A post in which I prove Anna Kreider correct re her statement that The Watch is inspiring conversations about masculinity

watch-shirt.gifThe other day, I was reading up on a new RPG called The Watch, a game developed by Anna Kreider of Go Make Me a Sandwich and Andrew Medeiros of Northfire Games.  The premise as described is that a nebulous evil known as The Shadow is encroaching on civilization must be fought back by women and “female-of-center people”. What players do in this game and how they fight this Shadow is not described in any of the promotional posts I’ve read. It is, however, explicitly said that “The Shadow” represents “the Patriarchy” and you have to make saving throws against it any time you are “engaging in toxic behavior”.

It clicked in my head that The Watch has a very similar core premise as James Desborough’s gonzo Japanese Horror game Kagai!: Guro, Gore, Girls.147596

-Both games feature a mysterious existential evil force that is encroaching upon civilization.

-Both games prominently feature strong female characters fighting against this encroaching darkness.

The reason for why these games are female-centric and what they say about the masculine gender and masculinity are very different, however, and that’s what I’d like to talk about.

The Watch takes a very hamfisted approach to its message on gender. The Watch is described as “a low-fantasy game about women (and other female-of-center people) who are fighting to retake their homeland from the Shadow – a darkly sorcerous threat that has the power to possess men and use them for its own violent ends.”  Beyond this being a feminist’s game about women, the in-world and mechanical reasons why males would be absent from your party is that men are way more likely to be bad people because of masculinity: their 1st level Save vs. Being a Shitlord is 20. I kid, I kid, but, as “the Shadow is toxic masculinity” and ”the idea of “man” is what makes them vulnerable to its influence”, it’s probably safe to say that Men wouldn’t last a day adventuring in the Watch without losing their mind and posting Sad Pepes all over ye  Womyn’s Watch Barracks.

On the other hand, a just-for-laughs game like Kagai! actually has a fairly nuanced below-the-surface message on masculine disposability paired with its kick-ass girl-power. Sure, the game is about kendo girls, archery champs, and cool hacker chicks fighting weird monsters from other dimensions in between classes (because girls should be able to fight monsters too!), but there’s an important reason for why the party will likely be all female and why there will be few male characters in the setting: all boys and men who can hold a weapon are sent out of the city to nearly certain death to try to protect the women inside. There are only a few men who will be found in the city, and most of them are looked down on as cowards – those who were wealthy enough to buy their way out of service, those who left the front as deserters, and those who were too sickly or maimed to continue fighting.

The girls in Kagai! fight because they choose to, either for fun, to prove themselves just as good as men, or because they feel they have to (the perimeter defense is imperfect, hence why some girls choose to be monster hunters). Most of the characters in Kagai! would’ve lost fathers and brothers in the war.  Kagai! looks at and asks why women and girls would fight, and one of those reasons may be the men in their life who have suffered or died to protect them. That the women and girls, whom countless men are dying to protect, are in a situation where they may have to fight is indicative of how precarious society and humanity’s situations are in Kagai!  This message on masculine disposability vs feminine worth is subtly worked into the game, as it’s woven into the settings materials and character generation mechanics. It’s not the sort of thing that would necessarily come up in discussion during play, but you would probably think about it later.

I think it’s worth noting that the undercurrent of male disposability in Kagai! is featured nowhere in the promotional descriptions on Desborough’s blog.  Here’s his pitch:

The world has been invaded by monsters straight out of people’s nightmares and most of the world population is dead, or at war. One place is a little bit safer, a hyper-consumerist, high-tech Japanese arcology. Most of the remaining population is women and you’re a class of schoolgirls from the arcology who do a bit of vigilante monster hunting on the side, in a game styled after the hyper-kinetic, b-movie gorefests of Japanese B-list cinema. The system emphasises team tactics and differs from many games in that you roll first and then describe what you do from what you’ve rolled, rather than vice versa. You can also save dice for following turns, or push them into a pool for everyone to use.

Even in that short paragraph, I already have a much better idea of what this game will be like than I’ve been able to glean from at least three whole posts about The Watch.

While the Watch seems designed to promote girl power while attacking a strawman, Kagai! has powerful girls in a sandbox that can either be used to explore gender or social issues or to have an awesome time fighting weird alien monsters in-between cramming for finals.

You could probably stat The Patriarchy in Kagai!, though, if you really wanted to fight it.

Awhile back, I did a review of Kagai! which you can read here.

Advertisements

33 responses to “A post in which I prove Anna Kreider correct re her statement that The Watch is inspiring conversations about masculinity

  1. Every time I hear somebody on the political left say, “We need to have a conversation,” my internal translator hears, “You need to let me lecture you.” Looking at Kreider’s own description of a few actual plays…confirmed. There’s a classic case of a woman who fears what she doesn’t understand, the poor dear.

