Stepping back from stereotypes: an all and nothing approach

Stepping back from stereotypes; an ‘all and nothing’ approach

In 2020, I ran a Kickstarter to raise funds for a tabletop game I wrote and designed, called Preparing for Paris.

Here’s the pitch: You are a student at the prestigious, yet cutthroat high school Olympic Academy. The catch? Every student here is a personified sport! As an underdog sport, you must work hard to accrue cred, connections and chums to graduate top of the class and become a real Olympic sport! Make friends, meet rivals and cause chaos in this hilarious game for 3+ players. No preparation or GM required!

Well that’s certainly an interesting premise. To play, I must have to know a lot about sports, right? Or at least be a fan of them?

Actually, no. I’m not even a huge sports fan myself.

This is more my high school experience; books and chats. Photo by Alexis Brown.

Preparing for Paris is a game of teenagers getting into hijinks. They go through their school years together, they go to class, get in detention, join clubs, go to prom… and maybe they have a sports meet in there somewhere.

Preparing for Paris is more about the lives and relationships of these teenagers than it is about sports. It’s more about who these teens can become than it is about who they’re ‘meant to’ be.

So why have the characters be personified sports in the first place?

Two main reasons:

  1. It was how I met a criterion for the competition Preparing for Paris was originally written for.
  2. It allows us as players to more easily step away from stereotypes.

Let’s dig into that second one a bit more.

When creating a game about teens, the instinct can be to make character archetypes in line with classic tropes. Someone will be ‘the nerd’, someone else ‘the jock’, or ‘the weirdo’ etc etc. If a tropey game is what you want, that’s fine! But Preparing for Paris is about messy relationships and personal growth, and those things have a harder time coming to the fore if all the characters are hiding behind 2D stereotypes.

Because all of the character options in Preparing for Paris are sports, the tendency is to think of them all as ‘the jock’ (with perhaps ESports and Knitting as the only exceptions). But a game where everyone plays the same character can get pretty boring pretty fast. So players are encouraged to get creative; what could Rhys Rugby be, beyond the goofy himbo we see so often?

Players are encouraged to look deeper into their character’s potential and go on really interesting story arcs. Sure, Rhys Rugby may start out with all the characteristics of ‘the jock’, but perhaps by high school’s end, he will be writing poetry and playing in a ska band. What trope is that – emo? Musician? Weirdo?

See, these boxes are only helpful to an extent. They can make a great place to start, but can become restricting too. In Preparing for Paris, I have put all the players in the same box. And when the box is overpopulated, players are eager to jump out and try something else.

To sum up; by making everyone ‘the jock’, no one is. They’re more nuanced than that.

You can learn more about Preparing for Paris here, and see more of my games on this page.

In the meantime, stay safe and tell good stories folks!

This article was written on Wurundjeri land. I pay my respect to Elders past, present and emerging and acknowledge that sovereignty was never ceded. I am living on stolen land.

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