Making Games at the End of the World

Malcolm Pierce is one half of Woodsy Studio; cross-posted from redbirdmenace.com

The Bus Station

At three ‘o clock in the morning, the St. Louis Gateway Transportation Center is a hostile environment, but it isn’t the passengers at fault. This is a bus station, after all. Some of the people there are sprawled out across a few seats. Others are a day or two behind on a much-needed shower. But there is nothing glamorous about bus travel, especially trips stretching across multiple days and several layovers. Anyone forced to put up with those circumstances deserves a certain level of leeway.

The St. Louis Gateway Transportation Center is oppressive because it is a strange little building nestled away behind the home of the St. Louis Blues. Most directions to the SLGTC force drivers to arrive at the wrong part of the facility. The heat (more on the heat in a moment) is turned on. Everyone is sweating, even people who just arrived. And there are no water fountains.

A television above the waiting area blares an infomercial for a product called Astaxanthin. Astaxanthin is a chemical compound found (in extremely tiny amounts) in salmon and greater, but not terribly meaningful amounts, in krill and shrimp, giving the flesh of these sea creatures a pink-ish hue. It is also produced synthetically and injected into fish-based pet food, to give the cheaper meal a more healthy color. It is not approved for human consumption, but it can legally be fed to other salmon (which is messed up) to improve the pink tint of the inner meat.

The infomercial playing in the waiting room of the St. Louis Gateway Transportation Center claims that Astaxanthin will reverse aging. It will remove and prevent wrinkles. It will restore eye function. All for the perfectly reasonable price of sixty dollars a bottle .

At three thirty, the infomercial mercifully ends, only to be replaced with (presumably) the late-night edition of the local news. I hear the stories you expect from the local news in 2017. A suspect has died in an officer-involved shooting during a drug bust. Hundreds of headstones in a Jewish cemetery were defaced. Donald Trump tweeted again. The high temperature today, on February 22, will be in the mid 70s in St. Louis.

I wonder what the hell I’m doing in this bus stop, waiting to go to a conference about making video games.

The bus outside honks twice and I line up inside the stuffy terminal to board. The first thing I hear when I’m inside is a passenger telling someone he just met how he lost his finger on the job and was then fired for it.

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Mission Statement

wslogo2smallToday, we planned on posting a recap of our weekend at the STL Scatterjam, where we worked with two awesome artists from the Saint Louis area to create a fun little  3d flying/score attack game, Schrodinger’s Phoenix. It was a lighthearted post that featured more jokes than actual insight into our development process, in large part because I’m better at writing jokes than 3d flight tutorials.

After the events of yesterday, we decided that it wasn’t the right time to post something so lighthearted. It felt tacky, uncalled for, and tone deaf. And it would not reflect our current feelings. So instead, this:

In the past, we have shied away from being explicitly political with our blog, our site, and our forward-facing promotion in general. That’s not to say we have tried to hide anything. Play our games or read Jenny’s novels as Jayden Woods or check out my personal site and you’ll get an idea of where we stand pretty fast. But we didn’t think there was any reason to make a post like this. It seemed indulgent, perhaps, or attention-seeking in a way that we weren’t entirely comfortable surfacing. We believe that has changed.

The election of Donald Trump is an attack on marginalized people in the United States. Forget traditional left-right politics. Forget the shortcomings of his opponent. Forget the problems with the two-party systems. This particular candidate was especially vile and his victory despite such open toxicity is terrifying. He spent months saying horrible things about minority races and minority religions. He was accused of sexual assault by a dozen women and was caught on tape essentially admitting to that assault as a matter of course. He chose as his Vice President one of the most regressive politicians on LGBT issues, Mike Pence, whose policies led to a massive Indiana HIV outbreak and who has paid lip service to supporting conversion therapy. Despite all of that, and being essentially unqualified, Trump won the election and will be our next president.

After last night, it would be easy for marginalized people to believe that the country hates them. And that’s why we think it’s important to say that Woodsy Studio stands with the people who look at Donald Trump and fear for their future. No matter what happens, we intend to keep creating games featuring people of color, queer, and disabled characters. We intend to write stories that subvert cultural expectations about minority religions, sexuality, gender politics, monogamous relationships, and power structures both elitist and populist. These have always been our goals, and they will continue to be our goals. And when we stumble, we will strive to do better.

We believe art and entertainment–and you probably believe games are at least one of those two things–shape how people see the world and see each other. And we believe that creating games with compassion and inclusivity can only make the world a better place.

That doesn’t mean our games and stories won’t be fun. Of course they will be fun (we hope). This isn’t a change of direction for us, just a statement of the direction we already had. You may have noticed this in our games, you may have not noticed it. We aren’t making strictly political games, but we do recognize that everything is political to some extent, and those politics must be confronted and improved whenever possible. We believe that it is important to be very clear on that statement right now, however, because today the world seems to be pointing in a very different direction. The tide may seem strong, but we will push against it in with what little power we have.

We’re not the only ones. We’re fortunate that so many folks in the indie games community are also working towards the same goals, because we know we can’t do this by ourselves. We are two people and a few pets, working out of the bluest part of a red state. And we also know that making inclusive games is no panacea. People from so many walks of life are going to suffer because of this election, and we will always look to do more. Visual novels don’t restore health care to those who will lose it. Games don’t prevent deportation or detainment. We know we’re not saving the world. But this is what we do. This is what we make. And this is how we intend to proceed.

-Woodsy Studio
Jenny Gibbons
Malcolm Pierce

 

Echoes of the Fey: Building a Better (More Equal) Fantasy Setting

Fantasy realms are pretty shitty places for women. Women generally aren’t in recognized positions of power. They are used as chess pieces in political machinations. They are constantly under the threat of violence and that violence is used to motivate male heroes (and inspire hatred towards male villains).

In modern fantasy, there are usually exceptions–women who wield power behind the scenes or who take on traditionally male roles within society as established in the setting–but these are explicitly portrayed as exceptions.  That’s progress of a sort, but it still leaves something to be desired. Daenerys Targaryen is great, but she doesn’t make up for the fact that the majority of female characters in Game of Thrones wield little-to-no power in-universe.  And I don’t just mean major, viewpoint characters but also background characters. (To stave off criticism, I’ll say that the TV show at least puts the occasional male prostitute in the brothels and female warrior among the wildlings, and GoT is hardly the worst offender in this field.)

I don’t think this is a controversial statement, though I know there are plenty of people who don’t think it’s bad. And for those people, there’s plenty of books, movies, and games out there for you. I’d just like to see something different. So when I’m crafting my own fantasy setting for my own game, I want to do something different.

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