One year ago, following the murder of George Floyd, Never Say Dice posted "a moment of silence" in memory of Black Americans who have died as the result of police violence, and out of solidarity to those who stand up to a system designed to break the bodies, minds, and souls of people of color. One year later, we thought we should reflect on what has transpired since then, and where we can go from here.
There is always another story, ask anyone who works in words, images, and sounds, including those artists of ephemera who concoct fleeting tales around a table, shaped by dice and panic, lost instantly to time and the savageries of recollection. Every story that's told makes space for those that aren't. The "before" stories. The "after" stories. And the stories beneath. If someone has lived their life privileged enough to never hear the stories of those who suffered and died creating the world they take for granted, even acknowledging the existence of the stories beneath the ones they hold dear can be discomforting. We can laugh about the myopic idiocy of the 1776 Commission (although the kneejerk reaction in defense of the legends undergirding white supremacy gets uglier and scarier the more you think about it), but at this moment, more and more states are literally outlawing education about the horrors of America's past and the nature of the present birthed from them. We've talked before about the damage assumptions about "default narratives'' can cause, but the significance of those to those in power cannot be understated. There are basic truths some people can afford to ignore, who need them to be ignored. The United States is literally built over the bodies of millions of Native Americans killed through disease and war to make way for western expansion and the ethnocentric power structure driving it. Our economic infrastructure was built by chattel slaves and the systems keeping those people enslaved. Immigrants broke their bodies doing the work the wealthy took credit for, and were thanked by being denied the rights granted to those who rode the railways, drove the streets, and lived in the buildings they built, but were fortunate enough to be born white. And the systemic murder of Black and brown people by the American police force (ironically called the "Justice System") has continued unabated since its formation as an institution, with no signs of abatement.
So what does this have to do with the stories we tell, through writing and through games? We try to address the problematic elements of our shared universes and realities of the people who created them, as well as the way marginalized peoples can reinterpret, reimagine, and reshape these stories to find their place within them. We can ban bigoted phrases and actions at our tables, and use techniques for people to state their discomfort without putting them on the spot to explain that discomfort. We can try to be the best we can, and we can try improve ourselves and our games. What can we do beyond that?
There is always another story. There is always a "before" and "beneath." Have you ever noticed the way fantasy gaming is centered around the ruins of lost civilizations? It's what the "dungeons" in "Dungeons & Dragons" refer to, after all. What happened to all those societies and their peoples? Did their resources dry up and their populations dwindle through famine and disease? Were they overthrown by invaders, slaughtered, and enslaved? Where are their descendants, and how do they feel about the "greatness" in their familial past? If these aren't things you've ever had to think about in regards to your own history, I can guarantee some of your players have. It's not so far in our collective pasts. And that includes people who have no way of tracing their history, who can only go back so far because their ancestors had been owned by other human beings as property - it's only been a handful of generations.
There's no doubt that these things are present in games and stories because they echo the worlds and mindsets of the people who created them, people who had the luxury of thinking of them as fictional, or as interesting historical facts with little relevance to themselves or their players. People who failed to question their "default narrative." But the relevance is there, and the first step to broadening our stories and making them more inclusive is understanding them. Think about the things you read, and the things you incorporate. Ask questions. Be ready for uncomfortable answers, and try to understand that people having to live in those spaces deal with things far, far worse than discomfort. They aren't "PC SJWs" or whatever trying to ruin people's fun. They are the players of our games, they are our audiences, and they are our fellow storytellers. And what's "beneath" your story may, for them, be a lot closer to the surface.
There is always another story. And to tell ours better, we need to listen to the stories being told - those out loud and upfront, and those whispered and hidden.