Day 9: When was the last time an indie game made you feel guilty about your race, gender, or sexual identity? Were you more or less woke after you played it?

What was on my mind when I wrote this question:

1) The willingness of indie designers to include obvious and forthright political content in their designs


2) The knots indie folks tie themselves into as players, designers, readers and social media nanocelebrities


3) The hilarious typical reactions from trad folks who have been consuming their own games’ political content for so long that it’s the air they breathe.

I think #1 is awesome and entirely fucking optional (nobody’s making you buy and play games from the #feminism anthology, you nitwits). I go through #2 all the time and sometimes I just have to laugh at myself. And having come from the world of #3, I’m all too sympathetic to just how casually accepted certain things are in mainstream RPGs.

As a long-time cishetwhite liberal sometimes-activist (no I don’t talk about this stuff much online; ask me sometime, I’ll be happy to share) I’ve got more than my share of liberal guilt. So my answer is: it happens to me all the time! But to badly paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt, nobody can make you feel uncomfortably aware without your consent.

Not everyone wants discomfort in their games. Cool, no worries, you do you. Self-care is the most important thing. This is where that fun/rewarding line lies for me, though (talked about it a little bit yesterday). Games that can temporary manipulate your perspective and identity are a marvelous, safe way to explore your own discomfort.

So many examples of discomfort, all of which I consented to. Here are a few:

Carolina Death Crawl at a convention, ye gawds. I played it at home and we were even more careful than strangers had been. It’s a good game! Result: slightly more woke.

Dog Eat Dog, really an interesting experience but I’ve been studying colonialism and the indigenous experience a lot for my own work. Result: same woke as before, impressed at the procedural design though.

Night Witches is super interesting insofar as my own reaction to introducing my local friends to it. I’ve run it more for strangers than at home (which I know Jason Morningstar advises against, sort of) although it’s been mostly fine for me: I get to be a good performative liberal and really play up gross men being gross. But I tied myself up in knots for three months when I wanted to run it for people I actually know. Feel free to speculate as to why I’m so weird about it. Result: different-woke. Suspicious of my own motives.

Sagas of the Icelanders is an awesome political exercise insofar as it’s also a shitton of fun. I first ran this for a table of five: my wife and two couples. The women played women, the men played men, and afterward everyone had had an awesome time and felt deeply embarrassed. One of the players said “I really wanted to represent my gender well,” to which what can you say? The game is designed so nobody can represent their gender well. Result: more woke because it did prompt a great gender discussion with people who never, ever talk about that stuff.

So I guess what I’m saying is that I think it’s actually a really good thing that it’s such a cliche that indie folks tie themselves into knots when it comes to politics in their gaming. That means it’s out in the open, not casually accepted and left unexamined. Some of the knot-tying is pure performance; I get that. A lot of it I think is sincere. I’m not persuaded that gaming can change the world that much, but you know… maybe? A few nudges here and there?

15 thoughts on “Day 9: When was the last time an indie game made you feel guilty about your race, gender, or sexual identity? Were you more or less woke after you played it?”

  1. I don’t see the guilt ever coming from the games*. In most cases that I’ve seen, the game exists, doing what it does, not designed to make people feel guilty, but instead to investigate certain issues. Then people come into contact with it and think it’s saying things about them and then bam, guilt.

    * Maybe not never, but I can’t think of any examples

  2. I tend to veer a bit away from these types of games. Games are my escapism so regular reminders of reality makes it blegh.

    But I’m totally interested in what people have to say on this topic so sub’d

  3. .sub for more introspective talk

    I think this question has seen the most pushback, but I’m not keyed into who’s-who in indie games as much as some, so my circles are limited. But I’m listening because I don’t think I’ve seen anything bad yet come from this list.

    But as I said, limited view and limited reach.

  4. Interesting! I think maybe your definition of “woke” is slightly broader than mine That in itself isn’t worth discussion, but it definitely gave you a lot more room to talk about what’s being raised in games, and the sliding scale of “challengingness.”

  5. First, I am glad my practice of fake quoting historical celebrities is being adopted by Mark Delsing. Second, guilt specifically is the product of a contrite heart falling short in the judgment of God or whatever repository of virtue the kids today squirm beneath the terror-inducing gaze of, Twitter, maybe. If the question had been about “awareness” of an injustice or “frustration” or “anger” at an unjust political reality, I certainly would have approached the question differently than I did with “guilt.”

  6. Micah, can you be specific about what you don’t like?

    Your one specific, AW‘s sex moves, argues that the only way to get to know someone is to have sex with them. But that’s not true. For one thing, you can get to know someone better at the end of every session. There are other ways, too.

    I find gendered ability score modifiers to be the least-satisfying way of addressing gender difference I can think of.

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