Friday, November 20, 2015

Kickstart This! Playing Nature's Year

The ever amazing Meguey Baker has done it again. She's come up with another wonderful game, Playing Nature's YearI'm sooooo excited for this game. I have long been fascinated by the stories we tell about our environment, and about the importance of each season and the subtle changes that occur throughout them.

I can't say that the 'traditional' (read: Euro-centric) stories resonated with me growing up -- I didn't understand why snowflakes were the symbol of winter when it rarely snowed in Louisiana. Now that I've lived in several different places where the seasons are so very different, I have a better appreciation for the local stories. Here in California, we are entering the "rainy season" where the colors are vastly different from elsewhere. The deciduous trees are losing their leaves and turning brown, but the grasses are coming back to life. It's a time of grays and greens and browns, where summer is gold and blue and dark green.

I also have a deep appreciation of story-telling and gaming, and especially story-telling games! So, when I learned that Meg's new game combines storytelling and nature, I jumped at the chance to support it.

Meg was kind enough to answer a few of my questions, to help me share this fantastic project with you all. I hope that even if you don't decide to back Playing Nature's Year, you'll check out her many other games and find something that piques your interest!

SRPS: First of all, can you tell me a little bit about yourself -- your work, your passion, your goals.

MB: My basic mission in life, the thing that underlies pretty much everything I do, is to listen to under-heard voices and amplify them. For a dozen years, I facilitated a group for new mothers dealing with postpartum stress/anxiety/depression. I teach sex ed anywhere I can, especially to teenagers, and advocate for them as they discover their orientation and identity. I designed games for social change and the re-knitting of friendship networks among teenage girls in Ethiopia. I am a textile conservation specialist at two different local museums, where I help to uncover and preserve the stories of the past as told by the objects left behind and people that made them, with a specific focus on women, children, people of color, the currently poor, and other non-dominant voices. This extends to my parenting and how Vincent and I raise our three sons. I tell them my goal is for them to be "C to the 5th" - curious, compassionate, creative, connected and contributing members of their communities. I really do believe that every person has a story worth telling and a story worth hearing.

SRPS: I love the idea of being "C to the 5th." Can you explain a little about what that looks like for your family?

MB: It's one of three guiding principles I hold for parenting. (The others are best summed up by Kahlil Gibran's "On Children" and Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry's "Generation to Generation".) It's what I'm raising my children to be in the world, and the attitude I hope they carry with them. There are other words I'd add, like content, centered, and calm, but these five are the base for those.

Word by word, it means that we are big into finding out and exploring things, places, and ideas. We care about people and animals, and feel things deeply. My sons are thoughtful and attentive to each other and their friends, and they work to make their parts of the world a more kind and accepting place. The whole family is wicked creative, in several different mediums. We are generally willing to invest in art supplies or building materials or books, because they are the tools of our creative spirit. Being connected means paying attention to the world outside as well as inside, and talking to each other. Taking part, giving back, building bridges, staying involved in our communities matters; we have library cards, we walk where we can, we vote, we support small local businesses and independent global creators.

In short form, C to the 5th means being kind, being open-minded, and making something of what you have.

SRPS: I just love that whole explanation so much. And I feel as though I can see that creative, compassionate connected-ness coming through in your games as well, and especially in Playing Nature's Year. What inspired you to create this new game?

MB: My good friend Epidiah Ravachol runs a game bundle every year called The Epimas Bundle, and last year we were sitting around thinking about what each of us wanted to contribute. I was thinking about winter and wonder and games and the idea of light and darkness, and the song "The Holly & The Ivy" came rushing through my head with the whole game attached. I wrote it down almost in one go, and after that I just really loved the idea of making one for each season. I do wish that the rest had arrived as swift and sure as the first!

I live in New England, which is beautiful in every season and has a deep history of storytelling, legends, and folk song. I've been part of various singing groups and dance teams for decades, so those two combined give me a lot to draw from. Add twenty-five years of hiking in every season and it's a pretty fertile pool from which to draw.

SRPS: I bought 1001 Nights a couple of years ago, and have loved reading through it. How similar or different is Playing Nature's Year in the game style?

MB: Ooh, good question! The writing style is probably the most similar thing - the "voice" in both is very much a storyteller's voice, with (hopefully) evocative and inspiring turns of phrase. Beyond that, very different. For starters, 1001 Nights takes a full evening, and the Playing Nature's Year games take 15 to 90 minutes each. Following that, you don't ever really create a character in any of Playing Nature's Year - you are playing yourself, or a fictionalized version of yourself, or perhaps a flock of birds. The closest you come to creating a character is probably in "The Bending of the Bow," in which you and the other players create the Traveler, who you then together follow on their journey.

The PNY cycle does create the same sort of sensory-rich stories, and you definitely build on what each other player adds, so there's some overlap. It's a much shorter step from 1001 Nights to PNY than it would be from Psi*Run to PNY, I imagine. [CN: Psi*Run is another of her many amazing games!]

SRPS: What is it about story-based games that you love so much?

MB: Storytelling is intrinsic to the human experience, possibly to the mammalian experience. Thousands of years before we had the internet, before we had books, before we had paper, we were telling stories. Writing and playing these sorts of games keeps me connected to a long, long lineage of storytellers, and reminds me of my place within a world wider than the internet. We exist in a web, not just a digital one, but an actual web of connection, heritage, history and possibility. We can use storytelling and storytelling games to more fully explore portions of that web. That fascinates me.

SRPS: What do you hope players will take away from each gaming session of Playing Nature's Year?

MB: Wonder and surprise! A desire to go outside, a greater sense of awareness of and connection to the world around them. Also, I hope that people play these games with children and old people. Little children, especially before they enter school, are natural role-players with a wonderful capacity for seeing things in different ways, and old people, especially people twice your own age or more, have so much life experience that everything is a key to a story.

SRPS: You mentioned that your inspiration was the New England seasons. The seasons here in California are quite different. Can players in different climate still appreciate Playing Nature's Year?

MB: If the seasons are different where you are, and you want to play the summer solstice game in December, go right ahead! If you don't have snow, but want to play "The Holly & The Ivy" with whatever animal might carry with it the returning sun in your area, adapt it! In my wildest dreams, I get a group of folks from around the world to write short seasonal wishing games that match the climate where they are. I'd love to see what friends in New Zealand and Texas and Canada and Oregon etc. would bring to the same constraints I used.

SRPS: Yes! I would love to see that as well. It's all part of the stories we tell, right?

MB: Exactly!

SRPS: Where else on the web can people find you and your games?

MB: I'm on G+ and you can find me on Twitter and at I'll also be at various New England conventions throughout the year.

You should also check out her Patreon.

And if you like the work I do here at Self-Rescuing Princess Society,
please check out my Patreon.


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