It seems like there’s a direct inverse relationship between how much I’m writing and how vividly I dream — like there’s a limited pool of imagination for me to draw from, and if I don’t use it up during the day then it will have to spill over when I’m asleep. Things have been terrible on the writing front lately, which means a few hours ago I was being hijacked into some kind of vigilante gang in either a steampunk Old West or else a post-apocalyptic wasteland; it’s hard to get dream-brains to concentrate on delineating those things clearly. I definitely remember the electrified katanas that the gang used to mark up the captives they wanted to recruit instead of kill (I got a really swank scar down one cheek). I remember that the first mission I did with them involved setting a trap for someone in a corral for their mutant livestock. I remember agonizing over where I was going to find a source for more shotgun shells before we headed out on our next mission.
I’m pretty sure I can blame that last bit on the fact that I’ve been playing Fallout 3 lately (yes, five years late — it took me a while to get over my reliance on turn-based systems). It’s neat stuff, and cool worldbuilding, with a gaping “no wait” in the middle that I keep coming back to. At character creation you can set the hero’s race and gender, so I made my Lone Wanderer a black woman. So far that has had zero effect on gameplay and only cosmetic effect on the game’s flavor — my in-game father has a black character model instead of the white version screencapped in the game wiki, and sometimes character dialogue addresses me with gendered terms. On the one hand, I really appreciate the ability to not get smacked in the face with bullshit, the ability to HAVE a hero who isn’t Generic White Soldier Dude. The fact that my black lady Wanderer gets taken seriously just as much as somebody else’s white man version. On the other hand, the history set up by the Fallout series makes this feel super weird.
See, Fallout takes place in an alternate universe that split off from ours in the 1950s, and clung to those social and stylistic norms despite its differing technological advances. The cultural upheaval of the 1960s and 1970s — with everything that meant for race and gender relations — never happened. All of the relics the player can find from the pre-war era, right up to the year 2077, feature fresh-faced gender-normative white kids. One of the songs that plays on the in-game radio is a 1948 recording called “Civilization” that is a classic riff on the “common sense from savages” style of racist comedy (“bingle bangle bungle, I’m so happy in the jungle, I refuse to go”). But despite having that all over the backdrop, it’s inexplicably absent in the foreground.
I don’t blame the developers for not wanting to tackle prejudice in a foregrounded way when they’re creating a work designed to entertain. I am a huge fan of escapist entertainment where the crap people do to each other constantly in real life is no longer an issue — I think it serves a hugely valuable purpose, and probably there should be more posts about that at some point. But when you start your worldbuilding with a historical era full of problems, whether it’s 1950s America or Victorian London or early imperial Rome, then you owe it to your audience and your craft to figure out why you’re not tackling that stuff. There are multiple right answers to that question, but leaving it blank doesn’t get you any points.