In episode 25 of Backstory, host Alex Roberts talked with larpwright and publisher Mo Turkington about many good topics including her War Birds, a curated anthology of LARPs and freeform games about women in World War II. As with all of Backstory’s episodes, it was a lively and deep conversation that digs deep into its subject matter, in this case a lot of discussion about LARP and immersion and the “unbearable weight of representation.” It’s worth listening to if you haven’t yet.
But there was one question by Alex that immediately spoke to me as the most important question we should be asking ourselves in these days as creatives.
“How does your game fight fascism?”
Wow. I loved that question. It’s a challenge to game designers and artists in general to take a hard look at their art. And to not just entertain. Or inspire. But to fight.
I usually describe my upcoming tabletop RPG Blue Wing as a game about starfighter pilots, mustaches, and romance. Which it is, with mechanics that focus on relationships, space battles, and how the first helps you survive the second. But as it happens, Blue Wing also is a game where I can answer Alex’s question if I put it to myself.
The game takes place in a possible future of our galaxy where humanity has expanded into interstellar space and encountered many different species and cultures. At some point prior to the game, these varied cultures created a galactic government known as the Union of Stars. This Union collapses a couple of decades earlier due to a coup led by a number of mega-corporations in a civil war known as the Corporate Insurrection, leading to a new government known as the Corporate Star Alliance. The Alliance keeps the civilian population in check through a massive military apparatus, doesn’t permit non-humans in their government or military, and aggressively acquires and strips resources of member worlds for the benefit of the corporations who control the system.
The eponymous Blue Wing are members of the Galactic Resistance, which is outgunned and outmatched, with outdated military hardware, inferior numbers and stretched funding, and very few victories. Unified in name more than manner, they fight not because they believe they can win, but because they know the stakes are too high if they lose.
Blue Wing wears its obvious inspiration on its sleeve, with aspects of the civil wars of Star Wars and Firefly and the desperation of the even more heavily outgunned protagonists of Battlestar Galactica.
The starfighters of the Galactic Resistance are aging models, remnants of the Union’s navy or surplus hardware from backwater worlds. Each pilot’s starfighter in the game is subject to one or more Quirks which represent persistent glitches that hamper it in battle. By comparison, the starfighters of the Corporate Star Alliance are cutting-edge with superior armaments, top of the line maintenance, and that come in superior numbers.
The only way that the pilots of Blue Wing even stand a chance for survival is to rely on, and build upon, the Relationships that they have for one another. The heartsurge mechanic that comes from friendship, romance, and even rivalry, can help twist the odds from catastrophic to merely very challenging.
So, how does Blue Wing fight fascism? It portrays a world where overwhelmed freedom fighters must rely on love and friendship as they bravely go into battle against a better-armed enemy. It forges hope out of the hopeless. I can only hope that playing in such a game can inspire its players to not give up in the face of the world we live in, but instead fight to make the world into the one we dream of.
After the election’s results were announced, I felt completely overwhelmed. And I know that I’m far more fortunate than so many Americans who already faced injustice and discrimination and violence long before this. I felt that there wasn’t anything I could do, as a game maker or a creative in general, that could counter the black clouds on the horizon.
And, yet, is it not in these darkest times that we need art that inspires? I know it helps me. I hope this helps others.
Blue Wing is still in development, however my $5+ backers on Patreon will be receiving access to an early beta draft including all of the game’s mechanics within the next two weeks. They will also receive free access to the PDF/EPUB versions of the final game.
Meanwhile, keep making art to resist.