  2. The Watch sounds more like a sermon than a game. The premise of the game is literally “men are crap,” and the only conversation you’re allowed to have about masculinity is how awful, evil, and wrong maleness is, and how best to suck up to feminists. Anything not approved by feminists is considered “toxic.”

    • I know; three posts talking about the game, including an account of actual sessions played, and I don’t know anything about what happens in this game except players get lectured about stuff. Hell, it could be a great game (I doubt it), but no one would ever know cuz that’s all they see – and Kreider wonders why her games don’t sell well.

      I don’t have a problem with games that have messages, but you’ve got to embed them in such a way that the discovery of that message is something that can occur naturally during play. This is “Who Wants a Scolding?”, and knowing that going into it, who’s gonna want to bring that to their table besides scolds?

      • This is “Who Wants a Scolding?”, and knowing that going into it, who’s gonna want to bring that to their table besides scolds?

        You said it; a scolding is not a rollicking good time. To scolds, “fun” is highly problematic.

    • That’s, uh… rather strange. Also, I haven’t seen many of them, but the a lot of the J-gore horror I’ve seen is pretty ‘girl-powery’ without being anti-men.

      • That’s, uh… rather strange. Also, I haven’t seen many of them, but the a lot of the J-gore horror I’ve seen is pretty ‘girl-powery’ without being anti-men.

        I’ve noticed that about anime and manga as well; you see lots of girls kicking butt, but you don’t see any of the anti-male baggage you see in Western shows that do this.

  3. Is a conversation about how The Watch is just a pale derivative of a game written by one of the game designers most vilified by the snowflakes of the gaming left really a conversation about men? It seems like this is more of a conversation about how people who don’t understand the basics of human interaction shouldn’t be writing games about human relationships.

    Expecting Kreider to write a game about healthy human relationships is like asking me to write a game about nuclear engineering, home finance, or basic hygiene. Hoo-AH!

    • Well, if it hadn’t been for the superficial similarities with a game I reviewed over a year ago, I wouldn’t have thought to shine a spotlight on Kagai!’s undercurrent theme of male disposability.

  4. They should open the game up and let players play either side.

    Make an alignment system replacing Chaos and Law with Patriarchy and Matriarchy.

    Would a Matriarchy Good Witch join a Patriarchy Neutral Knight to fight a horde of Matriarchy Evil monsters who threaten the town’s all boy orphanage?

    Now that is a conversation.

    • It would be a lot funnier if there weren’t women who would genuinely want to see the orphanage burned down with everyone inside because ‘cutting out toxic masculinity at its source’.

      It reminds me of a PSA that Honey Badger Radio yelled about that ended with a creepy looking little boy standing in a room over a battered and cowering woman and the words “end domestic violence before it starts” or something.

  5. Hey all, I’m new here and was invited by Cirsova to post on this thread. I’m Andrew Medeiros and I’m the co-designer on The Watch. I was trying to shed some light on a couple things re: The Watch, specifically “What’s the game about, really?” and “Is the game trans-exclusionary” (a lot of this will be copy pasting myself from another blog, just fyi)

    So, what’s it about?
    The Watch isn’t about fighting toxic masculinity really – that’s an important theme to be sure – but it’s a story about these women / non-binary / non-gendered / gender fluid people fighting in a horrible war that takes its toll on them. Each session your squad heads out on dangerous missions (which are handled by special Mission Moves) and comes home beaten, battered, or maybe even okay. After a mission, the game focuses on the interpersonal relationships between the players and the many faces in camp. We have moves like Blow Off Steam, Open Up to Someone, Provoke Someone, and many others that push the drama. The campaign has a predetermined # of missions you have to go on before the game is done, each contributing to the slow crawl of victory over the Shadow; and over time your actions in the Watch determine how society back home is changing so it will look very different when you finally get to return to it.

    I hope that sheds a bit more light on what the game is like and if you’d like a peek at the playtest documents I’d be happy to share a preview with you so you can see what we’re going for with it.

    Is the game trans-exclusionary?
    Gods I hope not, that’s the very last thing I would ever want the game to be. I can promise you that is something I take very seriously and want to get as 100% right as humanly possible.

    The idea of the Shadow compromising any men who come into contact with it was the original idea in the game to ensure the stories told were about non-dudes, because it seems most games I play default to that for many reasons. This is where I find it gets really tricky. In the setting we’ve established, men are vulnerable to the Shadow’s power, that’s how it is, and trans men are men, so they should be vulnerable too, right? It isn’t about being toxically male that makes you vulnerable, it’s being a man. In fact in the one game I played, my characters brother was sweet and sensitive and even he was at risk; so my character did everything she could to protect him and keep him safe. I want a game that features less cis-men (and I say that as a cis-man myself) because quite frankly I’m kinda sick of it. I think telling stories about everyone else is great and the whole point of this game was to aim for that.

