Quite a bit has happened behind the scenes since Midwinter Gaming Convention. Thank you for your patience. Here’s what has happened with the SideReal Sanctuaries LARP project in the last month and a half:
Midwinter Gaming Convention 2018
Midwinter Gaming Convention was a surreal experience for Team SideReal. We attended the Industry Summit on Thursday of that weekend and were greeted with open arms and much curiosity. Our test game – which was scheduled during the afternoon of the last day of the convention – was almost completely sold out. According the the event reservation website, we had 27 out of 30 slots filled for our event until Sunday morning, at which time we were completely booked. Thank you to everyone who attended. The test game helped us realize the steps that we need to take in order to package a beta-test kit for others to try in their respective areas.
We received a lot of actionable feedback during the convention. We also received some negative feedback about the game setting.
Feedback is a gift. It’s a sign that someone has taken an interest in your creative endeavor to the point where they’re willing to go out of their way to say what they like or what they feel could be improved upon. When it comes to creative projects that delve into social issues or try to be inclusive, such critiques are valuable. We would like to take this time to address some concerns that were brought to us.
Diversity of the writing team
The proof of concept document (the “Basic Manifestations” packet) was created by two white people. The intent was to create something tangible in order to solicit feedback and to seek out backers and supporters so that we could finance writers from a variety of backgrounds. We recognize the importance of paying creatives rather than asking them to work “for exposure” or offering payment when there aren’t sufficient resources available to do so. Even if we weren’t able to find immediate financial backers from outside the company, one of the team members was in a financial position to put funds towards paying writers starting in March/April. We believe in the potential of this project enough to put our money where our mouth is.
In conversing with fellow writers, publishers, and game designers on this issue, we received additional advice that we plan to take to heart: hiring people of color to be editors/proofreaders so that they can see the whole project and take part in it.
We’re sorry if we weren’t clear – the plan was to grow the writing team once there were resources to do so.
While the specifics have not been relayed, we’re aware that there is some phrasing in the test packet that may be problematic towards various demographic groups.
We’re assuming (again, since the specific feedback wasn’t shared) that the content in question pertains to how Manifestation sometimes affected those who identify as a gender other than what they were assigned at birth, and how gender presentation sometimes occurred among Shifters who had affinities to animals that had distinct male/female markings. When these topics initially came up during development, they were run past a few volunteer sensitivity readers to determine whether or not there were any glaring red flags.
We realize that what may be seen as okay to some individuals of a particular identity may still be deemed problematic by others that share that identity. Part of the development process is working through those issues, both through community feedback and leveraging (paid) sensitivity readers going forward.
Problematic Content II (should we even go there?)
One of the things we discovered when listening in on inclusion-focused LARP discussion groups is that there are a lot of gray/nuanced areas when it comes to content. In storytelling, intentionally problematic content is introduced as a way to push the audience to think and recognize that there is no single, perfect way to solve social issues, as well as to humanize characters and groups by showing them as flawed.
A current example of this is the deliberate storytelling in Marvel’s Black Panther. Since the movie came out one week ago, I’m not going to give away too many details here. However, for those who are interested in seeing the dialogue about the themes in the movie, here are a few think-pieces that I enjoyed (spoiler alerts):
- The Racial Politics of Black Panther
- There is Much to Celebrate – And Much to Question – About Marvel’s Black Panther
- Black Panther Is More Than a Superhero Movie
- The Tragedy of Erik Killmonger
LARPs have the ability to approach social and political topics in a way to help participants develop empathy towards these issues, provided that there is an educational component (briefing and debriefing).
A setting that pushes participants to explore the impact of privilege/oppression may be tiresome to those who have to experience such topics on a day-to-day basis, but it may also give them (and allies) a tool to leverage when trying to communicate with those who don’t understand the concepts.
We also recognize that staying focused on such a heavy topic can become tiresome. One of the potential solutions that we are looking into is how to introduce “popcorn entertainment” elements into the game – ways for people to play a modern urban fantasy with social justice themes without having said themes be in their face all the time. As we build out the SideReal setting, we intend to make the setting itself modular so that the Guide and participants can determine the style of shared story that they want to create, along with the ability to change the style of the game over time. A group can go deep and serious on topics of social justice one game, and then have their characters go on a fantasy-esque quest that defies cultural norms the next game session.
Ability & Inclusion
One of the challenges of developing a boffer LARP is that most boffer systems are not inclusive by their design. They require that participants have some level of physical ability, as well as the financial means in order to obtain appropriate gear (or that the game has access to financially well-off individuals who can pitch in for communal gear). In addition, the real-time combat simulations often require a heightened level of mental clarity in order to track damage dealt and received.
Now that we have to start at the beginning with the system and mechanics, we are taking a hard look at what style of game to use for SideReal: should we build out new boffer LARP mechanics? Should we go with a parlor LARP style? Should we create table-top mechanics? These are decisions that we are currently considering. If money and staffing were not an issue, we’d build out the setting materials and create a modular rules system with story guides to adjust the game based on the needs and wants of their community. That way, if one game wants to go high immersion boffer and another game wants to incorporate the immersive crafting rules but use parlor-style combat resolution, they will have the means to do so.
Where do we go from here?
Jason Kobett, one of the original writers and co-founders, has left the project. It’s hard to say goodbye to someone who brought in so much creative energy and passion towards this project. We wish him best in his future endeavors.
Part of his departure included the removal of his intellectual property (the core rules mechanics) from the game. While this sets the project back, it also opens the door for us to explore different rules systems to utilize as we build out SideReal Sanctuaries and make it accessible to a broader audience.
We plan to do an open call for writers/editors in the very near future. We need to build out a couple variants of the rules system (boffer, parlor, table-top) and continue to expand upon the setting. The plan is to create enough content so that we can start community-run playtests and launch our crowdfunding campaign in the later part of the year.