In our development branch of the original rules concept I have chosen to display nudity and also depict kissing individuals. I even take it one step further and don’t shy away from showing what could be interpreted as homo- or bisexual acts. Nor will I. Yet one might ponder what actual role sexuality plays in a fantasy universe, what it’s relevance and place is in it, and how this all fits into the universe we develop – one which is inspired by and/or placed within some kind of a Wesnoth setting? That also brings questions like who owns the Wesnoth universe, who has the right to develop it and what is a universe anyway?
Hop along for a somewhat long joyride that will give you something sweet.
what is wesnothian?
The way I envision a Wesnothian universe isn’t necessarily the same as some others may do, be they BfW or WT developers or not. I am not familiar with what seems to at times almost be lexical and precise detailed knowledge of the Wesnoth universe as it is told via the narratives in Battle for Wesnoth and through it’s community and followers.
I myself don’t care if something was historically plausible or if an orc would ever ride a horse or not. I don’t believe it’s wrong or bad to care about such details, and I have a full understanding that they could be both fascinating, entertaining and rewarding in various ways for those that do care and keep them alive. I just don’t think that it’s very viable for a CCG and our target audience, and I would rather let an orc ride a horse even though they usually ride beast-wolves a) if it could make sense in the universe and b) if that would give us a better story with a richer world.
In huge contrast to the very detailed account of the Wesnoth universe it also quite often has huge blanks left there for others to fill given the great openness of the project. This is where I take the shameless liberty to do so. To change, rearrange and break what others might even find already good or even perfect. To slowly evolve it into something that I believe we in WTactics can make greater use of for our own needs in a customizable open source card game in the ways which are laid out for us in the design document.
The universe comes first. It’s huge. While the details in it matter & help shape it, they are usually not a vital aspect of it on their own. More commonly expressed: The whole is greater than the stand alone parts.
tricky but oh so important stuff
What I want you to consider is the product on the one hand, and on the other it’s universe. The relationship isn’t always crystal clear between the two, but they should perhaps best be separated while analysed. Furthermore, a tricky but very important question would be what actually constitutes a universe?
For example, one could visit the world of George Lucas and ask if that world created or lead to the many computer games and comics that take place in it, or if those are just what would have been mediocre products that were branded and thus blessed by the strong and recognizable IP that the Star Wars universe is associated with? Do those products contribute to that universe, or are they just poor images of it that only re-use? Or, is it even true that we don’t contribute to a universe if we only re-mash content and don’t add anything deemed creative by some standard?
Would we reason in a different way if we spoke about any one of the 14 000+ printed titles that somehow relate to Star Wars? If so, how come – does the media matter?
What is a universe anyway? How do we define it? What is its building blocks? Are the fans a vital part of it? Is it the original authors, the copyright holders, the consumers or the hard core and well versed fans that should have creative precedence of how the universe develops? Who has the right to do what and how within a universe?
Some people try to reduce and simplify this discussion by confusing the notion of a universe with the one known as intellectual property and somehow magically equate the two. Here I will try to avoid writing much about IP:s for now as the discussion would get us astray. For now, let’s just be happy with us making a clear distinction between a person that claims to own something and/or have exclusive rights over it and an individual that somehow builds on ideas sprung from a universe.
In this text a games world, or when put in an even larger context where that game world becomes well developed and somewhat broader – it’s universe – is just the same as a meta-physical framework. It is a set of notions, a gathering of imaginations, of a universe that is most often unlike our own in several regards.
The Star Wars-universe is not equal to all the scripts for the Star Wars movies: It is equal to what can be imagined, plausible, fitting to some extent and what can be in- or deduced from what could be interpreted as being in them. It’s also what can be imagined from a spin off from the spin off. Thus, homo-erotica with Spock and Captain Kirk in slash fiction isn’t very far fetched, no matter what Gene Roddenberry would have thought about it or what his original intentions (if any) with their close friendship was.
workers around the world, unite!
Bart K, one of the steam engines that powers the relatively unknown yet excellent opengameart.org, is asking the question if it wouldn’t “be nice to have some open franchises that people can expand on without fear of being sued?” and adds that “there’s nothing stopping us from doing it.”
He’s of course spot on, and raises an issue that is all too often overlooked by members of the open source communities out there: Why don’t we build common universes more often? How many examples can we even give of works in a shared universe or even a shared smaller setting? More importantly, what obstacles are there that keeps this from happening? And is it worth the work? Would a piece of very good work on its own merit become even better if themed in such a way that it’s is a part of a certain universe?
