February is Black History Month and so, having a lot of friends of African American descent (as well as other nationalities that would fall under the category of being considered 'Black'), I thought I would take this opportunity to honor all of the Black game designers who contributed to the hobby of RPGs since it's earliest days.
There's...um...hmmm. Mike Pondsmith. And...huh.
Much like comic books but even more so, our hobby seems to be one where the number of minority members who are fans is largely disproportionate to the number of people of that minority in creative positions in the industry.
Now first I must apologize to the many Black creators, writers and artists in gaming. Yes, I know there are more then one of you. I singled out Mike Pondsmith because his is a well known name and because he is a personal favorite of mine. The nature of this post is to start off the month with a bit of controversy and an attempt to shock but please bare with me.
Breaking down the demographics of my last few gaming groups, the vast majority of players I've had have been Black. Now this doesn't 'matter' in any particular sense. It doesn't change what I do or how I game. It does make me wonder why we don't see more key creative people among the powers that be in the hobby.
My best friend Dave (who I've mentioned many, many times), has some interesting observations about this and specifically about which games he and his friends gravitated towards. I'm going to try and get him to do a guest post on the subject.
One creative person whose work should not go unnoticed is Julia B. Ellingboe, the deep and talented mind behind the indie RPG, Steal Away Jordan.
Steal Away Jordan is not an easy game. Not in the context of the rules mind you but in the nature of its content.
Steal Away Jordan is a story game that enables players to look into the lives of people who live in a time and place where slavery exists. This isn't 'Goblin Slavers of the Dragonfaced Island' slavery. This is slavery as it happened. This is slavery as a terrible, sad reality.
The emphasis here is on the people, the characters, the culture and their lives. The settings time and place can be changed. It creates a story of the situation and the institution of organized slavery and its effect on those who live with it from the smallest, poorest child to the oldest, wealthy slave owner. Steal Away Jordan is written and depicted in the spirit of such great authors as Margaret Walker,Alex Haley, and a personal favorite of mine, Octavia Butler.
Using this premise of historical fiction, players explore the social and psychological implications of life in a society where people can be bought and sold as property.
The subject matter is, as I noted, difficult. It can make you uncomfortable. A certain fantastic element can be added as per the rules resulting in a story that does indeed remind me of Octavia Butler's book Kindred. At the same time, if handled well, it only enhances the feeling and atmosphere of the material.
Food for thought on this first day of February.