the description, to hit the right balance and the potential to tell the stories I would want to tell. The triumph of reason over emotion, of fact over superstition, of love over hate and peace over war – even if the route there is circuitous.

Fuck knows I don’t agree with the Machine Age people all the time but we seem to be able to disagree with mutual respect and understanding that often doesn’t surround these sorts of discussions simply because people don’t come to them in order to discuss. With this game though, I think they’ve got it and this is the kind of approach I’d like to see more of and to bring into my own games.

I’ve bumped ’em $10, and it would be more if I could afford it. You should do the same. Especially since they’re using the lovely and talented Jenna Fowler who also did some work for me (and hopefully will be again).

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