An Itch.io analogue game jam wants to push back on harmful Western cyberpunk tropes by showcasing tabletop games from Asian creators.
The Cyberpunk by Asian Creators Game Jam, which currently runs until January 31st, invites Asian creators to submit their own cyberpunk games that eschew what the hosts - and many fans and critics of the genre - call a fetishisation of Asian culture writ large.
By collecting work that not only sidesteps the pitfall of dressing a game in loose stereotypes but celebrates the reality of lived experience, the jam hopes to expand what players consider possible within cyberpunk RPGs.
“Asian cultures are often fetishised in nerd culture, and you can find a lot of Asian-themed games without any Asian creators on DriveThruRPG,” said W.H. Arthur, a tabletop designer and one of the jam’s hosts. “Earlier this year, I hosted #AsianMartialArtsJam, a game jam for Asian creators to create martial arts TTRPG with our own voices. #AsianCyberpunkJam is kind of a sequel to that.”
Arthur is joined by designers such as Kienna Shaw and Jiangshi: Blood in the Banquet Hall co-creator Banana Chan, who is currently working on Questlings. They have invited any creator who is either of any Asian descent or lives in an Asian country and does not consider themselves an expat. The submission can be a full game, hack, zine or supplement to an existing game as long as it encompasses themes of cyberpunk, which they intentionally did not explicitly define in the rules.
The timing of the jam lines up with the release of the highly anticipated video game Cyberpunk 2077 from developer CD Projekt Red. The hosts say this wasn’t coincidence - many have been vocally critical of modern big-budget media within the genre, from 2077 and its tabletop counterpart Cyberpunk Red to Blade Runner 2049, for the continued deploying of Asian culture as set dressing at best. At worst, the results can be damaging.
“Western writers feared that Japan would take over the world with its economic and technological output, and cyberpunk cities are modelled after East Asian cities like Tokyo and Hong Kong with their neon signs and densely packed skyscrapers,” Arthur said. For the hosts and other Asian creators, propping up an exoticised East as the bogeyman and ultimate death of American capitalism stymies the genre.
Mui, a Malaysian game designer and jam host, specifically highlighted transhumanism and the question of how humanity defines itself in the light of ultra-capitalism run rampant.
“I think Western cyberpunk owes a lot to Asian cyberpunk - and what Western cyberpunk fails to realise is that Asian iterations of the genre tend to be really fucking horrific,” he said. “Where the white man sees power and progress in this integration of man and machine, the Asian man (especially post-WWII) sees horror and perversion, a deviance from the natural state of things.” Arthur specifically pointed to Jamila R. Nedjadi’s Balikbayan: Returning Home as an example of what cyberpunk games could be when unshackled from racist baggage. The RPG weaves Filipino folklore into a more supernatural post-cyberpunk world.
The Cyberpunk by Asian Creators Game Jam is now accepting applicants and will stay open until January 31st 2021.