Interview with Elsa S. Henry

Say hi, and tell everyone a little about yourself.

So, I’m Elsa S. Henry. I’m a historian and actor by academic training. I actually have an MA in Women’s History from Sarah Lawrence College – and I’ve been a gamer for most of my life. I kind of fell into writing for games over the last year (not a complaint at all, more of a delightful surprise) and am now working almost entirely full time in the games industry as a freelancer!

Tell us about your latest game. Gimme all the deets!

Right now I’m working on the game “Dead Scare” which is a game about 1950s housewives and their children fighting off a zombie apocalypse engineered by the Soviets in 1953. It’s basically what would happen if Leave it to Beaver and The Walking Dead had a crossover episode written by a social justice minded writing team, with a penchant for Edward Goreyesque humor.

It is a game Powered By the Apocalypse (and the Matriarchy) and it confronts a lot of the topical issues of playing in a 1950s set game. In the stretch goals my publisher (exploding rogue studios) and I have a lineup of writers addressing subjects like the Lavender Scare, the Jewish Diaspora, and I’ve written extensively in the book about the way in which segregation and Jim Crow changes after a zombie apocalypse. And I don’t make it shiny and pretty just because it’s a game I accept that our history is an ugly place and to set a game in that era means confronting it. Players have the option to use that material, but I’ve written it so that it’s THERE.

What inspired you to create Dead Scare?

So my husband loves zombie movies – and I’d never really been a huge fan. Part of what bugs me about them is that women are always relegated to the back – men are always the heroes. And I thought it would be interesting to flip that and give women a chance to be at the front lines of an apocalypse setting. How would that change it? Turns out it changes it a fair amount.

I love the setting. What appealed to you about the McCarthy Era as a game setting?

So, I’m a historian, like I said above. I really like using history as game setting to make people look at history differently, and when I was thinking about a way to create an RPG in which women are the main focus of change, I had to go with the 1950s because it was technically possible to make almost all the men turn into zombies at the beginning of the game, allowing women to take the focal place of the game.

I also just really liked the idea of Lucy Ricardo swinging a rolling pin at a zombie’s head.

What are the steps you take to start designing a game?

Because it’s an AW hack I spent a lot of time getting familiar with the system and figuring out what parts of it made sense to use,  and what I would need to take apart and turn into 1950s jargon. Let me tell you, I now know way more about ‘50s jargon than I ever did before.  I’ve also  watched a lot of  TV and movies from the era, and I listen to the music from the era a lot anyway.

How did you get ready for your Kickstarter?

Fortunately I have a publisher who has been managing the kickstarter – having never made a game before (though I’ve contributed to others) I made sure that I had good backup to make sure the KS went well because it felt like a lot to learn all at once.

What’s your favorite reward level?

My favorite reward level is GONE – at $150 we were offering illustrations of women in peoples lives, who we would then put into the game as NPC’s or pieces of zed history. I already know what I’m doing with one of them, (but I’m keeping it a surprise) because I’m trying to make sure that everyone who bought this level did something really interesting during the Zed Era.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to make their own games?

DO IT. I know that seems really simple, but it was hard for me to get through all the people who used to tell me that I was a girl and I would never make games. Only boys play D&D. I really think that having done this, I can do it again – and if you want to do it you can too. If you can, get a writing gig or two with people who can give you a good education on what RPG writing looks like – and go to cons and play lots of new games & games in development. It will help you learn more than what you already play.

A last thing I want to say - This game wouldn't be happening without the incredible women I have alongside me. Lily Cohen-Moore is my editor, Elizabeth Simins is my illustrator, Tiara Lynn Agresta is my layout artist, and we have a whole bunch of women writing stretch goals. Without these people at my side this game would not be what it is. I couldn't be prouder to have them working with me on this.

You can find the Dead Scare Kickstarter here. Find more of Elsa's work at Feminist Sonar and follow her on Twitter.