Hello! Jon speaking.
I saw a thing doing the rounds on the internet over the weekend and was moved to write something about what we get up to hereabouts at Handiwork.
It’s worth mentioning before getting into it that I’m a man-flavour human, with the combination of specific experiences and limitations of perspective that come with that.
So I’m a bit of a simpleton. If you ask me who our games are for I’ll gleefully tell you “Everyone!” And I mean it.
But, of course life isn’t quite that simple. We all carry various prejudices, (and here I’ve had to Google synonyms for “blind spots” in order not to use ablist language. Learning, trying etc) and areas that might help inclusion that we’re less aware of.
I’m am also aware that good intentions are not enough. It’s rare to find a person who does harm deliberately, and there are many reasons to remain ignorant of how your work comes across.
But I want Handiwork Games to try a bit harder than that.
So it was with interest that I saw the Aloy meme doing the rounds at exactly the same time as we coincidentally released a montage of art from Elaine Lithgow’s scenario for BEOWULF: Age of Heroes, ‘Seven Stones’. (It’s at the top of this post.)
The connection to a woman archer with red hair was enough to tweak my brain. It was good to see we’re among the kind of publisher the person in the tweet/meme dislikes (or perhaps… wait it’ll take too long to unpack it if the tweet is trolling for effect. Hopefully you know what I mean).
We don’t aim to make sexy characters. Sometimes, as part of a scenario, a character may of course be attractive, if that’s an appropriate part of the story. We’re not in any way morally against creating attractive characters. But we are aware that “attractiveness” is a very broad church. If we consider it as narrowly as the above tweet purports to do, then we’re sending a built-in message about who our games are for, and what they’re about.
Now, of course, it would be foolish to pretend that we don’t this inadvertently anyway. The title of the game “BEOWULF” sets out a certain stall. I hope we’ve succeeded in making a thoughtful and inclusive approach to that subject matter. But all artistic creation can come with with baggage, and we make the same amount of mistakes and missteps as anyone else. It’s why, as creators, we need constant discussion and to have our ears open.
The NPC in our artwork is Murrin, a character who challenges the Hero in something of a True Grit style. She’s not taken in by flashy heroics, and she’s travelled a long way to get help for her people. She doesn’t suffer fools, and she’s a great character to play at the table. She provides a critical voice that really adds something to a BEOWULF game. Murrin is certainly not there to be lusted after by a subset of the audience.
Because, as mentioned, I like characters like Murrin. Because she reflects something of the world I see around me. She’s real, and she broadens the scope and appeal of what we do.
And, all respect to Elaine who created her – it’s a great adventure, please do check it out – it’s not really such a new or threatening idea to have a young woman NPC who isn’t there to appeal to the specific sexuality of the player. Or at least it shouldn’t be a novel idea in 2021. But the conversation caused by the Aloy meme means it still seems important to talk about this topic.
Like I’ve said, I’m a simpleton. I don’t have a big agenda beyond wanting the largest number of people to feel like they want to play our games. Because that just seems fair. So if you saw the Aloy meme and rolled your eyes, then we’re right there with you.
Seven Stones is out now for BEOWULF backers, and releases to the general public tomorrow.
Learn more about BEOWULF Age of Heroes, 5e for one player and one GM here.