“No other game I’ve played has so casually included gay & lesbian couples as well as females in non-traditional roles. This is subtle, but my god it’s made such a difference. Treating all these non-traditionally gendered & sexually oriented NPCs so staunchly casually is really great. Numenera isn’t about shouting equality from the rooftops, but this treatment of people is just taken as a given.” ~Darcy, gamer
About a month ago, I was on a crowdfunding panel at Geek Girl Con here in Seattle. There were four women on the panel (Julie Haehn, Lillian Cohen-Moore, Nicole Lindroos, and myself) — all women with successful crowdfunding projects in the game industry. It was incredible, listening to the four of us talk about the experience of working in the industry, running Kickstarters, and, perhaps most importantly, having the opportunity to make games that we are passionate about, games that reflect our values, games that create memorable, exciting and fun experiences around the table for everyone who wants to play. As we talked, I could see the audience members, men and women both, get that glint in their eye. That glint that says, “Thanks to crowdfunding, this thing I’m passionate about just might become a reality.”
And that, right there, is why I really really love Kickstarter. Because it has the power to create the change we want to see in the industry (and dare I say it? — even in the world).
Bear with me for a second, while I explain what I mean. Not that long ago if you wanted to create a game (or, really, almost any creative product) that featured main characters who were female, gay, transgender, non-white, or gender queer, you were sort of screwed. You could either: go through the same gatekeepers everyone else went through (the gatekeepers who seem to think that games don’t sell unless they’re about heterosexual white males) and get rejected. Or you could pour all your time, money and passion into your game and hope that you could get the word out and get a few people to buy it.
Fast forward to today and look at how Kickstarter (and namely the BACKERS of Kickstarter) are changing all of that. Here’s why: Kickstarter is the ultimate tool for market research for companies and individuals. Anyone can put their idea out into the world and they see whether people like it enough to fund it. If people hate the idea, the product doesn’t get funded. If they love it, then it gets super-funded.
And that’s where you come in. Never before has the opportunity to make change been so clearly in your hands. Every single person can make an equal difference. Don’t like seeing scantily clad women who are just there for titillation? Don’t back the games that only feature that type of art. Tired of seeing games where everyone is white? Skip those games. Sick to death of undertones of misogynism, sexism, racism, and homophobia? Don’t help fund them. Wish there were more games where topics like rape and sex crimes weren’t a forced part of play? Just say no.
However, I think that NOT supporting the products that piss you off is only step one. Step two, the really important step? That’s SUPPORTING the companies and products that align with your values.
When you find a company and/or product that seems to be doing the things that are important to you, how can you actually make a difference? You do so by giving them your money or your mouth (or both). Here’s how:
- Back the Kickstarter at whatever level you can afford.
- Back the KS at whatever level you can afford, and then spread the word about why you backed it.
- Don’t back the KS, but spread the word to people who share your values and who might be interested.
- Back the KS at the playtest or feedback level, if the company offers that option. And then actually playtest and provide feedback.
- Be the person in your playgroup who brings new games to the table.
- Talk to your local game store about the games that you love. Ask them if they plan to have the game in stock or if they intend to back the game’s KS.
- Offer to GM games at conventions or at your local game store.
- If the game has a fan use policy or limited license or open license, take advantage of that and create your own awesome tie-in products that are full of strong, smart, positive minority characters.
Here are some of the things that I look at when deciding where to spend my money or my mouth:
- What are the values of the company or individuals who are creating the product? As always when making decisions that matter, be wary of Internet suppositions and guesstimates and really do your research as best as you can. Forums, people’s blogs, social media, and comments are not always the best place to get solid information about companies and individuals. Instead, look at their actual actions: do they actively and loudly support the things you believe in? Do they donate money, products, or time to organizations that support your beliefs? How diverse is their staff? Do they take good care of their artists, writers, and other contractors?
- What are the values of the product itself? Does it include positive depictions of both minorities and the majority? This is important to me because to me inclusion and acceptance means including and accepting EVERYONE. I won’t buy a product that knocks heterosexual white men any more than I will back a product that knocks gay women. No one deserves to be treated as “less than.”
- Where has the product or company fallen short in the past and have they attempted to improve? Everyone makes mistakes, no matter how strong their desire to do good. How did the company handle these mistakes? What are they doing to improve?
It probably won’t surprise you, then, to hear that Monte Cook Games, the company that I co-own, is actively involved in all of the above, because they are important to me, not just as a consumer, but as a producer.
What does Monte Cook Games do about all of the above? Where does your money go? What change does it support in the world? Here are the answers to that:
- We are a company that actively supports our values, with our money and our mouths. We create campaigns like the We Are All Strange project, we donate to organizations such as The Able Gamers Charity, and we actively promote people, companies and products that are doing awesome things.
- The core team that built Numenera was 6 people — 3 of us are women, and 2 of us openly identify as GLBT. Our group of contract artists and editors is even more diverse than our core team.
- We are in the process of talking to a variety of gamers about their experiences at the table, and are putting together a comprehensive survey about what makes a game inclusive for everyone. From this, we hope to make our future games like The Strange even better in that regard.
- We believe in creating games that encourage inclusion and acceptance. The Numenera corebook includes positive depictions of couples and people of all sexual orientations, people of all genders, people of all abilities, ages, and physiques. Everyone wears armor that is appropriate for their personality and skillset. We don’t have a variety of races because (with a few exceptions) nearly everyone is mixed race in the Ninth World.
There’s a lot more that we’re doing, ways in which we are attempting to create great games for EVERYONE. But the point here isn’t that we want you to support US. The point is that we want you to support what supports you. You have the power to be the change you want to see in the geek world. Your money or your mouth — that’s all it takes to make change. You matter. Everything you do, say, or buy matters. And perhaps doubly so when it comes to crowdfunding.
Accept. Support. Embrace. Kickstart the Revolution.