The technical barrier to achieve global co-work around a universe is long time gone. All that is required is internet and any number or combinations of free solutions like for example Wikimedia, phpBB & Mumble to mention only a few candidates that we happen to use ourself here at WTactics. There are plenty of free and open technologies that can aid and be the corner stone, tool wise, of any conceivable universe.
The lack of open and rich universes is first and foremost a social enigma, as most things human. In part is a tale about creativity and originality – many of the talents found in the open source communities want to create something that’s original, something they can call “our own”.
While that may be a valid reason for why one wouldn’t want to co-work on a universe or place one’s work within that universe, it seems to more often be the repeatable story about human nature: The one that involves ego, control, power and status to name a few ingredients that makes any creative co-work problematic. Coupled off with disorganisation, lack of skills, a clear structure and some kind of working leadership and we would end up explaining a great deal number of failures. Not only related to creation of an open universe, but any project. Worse yet is that all of these aren’t even necessary conditions for a project to fail. It’s often more than enough with just a pinch of a couple of them to make the stew bitter.
our place in the puzzle
I won’t be a liar and offer you my elaborate plan when I began work on WTactics. I had none. There was no grand vision of seeing the Wesnoth universe in various forms of media or even expanding upon that universe. I did however think it was very logical to use parts of the BfW art and whatever in the universe that I happened to believe would serve us well. Logical in a resource kind of way: I perceive most fantasy settings as very much alike and don’t see any point with devising yet another generic universe when there are already tons around.
I am also an avid fan of BfW, having spent countless of hours of work on parts of it’s multiplayer community and think it is an amazing game with a nice setting. I wanted to give back to it by giving it another game, and in addition I also thought that making a card game that was Wesnoth-themed would attract helping hands from the BfW community. It all made sense: Why not use the Wesnoth universe? After all, we were going to create a fantasy game, with many of the visuals from BfW.
In retrospect I don’t think it was a bad choice. Sure, I have had zero help from the BfW community and the lust to create a CCG seems to be nowhere within it, but other than that it was probably on okay decision to stick to the thought that WTactics is set on some other timeline, or even world, in the future of the Wesnoth universe.
While our project goals are not primarily to work towards the expanding and consistency keeping of the Wesnoth universe I believe we will, in one way or the other, become some alternative part of it by eventually offering something interesting that is set within it and can be of use to developers & users of x, where x isn’t necessarily BfW, as it could be virtually anything from a novel to a game of almost any genre.
Even if there will be plenty of historical intertextual references to BfW it is no secret that I with the original rules concept made the conscious decision to use different factions and background stories than the ones found in BfW. Doing so could be considered as a good example of destabilizing a universe, or it might even be seen as not contributing to it all if the differences are too big. I’m willing to take that risk to sport the idea of an ever evolving universe. In time, in characteristics and in where the focus is.
It’s my belief that a good universe is one that can harbour enough width and depth in such a nice package that it is easy to find a use for it and even easier to become engrossed in it. The universe itself is separated from the local domain in the sense that every domain chooses what it will extract and how it will use it. This enables people to create a fork of even a go-cart game, re-theme it into something Wesnothian, and give some of the horse/wolf/bat-races some background story and meaning by picking stuff from the Wesnoth universe, without at the same having to represent the whole Wesnoth universe since that would be excessive and make no sense for the player of WesCart.
sex – our social responsibility
There will surely exist a lot of discrepancies in the future between BfW and WT. Except for different eras, the two domains will feel different due to their settings. The conflicts in WT are supposed to be about stuff that are easy to relate to our own reality in perhaps a more direct way.
Some developers believe that a game or it’s universe can be objective and totally isolated from our real society, both in terms of creating the universe and in understanding it. I am not among them. I find that thought laughable, ridiculous and as an omen about it’s carrier not being acquainted with sociology or even basic psychology. I believe that most games can be interpreted in more or less plausible ways and that we can understand something about their creators when reverse engineering social markers found within their universe. This can certainly be done with games like Battle for Wesnoth, Baldurs Gate or World of Warcraft. As it can with card games like Magic: The gathering.
By the stories or game texts, looking at the art or in some cases even by understanding the rules we can decode something. Let’s call it the beliefs of the developers and/or their message to the audience. Point being, an analysis is usually possible. Should it be done? Is it done? Or are the players happy campers, as clueless as ever, totally unaware of how the mindsets of the developers – consciously or unconsciously – affect their own via the game? And are the developers aware of these ongoing processes? Or are they just victims to the subconscious, reproducing whatever happens to be convention in their society?
