Redux: Socially Responsible Gaming

Originally posted on Google+ on January 4 2018:

Somebody in a G+ RPG community was asking about being a more socially responsible gamer: specifically, game recommendations that were more socially conscious, and actions that could be taken by gamers to positively impact the world.

I made a big giant post!

But everyone else in the thread was howling about how politics ruin games, so I don’t expect my post or the thread to last long. So for posterity, here’s what I said!


These are awesome questions! Let’s start with a big ol’ list of socially responsible games!

WINTERHORN is a recently released LARP that teaches the techniques that political bodies use to subvert and dismantle activism, by putting the players in the role of the government agents doing the sabotaging.

There’s an RPG called FLATPACK — I believe — that approaches the post-apocalypse dystopia genre from the direction of rebuilding the world, and emphasizes solving problems and obstacles with ingenuity over violence.

Similarly DO: PILGRIMS OF THE FLYING TEMPLE (and its Fate Accelerated sequel FATE OF THE FLYING TEMPLE) emphasize problem solving outside the realm of violence, as your flying monks respond to letters requesting help with settling disputes, cleaning up disasters and the similar. Not as large stacks as the previous two games, but social responsibility starts somewhere.

MISSPENT YOUTH just kickstarted its revised edition, and is all about building punk youths who rage against an authority of your table’s choosing. Explicitly, by the rules, the players and GM create an Authority to embody things like anti-environmentalism, invasion of privacy, extraordinary rendition, etc — whatever gets your goat — and create Youthful Offenders who will fight back. The set-up works perfectly for things like Logan’s Run or Fahrenheit 451, down to Avatar: The Last Airbender and Star Wars.

STAR TREK ADVENTURES just came out, and it doesn’t get much more socially responsible than a Star Trek story done well: diplomacy, free exchange of ideas, infinite diversity in infinite combinations, violence as a last resort.

HEADSPACE is a cyberpunk game about corporate agents, burnt out and scarred by what they’ve helped do to the world, networking their brains to turn around and tear down the megacorps that broke everything. It sounds bog standard until you get into the specifics of the game: 1. the party’s minds are networked, and the real obstacle to their success are their own emotions and hangups getting in the way of their abilities — so the game is mindful, rather than mindless. 2. when you take on corporations, you will be creating Movements as you let the communities rise up and demand change, now that they are protected, and Communities as people unite and begin creating new lives free of corporate interference.

DOG EAT DOG is a game about colonialism in the Pacific. You create an island culture, with one player representing the Occupation and the others representing the Natives. Through play you follow the protagonists as they try to come to terms with the occupation, navigating an increasingly byzantine set of rules and laws meant to keep them compliant. The game is built on, historically, the way colonization efforts played out, and so its educational while being dramatic in the way an excellent Netflix series is. It seamlessly can play out any occupation effort: occupied WWII Paris, Justice League conquers the Earth, whatever.

The #FEMINISM: A NANO-GAME ANTHOLOGY is a collection of games by women from 11 difference countries, about modern feminist issues. There’s a ton of games in this book, covering loads of topics. Some are fun and hilarious, some are serious and dramatic, and all of them are games meant to be played and enjoyed.

Generally speaking, there are a ton of games out there being made by people of color, by members of the LGBTQ+ community, and a solid way to merge a desire to be socially responsible with your identity as a gamer would be to dig in and explore these designers and their games. Support them, encourage them, and experience what their diversity brings to the hobby.

To answer your other question: there are a lot of ways for gamers to be more socially responsible.

Making the space at your table a place where everyone can feel comfortable, safe, and ready to have fun is a good start. This includes obvious things like taking a hard line on sexism, racism — even when they’re “just jokes” — to more subtle things like carefully considering the role such content might play in your games (damsels in distress, fantasy racial absolutism, to pick two low-hanging examples).

You can do things like make your players aware of Lines and Veils and their use in games to create topics or content that will not be used, or will not be delved into in detail. Similarly, you can begin using the X-Card, which works great as a tool for casual game maintenance (when the tone or rhythm of a game is damaged) as well as a tool to empower everyone to protect themselves… it could be a fear of bugs, or it could be someone’s grandparent just passed, but the X-card helps omit this content from games and does it on the fly, so no one has to put their insecurities, hangups, or trauma on display for everyone to dissect and comment on.

Let’s see, beyond this, you can move away from disposable game props to reduce the footprint of your gaming. Recycle what you can, and move towards digital components where possible. If everyone has a tablet, considering getting everyone to run form-fillable character sheets off those, for example. Move away from any disposable tokens, like post its, and pick up dry-erase notecards instead, since they’re reusable.

Time and resources permitting, a table group can move away from ordering take out when they game, and instead pool money to cook a meal. It will, generally, be cheaper (and more fun) and the money you would have spent can go to a charity of the group’s choosing — or can be turned into goods for a local soup kitchen or homeless shelter.

Speaking of: when giving away game books that aren’t being used anymore, Amazon and EBay and trading on G+ or Board Game Geeks always leaps to mind. But another option with all or some of these games is to donate them: local libraries or youth centers might be interested, as long as you’re not trying to hand them some book with a big huge demon on the cover. Related, if you have the time, you could look into running the occasional weekend game at a local Boys & Girls Club or the equivalent in your area.

Probably the best way for gamers to be more socially responsible is to stop acting like being socially conscious is the death of gaming and the death of fun. Avatar the Last Airbender is wall-to-wall environmentalism and is an anti-fascism epic — it is incredibly thrilling and fun. Sense8 is a super-powered conspiracy thriller of bone-crunching kung fu and car chases, bathing in the glow of love for humanity and finding a family. Social responsibility and fun are not mutually exclusive for anyone who isn’t trying to avoid caring about things.

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