Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Five or So Questions on Turn

As I have my game Turn currently on Kickstarter, Tracy Barnett and J. Dymphna Coy were kind enough to ask me some questions. Check out my answers below!

The Turn logo with a vine growing out of the T in the word Turn, with leaves in various stages of growth, and above it a half circle with footsteps transitioning from human to beast
Tell us a little about Turn. What excites you about it?

Turn is a slice-of-life supernatural roleplaying game about shapeshifters in small towns, where the shifters try to seek balance between their beast and human identities while finding community with shifters and mundanes alike. It has relatively simple mechanics, a lovely town building system, and the play is quiet drama about life in small towns as a shifter. 

I'm excited about Turn because it is the game I designed to satisfy myself! I was looking for a game that scratched a particular itch, and couldn't find it in other games I played and learned about. But Turn has that play experience, it is the game I was looking for. I get to play out quiet scenes, intimacy that explores a range of emotions, have some fun and cheerful moments, and explore the identity of my character, and the game supports all of that.

What do you think of popular portrayals of rural life? How does your game differ from those (or not)?

There aren't a lot of popular portrayals of rural life, to be honest, and many portrayals are negative. See any depiction of West Virginia hillbillies for what I mean. Obviously that's not the route I chose for writing about real rural life. There is one portrayal of rural life that doesn't perfectly sync up with Turn but is not super far off, and that's...Letterkenny.

For those unfamiliar, Letterkenny is a Canadian comedy set in the fictional small town of Letterkenny, population 5000. It follows a number of characters, but primarily Wayne and Katy, siblings who run a produce stand and farm, and their friends. There's not an exceptional amount of violence in the show, but when there is violence, they show that it hurts and has consequences, which I value. Most of the show is just their day-to-day lives at the produce stand or the farm, time spent socializing between characters, and important events to the town like elections of local officials and the St. Patrick's Day party. 

The pacing is so simple, and there aren't typically the biggest stakes, but they're stakes that matter when push comes to shove. Relationships are vital, people comfort each other, and people learn. And there's always chorin' to do! So I love that, and a lot of that comes through in Turn for me.

What doesn't come through is that there is no representation of the shifter aspect, so that's definitely something different, and Letterkenny is also hilarious as heck, which Turn isn't as much of. There's definitely some goofing off in Turn and some funny moments, but I wouldn't ever expect the banter of Letterkenny levels in Turn. And that's okay! Turn's meant for a more mixed bunch of emotions. 
A bear dangling in a tree while digging into a stash of fancy and expensive things
A Bear by Rhis Harris.
What do you find compelling about stories centered around shapeshifters?

Aside from like, it just being kind of cool to be able to turn into an animal and have superpowers and regeneration and wanting to explore what it means to have a body that's functioning at peak rather than dwindling at minimum?

Well, shapeshifters are great for the metaphor. See, people ask me sometimes what the shapeshifters represent, and I did a podcast recently where they were like "oh, we thought it was about being the other!" when I had just described how some of the inspiration for the shapeshifters had been rooted in my experiences with bipolar disorder and mixed episodes. The thing is, I'm queer, I'm nonbinary, I have invisible disabilities, I have mental illnesses. I am other, in a lot of ways. So when people read into the shapeshifters a sense of other, that's not unintentional.

But it also wasn't always intentional. People read a lot from shapeshifters because the nature of their second identity, so different from their surface identity, and the nature of secrecy - these are things that the "other" experience, too, in many situations. We talk about going stealth as queer and gender nonconforming people, and passing, and so I see a lot of that too, but not just with queerness, not just with gender, not just with disability, not just with mental illness, or any other kind of other we are as humans.

Shapeshifters represent what you want them to represent, I think, which makes them an excellent narrative focus.

How are your experiences growing up in small towns reflected in Turn?

They are Turn. Honestly, it's hard not to see it when I play. In things other people do (even people who aren't from small towns!), in things I do, in the way the Town Manager pushes people together to fiddle with their secrets and relationships, in the map of the town. Even in games I haven't participated in, some stuff is unmistakable as what I built into it.

My favorite bits are when people instinctively realize how long it's going to take to drive to the other side of town or that the local store/hospital/police/whatever isn't going to be as well staffed or supplied or that their family members are like, absolutely going to hear about this, and when we're building the town and people are like "well obviously rowdiness goes real close to the town and connects directly to a bloodline" or something like that - not all of these things are "rules" but they're small, rural town things that reflect in the game and I really do count some of that as my design, and the rest of it on the weird small town knowledge we culturally share.

When people expand to Italy or other countries like in the stretch goals, who knows! Maybe someone else's experiences will shine through most!
A bearded person struggling while using a tablet, clipboard, and cellphone
The Overachiever by John W. Sheldon.

What's the most compelling thing to you about focusing on the tension between a person's animal and beast sides, rather than, say, violence?

So, violence for me is three things (sometimes combined, often separate): repulsive, spectacular, and catharsis. And it's also in 99% of other games, movies, tv shows, books, and other media. It's everywhere. Even in shapeshifter media, you will far more often find people exploring violence and brutality than you will find them exploring issues of identity. And that's boring!

Like, don't get me wrong, violence can be amazing to watch for a variety of reasons, and playing it out can be really incredible. But, violence is also all around us. Our world is violent. We're constantly discussing it, experiencing it. And maybe, I guess, I wanted a game where you could do violence, but you had to fucking deal with it, too. So I did that. And it didn't need to be explored so deeply? Like if you can do whatever you want with violence but just actually have to deal with consequences, not just take a potion and leave the bodies in the road, that conversation is already happening.

Digging into identity is more fascinating to me because majority culture is cool with dealing with exploring the identity of the average white cis man of privilege, but like, there's a fucking lot of the rest of us. Using shapeshifters as our embodiment in the game when in rural, small towns you'll immediately run into like bunches of other intersections. We've had queer characters, poor characters, characters with trauma.

You end up with these deep questions of self and community when you look face on at poverty, drug use, family struggles, loss, and so on. And when you're struggling with yourself, you have a harder time addressing them - so you gotta try and work stuff out! It leads to these introspective, intimate, caring, emotional scenes! Like, we have - in our longest running game - a weekly tea party with our three characters who are trying to figure this shifter crap out, while one of them is trying to get their shit together, another is trying to come out as a gay man and keep his life, and one didn't realize until just lately that they didn't have their shit together. We play these out, and they're wonderful, and also constantly at risk of running afoul of the hectic lives these shifters lead.

So I'd say it's more interesting because it's not what we're doing every day, and because it opens opportunities to tell moments of stories we sometimes forget to tell. And a cougar, bison, and wolf having tea is just *chef's kiss.* Moments I truly treasure!

four wolves exploring a set of human clothing
A wolf pack by Rhis Harris.


Thanks so much to Tracy and Dymphna for asking me some questions! I hope you enjoyed the interview and that you'll check out Turn on Kickstarter here today!

Tracy Barnett's Work
Tracy on Twitter @TheOtherTracy
J. Dymphna Coy's Work

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