11 November, 2017

No Dot Art!!!

None of this!

This may be an international stereotype of the artwork produced by Indigenous artists in Australia, but it's actually only the tradition of a very specific tribe in Central Australia who were generally targeted by a white art teacher who went out to their community in the early 1970s and wanted to keep their traditions alive by transferring their artwork from fragile and degradable ochre-on-bark to a more resilient acrylic-on-canvas material. Other communities across the country have their own distinctive styles that haven't been as widely recognised, and many of those communities are still having their artistic styles suppressed because Westerners expect all Australian Aboriginal art to be dots.

The elders of the community I've been working with over the past four years have their own symbols and techniques, but much of that has been pieced together from what they can find in archival sources, and a lot more of it is obscured in artwork, only to be explained to people who are willing to look beyond the obvious. Many of the elders produce two types of artwork... dots for the ignorant,who just want a bit of "real Aboriginal culture", and their own personal techniques that tell a deeper story of a living culture.

I know one particular elder who makes a decent amount of money supplementing his income with dot paintings, but they mean nothing to him except as commodities to be traded away. His personal work, and the work he gives as gifts to significant people in his life, is a fusion of the traditions from his family's home region, and the region he now calls home. To most people it's distinctly "tribal", it has elements that may have been seen in other pieces of Australian Aboriginal art, perhaps a theme of animals, or a certain array of organic and geometric forms, but unless you know what you're looking for, the nuance in the work will often be missed. It's the colours, the way the shapes are arrayed (more than the shapes themselves), it's the interplay of positive and negative space, and it's an instinctive placement that feels right at the time when the artwork is made. All of Australian Aboriginal culture is about relationships, so the art reflects that. It's not just a surface appearance of stuff that "looks" Aboriginal, and that's something a lot of outsiders just don't get.

The Aboriginal communities of Australia have survived despite the work of the Government, the missions, the settlers and the squatters. Even though these grous wouldhave you believe that they have systematically worked to "civilise"and "improve the lives" of the Indigenous communities. There are numerous tales of Aboriginal families slaughtered because a single member of their group hunted a sheep, after their traditional food sources were driven from the land. There are tales of Aboriginal communities forced into slavery to tend the lands that had already been theirs for millennia. There are no active speakers of the language once spoken where my home is, many of the people were killed off, driven to other parts of the country, interbred with colonials until they were no longer black of skin, and re-educated until they had lost their culture. These are parts of the definition of genocide.

Acts that could be obvious “elements” of the crime of genocide as defined in Article 6 of the Rome Statute, such as killings, abduction and disappearances, torture, rape and sexual violence; ‘ethnic cleansing’ or pogroms;
• Less obvious methods of destruction, such as the deliberate deprivation of resources needed for the group’s physical survival and which are available to the rest of the population, such as clean water, food and medical services;
• Creation of circumstances that could lead to a slow death, such as lack of proper housing, clothing and hygiene or excessive work or physical exertion;
• Programs intended to prevent procreation, including involuntary sterilization, forced abortion, prohibition of marriage and long-term separation of men and women;
• Forcible transfer of children, imposed by direct force or through fear of violence, duress, detention, psychological oppression or other methods of coercion;
• Death threats or ill treatment that causes disfigurement or injury; forced or coerced use of drugs or other treatment that damages health.

It all happened, a lot of it still happens today (often under Government "protection" and "cultural enrichment" policies).

Aboriginal life in Australia is post-apocalyptic. The world they knew was destroyed, they had to desperately cling to whatever they could to maintain a sense of identity and cultural awareness, those who were less afflicted by the incoming Invaders were able to maintain a semblance of their original culture for a longer time, but even this was eroded by loss of memory and deliberate attempts to erase both their culture, and erase (or "redefine") the very acts that had destroyed their culture. It was a cultural war that was effectively lost except for pockets of guerrilla resistance.

There are a series of tropes called "The Magical Negro", "The Magical Native American", and "The Ethnic Magician". Despite these tropes all having a degree of "Positive Discrimination", Walkabout is not about these concepts. Walkabout is not Rifts Australia (even though that book was written by an Aussie game designer and is far better than it could have been). It is not a setting where the white man has faced apocalypse and now needs the formerly oppressed black man to step in with their mysterious knowledge of the spirits and save the day. It certainly isn't a setting where the heroes of the Australian Aboriginal communities are known for their abilities to magically manifest boomerangs and spears of pure spirit energy to combat the monstrous creatures of the unknown.

I actually see this game deriving more from Mage: the Ascension, where belief is power and a systematic persecution of native groups around the world has been conducted by Europeans and Christians in the attempt to make their god and their paradigm the most significant in the world. Little did they know that other belief systems hold nasty things in check, and were actually developed since the dawn of consciousness as a reflection of those dark forces. Maybe a bit of a counter-Cthulhu mythos, where the natives aren't misguided fools who worship the evil in the shadows, but it's the colonials and "enlightened" investigators who are opening the cracks in time and space by disrupting the rituals that have kept the seals from breaking. The idea of the Aboriginal Dreamtime was a misunderstanding (deliberate or otherwise in the real world, but under the perspectives of the game world it's definitely deliberate), the belief systems of the European world all imply a time in the past when legends were real and a rise to rationality (or monotheism) as enlightenment was attained. But actually, the proper term for the dogma of the Australian Aboriginals is "The Dreaming"... it's not a time in the past that needs to be moved on from, it's a living set of ideas embedded into stories for those who are willing to listen to them on a deeper level. Words have power, stories have power; so adding the suffix "-time" to the mythlore, was just another way of getting the Aboriginal communities to abandon that power and the spirits who live in symbiosis with it.

