Why the Hood Matters
“I don’t want to be PC during my games!”
“I don’t see why race is an issue in games, it’s FANTASY!”
Those two awful things come from the mouths of role players along with list of other things that I will not mention because I don’t want to depress myself or the reader. As a person of color, it is kind of disheartening when people say things like that that. We can play in a world where werewolves, fae and goblins exist, but if I want to play a black person or a queer character, then, I am just being a social justice warrior, feminist killjoy. (I am. My ID member card is BITCHSHUTUP). There are games out there that will make you think twice about those different from yourself, depending on the GM and players, of course. Games like Monsterhearts where it is made clear that no one is entirely straight, forcing you to come to terms with how it feels to indulge in that experience even as you feel like you must hide that, along with being a teenage monster. Fiasco is a good example because there are bits and pieces picked for character relationships, but the player has to adapt to another setting entirely depending on the dice and your players. For example, I witnessed my God-fearing mother-in-law play the mother of a prostitute and own it. Good games will make you realize that maybe, just maybe, you are living a nice comfortable life.
The Hood is one of those games. Apocalypse World games are set up so that if you roll 10+ you’re obviously doing well and on your way to success. 7-9 things aren’t great but at the least you didn’t fail. Not in the Hood, where even a 10 seems like a minor success and you’re reminded each time that things aren’t looking to be great. Why is that? Why is that important for a game like the Hood?
For those of us who have lived in poverty or grew up in it, we know what that means. You have a job interview? You’re going to have to take the bus in a city which public transportation is less than desirable. Let’s set the example here. If I were to take a bus to the University from where I live which is a 20 minute drive, by bus that’s about an hour or an hour and a half. Maybe that’s not a big deal but what if you’ve been called last minute for an interview, asked to come in within 30 minutes? You don’t have enough money for a cab, your neighbor isn’t home so they can’t give you a ride and it’s raining outside delaying the bus further. Dreams of owning a cheap, pre-owned vehicle dashed, that job is taken by a college kid who might not need the money that much because when you finally get there, you’re 45 minutes late and they’re uttering “15 minutes early, you’re on time. On time, you’re late. Late? Seriously late” and now you wasted your time, energy and believe you’re never going to get out of this place.
It would be great to say that you would make the so-called right decisions but when you’re poor there are a limited of resources offered to you. When you’re working a minimum wage job at 40 hours a week in the state of Tennessee that equals to around 560 dollars or so every two weeks. This barely covers rent in some areas, let alone child care or day-to-day expenses like gas and bills. The right thing would be to maybe go without something to maybe pay the bills but when the choice is pay the electric bill in the middle of winter or groceries there is not right way. You can perhaps go to resources like NeedLink but that would mean miss out on work, on another paycheck. In these situations, you might find yourself in need and another quick loan isn’t going to cut it. The majority of poor people are the minority, either it being social class, lgbtq, latinx, black, asian, etc. There are poor white people but realistically, it will be people of color who fall within this category because of how United State of America has treated them. One example is Pruitt Igoe, where African-American families were separated in order for mothers and their children to move into the building. This was one of the many forms that the government sought out to break families apart and force them into poverty.
So why does this matter? It’s important that all life experiences are shown, not just the ideal ones. We do have games where we roll for wealth, but the player doesn't really feel it within the game. You may not have a vehicle, but shouldn’t that be a problem to get from point A to point B? What about you missing so many days of work? Sookie Stackhouse missed a lot of days of work, yet it was okay because a vampire bought her house! I do that and I’m pretty sure I’d be evicted. Also thrown into an asylum by saying I know vampires.
I’ve played Monsterhearts multiple times, but growing up in Puerto Rico here are the following high school tropes I never experienced in life:
- Sports, of any kind.
- Clubs, of any kind. I’m sure now there are a few, but we didn’t have any in my schools.
- Letter jacket- we literally had an argument on who gets one during a game.
Things I have experienced relating to The Hood:
- Living the project housing.
- My mother having difficulty getting a job due to having a thick accent and relying on the government in order to survive.
- Welfare Christmas! - That’s when you don’t celebrate Christmas or only get Dollar Store toys but you’re just glad to be home and warm.
- Living near or being friends with a drug dealer.
- Parents or family members within the jail system.
- Suspected for stealing stuff because of my race.
Now the projects? I know what’s in there. I lived in one in Texas, and we lived by one when we moved to Puerto Rico. As someone who has lived within poverty, fears it, dreads it, carries it around like a medal of shame and honor- there is a right way to describe it authentically. You know that the corner store sells candles to the saints, you recognize the smell of weed and don’t make a big deal about it, you know to lock your cars at night and you know the difference between firecrackers and gunshots. Churches and brujos are all community stables and guides. Finally got money in the bank? You get to choose between paying for rent or electricity. Got that job? It pays minimum wage, only part-time and quite honestly it would be easier to maybe sell drugs. Really need to a new laptop? Your neighbor has a few new ones, hot items for sale but should you question where it came from or take advantage of a deal? You know that if someone steals something, at times it’s better to ask your neighbors than to ask the cops because the cops might just bring more trouble than worth. When you’re playing the Hood- what if your players don’t know these things? It’s important to correct them when necessary go into making the map of the neighborhood. A lot of times low-income neighborhoods are lacking in certain resources. Please remind them to be realistic when approaching it. Don't ignore the corner stores, laundromats and pawnshops - they are a part of the reality that some of us live in. But don't demonize them, either.
The television show Shameless does a good job of showing us that but what it lacks is color. You can pass yourself as an upright citizen of the world when the right hairstyle, clothes, and vocabulary, but you cannot change your skin color. You can make your name sound more white, you can pretend to be straight but that does not change who you are and the prejudice people hold.
When playing the Hood, those who have lived in that kind of world or worked in it can see the humor in it, it’s easier to make the map, take advantage of what is supposed to be there. There can be a lot of payday loan locations, used tires and laundromats. We can remark on the lack of public transportation! We can point out the poor condition the school is in and how the community center is always understaffed or how the owner of the corner store keeps following you around the store despite knowing you since you were in pre-k. You know what low-income locations lack? How about that charity that comes only once a year? Or that social worker with the white savior complex? These are things we see. Your players can point to all of this if they look at it with a critical eye and realize the struggle is real.
Lack of resources are the reason why the life of your characters are difficult.
What does this mean at the end of the day? A lot like Fiasco- you’re not playing entirely ‘good’ or ‘bad’ characters and you don’t exactly ‘win’. There is a thought that if you pull yourself by your bootstraps you will be able to achieve anything that you set your mind to. The truth is, some people are attempting to survive and even doing that is difficult to begin with.
But we’re playing terrible people, Ari! -you may say- To that I say: IF YOU HAVE PLAYED SLAYING DRAGONS BUT YOU CAN’T SEE THE HUMANITY OF A PURPLE HAZE PLAYBOOK THEN LET’S NOT BOTHER!
This game matters. It might help you realize the trouble of living this life and also realize the Neighbors outnumber the others. In a world where Ferguson exists, where black and brown families are afraid of their kids walking the streets to get shot by a cop for looking like a ‘thug’, games like the Hood matter to make us look outside of ourselves.