    But hey, I’m just a guy, I can screw up, if we’ve dropped the ball here, please tell me how so I can look into those problems. And thanks for reading, I know that was a wall of text and apologize for that.

    • I’ve got a lot going on today, but I promise I will try to get to addressing your points and questions in your previous post. If you don’t mind, I’ll let some folks know you’re here if they have some questions for you.

      • I don’t mind at all. I’m actually on vacation atm so I’m gonna set down the laptop and go enjoy the outdoors (which means I’ll probably be slow in responding until Sunday).

      • Generally, yes there is action/combat in a mission, however it’s usually up to the players involved and the mission itself. Some missions, such as the “gather supplies from nearby villages” don’t have inherent combat built into them but are more political in nature. However, each mission comes with a few Complications that players choose from a list (the number of which is dependent how well they rolled). So if a player wants to choose “Character X was wounded in the fighting” we know there was fighting. All the action – and the mission itself – is handled via a montage style mechanic allowing you to cover a lengthy military mission in about 20-30 minutes real time.

        You can’t fail at your core objective, you always get that, but sometimes it comes with a very steep price (see Complications above). It’s a game about sacrifice and cost, but not really about all out failure.

    • No need to apologize for walls of text. You made a game, and you’re proud of it — nothing to be ashamed of.

      As for the game itself, is there a mechanic by which a guy can play a Shadow?

      • Thank you, rawlenyanzi. As it stands right now, there’s no playbook (or class if you prefer) that let’s you play someone under the Shadow’s sway. There are a couple playbooks that do let you dance around it a little bit, namely The Spider and The Fox who are the medic and mystic respectively. Both of them have moves that let them muck with a Shadow in little ways which is dangerous but often potent. You don’t have to play them that way, those moves are optional, but it’s one way to do it. It might be neat to think about a playbook that has come back from the Shadow somehow, do you think that would be neat/fun to try?

      • As it stands right now, there’s no playbook (or class if you prefer) that let’s you play someone under the Shadow’s sway. There are a couple playbooks that do let you dance around it a little bit, namely The Spider and The Fox who are the medic and mystic respectively. Both of them have moves that let them muck with a Shadow in little ways which is dangerous but often potent. You don’t have to play them that way, those moves are optional, but it’s one way to do it. It might be neat to think about a playbook that has come back from the Shadow somehow, do you think that would be neat/fun to try?

        I would say someone who has come back from it can work. But it would also be fun to try somebody who is a Shadow, since some people like to play the bad guy.

      • Hmmm, I don’t think that would work for this game as it’s primarily about a team or squad going through the trails and hardships together. Camaraderie is one of the main themes. It’s a cool idea, don’t get me wrong, it just doesn’t fit sadly.

      • Hmmm, I don’t think that would work for this game as it’s primarily about a team or squad going through the trails and hardships together. Camaraderie is one of the main themes. It’s a cool idea, don’t get me wrong, it just doesn’t fit sadly.

        Maybe a sort of “good guys vs. bad guys” set-up can work. You can still have camaraderie, except it’ll be like evil camaraderie among shadow monsters, not the convention power-of-friendship stuff.

      • It could be done, I think. It would require a pretty big overhaul of the system as written, but I think it’s definitely possible. It’s not really something that gets my designer gears turning, to be honest, but I could see someone taking the system when it’s done and doing their own thing like that with it someday. In fact, I’d love to see someone hack it to suit their own desires.

      • It could be done, I think. It would require a pretty big overhaul of the system as written, but I think it’s definitely possible.

        I think it’d be totally worth it, but ultimately the decision is yours and Kreider’s, not mine.

    • Gotta admit, even if your game does sound like a less fun version of a corporate diversity training seminar, I respect your willingness to put yourself out there and participate on blogs where your ideas have received a…less than welcoming response. That takes a solid brass set of balls. Well done.

      • Thank you? lol. Seriously though, I think we all love games here and we all want to be treated with dignity. I trust people to be respectful when I try to pay them respect, and that seems to be the case so far here; which I’m grateful for. So thanks.

    • Hi, Andrew! Here are my replies the questions you mentioned on the other post.

      “Well I can promise you that gendered behavior shaming is certainly not something we’re going for with the game. Can you expound on how it’s doing so, so that I can address that?”

