Trans Riot – game design part 1

Trans Riot is a satirical city revolution simulator. I’m a writer, activist, and programmer, and this game is a vehicle for some of my opinions, jokes, cheap shots, frustrations, hopes and dreams. I’ve been a human rights activist in various fields for about twenty years now, so the jokes I make are mostly meant as a loving satire, but some things I’ve witnessed have also made me facepalm so hard, and making jokes about it is therapeutic.

Besides that I also want the game to be fun to play, and have some meaning. This post is about the game mechanics. I’ll address meaning and inspiration in another post. The game play loop itself is relatively straightforward. You get a number of actions per week, with which you try to gain revolutionary power and liberate districts of an imaginary city, Urbo Polarizo. The capitalists plan actions to work against you, and then the actions are resolved together.

Now this is not the real world, it’s a simplification. And we will keep things more on the simple side – there won’t be 100 parameters modeling the exact types of personalities of the police, or how many people in the labor union have been bought by the bosses – I need to stop before I give myself too many ideas. Let’s save those for the sequel or expansion pack.

What we need to simulate is the conflict on a district level. The demo (1) will only feature two factions: the intersectional alliance and the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy (2).

We could model this very simply with even one parameter, e.g. we can share out 100% of influence among the two factions, e.g. capitalist influence 60% means intersectional alliance influence 40%. This doesn’t feel right, and it leaves out a lot. For example a huge problem for people who want to change the world, are people who don’t show up. They don’t seem to care, or they can’t because of difficult circumstances, or they just don’t want to.

Today in western societies – I write about those because I simply am not an expert about anything else and I won’t pretend otherwise – we see a rise in polarization. On the one hand, a surge in extreme right views and actions and the rise of a new fascist groups, political parties. Like the TERFs for example, who are a conservative, right-wing group, organized against trans people and our liberation.

On the other hand, an enormous rise in activism and organizing, also on the radical side. Extinction rebellion and other climate activists are occupying stations, roads, staging demo’s. Labor unions are mobilizing more again, left-wing parties have moderate successes, there’s growing anarchist and queer activism too.

Simulating this on a district level: gains don’t have to be zero-sum. It’s very possible that over time, propaganda and actions and circumstances will create more extreme-right people in a district (more capitalist influence) AND more people who care about antiracism, ecology, trans liberation, queer activism, working class solidarity and so on.

So that means at least two parameters. If we ever add more factions than “the good” and “the evil” we’ll have to look at this again, but for the demo this is fine.

I would actually love to do a game where I could model say ten forms of oppression, which means you could also model how they are often played against each other (e.g. homonationalism, white feminism). But I promised myself I would release this as a simple game instead of getting stuck adding features. I’m keeping the ideas for the sequel 🙂

Early pre-alpha shot

Who owns the district

Suppose we go for a binary ownership of a district. No matter the exact percentage, someone controls it. If there are enough revolutionaries, you can try to wrestle control for your faction. But wrestle control from whom? Kicking the politicians out of the city hall is easy, it’s the troops they send that are the problem. Since I don’t want to do a street level tactics game for now we’re going to simulate this again. Assume at some point you start an action to liberate a district. We calculate a fight score from both parties, e.g. based on

for the intersectional alliance

  • some percentage of (revolutionary influence in district)
    → this simulates who is willing to do the work, has some training, the number of secure houses, the organization, etc.

for the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy

  • some very small percentage of (capitalist influence)
    → concerned, misguided class traitors who fight against their own class
  • = bootlickers + fascists + police force

In real life, at some point the US would embargo or bomb your country or send assassins but let’s leave that out of the game for now. If you have control over a district it stays that way until local forces (police + fascists) team up to defeat you. I’m also leaving aside the problematic issue of weapons (3), and so on.

In general, and simplifying enormously, I would say there’s not that much people who would actually fight for their own oppression, you have to be very indoctrinated, very self hating to do so. Which is of course why the capitalist forces expend so much time and money on propaganda. The majority of people fighting revolutionaries will be a small group of paid police officers, and a supporting group of armed neonazi’s.

Whereas there are more people willing to fight for what is right but that doesn’t mean they are well organized. But that can be so in the game, that’s what the revolutionary power represents.

Capitalist societies pretend to be democratic, and they try to rule as a capitalist dictatorship that tries to maintain an ideological hegemony. As long as most people believe this is the best system, they won’t rise up against it. So propaganda is one part. But, as soon as organized groups begin to threaten that hegemony, the armed forces are released. This could be official state forces (police / military) or so-called independent groups of paramilitary fascists (which is e.g. how the communists were destroyed in Germany before the second world war).

This seems an interesting combination to simulate, so I’m adding an armed forces (police + neonazi’s) parameter. The capitalists can thus also spend actions to increase those forces, which is not the same as building out their influence (mind control / brainwashing) over the population. And the revolutionaries get actions that work to undermine the armed forces.

Early pre-alpha shot

Since a revolution is a process that can never be fully controlled or predicted, I’m adding a dice roll as well (= a random factor). This signifies that there is no guarantee you will win. In real life, you can do everything right, and still lose.

Summary

Both you (the alliance) and the enemy (white supremacist capitalist patriarchy) have an action economy: limited number of actions you can do per week. These actions are focused on increasing your own influence and sabotaging the influence of the other. Every week, those actions are resolved and the results are presented in a newspaper.

Footnotes

(1) The first goal is to produce a small working demo / early alpha test that people can playtest so I can get feedback and improve. I’ll do a small demo for friends in – hoping – end of 2019, and a public demo free for everyone in summer 2020. Again, my older self will probably laugh at this schedule, but that’s how it goes.

(2) We have bell hooks to thank for this great turn of phrase. It’s both correct, interesting, and fitting for a game that goes for everything-turned-to-eleven satire. I’ve seen the word “kyriarchy” around too, which basically means the system that oppresses us, encompassing all forms of oppression (because we can’t sum them all up all the time, we need an umbrella word). I haven’t seen the word kyriarchy used often enough, it’s not commonplace and so far I don’t like it yet, but we’ll see what the future brings. I might need to use a shorthand too, but I’m not sure yet. There’s this whole thing about acronyms… but this isn’t the place.

(3) See this illuminating article about arms by Peter Storm – it’s in Dutch though.