Some might even claim that this is all the plan of a gluttonous, proud and vengeful spirit who first manifest in a burning bush, a few short millennia ago on the outskirts of an Egyptian village. A plan by that petty spirit to consume the world in flame.

The game was always intended to begin decades after an apocalypse where something awakened due to the lack of power being focused toward it's slumber. There are a number of traditional sites considered corrupt and dark places, where those who linger in them too long become sick, or perhaps where the spirit lands of the Dreaming are closest to the mortal realms of the waking world. Coincidentally, these are places where Uranium mines have desecrated the landscape in recent decades. It might be said that the residual radiation of these lands brought cancer to the people who sent to long in them...a side effect of the radiation, but Walkabout proposes that the radiation might be a side-effect of spiritual activity, and this might similarly be the case in other parts of the world. High radiation makes spiritual activity between the Dreaming and the waking world easier, and as a positive feedback loop, more spiritual activity produces a stronger radiation signature. The land becomes poisoned unless the spirits can be lulled back to sleep, but it takes specific stories to do this.

There are no "Magical Australian Aboriginals" to clean up the white man's mess, because in most cases the forces of the modern world systematically wiped out the culture that knew those stories. It's also important to note that Australian Aboriginals are not a monoculture, they don't all use dot painting, they don't all paint their bodies in the same patterns of ochres and dance around campfires like emus and kangaroos. The modern Australian Aboriginal communities are evolving cultural hybrids, beginning the knowledge of their local past, filling in the gaps with the ways of the people around them, and adapting the whole thing to the mainstream community that dominates Australian society. There are fragments of the old ways in the mix, but these change from place to place, from family to family, from person to person. Everyone has their role, everyone has their stories. The overlooked person might be key to the whole thing, they might have pieced together the knowledge necessary to solve the situation.

This kind of brings me back to the diagram I showed earlier.

Another way I could use this diagram is as a guide to completing an individual story. Characters might have the opportunity to learn things about the situation from each of the 8 perspectives. Once they have 4 adjacent symbols activated, they might have understood enough of the symptoms to reveal elements of the cause underlying them all. If they have addressed all 8 successfully, then it might be far easier to resolve the underlying imbalance in the scenario. None of the symbols involves combat, but that doesn't mean conflict can't exist in the story. There will always be an imbalance that the forces of the setting have drawn the characters to resolve, and there is obviously something preventing the locals from resolving the situation on their own. The imbalance doesn't come from the spirits traditionally revered by the Aboriginal people, but the imbalance may cause them to mutate and take on nightmarish forms that need to be dealt with in some way, but every spirit is different, every situation is different. Similarly, the feedback loop between people and the environment should be apparent in the narrative. The more imbalanced a place is spiritually, the more this will be reflected in the attitudes and emotions of the people, perhaps even manifesting as physical signs (stigmata, mutations, disease, etc.) in the most heinously imbalanced settings.

Places exhibiting the pristine glass and concrete of the pre-apocalypse world...
...look just as unnatural as the horrific boneyards that could have been painted by HR Giger...
...the melting forms reminiscent of Salvador Dali's work...
...or the fractal recursions found in one of the more psychedelic Marvel superhero movies...

...of course most parts of the world where spiritual energies are leaking into the mundane waking world are nowhere near as blatant.

Addressing local issues with generalisations has a tendency to cause more problems than they solve (as has been seen with decades of Government policy in Australia). This isn't intended to be a political game, but I'm not afraid to say that it reflects my political leanings and perspective of the world. I want this to be a game about stories, and about relationships. The relationships will be between people, between people and the land they live on, and between people and the stories that generate meaning in their lives.

So, no-one has all the answers in this setting, everyone is just making do with what they've got, combining fragments of knowledge into something that will hopefully let them get by. Everyone finds that they need the people around them to survive, and they need to work with the people around them if they want to thrive. Conflict generates imbalance which forms a feedback loop to generate more conflict, but sometimes you need to face the cycle before you can address it. Narratives and stories play out across the world, but there is always something underlying those narratives that needs to be understood and addressed. Things are rarely what they seem to be on first appearances, but it takes an effort, either physical, mental, social, or spiritual, to pierce the surface. The only advantages that Aboriginal people have in this setting is the fact that they've lived an unsettled life for generations longer than the new arrivals to their lands, they might also have a memory of inherited tale fragments that have survived being passed down through generations, but their strongest advantage is the fact that as a people they have always tended to value a community spirit of goodwill over the greed and dominance of individuals.

...but how do I codify that into game rules?

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