Social Justice Recharge

I have to take a day or two. This week has been overwhelming. Yet another person revealed to be killed needlessly by police. Yet another woman dying in police custody. The names are getting so plentiful that I can’t even keep track of them anymore. And Instagram is just banning anything woman-positive, it seems like. I don’t even know what to do or say about that. They have a serious problem. Top it all off with racist assholes saying shit about how #AllLivesMatter and I just can’t. I cannot. Anymore. With this shit.

So. I’m taking a break. And part of me feels guilty about doing that. Even though I know that self care is important. I feel like I’m leaving the field of battle, or something. So I thought this would be a good time to talk about activist burnout and what you can do to try to keep from getting to the point where I am right now. Because, you know, you should do as I say and not as I do. Because my habits aren’t exactly perfect.

1. Sleep. Seriously. I don’t care how much sleep is normal for you or how you do it, but getting enough rest is really important. I tend to be a dumb ass and play Bloodborne or watch TV until midnight, because reasons. But I really shouldn’t. I’m a much better person when I get a solid 7 or more hours of sleep in.

2. Eat well. Whatever that means for you. Fuel your body with the things you know it needs to make you feel good and energetic. For me, that’s a lot of veggies and making sure I eat breakfast (Which I still haven’t done, as I’m writing this. See? Terrible habits.). Remember that fueling your body also fuels your brain. And the happier your brain is, the more easily you can formulate arguments against people rampant ignorance regarding social justice issues.

3. Take time for yourself. Knit. Or crochet. Whatever. Watch TV. Do whatever it does that lets you settle your mind and get a sense of peace. Do this every day, if you can. Even if it’s just for 10 minutes. Maybe even try just meditating in silence, if that works for you. Centering yourself before you go into battle is important.

4. Move around a little. I don’t care if it’s just taking a walk around the block or doing a little dance at your computer. Move your body. Get your juices flowing. Turn on some music and dance a silly dance while you clean your house. Sitting hunched over your computer or holding yourself tense in hard conversations both lock you down in ways that you won’t even realize until after you move yourself around and shake yourself loose again.

5. Connect with other activists. I cannot stress this one enough. Having someone to bounce your ideas and thoughts and frustrations off of is really important. Having a safe space to ask questions and get feedback from people with a like mind and social stance to yours will invigorate and validate you.

6. Recognize when it is time to take a break. As much as I feel like a warrior abandoning her fellows on the field of battle today, I also acknowledge that I’m no help to anyone in my current state. I’m too reactionary. Too touchy. I won’t do any good as long as I’m like this. And the sooner that I pull away, the sooner I can recover and get back to it.

7. I also recommend, if you have any excess energy or time, funneling some of your energy into projects that feel entirely positive to you. I cross stitch and write pet poetry, for example. Both of these things are somewhat separate from the social justice sphere (Although my favorite cross stitching piece so far is one that says “Girls just wanna have fundamental human rights.”). Doing those things relaxes me and gives me something entirely positive to focus on and that has been really helpful for me.

I have to keep reminding myself as I focus on my own needs of Audre Lorde’s very wise words: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” So care for yourselves, my lovelies. Because you are needed in the fight. And you are no good to yourself or those around you if you are not fit for battle.

DexCon 2015 Recap Part 1: Inclusion

I spent my July 4th weekend locked in a hotel with a bunch of nerds. It was glorious.

As per what has become usual, I ran a Dresden Files RPG KristaCon event with three other fabulous GMs, the fabulous Krista White (of KristaCon fame), Brennan Taylor, and Matthew Aaron. We prepped for weeks for that game, taking into account comments that we received during roses and thorns expressed after our last Dresden KristaCon event.

We used the Paranet Papers, which just came out very recently. The nature of the Paranet lent itself really well to the use of the three tables, and we were really excited to see a lot of movement between tables for the first two sessions, not to mention the number of “text messages” that were sent between players to keep each other up on what was happening at each table. The sessions were filled with highlights for me.

But this, by far, was the best one from the entire weekend of Dresden games for me:

This was said to me after the first session of Dresden on Thursday night by a player who I had never met before this weekend. And it meant so much to me. Gaming is a space that is dominated in a lot of ways by a straight white cis male narrative. The landscape can be pretty bleak when you look out at it as a person who isn’t those four things all wrapped up in one. I can’t tell you how many times I have gotten bored with a game simply because I was forced to play a male character. I mean, it happened to me just last night with Batman: Arkham Knight!

Inclusion is important. More than that, inclusion isn’t hard. When we worked on the Dresden game last year, we made sure that our characters were representative of more than one narrative (i.e. the overwhelming straight white one). We created characters that covered a wide spectrum of backgrounds. And you know what? It was just as difficult to make those characters as it was to make any other characters that I have created for the Dresdenverse. You use the same stats. The same mechanics for deciding aspects. It’s all, shockingly, the same! The only real, concrete difference is some of the background work. For example, when we decided to make a native American character, we had to look into the groups that lived in a certain area and make sure that the things we created for that character rang true for those groups.

When you are working to make a game inclusive and friendly to people other than your generic EveryWhiteMan, there are some things to consider. And it should be noted that you are going to make mistakes. Here’s a great example. There was a moment during planning this year when we realized that all of our sites for the game were in the United States. We quickly scrambled and decided that South America would be a third site and scrapped Indianapolis as a city. The South American site turned out to work really well in a lot of ways, and we felt pretty good about the decision to not be yet another game that takes place only in the USA.

Here’s some cliff notes on how to work inclusion into your game while still being sensitive to the groups that you are trying to represent. And remember as you are going through this process: these are not obstacles, they are opportunities! So many new avenues appear for you and your players when you open up your game to new ideas.

  1. Setting. Consider setting your game in an area that you are not as familiar with. This might take a little research on your part. But you will find that some games (like DFRPG, for example) have settings fleshed out for you already. Honestly, you can get a pretty good idea of a lot of areas by looking at Wikipedia and then following the reference links for deeper knowledge.
  2. Gender & Sexuality. If you are building characters for your characters to play at a con or writing questionnaires for your gaming group, try defaulting to they/them pronouns. Leave out specifying the gender identity and sex of any romantic entanglements. Let your players build their characters into the sexual identity and gender expression that they are the most comfortable with. Leave out names and let your players create those for themselves.
  3. Racial Identity. I like to include photos with character sheets when I’m doing a con. If this is something you like to do, try to make sure that the characters you are representing are diverse. If you are including characters from a background with which you are not familiar, do a little digging and make sure that the details you include are authentic and do not read as a cartoon parody of the culture that you are referencing. (i.e. do not make Japanese ninjas) This is an important element of creating characters that ring true and that are not going to be insulting to the culture that you are trying to represent.

The most important thing that you can do when you are trying to be inclusive in your games is to listen to your players. If they tell you that something seems off or express discomfort, hear them out. Make changes where appropriate. Be an accessible and fierce ally for the people who are trusting you with authority over them.

Have any other ideas on how to make games more inclusive? Let me know in the comments!