Featuring METATOPIA 2018: the Game Design Festival, this week’s Thymeline focuses on a full weekend of networking with game designers, play-testing new projects, and consulting on fictional food and cultural touchstones!
Fictional Foods & the Game Industry
If you’re a casual or first-time reader, you may be asking why I’m chatting about a game design convention on a food blog. Let me explain.
Earlier this year, I decided to explore the idea of fictional food consulting as a way to exersize my creativity, leverage my background in historic research, and supplement my income to the site. The basic idea is to help writers and game designers of all types (such as board, card, tabletop, and live action games) incorporate food culture into their fictional (and alternate historical) world building. Not only does this refer to recipes and native cuisine styles, but also details like climate, agriculture, commodity trading (especially in spices), ecology, religious practice, and so many other elements that are informed by what is available to eat and how cultures thrive and consume.
The idea of being a fictional food consultant is a little out-there, but I’ve had a really excellent response. With a rise in cultural sensitivity readers, safety consultants, and other niche experts finding ways to contribute (for a reasonable fee) to the game industry, it feels like the right time for me to take this step.
What is METATOPIA?
METATOPIA is a special kind of gaming convention, and is part of a series of annual events run by Double Exposure. Rather than focusing on building a large attendance to play varieties of board, card, tabletop, and live action games, designers debut their current projects at various stages in their development for their colleages and guests to test and evaluate. Attendees also host panels, workshops, and focus groups on everything from including queer voices in world building, to nitty gritty tax issues in publishing a game, to creating realistic xenobiology for your aliens and fantasy creatures.
The true highlight of a convention like this, however, is the spirit of support and collaboration. Whether you are new to creating games, an old hat doing it for decades, or just a well-meaning player who wants to give useful advice, everyone has a space at the table (quite literally). Between discussions about deconstructing race and religion, creating more inclusive game mechanics, and just playing some incredibly fun, creative games I never would have experienced otherwise, I can honestly say the weekend was life-affirming and fulfilling in ways I’m still trying to process.
Over the weekend, I play-tested and workshopped at least five live-action games in 2-hour sessions; attended six panels on various types of world building and player engagement; had about six official consults with game designers to discuss including food culture in their fictional settings; and participated in an innumerable number of professional, personal, and event nostalgic conversations. While a lot of what I did is hard to relay for a variety of reasons, I have to give a shout-out to some of the more public-facing products I encountered (and their creators):
Upcoming Games To Check Out:
Gather: Children of the Evertree: The Kickstarter may be over, but the game is well on its way. In a weekend full of evocative, enjoyable live-action games, Gather was my absolute highlight and truly a delight to play. Something of a hybrid between a LARP and tabletop RPG, the game uses a beautifully written set of card prompts to guide you through gameplay that is part political negotiation and part free-form improv in a unique fantasy setting. Support Stephen Dewey through his Patreon to stay up to date on when the game will be released!
Nahual: A Mexican Urban Fantasy Tabletop Roleplaying Game: Full disclosure, I didn’t personally play this one, but between the rave reviews I heard and the excellent Kickstarter progress (still going if you want to get in on it), I really wish I had. I won’t be able to do the setting justice, but let’s just say it involves informed portrayals of Mexican culture, shapeshifters holding down a business, and the hunting of angels for their meat. Even if tabletop isn’t your interest, I implore you to read the setting just to see something interesting and unique.
Thousand Arrows: A Samurai Action & Drama Tabletop Roleplaying Game: James Mendez Hodes’ is a student of Asian religion as well as a game designer, and his excellent scholarship comes through both through his panels and his setting descriptions. As a fellow historian and someone who has long fought against Asian stereotypes in the gaming community, I love the alt-historic world he is building (currently raising funds on Kickstarter) as well as his push to create more nuanced portrayals of race in gaming. I have a few colleagues in Asian religion (you know who you are) that would certainly love to get their hands on this game.
Phoenix Outlaw Productions: Okay, this isn’t a game so much as an organization of busy people making awesome games. I had some great conversations with members of their creative team, both about existing projects and new ideas in the works. Without spoiling some of the fun things on the horizon, they have a lot going on, from tackling emotional, socio-religious questions in Arksong (a live action space adventure game) to providing a light-hearted collaborative experience that emphasizes self-care with Bright Story (a “Saturday morning cartoon”-style live action game). If you aren’t already keeping an eye on their stuff, you should absolutely start.
Support Through Patreon
Finally, I can’t sign off without a little self-promotion. If you like even just the idea of including more in-depth food, religious practice, economies, and agricultures in your fictional settings, please consider supporting Feast In Thyme on Patreon. I won’t rehash my previous blog post on the subject, but just knowing there are people out there who support what I’m trying to do means so much (and the funds may eventually allow me to make this a full-time venture).
METATOPIA 2018 was a revelation. I can’t wait to see where all the projects go. Cheers!