[content warning: violence against women, violence in general, shunning, sexual coercion -- all in the gaming fiction and not in RL]
At this past Dreamation, I ran India's Daughters
by Ajit George and Strix Beltran. Though the scenario calls for five players, one of my players cancelled. I had four, including Lisa Aurigemma and John "Buddha" Davis, whom I think many of you know. I know them well; I did not know the other two players, but they too were amazing.India's Daughters
is a world-scenario for Misspent Youth
by Rob Bohl. It appears in the new supplement book, Sell Out with Me
. The scenario introduces five young women, all very poor and downtrodden, living in India in a village that is superstitious and male-controlled. Men beat women with impunity for any reason at all. When a company builds a chicken factory there, a few desperate and brave teenagers (the PCs) go to work there. The village brands those women as witches and that's where the game starts.
The actual text for the scenario leads with this:
“They came at night, seven men, and dragged my mother out by her hair. They tore her sari off, threw her into the street, and called her daayan (witch). They said she had jaduu-tona (black magic), was a curse to the village and a shame to our family. Then they beat her with iron rods until she was dead. All because she dared to work, to make a few rupees of her own. My cousin was one of those men.”
As I prepped the game, I realized that it was important to make it clear to the players that this was serious business. This wasn't a romp or any kind of tourism, and we had to explore the material respectfully. I watched the wonderful Daughters of Destiny
documentary that showcases the Shanti Bhavan
schools that provide food, shelter, clothing, and education to boys and girls of the untouchable class from age 6 through college. This project was founded by Dr. George (Ajit's father). Ajit works for the foundation. Daughters of Destiny
touched me and inspired me.
What I didn't expect was that the play material -- a couple paragraphs describing the situation and the single paragraph of background on each character -- would cause me to cry in front of the four players before we even started to role-play. My voice broke up. I had tears in my eyes. I had to pause and collect myself. I wasn't just reacting to the material. I was also reacting to how that material connected me to the documentary and to my own fight for women's rights.
The characters all have violence and heartbreak written into a single paragraph. 14-year-olds getting married and having two kids by 16 and getting beaten by their husbands. A pretty girl getting acid thrown on her face to keep her in her place. Girls forced into prostitution.
This is the text that made me cry the second time:
Meira was married at the age of 14, bore a son by the age of 15 and a daughter by the time she was 16. Her husband beat her the first time she cooked him a meal he did not like. The beatings became a frequent occurrence, especially after he was maimed during a dynamite accident at the quarry and lost his job. With two children and no reliable source of income, Meira was easily persuaded by her friend Rekha to work at the chicken farm. She had a sharp mind and soon put together a financial cooperative with the other working women, elevating their situation.
Being branded a witch has devastated her and she worries for the future of her two children.
Realize that this was hardly the first time I had read this material. (However, it was the first time I read it aloud.) I was an editor on this project. I read this text many, many times. I read it a few times again prepping for this convention session. I suppose I not truly connected to it
the way I was doing, pouring my heart into it with four other people to share it.
After reading the first character background, I handed out the four remaining characters, one to a player, and told them to read them aloud because I would not be able to get through all of them myself. The other players also had difficulty doing it, too. No one cried, per se
, but there were deep breaths, tense exclamations of "WOO" and fanning (in a very earnest way, not a joking way), and glassy, watery eyes.
Everyone understood the hardness of the material. I explained that I usually ran PG games at cons, but this one was rated R (by Ajit and Strix) for violence. I said that I couldn't imagine doing justice to the material without violence against the characters, perhaps even sexual violence, but that I wouldn't get graphic about it and I'd avoid sexual violence if possible and keep it off-screen and vague, in any case.
I also asked if everyone was in the "right game," meaning, does anyone want to leave? I half-joked that I
wasn't sure I was in the right game, so there was no shame in ducking out. Everyone wanted to stay. Oh, and we were in a smaller conference room with only one other table of players, and I knew a few of them, and they were playing another game that seemed deep and political.