The 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.
-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.