06 July, 2015

Game Chef Review 38: Tjukurpa by Dmitri Balcaen

I'm really torn on this one. I stepped back from "Walkabout", my own game inspired by Aboriginal spirituality to engage in university study regarding Australian Indigenous culture, researching with Aboriginal artists and community leaders to ensure an authentic voice for the societies in the game.

I read through this game, and it felt hollow, with a veneer of "Aboriginality" applied over the top of it rather than an understanding of the people from whom these words, beliefs and social conventions derive. Saying that this reflects Aboriginality, is like saying that apartheid reflects South Africa, or the confederate flag reflects the US... it's a single narrow perspective that tells a minor (but often repeated) part of the whole story. Some might call it "Cultural Appropriation" and start screaming about how offensive this is. Others might say that games like this bring the target culture into people's sight and thus they are a step toward the correct path (even if they aren't completely correct in themselves). I had to go out of my way to confirm that the designer in this case was not an Indigenous Australian, but the general feel of it did not have a sense of authenticity about it so even if it weren't from the name, I was fairly certain that I wouldn't find an Aboriginal behind it. As such, this is politically charged, and in a way I'm close to. But I'll try to judge this as impartially as possible.

(Besides this comment in italics and parentheses, I'm not even going to mention all the non-Australian contestants who complained to me about cultural appropriation when I submitted "Walkabout" as my own Game Chef entry a few years ago...which incidentally was a finalist). 

Ingredients: 5 [Dream (3), Stillness (2), Dragonfly (0)] 
I'm giving a decent rating to the Dream ingredient due to the Dreamtime connection. It's a good attempt, and almost gets it right, but only in the same way that tying a red string around your wrist makes you a practitioner of Kabbalah. Stillness also fits, so I'm giving it points, but it also feels forced. The Dragonfly appears on the cover image, but doesn't do much for the game at all. I'll acknowledge it's there, but I'm not giving it points.

Theme: 4
This fits squarely into the genre of freeform, pseudo-game that I've shown disdain for in the past. It's interesting in that it's basically designed to be played out in the open, in new places to be explored and reflected upon. So that's something a bit different.

Would I Play This?: 1
So tempted to put zero here. I really wanted to put the game down before reading through it completely. This would not see the table (or in this case, I would not bother gathering a mob to play this), it feels forced and wrong.

Completeness: 7
This is a complete game, it's ritualised and other games like this have been scoring well with me, but this one feels like adopted rituals from misheard sources rather than externalising something personal. It also feels a bit like those games I've stated a general dislike for...the one that set up a situation then simply set the players loose with no further guidelines.

Innovation: 3
There feel like there might be a few ideas here worth exploiting, or at least looking at. But there just doesn't seem to be enough to them, and the few ideas that are present are tainted by cultural associations that aren't quite right.

Output Quality: 9 [Language (3), Layout (3), Imagery (2), +1 Bonus for professional presentation]
This is clearly the most professionally presented game I've encountered so far in the contest. The language is clear and concise, the layout s immaculate, the colour and design of the piece is great,

Overall: 43% Needs Work [15+8+1+7+3+9]
Honestly, this is one of the nicest looking games I've seen for a while. But sticking a silhouette of a pyramid on a ancient fantasy game doesn't make it Egyptian, nor does tattooing the Japanese Kanji for "honour" turn a street hooligan into a Samurai. I can see what's been attempted here, and I'm not going to flat out complain any further about how hollow the veneer of Aboriginal spirituality feels in this case. I'll just say that there needs to be a bit more work to respect the culture before I'll give this any extra marks.  
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