When I first played Kitfox Games’s Moon Hunters, it reminded me of the 16-bit games I’d grown up with, RPGs where you had to run for your life from wildlife, or duck into caves to find treasure, or save up to buy the best weapon in the game.
But while I loved RPGs from a young age, characters who looked like me didn’t exist. If I was lucky, I might get a NPC that was a sort of ambiguous, video-game brown—not explicitly black but (probably) not white. Unlike those games of my youth, though, Moon Hunters has both playable characters and NPC’s that are unmistakably people of color. Best of all, there’s no exoticization or fetishization of these characters, and no unnecessary explanation for why they’re there. They just are.
That prompted me to ask developer Tanya X. Short a few questions about the game’s diversity, guiding mythology and the reaction it received from the gaming community.
VICE: So you can choose from four different character classes at the start of Moon Hunters. My first time playing through the game, I chose the Witch, and was happy to find that she was a woman of color. I did have a moment when I thought, Why is the witch a WOC, why are we always the exotic or the mystic? But her character is well done, clothed pragmatically, has an interesting backstory that fits with the mythology you build up as you play. Did you have any concerns with how her character could be received since she’s a witch and uses blood magic?
Tanya X. Short: We were briefly concerned about fundamentalists being upset about a few things [like blood magic] in the game, but we figured we could probably handle a little criticism on that front. After all, we at least tried to be inspired by aspects of of ancient Assyrian and Sumerian traditions—we weren’t literally glorifying demon-worship and necromancy, unlike, say, Diablo. There are a few themes you could say were not just pre-Biblical but maybe even anti-biblical, but they’re fairly subtle and (I like to think) reasoned.
I did worry about the Witch (since she’s a woman of color) being perceived as some kind of throwback stereotype of a vodun priestess or something, but we didn’t really have to change much about her, honestly—she was always a spear-wielding, defined character in her own right, not a reference or callback. It probably helps that she’s not the only person of color around.