• Design Diary: A Tragedy in Five Acts, pt. 2

    by  • May 2, 2013 • Design & Art • Comments Off on Design Diary: A Tragedy in Five Acts, pt. 2

    Last time, I talked a bit about the mechanics of A Tragedy in Five Acts and how I came to write it, with the promise of more discussion of daughters and feminism and art and such in Part 2. With that in mind, here we are.

    The Daughter

    Daughters and Feminism in Tragedy

    So, as I noted last time, there are five roles in tragedy. The role of Daughter is the only one called out specifically by gender, and that’s done for a reason (and not because of Game Chef’s rules that year, because I didn’t end up entering anyway). As I say in the book, daughters have a special place in Shakespeare. They are the center of the social web, the necessary source of future. Issues of inheritance, ownership, love, sexuality, progeny, wealth, honor… it’s all there, centered on the daughter. She is the tool through which alliances are forged and heirs are obtained in a patriarchal society, and the possible leader or heir in a more egalitarian (or even matriarchal) setting. Lovers want to be her partner or owner, Foils may want to help or harm her, Parents want to direct or control her, and Authority figures want to put limits on her behavior so that she remains a controlled commodity — or perhaps want to free her so she can save us all. All of that, then, is placed against any desires that she herself might have. Her very existence and any desire she might have for self-determination places her at the center of conflict, simply by being who she is.

    Now, Shakespeare’s fascination with daughters is easily shown in the sheer number of plays that revolve around daughters. That alone would make it a clear choice to include them. My reason for doing so doesn’t stop there, though.


    The Lover

    First, and perhaps most importantly, the position of daughters in Shakespeare and the position of women in society are not very dissimilar, even in the twenty-first century. Recent efforts to restrict access to birth control, to eliminate facilities that might provide abortions, to shame women who dare to assert control over their own sexuality, and to ignore victims of rape and excuse their offenders speak eloquently about the position that women — and by women, I mean daughters, seen not as individuals but as defined by their social role — hold in the center of cultural anxiety and controversy. This isn’t rocket science — it’s only barely interpretation. The chance, then, to take on the role of Daughter with all it entails is one that I think is incredibly important, if only because in this game, Daughters have as much agency as they wish to have. If they become a tool, it is the player’s choice (and thus the character’s choice) to do so.

    Sons and Daughters

    One thing that I’ve found fascinating during playtesting is the resistance to playing a Daughter on the part of some players. It’s often a role that’s left over, or one that someone gets talked into. In particular, this is true for men who don’t want to play cross-gender and feel uncomfortable with the idea. I’ve been asked if the daughter can be a son in at least half the playtests, to which I say that yes, you can play the gender of the character you want. If you play a son, though, the son needs to be “daughtered.” The same questions represented by the daughter have to apply to the son. Princes are a great example, anything where there are responsibilities for the future and their bodies and choices are looked at as belonging at least in part to someone else. I’ve found that people aren’t used to playing men that way, and these efforts to apply outside controls and ownership have resulted in some of the most interesting (and rebellious) male characters in the games.

    The Authority

    The Authority

    Inclusive Art

    So, nobody who publishes a finished game does it all themselves, not if they want it to come out well. Nowhere was this more true than Tragedy. I wrote the game, but Matt made sure it had a development pass. Jess Hartley edited it so I didn’t have to, because few things are sadder and less effective than a writer editing their own work on a large scale. If I’d had to, I probably could have done both those things, but the game would have suffered for it and taken longer to get done.

    When it comes to art and layout, however, I would have been completely at sea. Not only am I only so-so at stick figures, but the mysteries of layout are beyond me as yet. I get publication, and rule one for that is “get a good layout/graphic design person.” In my case, I did both, using Jeremy Kostiew for cover and graphic design and Eloy Lasanta for layout. On top of that, the absurdly talented Jenna Fowler provided the art for Tragedy, and as you can see by the included work here, she’s amazing. When it comes to a range of body styles, complexions, positions, poses, crowd scenes, individual portraits, proportions, perspective… I cannot praise her highly enough.

    Art is, in my opinion, a make or break point for a book. I’m of the opinion that if you can only afford a few good pieces, stick with the good ones and use graphic design and clever layout to make up the rest. Good art will sell a book, while bad art will turn a customer away. Because of her skill and flexibility, we were able to get good art, letting us edge ever closer to the diversity we wanted in terms of body types, appearances, cultural backgrounds, and sheer coolness that I’d never have been able to touch otherwise. I can accept that the game itself might only be so-so, but no matter who you are, the art is fantastic.


    Fortune’s Fool, one of the Fatal Flaws in A Tragedy in Five Acts

    Jenna provided all the art I’ve included in this post for the game, the topper of which, in my opinion, is the art for the Fortune’s Fool, one of the Fatal Flaws available in the game. The perspective, the shading, all of it… it’s a difficult illustration to pull off for any one of a number of reasons (but hands figure into it) and she nailed it. I couldn’t have asked for more. If you’d like to see the rest of the art she gave me, consider purchasing at least the PDF so I can hire her again in future. :)

    It’s not every day that you get to make a game, and it’s vanishingly rare that you get to make a game that is as meaningful for you as a creator as Tragedy is for me. There are undoubtedly improvements that could be made — there always are. Nothing is ever perfect. I really think, however, that Tragedy is a pretty nice little game that gives you something to think about after you’re done having fun with it, and that’s really about the best I think I could have done no matter what.




    I'm Michelle Lyons-McFarland. I'm currently a PhD student in the English Department at Case Western Reserve University, and I'm also a writer and editor in the RPG industry and have been since 2000. My husband Matthew McFarland and I have a game company together called Growling Door Games. I not only write and edit (and even some design) but I play too, everything from tabletop to console to card to board to occasional minis games (the cost keeps me from jumping straight in). I have a vested interest in gaming as a woman on both the macro and micro scale, from moderating on RPGnet to attending cons to finding work in the field.

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