Sunday, July 19, 2015

Five or So Questions with Moyra Turkington on War Birds

Today I have an interview with Moyra Turkington of Unruly Designs talking about her amazing project, War Birds, currently on Kickstarter

Tell me a little about War Birds. What excites you about it?

War Birds is a gigantic passion project for me, and so just about everything about it gets me excited. J

It was going on twelve years ago that I was in a discussion about what makes a flying ace a flying ace (It’s generally five aerial kills, but rules vary based on country). I did what all internet era folks do and looked it up on Wikipedia. There I found a list of flying aces of World War II and in it was a name that sparked immediate interest: Lydia Litvak. A female flying ace??!! How on earth didn’t I know about that? The link was red though (there was no bio page for her) so I started feverously searching the internet. Not only was she a flying ace, she was a flying ace way back in WWII! The White Lily of Stalingrad - part of the 586th Fighter Regiment of the Air Defense Force of the Soviet Union, and there were others, lots and lots of others that flew with her!

This started a very long fascination for me about WWII and history in general - about what women did and really what we were and are. The more I read, the more I wanted to know. When I was in school and they taught the history of Women and War, it was an addendum - one story. Rosie the Riveter, the middle class white woman who came to work in the factories to free a man to fight and through that, heralded a new era of economic independence for women. But that’s an extremely narrow story, and not an entirely true one.

The stories I read were about women who served on the front lines as nurses and as ambulance drivers, snipers and tankers, spies and code-breakers! And of course I read about the prisoners and POWs and civilian women whohad the war come down on their heads. As I read, a much fuller multiplicity of women’s experience in the era started to unfold before me. I started to think about how we choose whose stories get told, and how we determine who the heroes are. I started thinking of the hardships of women on the home front, I started thinking about the courage of women in war zones. And I started thinking that I had to do something to make that story wider. To let other women experience the joy I had in finding out that we were always greater than I’d been taught we were.

And larp and freeform is a fantastic way to give people access to that experience. To become it, to feel it thumping in your chest. To really understand the courage, the compassion, and the resilience of the women whose shoulders we stand on.

And that’s just one of the things I love about this project.

When Against the Grain is happening, how does the structure and any mechanization of the game promote the vibe of the game and interaction between players?

The aim in Against the Grain was to create a story that was emotionally engaging and satisfying to play, that also acted as an exploratory model of how intersectional bias works. The game isn’t just about a moment in history where a bunch of random racists decided to launch a hate strike. It’s about everyday people that are a complex product of an unequal and unfair system, that have real struggles and who think they’re just doing what they need to survive. And it’s about how they will end up marginalizing others for what they think is their own survival. It’s about how what we want and think we need is often in direct opposition with equality because we’ve never been taught to find a better way.

To support that, in designing the structure of the game I contextualized the characters to help modern players feel like they could advocate for their character goals — even when they strongly disagree with them — to allow them to play functionally and in doing so, to create a situation of dramatic tension. I carefully calibrated the characters into a position of scarcity to ensure that the game wouldn’t result in easy answers, and I encouraged embodiment and emotional investment in that scarcity with physical mechanics that keep the pressure on. I borrowed on Nordic larp techniques to put tools in the facilitator’s hands to ensure the players could not escape the pressures and social context of their world. Perhaps most importantly in a game with particularly difficult subject matter, I framed the whole game in a context of transparency, safety and community to help players approach the game vulnerably and take as much away from the experience as possible.

You have some amazing stretch goals, and some great goals already hit. When looking for creators and authors for games, what did you look for, and what did you expect from them in theme and development?
I looked for passion — people that were really excited about the stories of women in the era, and people who could really connect with the goals of the project. I also tried my best to look for diversity across multiple axis points: in designers, in games, in the stories we were telling and who and how they were being represented. The base framework I put down in front of the designers was this: each game should explore a story about an experience or contribution that was real for women in WWII. The game should explore what opportunities the war provided to the women involved and also to look at the costs of the opportunity. The game should illustrate how it affected who the women were, how society’s view of them changed, what they could do, and what they could become.

What is your favorite moment in the experience of creation, research, and application of the games in War Birds?

Favorites are too hard! I’ll have to give you a few:
  • As a designer, the eureka moment of figuring out how Against the Grain was going to work and then watching playtest group after playtest group engage with it vulnerably and meaningfully, and tell me about the power of the experience. This was despite the fact that I thought there was a good chance that no one would choose to play the game due to its difficult subject matter. It taught me that big design risks really are worth taking.
  • As a creator, the moment I played We Were WASP at Fastaval. I was deep in gleeful research for an British Air Transport Auxiliary game called Spitfire Sisters when I saw the preview in the Fastaval program. I had an insecure, frustrated, competitive response to seeing it there, as creators sometimes do. But after being powerfully moved by playing the game, I had to let all of that go. I asked Ann that very night if she would consider submitting We Were WASP to the anthology, because she’d gone and written the game I wanted to write, and done it better than me. It made me totally recalibrate how I defined success on the project, and the project is 1000% better for it.
  • As a curator, the moment I read the first draft of Kira’s Mobilize. Including Ann was easy, because her game was already complete and my experience in play was proof it was the right decision. Kira was the first person I asked to write a game from scratch. I saw Kira talking on social media about _Coming Out Under Fire,_ a book I had on my (way too long) research list. It was clear that she was a right fit for the team by her approach to the history. I approached her to write a game and she committed right away. I always had faith she would do well, but tend to hold my breath when a thing so close to my heart is in someone else’s hands. The day I got her first draft I rushed home to read it, and it was great! The experience taught me that I can and should approach people to collaborate in creative projects, and it allowed me to get to a new level of trust in giving control away.

Finally, what do you hope people get out of playing the games presented in the War Birds Kickstarter?
I’m ambitious in my hope.

First and foremost, I want them to have great play experiences! I hope they connect with the games and the stories they’ll be telling, and I hope they serve as compelling communal experiences with their fellow players. I want the games to help them engage with history: I hope that play will expand the story of what women are and do and allow players to see the women that enabled the core infrastructure of the war through their work both at home and on the front and have a new appreciation for why it was important. And I hope the games are all thought provoking in their individual ways and individual themes. I hope they help us appreciate how hard we have fought to get here we are, and how far we still have left to go.

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