As I do not deny that a universe out of this world can be produced I would instead acknowledge and embrace it: WTactics ORC is indeed of this world. It is nowhere near objective or universal. It is a cultural product sprung from the society we live in today, as perceived by it’s developers. While true that we are somewhat diverse (several European countries are represented in the project but also USA) most of us are just “the children of our time” to quote Nationalteatern. We are mostly westeners that are indoctrinated by mainly american pop culture and we have the luxury of having homes, food, internet and whatnot, and even some spare time to work on this great project.
Since every game comes from this world it will usually to some extent also be about this world. It will end up that way whether one as a developer likes it or not, as can be seen by analysing any popular universe, e.g. Star Wars or Lord of the Rings, that are both carbon copies of classical cliche story telling (yet good!) as well as filled with tons of social commentaries that were placed there on purpose or that unknowingly sneaked in without the creators ever noticing it.
Being aware of this can empower creators with greater control of the process and the shape of the end product. I prefer us to be as conscious as possible about it and to use what can’t be avoided anyway – the game as a means of social commentary from certain perspectives. With that in mind, I’d like to add that there has been made an important decision about not using it in a propagandistic way for exclusively one single point of view only. Rather, the original rules concept is to open up the doors for, at times, using it as a social commentary in a way that enables it to serve as inspiration and thought of contemporary issues, no matter if one happens to be a nazi, neo-liberal, socialist, feminist, environmentalist or an animal rights activist, to just mention a few schools of thought (or lack thereof).
Thus, sex is made into a means to comment society. To depict kissing two female elves or two kissing male soldiers is to open up for discussion around the table. Exactly what heading it takes doesn’t matter, as long as it’s there and the topic is raised. The interesting part isn’t if the player is homosexual, homophobic, liberal or conservative him/herself: The main point is the process of the reflection, the thought, and the mentioned discussion.
That is also where nudity fits in: As a feminist myself (yeah, look at me, I don’t find a reason to stay objective and friendly with all – I have no issues people knowing my ideological predisposition and what forces steer my hand when I create. On the contrary, I think transparency is a good thing. Incognito agendas seldom belong in an open source project.) I don’t have a problem with showing bare female breasts in WTactics. Why? Because:
- We, and BfW, and a zillion other games, already show naked male breasts without stigmatising or sexualising them. If a person believes that males have the right to show their breasts in society and females don’t have the same right, solely based on the fact that the breasts are attached to a person with a vagina, then such a person is a sexist. Sexism is unjustifiable in the identical way racism is: The racist uses attribute x and claims it to be some kind of relevant factor in his/her ethical consideration for how to treat person y. For example, having black skin colour or being jewish is somehow magically relevant for the average white racist. Problem with racism is that x isn’t rationally relevant. The assumption that x is relevant is false. If x is the colour of your skin or your religion and x is easily recognised as irrelevant by any thinking individual, that same person would also recognise, once it eliminates it’s own cultural trappings and nonsense, that the sex of an individual is simply not a relevant ethical factor in most cases for how we should treat that individual. Yada yada… conclusion: If I choose to hide female breasts only because they were female, then I’d reproduce sexism (yups, in the same manner that most bathhouses around the world reproduce it when they force woman to hide them while bathing in mixed-public but proudly allow the men to show theirs.)
- If we should not show female breasts because they’re considered to be sexual I’d challenge that notion: They are maybe so for you, but in vast parts of the world a couple of female breasts are usually not sexualised at all. Why should your society dictate how it should be in the world? In addition, what does it mean that society sexualises them? That we should do as society dictates (hide them) just because it happens to do so, seems to be the conclusion. Such an attitude is equal to idiocy, as it is self-preserving conservative, will hinder the society from developing and also leads to the conclusion that we should accept all kinds of obscure phenomenons like for example unequal salaries among men and women with the very same argument. Bla bla bla… sub. total: What’s sexual or not differs in time and space.
- If we should not show female breasts because they could be seen as sexual and that it could offend somebody somewhere then we could might as well just drop dead: Everything from shoes to pee has been sexualised and continues to be so by different (sub)cultures and/or individuals. One one might also wonder why the whole world should adapt to every type of individual that claims they’re deeply offended. In essence: If you are offended by watching something, then please by all means – don’t frakking watch it! Who forces you?
