This post is the second in a series acknowledging key influences on the development of Karma in the Dark. As part of my design post mortem, I want to highlight and acknowledge different (often unknown) contributions to the process.
I have a long list of people to highlight in my gratitude posts. My mom belonged to the first Army ROTC class that allowed women, so on this Veteran's Day weekend, it seems appropriate to highlight her. Karma in the Dark would not exist without my mom's support and model.
I am incredibly grateful for my mom. When I was young, she introduced the game "Hero Quest" to our family and took on the Dungeon Master role as Zargon. We bonded as a family by exploring the various campaigns, fighting our way through hordes of monsters. My mom made sure to buy the extra female figures, so I could play a bad-ass female barbarian killing skeletons. I think that was one of my earliest, if not very first, experiences with a RPG game. Her support continued throughout my childhood, as my brothers and I tried out TTRPGs like Shadowrun, Middle Earth, and Star Wars. She encouraged my brothers and I to spend time roleplaying. Even at our nerdiest (writing a newsletter about the escapades of our stuffed animals in our Star Trek equivalent "Anifleet"), she listened, read, and encouraged. She doesn't play TTRPGS, but she read multiple versions of Karma in the Dark, often within in days of being sent the file; she was the first person to offer editing feedback on the last version.
She continues to support gaming as a family experience. During holidays, we split our time between cooking food and playing games. Last Christmas when she came to visit, I wanted to try out the This War of Mine board game. Despite its complexity and dark theme, she agreed. We ended up playing almost every day of her visit, including most of Christmas Day. There were presents, and food, and then hours of us desperately trying to keep our shelter people alive throughout the war. And yes, we had to read the stories and make decisions based on roleplay...because that's the kind of players we are. The mechanics of that game ended up crystallizing several design struggles within my current draft of Karma, and provided the final pieces I needed to finish version 3.
But my mom deserves credit for more than supporting gaming. Karma in the Dark is filled with the questions, challenges, and values my mom has raised me to consider. One of my mom's driving values is a desire for justice and helping others. We had conversations even when I was in early elementary school about inequality. We talked about the history of racial persecution in the U.S. We talked about the history of labor rights and why unions were originally formed. She felt most betrayed by my education system when I reached high school and knew nothing about the push for women's rights, the sacrifices that had been made, the progress that still needed to be made.
My mom teaches English to non-Native speakers, and her students' families often invited us to graduations and other significant events. She taught us even in a rural Western state to know people from all nations, languages, and experiences. She taught us that it's okay to be at a party where you're the only one who can't speak the majority language...that discomfort is okay, and if you get past that, you start having fun despite any language barrier. She also modeled that even if you've been through discrimination yourself, that doesn't mean you understand someone else's experience, and trying to say you do is more alienating than helpful. These lessons were fundamental to my own interrogation of group bias, in-group/out-group prejudice, and the themes of relevance and power that became Karma’s effect factors.
I have seen my mom work herself to exhaustion teaching in an inner city school, refusing to give up on her students, for decades. We get stopped regularly when I'm visiting by former students, some more than a decade out of high school, who want to thank her and show her pictures of their children and catch up. She embodies the idea of investing in relationships to build up community more than anyone I know. From an early age I remember hearing her recite the Mother Theresa quote, (paraphrasing) "If you want to make the world a better place, reach out to the person next to you."
A decade ago she was unsure how to feel about LGBTQ+ issues. She was (and is) a devout Christian. She felt conflicted between how she was raised to understand scripture and her innate desire to accept and love people. Throughout my life, she asked questions, and listened, and went out of her way to meet people from that community. When she found out a family member was trans, she was the only person of her generation who knew to ask about pronouns and a preferred name...because she had listened. She came back from that visit reflecting that her family member seemed so much happier and "right" after her transition, and that made her happy too. That experience helped her start to understand trans people better. Now, her classroom is sought out as a safe haven for gay, lesbian, and trans students.
Finally, my mom supported my creative hobbies. She accepted my years of writing novels, making cartoons, and messing around with computer programming. We had frank conversations about needing a job that insures financial security, but that was approached from a place of pragmatics, not in a way that devalued artistic pursuits. When I went to write my college applications, she was the one who insisted I highlight my creative writing, as most 17-year olds didn't write 3-4 novels a year and that should be considered worthwhile as much as playing a sport.
In some ways, Karma in the Dark is a culmination of my mom's influence and support. It's a game about oppression and justice; it's a game about collaborative storytelling; and it's a game I designed, wrote, and illustrated because she treated those skills as valuable.
This blog is a mix of game design analysis, commentary on issues affecting indie dev spaces, and some personal reflections.