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Explore bias and change the game

On the 9th of February 2021, Nadulpan's first fully-owned Kickstarter crowdfunding project for ZineQuest3 will launch. What is it? A zine is a small magazine with an RPG (role-playing game), usually fantasy-based (think Dungeons and Dragons) that is printed at home and mailed to followers. Many a zine nowadays deal with pro-social topics, like gender identity, cultural tolerance, and alternative genres that explore social interaction.

Fewer rules and more organic social interaction is key.

Nadulpan celebrates diversity and prejudice reduction, using the supportive structure of behavior change techniques. In this specific case, we've infused non-physical conflict resolution into a fantasy world as a novel way of examining societal bias and role-playing it out with friends or family who might hold different opinions on matters of identity, politics, and religion. Follow along if you're interested in exploring a safe way of making difficult topics discussable in a game of discovery, magic, and cooperation.

The board game community is a fairly accepting and open-minded group of people, mainly due to the intrinsic nature of board games where everyone agrees to play by the rules of a game and interact socially within an abstract construct for 30-90 minutes. It requires the acceptance of each other as equals while still instilling competition in the individual players. Still, the community is heavily slanted towards men, mostly white, primarily between 20-55 years of age. As such, we as designers have much room to explore with regards to promoting diversity and awareness within that demographic.

The game asks players to set aside their own identity for the evening and assume the role of a fictional character (called an Explorer) which they get to create by choosing a race (Pearl, Indigo, Amber), an age (Old, Youngling) and optionally a religion (Flame, Tree, Surface), gender (Same, Diff, Open), and/or politics (Freeglade, Firmstem). These automatically form positive and negative biases which will come into play when resolving conflict with strangers during the game.

One player assumes the role of Navigator and crafts a simple story set half in an urban/suburban or rural environment of the same cultural backdrop where the players are from and half in a far-away forest locale, like a tropical rainforest in South-America or Asia. The link between the two is formed by a Portal - a magical gateway that transports the characters from their safe environment to the unknown one. Here they will meet challenging situations, confrontational characters (there's always a 'bad guy'), and a mission of sorts. Players act out the role of their character (with flaws and all) while trying to deduce how to move forward through the story. The Navigator will answer to the best of their ability and request the players roll a die every now and then to determine the success of a particularly challenging action.

There is a little more to the game in terms of rule mechanisms but part of the appeal of role-playing games and zines, in general, is the elegance of gameplay. Fewer rules and more organic social interaction is key. Still, in these challenging times of social distancing, it can be tough to get friends or even family members together to play a game. It can also feel a little intimidating for people to play-act in a game, especially if they have never done that before. For this reason, we wanted to make sure that there was a game mode in which a single player could read the background information of the world of Ælemental and still play a little within that world, using more traditional gameplay mechanisms. That's where the Roll & Write part comes in.

Without going too much in detail, Roll & Write games are small games, consisting of (a pad of) paper, pencil, and some dice (think Yahtzee). You roll the dice, manipulate them a bit and write down results. This is kind of where we wanted the interaction to start and after expanding it a bit to have a 'Choose-Your-Own-Adventure' feel, we feel we've instilled enough elements to make the journey into the unknown interesting both thematically and mechanically for all players, young and old, black and white, liberal and conservative, and so on and so forth.

Interested? Nadulpan's Ælemental Zine-O-phobia goes live on Kickstarter on the 9th of February 2021. Get notified on its launch here:

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