For those who love Table Top Role Playing Games (TTRPGs), there is a new one that has just launched on Kickstarter called Coyote and Crow. I was stunned by the art and the concept – an uncolonized America, full of high technology, and celebrating Native American culture. The art, fonts, colors, music, and creative ideas are beautifully wrought and for those things alone, would be well worth going to Kickstarter to back.
But there is so much more than that about Coyote and Crow for me. My day job in Australia involves working in Aboriginal Cultural Heritage. I have a specialization in landscape mapping, with a real focus on what is called Counter-Mapping. This is where First Nations use maps and their associated data and tools to “take back the map”. Nearly every map you see in colonized lands shows the landscape from the point of view of the colonizers, not the colonized.
AU Political Map
AU Indigenous Map
As you can see from the maps above, our view of landscape, land use, politics, and society contrasts sharply with that of the people whose traditional lands we occupy without their consent. By putting culture and society that is not colonial at the center of the conversation, we begin to alter perceptions, which is the first step in understanding, which then leads us to empathy. Only then can we begin to address the inequities and historical injustices that we base our current post-colonial societies on, and work to change those in partnership with First Nations people for the betterment of all.
This imposition of views of others upon First Nation peoples is not just done through mapping, it is through institutional, cultural, and social contracts that continue to oppress and marginalize those not of the controlling body. There is a discussion in Cultural Heritage about an idea called the “Authorized Heritage Discourse”, which looks at how colonizers appropriate official ownership of First Nation’s culture through science, archaeology, anthropology, and history. The “authorized discourse” about First Nations culture is then defined by the social group with power, in this case, the colonizers, not by the true custodians of that culture.
However, it is not only in heritage that you find these authorized discourses. They exist everywhere, if you take the time to look, and when examined objectively, they illustrate clearly what the dominant social group wants at the expense of others. This is also true of TTRPGs and gaming in general.
Gaming has been dominated by cis white males for a long time, there is no way to argue otherwise, and the discourse has often been that “gaming is for everyone”. However, the discourse is more accurately “gaming is for everyone, but only if you observe the unwritten rules”. There are those who will read those words and be up in arms, declaring it false and incendiary. However, ask gamers that are not cis white men, and the response will be very different, be they of different gender, race, culture, ability or anything else that is not of the authorizing community.
A cursory look at the early days of TTRPGs, that still carry through to today, shows many glaring issues and areas of blindness that came from a generally monocultural creation process. The generalization of entire fantasy races by simplified characteristics and alignments bears a terrible similarity to the definition of others by controlling societies. Early RPGs and many today are still littered with racist, sexist and other tropes that have caused harm to many.
Though times may be changing, they are doing so slowly and not without great pain being inflicted on those not part of the authorizing community. This push back is through lack of opportunity, attacks, harassment, and other tools used to keep those marginalized away from centers of power, where they can address their needs and change the authorized discourse.
This is where projects like Coyote and Crow are so important. Coyote and Crow has been created entirely by Native Americans and is an expression of culture and creativity that should be celebrated, embraced, and shared amongst the TTRPG and wider gaming community. Not only is it beautiful and well crafted, Coyote and Crow is a phenomenal tool for learning something beyond yourself, to gain understanding into a part of the gaming community you might otherwise never interact with. Thanks to changes in the way we communicate and create games via platforms like Kickstarter and social media, the Coyote and Crow team are able to be heard; and hear them we should.
In their own words the Coyote and Crow team say:
“While this game was created by a Native-led team, this game is for everyone. We've taken great care to craft a game that Natives and non-Natives alike will be able to engage in and find themselves immersed in. For Natives, we've crafted both story and game mechanics that will allow you to integrate your own tribal customs into your play. For those who aren't Native, you'll have a wealth of options to choose from as well as clear guidelines for understanding the differences between this world and our real one.”
What is so great about this is that not only have the Coyote and Crow team crafted a beautiful RPG, but they have given those of us in the industry a way to learn and to understand cultures not our own. That understanding helps make a greater space at the center of the industry for diverse voices, which enriches all of us and helps change the discourse to one of many voices gaming together and supporting each other.
And most brilliantly, Coyote and Crow reclaimed the map, as well as having some amazing stretch goals like one “…that will allow Natives to add and develop the in-world trade language.”
The World of Coyote and Crow
Go and check out Coyote and Crow on Kickstarter, they are funded, and it will be great to see more stretch goals unlock and more great content added to this stunning looking RPG.