I started this website in 2013 for a couple of reason, to show my passion for video games and share my thought but also to move the conversation forward on gaming culture. I found that often there was a culture of insularity among many gaming sites, often only covering the big titles. I wanted to cover the weird, quirky, strange and fringe games from the view of an educationalist, a teacher, as I think some games can be a contextual hub for learning. There are a few sites I have found along the way that I feel move the conversation forward and allow the marginalised and non-mainstream to share their views but the most prominent for me was Offworld -BoingBoing, curated by Leigh Alexander and Laura Hudson.
The goal of the website was to focus on the writing and game design work of women, people of color and other marginalised people.
In the words of Site Editor Alexander:
"Offworld is a place for curious and playful grown-ups... there will be an unequivocal and uncompromising home for women and minorities, whose voices will comprise most of the work published here," reads the site's initial statement. "We're looking forward to loving games again".
Over the course of a year the website published diverse, personal and insightful writing about video games from the perspective of an often underrepresented audience. I found the articles spoke to me and the pieces made me think about games and gaming culture at a higher level. I knew of Leigh Alexander through her work at another excellent website, Gamasutra and her articles in Edge magazine and had been following her work for many years. I find that she is often a champion for the underrepresented and marginalised and so when the Kickstarter for the release of the Offworld Collection book started I supported it as I felt that it was important to back something I felt so strongly about. Also the book looked pretty kickass; highlights from the website in luxury hardback format, sign me up! So, after a very long preamble, what of the book?
Well, the book is handsomely presented in an embossed hardcover with quality heavy paper within. The anthology starts with a foreword by Alexander which discusses her motivations for the work she did on the website.
The book proper is split into 58 essays, each covering a wide range of topics that should suit everyone's tastes. I won't go into detail about all of the essays here but will choose a few of the pieces I particularly liked.
The books starts off with Gita Jackson's 'We Are Not Colonist' which is like a call to arms: it states proudly that minority voices are now being heard, they did not just appear out of thin air, they were always there but were not always being heard.
'Should You Kill Monsters, Or Try To Save Them?' by Laura Hudson looks at the intricacies of Undertale, discussing the choices that the player is given, the simplicity of the sword or the path of compassion. The essay considers how even the smallest, silliest decisions have repercussions within the game and how the story stays with you for a long time.
'I Love My Virtual Untouchable Body' by Aevee Bee, which is written from the point of view of a transitioned individual, looks at character design and how it can be empowering to design an avatar and be who-ever you want to be.
'Video Games Without People of Colour Are Not Neutral' by Sidney Fussell, considers how the heroes of fantasy worlds are often white heroes who exist in white worlds. Defenders of racially homogeneous period fantasy say this destroys the illusion and quote quasi-historical sources to support their claims. This is a strange argument but for some non-white characters in fantasy games are less ''realistic'' than dragons.
Games can deliver ethically sophisticated social and political commentary, many game makers are acutely aware of this and in these increasingly complex times I am glad that there exist forums, website and in this case, a book that provokes critical and reflexive thinking. Engaging with things we don’t know about or understand has the power to open a new world to us, to introduce us to new ideas, cultures and experiences that we would maybe never otherwise encountered.
The Offworld Collection is required reading for anyone who wants to have a deeper and more meaningful understanding on what video games can mean. It is a fine anthology book and the variety and depth of essays is remarkable.