Hey everyone, Jessica here.
Jei and I are working diligently on getting ready for our first Alpha Playtest in a few weeks. 9 people have already signed up and we anticipate more will register as we get close to the event.
I wanted to take a moment to share a little about Jei’s and my design philosophy for the setting that we are creating, and the art that we want to curate as part of this project.
We want to build a setting, a rules set, and a community with a core concept in mind: representation matters. Our world is diverse in gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, and faith, yet mainstream society and institutions reinforce the concept that some lives matter more than others. The narrative that is thrown at us when we go to the movies, watch TV shows, or open magazines is that some people should be showcased more than others based on factors that they born with. The typical argument is that these forms of media need to make a profit, and what’s seen as profitable in mainstream society are white, cis bodies (though few will explicitly admit it).
[For those not familiar with the term, ‘cis’ means that you identify as the gender which you were designated with at the time of your birth. For more research, Google is your friend.]
A fictional world where the Internet / networked computing ceases to work may feel like a post-apocalyptic setting to those whose voices are not elevated by mainstream society & media. The Internet has become an equalizer in how it allows people to share data and concepts quickly and to a broader audience. Those who seek to bring attention to inequality can use tools like Facebook and Twitter to bring attention to events that may not show up in the nightly news. Social media empowers those individuals to add context or change the narrative of a story that contains bias, or to rally others to show solidarity in the face of inequality.
By losing the Internet, those voices are muted, if not silenced completely. The sense of solidarity is lost. Marginalized people are further isolated because they don’t see others like them.
Representation matters because it fights cultural currents that imply that some lives matter more than others.
We’ve seen backlash when those of marginalized groups (specifically women or people are color) were cast in roles where the characters were traditionally white and male. I get it – as a geek, I too get the lizard-brain reaction of “Oh my god they are messing with the thing I like, thus they are messing with me! Must lash out!!!” However, I took a deep breath and pondered why it was such a big deal for Z character to be presented as white / male / heterosexual. Having a black, female Ghostbuster does not change the genre. A female Doctor does not change the genre. If anything, it adds to those stories by allowing viewers to see those genres through a more complex lens.
How does this all play into Sidereal Sanctuaries? As mentioned before, Jei and I are concerned about representation. This means that we have a lot of legwork ahead of us in building bridges with various geek communities so that we show diversity without tokenizing. As we look at fundraising, we are budgeting for sensitivity readers so that we don’t accidentally harm those who are are already marginalized and underrepresented.
We are also focused on representation within the art for our project. A few weeks ago, we paid a freelance artist to create our first character concept sketch. (For those who are looking for an artist – I highly recommend working with Tara / Shim Studios – she has amazing talent and was great to work with!). She quickly gave us an initial sketch for the project: a Mysteries Brawler (a fae/fairy fighter-type character for those of you who aren’t familiar with our game). I wanted the character to be female because very rarely do we see images of female fighters with practical armor.
After we received the line art, we were asked “the question”: what skin color?
My response was to share the Wikipedia page for Michelle Rodriguez – one of the actresses in the Fast and the Furious franchise. To be more specific – an actress in that franchise who spoke up about the need for better representation of women within The Fast and the Furious franchise.
When it comes to representation – we can always do better and we must continue to challenge ourselves to do better. My goal with this project is to create a game where gamers of various ethnic backgrounds and gender identities feel they have a seat at the table, and see people like them as part of the setting (without being seen as “exotic”).