Given the current state of affairs in the world, how they have been shaped by events of the past, and the fact that we produce a game that deals with history (an alternate history, mind, but still heavily influenced by the real world), I feel it would be remiss to not give a few words to the subject as it relates to playing in such a game world. Please note, this will not be a statement on the real world politics that are going on now; I am not an authority on those subjects, and there are other, much more important voices that should be listened to in that regard. Instead, this is about dealing with those themes and ideas of another time period in your game world, and making an environment where everyone can play comfortably.
When writing for a game, from writing source material that gets published to writing your own campaign at home, you are telling a story. Playing a game makes this a mutual exercise between the players and the Game Master, a dialogue rather than a speech, but in the end it’s still a story. Compelling stories all have one thing in common; they are driven by conflict. In gaming, the players are the heroes writing their story of the conflicts they’ve overcome. You can’t have heroes without a villain to defeat or a cause to champion for.
When looking for resources for establishing conflict, one need look no further than our own history. History is full of terrible acts and atrocities that remarkable people have had to fight and overcome. So much of story telling that is completely made up pales in comparison to our recorded history, and I can tell you that from experience; you’d be amazed how much of the writing for this game came from obscure, real world events. Despite the heroic actions to fight these conflicts, some still continue on today, and some even after they are resolved have ripple effects that continue for generations later. When it comes to creating a game with these conflicts, that is where the problem lies; not all conflicts are created equal in terms of how they affect the people alive today.
We have tried very hard to strike a delicate balance with 1879 that utilizes the conflicts of history to create a compelling story, modified in a way to make it a world that people today are comfortable playing in. At the same time, in some cases we can’t simply hand wave away certain uncomfortable conflicts without potentially devaluing the sacrifices of those people in real history that fought to make those wrongs right. For much of our writing, we track things back to a particular point in history where there was one decision or event that became a turning point, and think through what the implications would be if that event went another way. In some ways, it makes the game world a much better place than the real world. In others, it might make a complete mess of things.
Though we put in a lot of time and energy to thinking these sorts of things through, we’re not going to be able to get it right for everyone. Perceptions vary for people of all walks of life based on their past experiences and just their simple difference of opinion. This is a large part of where you get to customize the world and make it your own. If there’s something written in our books that you don’t like, you can change it for your game world. If there’s a theme that you don’t have a particular interest in playing with, ignore it. If there’s something we left out that you’d prefer to delve into further, write it in for yourself.
Just as with the writing of the story for your game, this should be a dialogue between the Game Master and the players. The goal of everyone that sits at the table is to have fun. This means that, while the story you are writing should have conflict, everyone out of game needs to feel comfortable and safe. Talk to each other, keep the lines of communication open, and remember that everyone is different. Something done or said might affect someone in ways never intended, and we all need to be aware of this. If a situation comes up where someone is uncomfortable, prioritize their comfort over the integrity of the game world. If this means dropping a plot line, changing events of the game world, or contradicting written material, so be it. Everyone is playing the game to have fun, and if someone isn’t having fun, that goal has failed.
While individual experiences can vary widely, I am happy to say that, from my observations of the culture built around gaming, I don’t think a lot of what I’ve said here will be needed for most of us. From what I’ve seen, gamers on the whole tend to be very inclusive, friendly, and understanding. That sense has only gotten stronger after getting into the industry professionally and interacting with more people.
On that note, I’d like to leave off with a piece from my own gaming history, back when I first set foot in a store to buy my very first set of dice. I had been invited to play in a campaign by a group of older boys from my scout troop (I was 9, and I think the next youngest in the group was 15). My parents were nervous about the age difference (my mother seemed to look for an excuse to be nervous about anything), had no concept of anything gaming related, and wanted to get a perspective from someone who worked with games on just what it was all about. I still remember the words the shop clerk said to them: “We’re gamers. For us, it doesn’t matter how old you are, who you are or where you’re from, we’re all one group. When we sit down at the table together, we’re all just there to have fun.” I have considered those as words to live by, and I hope you will as well.
Stay safe everyone, and happy gaming.