Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Women with Initiative: Elsa Sjunneson-Henry

Hi all! Today's Women with Initiative feature is with Elsa Sjunneson-Henry, a well-known writer, designer, editor, and creator, as well as a accessibility coordinator and consultant for conventions. She is a huge advocate for disability accommodation, representation, and accessibility in gaming and fiction arenas, and has started doing educational programs like the Writing the Other Master Class, Writing Deaf and Blind Characters coming up September 10th (spots are still open!)

Elsa blogs regularly on Feminist Sonar, talking about everything from feminism on screen to her personal experiences and how they impact her and the world around her. She's worked on a number of fiction and RPG products including writing Elizabeth Bathory for Dracula Dossier, and her current game DEAD SCARE, a tabletop RPG of zombies and 1950s housewives that Kickstarted last year. I asked Elsa a few questions about her work on DEAD SCARE.

What were the most important things you found you had to focus on while designing DEAD SCARE in terms of inclusivity, accessibility, and staying true to the fictional goals you had for the game?

I wanted to write a game about zombies that wasn't actually about the zombies. At its core, DEAD SCARE is about communities, and how they react under pressure. In order to do that, I needed to pay attention to how women differentiate themselves from each other, while still making sure that each and every single playbook could be played by a woman of any race, class, ability or age. It was important to me that racism not play a part in the way in which the game read to players.

DEAD SCARE can include some very scary and intense situations. How do you design the game to help GMs and players navigate you, and do you have an example of an experience at the table where you thought your efforts in that regard showed fruitful results?

DEAD SCARE has a section on what I call the tone dial. Essentially, you can play DEAD SCARE any number of ways, from it being a LEAVE IT TO BEAVER episode where zombies just happen to show up and ruin the church bazaar, to a game where everyone engages with the social and political struggles of the 1950s. It's a game where you opt in to the difficulties, not a game where you force players to engage with them. I like to run Dead Scare as a story about community, but some players want it to be a dungeon crawl through suburbia.

What lessons have you brought from your work on Dead Scare as you move forward with more RPG products, and what projects are on the horizon for you?

DEAD SCARE taught me that I shouldn't be afraid of mechanics, which is something that I have brought forward to my work on the FATE ACCESSIBILITY TOOLKIT. In the next few months, though, I am focusing on teaching writers and how to write disabled characters. I'll be teaching a course with Writing the Other on writing D/deaf and Blind Characters. I'm currently working on a book which I'll be querying to agents hopefully this fall, and many short stories. I'm working to diversify what I write, moving to do more fiction, because I love it.

Thank you so much to Elsa for allowing me to interview her for this month's feature! Make sure to follow her blog posts at Feminist Sonar and her words on Twitter @snarkbat, and you might still be able to grab a spot in her Writing the Other Master Class on Writing Deaf and Blind Characters by registering here

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