It's nice to be considered the "go to guy" for gaming support with regard to the Australian Indigenous community. If I had strung together my discussions with community members, my study at university, and my general work with local elders it would be a few solid weeks of immersion over the course of the last year. I don't think I'm an expert on the subject matter, I barely think I'm scratching the surface, I'd love to see an actual member of the Indigenous community writing games, but it seems that I'm the "go to guy" for the moment.
That means I've basically got an obligation to make sure Walkabout is finalised in the next couple of months... and to make sure the product released is as good as I can make it in order to start a dialogue with potential Indigenous game designers who are looking to tell their own stories.
One of the big problems I'm seeing with the Indigenous groups across Australia is the nature of "secret business", and the need to have some respect for the culture before you can be accepted into it. This acceptance is important because only those who are accepted are granted deeper knowledge about the ways of the people, and many members of the current adult generation have lost the knowledge of their ancestors and are trying to piece together the past from the fragments they have left. Many members of the upcoming adult generation don't understand the need for the respect and are risking a complete break in the continuity of 40,000+ years of oral history and lore. Even the fragments aren't being passed down.
The spirituality has basically been lost, due to the "success" of the Christian missions. I'll be participating in a ritual that hasn't been fully enacted in over a century in the next couple of weeks, most of the ritual is being pieced together from anthropological texts and word of mouth from half a dozen different elders in different parts of the state, each of whom have a different form of the ritual according to the ways of their various people.
That's what Walkabout was all about. The loss of the spirituality and the return of the spirits to a world that no longer respects them. The earliest thoughts of the game had the characters learn their knowledge about spirits from third hand word-of-mouth, passed down from one of the last shamans to remember the secrets. But I think it's actually more poignant to have no-one with the full answers,especially since the answers will change from location to location because every spirit was revered by a different group of people and every group of people will have shown that respect in different ways. Walkabout was always intended to be a game about loss, and trying to gather the pieces of the past to make sense of a world in chaos, but now there needs to be something deeper in it.
This game won't be a parody, nor a cultural appropriation. It will be more of an opening point to a culturally sensitive dialogue. It will not be "politically correct" in the way I see that term. Political correctness is about stopping short and censorship to prevent offence, instead through cultural sensitivity it will be about stirring those emotions of offense, understanding why they offend, and how things can be better handled in the future. This could be a game covered in trigger warnings, confronting the spirit is confronting the self, understanding what is necessary to proceed may lead to uncomfortable decisions. The spirit of a situation will rarely be an easy confrontation, and more often than not, the first confrontation in any situation will fail because the complete facts are yet to be revealed.
I've been on the right track to make this a game about relationships more than anything else. Relationships to people, relationships to place, relationships to objects. The community spirit of the various Australian Indigenous people links everyone to each other, and everyone is known by their relationship to someone else, the more links you can verify the more easily understood you are as a person. I was going to write that the more connected you are, the more accepted you are; but that's not really right, instead the more connected you are, the more known you are (you are less of an untrusted variable).
Currently Walkabout sits in a dozen unfinished files on my computer, it has informed so many of my other works at the moment that it feels like it should be ready to go. Once I've knocked over the FUBAR rewrite, I need to get onto it. It's starting to feel like I'm holding something back by letting it sit idle.
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