      From what I gather, part of your reason behind making this is to encourage people to try playing as female characters. The issue that I, and others, have with your approach is that you’ve done so by making one gender morally inferior. One of the reasons why I contrasted The Watch with Kagai! is that the setting there strongly, through both narrative and mechanical means, pushes players to pick female characters without making a moral judgement on one gender or the other.

      Interestingly, I’ve found one of the best ways to get folks comfortable with playing as female characters is rolling for gender during character creation. Funnily enough, in the current game I’m in, 3 out of 4 of our male players are playing female characters and I think all of our female players are running male characters.

      “Or was your original point about trans men being affected by the Shadow the problem there? The idea of the Shadow compromising any men who come into contact with it was the original idea to ensure the stories told in the game were about non-dudes, because it seems most games I play default to that for many reasons. And trans men are dudes, I believe that wholeheartedly they’re men. If we exclude them from that definition, we’re invalidating their gender, do you agree?”

      It’s less a problem and more a point of fascination with how many rad-fems treat transpeople. Most hatred of M-F transpeople is rooted in misandry – because they are seen either as men failing at living up to masculine standards or as males colonizing feminity. There is far less visual antipathy towards F-M transpeople because most men don’t see them as threats sexually (they aren’t going to be competing for the same women in the mating game, so they’re not seen as colonizing the gender – some M-F transpeople are effectively in competition for straight males; this is where ‘passing’ is a huge issue). So seeing a game that systematically and mechanically accounts for the notion of an F-M transperson internalizing misogyny and making them a vulnerable and corruptible part of a morally inferior gender is utterly fascinating.

      “So, like, I get it, Anna’s posts are all you’ve seen about The Watch and she’s only been writing about a certain angle of the game. I don’t do a lot of PR, I find it personally taxing, I like a game’s pitch to stand on its own merit whenever possible, but your point is a good one; how can you critique a game you only know a few things about?”

      Even if I think you’re very wrongheaded in some of your positions, I don’t think you’re a bad dude. On the other hand, I can’t say that about Kreider. I used to be an interested follower, if not a fan, but her use of the Orlando shooting to soapbox about representation in gaming was beyond the pale and not something I could just brush off as her being a bit kooky. Letting her handle PR and focusing entirely on aspects such as ‘save vs. toxic masculinity’ for your projects does it no favors.

      So, regarding the Watch’s setting and “The Shadow”. Interestingly, I recently purchased and will be publishing a novelette featuring a dark, blighted realm called “The Shadow” – in this realm, fears become physically manifested, and it’s said that anyone who is able to fight to its center will be rewarded with their heart’s true desire. Unless the purpose of The Watch is to scold behavior, there are many ways you can work with the concept and find ways to encourage playing as female characters without having to brand one gender as morally inferior.

      • I gotta give Kagai respect, they’ve handled their setting really well in that way. It’s given me lots to think about for sure. As for making the male gender morally inferior, that’s never been our intent for the game. It’s true, they are the ones who fall to the Shadow first, but that’s not because they’re weak, corrupt, or anything like that, it’s just the way the Shadow works; it has an “in” if you will with them. Other people can fall to the Shadow too, it just takes more time, we have rules for that and everything. But clearly we’re sending the message to you and others that the game is about men being evil and women and others are way better, I don’t believe that and I want to fix that perception if possible. I’d like to work with people on this, not against them.

        I appreciate you taking time to hear me out and talk about this, I assure you I have every intention of reading and re-reading your responses moving forward. I want this game to be awesome, and I want it to be the best it can be, and to do that I need many voices and thoughts on its themes and ideas.

      • No problem, and happy to talk with you about this.

        This bit is an issue: ” As for making the male gender morally inferior, that’s never been our intent for the game. It’s true, they are the ones who fall to the Shadow first, but that’s not because they’re weak, corrupt, or anything like that, it’s just the way the Shadow works; it has an “in” if you will with them.”

        As framed, this is contradictory. The Shadow cannot be both evil and have an “in” with one gender and not reflect a moral inequality. While yes, women can be affected by the Shadow as well, if the Shadow is evil and equated with maleness and patriarchy, as Kreider has pointed out in her own descriptions of the game, it is making a defacto judgment on the morality of one gender over the other. On the face of it, it goes a step beyond the pseudo-equivalent “women are too weak to fight evil” argument; imagine instead says “women are too corrupt to fight evil”.

        This may not have been your intention, but by gendering behaviors, that seems to be the result. As it has been thus-far described, it’s as though Wizards of the Coast had sold the 0-100 point scale Good v. Evil / Law v. Chaos axes as 3e D&D’s primary narrative and mechanical feature.

      • I see your point, I don’t know that I entirely agree with it, but I do recognize what you’re saying and I’ll have to do some hard thinking on this and see if something can be reworked to better represent what I want without holding those implied ideas. Thanks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s