There are moments in gaming where a game just kind of comes together, in concept, in idea and in form. It’s great when that kind of game ends up being one that takes a topic like colonialism and puts it right in front of everyone and has them talking about it before the game, during the game and after the game.
Folks, I introduce you to a game that’s being kickstarted right now called Dog Eat Dog.
Dog Eat Dog is the creation of Liam Burke who felt that he wanted to create a game after he started to seriously think about race, colonialism and the immigrant experience of his Filipino mother. I got a chance to ask Liam a few questions, and for him the moment where he felt he had to make this game was years before actually writing the game. He said:
I was talking to a friend of mine, and she asked me about my mother, because I guess she didn’t know anything about her, and I started to tell her the story of how my mom met my dad in the Philippines and married him and moved to Hawaii, and as I told her this story I started to really understand what my mother had gone through. All kinds of things that I had seen through my childhood started to click into place and fit into a narrative.
Dog Eat Dog is a storytelling game that, at its base, tells a story about a colonizing force coming into a hypothetical Pacific island. One player plays the Occupiers, the rest of the players play the Native Peoples who are dealing with the relationship between the two forces. The whole group defines the characteristics of each group, and through the course of the game will define the rules that each side has to live by. However, there is one rule that you have to start the game with, and it’s such an amazingly relevant starting point to any conversation about colonialism that I’m going to give the rule it’s own line.
The (Native people) are inferior to the (Occupation people)
How the various Indigenous characters, as well as the Occupier, navigate these rules will determine the end result. Do you become assimilated into this dominant culture, do you hold on to what you have and are left a shell of yourself, or do you wind up dead after a hard fight for your beliefs. The Occupier finds out what happens to them as well. Will they continue with their occupation, or do they get pushed off the island? What you’ll find is that as the game progresses, the rules are very heavily favoured towards the Occupier, and that they will insert themselves wherever they can.
I asked Liam what personal experiences he felt helped towards the creation of the game, and what really struck me is that beyond his experiences being half Filipino he talked about a school that he went to in Hawaii. The high school is called Punahou and Liam described its unstated purpose as
to teach Asian-American students, growing up in a culture where they’re the majority, to deal with a society (on the mainland) in which they aren’t the majority. If you were to found a school to teach assimilation, it would look a lot like Punahou.
I’m sure you don’t have to look far, or wide, to find examples like this school near you. I know as a Canadian there is still the specter of Residential Schools, which is a different sort of colonial education than Punahou but with a similar goal. Take someone try to teach them how to assimilate into the dominant culture. It’s one of the things that he said which really resonated with me, and made me even more excited about this game.
I’m not alone, there has been a lot of positive energy surrounding this game. The launch goal was reached by day 3 and now the kickstarter is pushing further and further up having reached over four thousand dollars. The base level of support is just 5$ so it’s great if you’d like to support a game that’s also a conversation about colonialism and don’t have a lot of money to throw at a project.
I know I’ve already backed this project and I’m eagerly awaiting my copy to arrive so I can start playing it around. Considering the game only takes about 45 minutes to play makes it a great sit down and play game, and the subject matter makes it a great tool to teach people who might not quite understand what what colonialism means. It’s a great education tool as well as a great game.
That being said Liam had something he felt was important to add, while this is a game that at its core deals with a very serious topic, the game itself doesn’t have to be that serious. His last playtest was based around the Justice League conquering Earth. I know the first thing that came to my mind was the fact that there were Sneetches and then came the Sneetches with Stars upon Thars. The first stretch goal is a book of scenarios that people can use to use Dog Eat Dog to play out a variety of situations of unequal power and cultural conflict. The goal for that book is 5000$ and there are some really great guest writers like Elizabeth and Shreyas Sampat, Dev Purkasthaya, Joshua Hall-Bachner, Mark Truman, Jonathan Walton and others who will be making some great scenarios to play in.