- We shouldn’t show nudity if we’re creating a game for children. Oh really? How so? Because you say? Or is the stork still coming? What is the problem with allowing children to see nude people? The reason for why people don’t want that to happen is to learn the children to find the state they were born in and in reality also the state they always reside in – nude by nature, in themselves – as something shameful and strange. It’s good old fashioned indoctrination and brainwashing, teaching the next generation that we must relate to nudity in a awkward way and treat nudity, our own skin and existence, as something problematic and unavoidably associated with sexuality. By making nudity something unnatural and strange we in extension also create what makes nudity sexual in the first place. Bingo-bongo king of Congo: There is no scientific explanation as to why young humans should not see other humans nude, not to mention nude merfolk, orcs or dogs. It’s just social convention. Also, nothing forces you to play with cards that contain nudity – just remove them or, given the open source nature of the project, create some clothes for them. Lastly, we’re not creating a game for kids. We’re creating it for teens and adults.
- We shouldn’t depict nudity because it’s associated with sexuality. Answer: Pick any one of the explanation of the above. I’d also be prepared to defend the statement that: Even if it nudity was by necessity associated with sexuality (which it of course isn’t) it still wouldn’t matter since the person delivering the argument then must show that sexuality is something that shouldn’t be mentioned in a society/game and/or that some people shouldn’t be aware of sexuality. Good luck with that.
The list could be made much longer and interesting discussions can surely be had about the topics. To wrap this up for now we can summarise it as follows: If we can create a game that raises questions, will start a discussion or debate, or a string of thought provoking ideas, it’s a good thing. Mission accomplished. We should be happy we accomplished that if we first and foremost also have given the players a good time and solid gameplay, which are the greater priorities for this project.
Contemporary social commentaries will go uncensored with the exception of obvious pornography or exploitation of some other subject matter. An example of the borders drawn here is the showing female breasts: It’s most often enough to show them to kick-start something interesting. There is no need to display a close up of a vagina or penetration. If we would show a that the discussion of it would even be counter-productive as it would likely be about something else.
Sexuality and nudity are just two parts of what are constant contemporary topics in media and society all around us. Those two parts have no special status or place in WTactics. They just happen to be good and easy to follow examples of what a social commentary could deal with. There will be many other topics as well in due time, like for instance our relation to the environment.
I don’t think we have to care if we are considered to be controversial by some. They are likely to be a marginalised group of our potential players and won’t matter much for the playerbase. What I do hope is that we by being daring without being exploitative and provoking without being unbalanced, will end up giving much more to the wider audience that will, when it’s all in place, appreciate that we challenge the stale norms of the commercial game industry and society while at the same time giving people a fun time with a world that they still can relate to and identify with.
I hope this straightens out a couple of things about the sexuality and it’s place in WTactics. If not, have a look & listen, it will surely enchant and give the answers needed.
examples of expanding a universe
- Organise, structure, delegate, co-work and always have clear goals with extensive documentation of how you work and why.
- More fiction, high quality novels (collective book writing anyone?)
- Alternative forms of fiction: Visual novels, interactive fiction, role playing adventures, theatre manuscripts.
- More systematised and centralised documentation of canon that’s already around, extracted from any medium.
UGU: the universal gaming universe
Here’s one of my old ideas on how you can create a pretty unique online universe:
Theme and interconnect the players so that they are set in one and the same universe while they are playing their favourite type of game genre. Most players have some kind of main interest, like action reflex games (FPS), strategical turn based games (4x), real time strategy (RTS) and simulations (sims) etc. The exact game categories aren’t of interest: The idea that there are several of them and that many can be interconnected is. Actually, that alone is the idea.
There are a million ways to make that idea come true. Here is just one single example written without any at all thought and on the fly to show you what one of the directions it could take might look like:
Imagine for example Battle for Wesnoth’s or OpenCivs classicial in-game view on a massive online map in with somehow timed turns. Whenever a battle between units on the strategic map would occur that would allow other players elsewhere in the world, sitting on different accounts and clients but in same alliances & universe, to battle it out for real in perhaps a RTS. Their armies would somehow correspond to the circumstances of the unit(s) in the BfW strategic view. The outcome of the RTS game would lead to victory or loss in the BfW strategical view. Add to that duels sent from one commander to another leading to people – once again using another client somewhere in the world – picking up arms to fight it out FPS style. Add to that all people that enjoy Sim City building and allow them to play in yet another client where they are developing the cities of already conquered regions.
Key is to make some aspects of every mentioned domain affect some aspects of every other in various ways, and you end up with a game world has more closely connected players with a truer and more social meaning of alliances and, due to the different types of media and domains, also a broader universe with vastly way more depth than anything already around on the market.
Best part is yet to come: All this is doable already! Again, open source projects are around in masses. “All that needs to be done” is to evaluate the code base of each project, re-theme or fork and co-work towards common design goals in a common universe.