Diversity isn't a dirty word
I do not want you to feel that you are to represent an entire group of people, that is illogical. What I do desire though is that you write your truth, because it is sorely needed.... but we are all talking about it wrong.
"Oh look, another white guy wanting to talk about diversity."
"This is kind of an overdone topic Chris, why do you want to tackle this?"
"Haven't we solved this issue?"
"What gives you any authority on this?"
I don't know what your initial thought on this will be readers, but I implore you to stay with me until the end. I graduated college in 2010, and writing that makes me feel my age immediately. During this time there was a huge push for "diversity" on college campuses. From what I am hearing, this desire hasn't changed. I don't fault colleges for wanting this, it is important for people to become exposed to different worldviews.
I started to have an issue with this idea of diversity though when the concept entered the "collective creativity" discussion. What I mean by this is suddenly, people expected more stories to be told about minority groups. This desire is not an issue, but suddenly, every convention breakout session became about diversity and writing stories that represented POCs, LGBTQ, and women. I went to these talks because I was genuinely interested in hearing the questions people were asking.
Don't feel like you...
represent an entire group of people. Write your truth because it is sorely needed.
In all honesty, I mostly ran across the same people patting themselves on the back for, what felt like to me, minor progress. I also couldn't wrap my brain around the changing storylines of some great superheroes to add diversity into various worlds. The reason I have had such a hard time with current gender bending experiments with already created properties is that it strikes me as lazy and too careful. I can also register the importance of some of these moves... there is a desire to normalize diversity in these worlds, and sometimes you need a little star power to have that happen. So when there was a push to cast Donald Glover as Spiderman in the Marvel movie universe... I honestly didn't mind it. I actually hoped for it, because that man is a hero to me.
I think within the last two years we reached peak diversity-focused talks, and after this last convention season I finally figured out what my issues with all this actually were. We need to stop telling artists to write so far outside their experience... their 'truths' if you will. I know that creative people out there will disagree with me because they don't want to feel trapped by limits... but that is how the human mind works. We are asking Cis-gendered, heterosexual, white men to write stories that are outside of their experience. At best the story is filled with a sympathetic voice that paints minorities with sweeping generalizations... at worst the stories fall flat and almost preachy.
We want creators to share their truths, because when they do we advance as a society. So create what you know. If you find that all your creations white and male... then look at your friends. I would be willing to guess that you have surrounded yourself with people that are also white and male. Meet other people outside of your normal group - this honestly should go for everyone. Allow me to throw one more thing at you though as you look around you and your creations... don't do this because you think you have to. I can't stress this enough, if you think you are fine with your stories and that you don't need to expand your friend group, then don't do it. I will talk about this in a future post, but people are not tools to use or steps to a higher plane of existence. Your fellow human is a potential connection that you get the opportunity to invest in, always try to think how you can add to someone else's life.
Back to the original topic at hand - the real people that need to hear the talks on diversity and who really need to take the ideas to heart are the producers, publishers, and team builders. It isn't about adding diverse stories, it is about adding diverse voices. When you add the voices the stories will follow. This may be harder for companies who have already developed their workforces. It requires an attention to detail when doing the hiring, and it may require sacrifice. Sacrifices even as so much as forgoing raises, or even those in the top to take pay cuts to bring more voices on board.
Foolish Panda Games is a young company, and we don't as of this moment pay people on my team. When I get to the point where I can pay, I will do so in a heartbeat. As I started to develop the team of contributors to the blog, I knew I wanted a variety of voices. I desired this because that is what my life consists of. As a military brat, I have moved around a lot. This didn't seem like a gift growing up, but as I look back on it as an adult, I can see how I have been prepared to develop empathy and not just sympathy with many different people. When I look at my friends I see an amazingly eclectic group of people that challenge me and allow me to challenge. I also know that no matter the level of empathy, there are things that I will just never get. In those moments we need to listen, and in order for us to listen, we need to allow power for people to have a voice.
I am not desiring 'tokenism' and what I have talked about with those close to me that are members of different groups is this: "I do not want you to feel that you are to represent an entire group of people, that is illogical. What I do desire though is that you write your truth, because it is sorely needed." The human story is getting better as more voices enter the collective creative consciousness. So I know at this point, when Foolish Panda Games is nothing, this is one of the key things in it's DNA. Foolish Panda Games will always be inclusive to the different voices in this world. I am still figuring out what our truths will be as we grow, but I can't shake on this one. I can't create one worldview and mold people to fit in my picture. We need to embrace the chaos of different worldviews and develop the ability to honor the human experience within each other.
I know that this is a huge topic to tackle, and I don't think I have come to the best answer, but I know that I am on the right path. There are so many voices out there desiring to get heard and share their truths. A few that I have run across within the last year or so (and I know I may be late to the game with them).
Embrace the chaos
of different worldviews and develop the ability to honor the human experience within each other.
Husband & Husband: Created by Jonathan & Aaron, they are currently running a Kickstarter to print - Volume 2: A Hot Mess. You can check out the Kickstarter HERE. Check out their work on their Instagram HERE. They paint a great picture of daily lives for couples, much of this seems to be universal truths. For me, I find it easier to swallow when you are in a happy relationship... although, it can really help people find what they want in a relationship with another human. Plus nerd humor.
Is'nana | The Were-spider: Created by Greg Anderson Elysee who just ran his second successful Kickstarter campaign for Volume 2 of Is'nana's adventures and you can find the campaign HERE. I was drawn to this, because of my love of the trickster gods in mythology. Anansi isn't just a trickster god... but the god of all stories. Then Greg comes in and creates a son for us to follow. A superhero story with mythology, a were-spider, and a universal story about a young man coming into his own and a father learning to accept this fact and act as a guide versus a general? Sign me up.
Lumberjanes: Created by Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, Noelle Stevenson, and Brooke Allen. This is being published by BOOM! Studios and you have to give credit where it is due. This is a solid concept and you can get a preview HERE. This is a solid friend-centric story at a camp and dealing with the supernatural. This doubles as a very solid comic to introduce children to as well.
Circadia: Created by Jenn Dugan, there are still 14 days to help her create this project. You can find her Kickstarter HERE. This is a cool looking story about a bisexual ballerina and her non-binary love interest. The larger story is a classic question on what reality is and their journey to figure out which experience is real, and which is a dream world. I guess one should ask what reality is, but I am interested to see what these two discover.
Those are 4 great options out of an ocean of voices creating waves. To take all this to kind of a close though, I want to reiterate... this is not a condemnation on any creators out there. Like I said, your truth is needed. However, those of us who find ourselves in positions of leadership, who desire to build worlds, and who desire to change the future - we must do our due diligence in offering what we can to others in encouraging truly new stories. This will cause friction and people may not like your decisions, but I think we are past worrying about that. We don't want safe we want real... and reality isn't clean.
As I stated earlier, I am not done on this journey. I have grown a lot and I hope to continue to grow. What do you think readers? Am I not seeing the bigger picture? Are there voices out there that I should be listening to? Am I being too hard on the larger creative companies? Where do you see people doing this well? Are there any games out there that you feel are doing this well? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!