By Kate Thompson
While browsing the vendor area at PAX Unplugged last year, a book caught my eye in the Pelgrane Press booth. Amongst a sea of 13th Age and various Cthulhu themes, I saw the word Feminism on a book, and I was intrigued. I needed to know more, and so one of the women working at the booth indulged my curiosity by explaining to me what the book was comprised of, and how it came about. I purchased it immediately.
Clearly, I didn’t read it quite as immediately… but I did eventually and now I would like to tell you about it! Read on for my review of #Feminism: A Nano-Game Anthology.
What’s it all about?
This book is a collection of nano-games, which are games that last less than an hour and are simple enough to be described quickly. The games in this book are role-playing scenarios on various topics relating to feminism. Some of them are very light -- even humourous. Some of them, as you might expect, are much more serious in nature. There are 34 scenarios in total.
An important aspect of this book is that, in my opinion, it is not necessarily geared toward the seasoned RPG player. So, these mini-RPGs are very rules light and freeform. The kind of role-playing you’ll be doing here is much more like something you might do in a group therapy session than something you might play at a gaming convention. I’ve gone through the scenarios and flagged a few that I think I could run at a gaming event, but in my opinion, the best place for running a game like this would be in the comfort of your own home with some close, like-minded friends. The goal seems to be generating discussion about feminism rather than having a good ol’ time (although that’s not UN-important).
How to Play
The scenarios in the book are standalone, each written by a different designer. Each scenario includes instructions for how to play, so there is no overarching rule set that is applied. However, there are some common guidelines for play at the beginning of the book that are interesting, and something I’ve not seen in many other RPGs.
The most important guideline is the notion that anyone can choose to ‘cut’ or stop the game whenever they choose. This is, of course, an implicit rule in every game, but it’s especially important in these scenarios because of the potential for unanticipated emotions to arise. Even in a lighter scenario, it’s possible that things could turn in a way that might be distressing to someone. It’s very important that they included this in their rules, and advise players to discuss this rule before playing any scenario.
Also important is the section describing what a role-playing game is, and how to play the role of another person. This book won’t necessarily be used by people who are familiar with RPGs, and the notion of role play can seem foreign or strange to someone who’s never done it before. Laying these things out in the book itself might seem silly to some, but it really makes the book accessible to people of all levels of experience.
How is it?
This collection is certainly interesting, and there are some scenarios I really want to try. There are also some scenarios I really don’t want to try. This is to be expected in a collection like this, and of course, my opinion won’t line up with others. I do believe there is a scenario in this book for everyone.
What I like about the scenarios:
Length: They are all less than an hour. It means they can be played quickly, which is a nice change for an RPG. Most of the time I play an RPG it lasts at least 4 hours. Sometimes that is what I want, but it’s nice to have some shorter options in the genre.
Topic: This might be obvious - it’s the reason I bought the book. However, I REALLY like that a book of RPGs on the topic of feminism exists. This is a truly powerful way to engage in discussion about topics related to feminism. It’s powerful for people who have first-hand experience with the issues presented, but I expect it could be even more powerful for those who don’t have that experience. RPGs provide a way for you to really step into someone else’s shoes and experience life from their perspective in a safe environment. They are particularly suited to gaining an understanding of something you’ve never experienced before, and could therefore be a highly impactful method for generating an understanding of feminism.
What I don’t like about the scenarios:
Topic: Yes, I both like and dislike this! It’s not really that I dislike the topic, though. The thing I dislike is the potential for things to go wrong with sensitive topics. There is a higher than normal chance that someone will become upset while playing one of these scenarios. From my perspective as a convention gaming event planner, I feel like I need to be pretty careful about choosing a scenario to play in that setting. This is less worrisome if you are playing in a ‘safer’ space with close friends, for example, but it’s still something you should be aware of. Keep an eye on how everyone is doing, and feel free to ‘cut’ a scene to make sure everyone is doing okay.
Rule structure: As I mentioned, the rule structure for the scenarios tend to be what I like to call loosey-goosey. They are very free-form and quite different than most RPGs I am used to. This is definitely subjective because I am the kind of person who really likes to have a character sheet with facts and numbers on it to role play from. Most of the scenarios in this book are not like that. As a player, the free-form nature of the scenarios would leave me feeling at a loss for what to do or say. I really look forward to testing some of the scenarios out to see how easily things flow. In my mind, it would be easy for things to fall flat, with no one knowing what to say or do. Having said all that, I’m not sure if there is a better way to approach these sensitive topics with more structured rules… I just feel more comfortable with structure in games.
The book itself is aesthetically pleasing. The graphic design is crisp and calming, and the scenarios are laid out in a way that makes them very easy to read and understand. While each scenario has a different author and different rules, they are all formatted in the same way and make use of the same template and iconography. This gives the sense of a collection rather than a bunch of individual scenarios. They have also included the scenario template at the back of the book so that readers can design their own scenarios, which I think would be an excellent exercise! I really like the inclusion of this template.
Take Home Message
Overall, I think this is a really interesting and important collection. I like the accessibility to non-gamers, I like the short duration of the scenarios, and I like that these nano-games provide a really organic way to generate discussion on various topics related to feminism. There are differences between how these scenarios will play out compared to more traditional RPGs like D&D, for example, but as long as you keep that in mind I think some really great experiences and discussions could come from playing out the scenarios in this book.
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