This is my last entry in my four part blog series on herald. The entire series can be read on gamasutra as ““Who am I to tell their story?”
Who am I to tell their story?
The first person I spoke to was a dear friend of mine. I knew that he had fled Iraq during the war, because he feared that there was no way for him to live in a war-torn country, especially as a gay man. Under the secular reign of Saddam Hussein gay men and women were relatively safe, but after the American invasion in 2003, there was a surge in islamist sentiment. Being gay might still be technically legal in Iraq, stories of excessive violence against homosexuals are ubiquitous.
Talking about his experiences over tea and a muffin inspired me more than any book had done thus far. It is one thing to read about history, but hearing what the effects of history are on someone’s personal life, that is a totally different experience. I felt it was hard to relate sometimes, I had not ever been in such dire circumstances, so how could I truly convey such depth of emotion in a story that I wrote, without having actually been there?
As much as I was inspired by my friend’s story, I was afraid I couldn’t do justice to the emotional weight of it. I had, by now, visited many clipper ships, read tons of books on the 19th century and spoken to lots of people about the subjects of colonialism and identity, but even after all my research, I was still left with my own perspective on things, and I wondered: Is that enough?
When I was trying to find my own way to tell Devan’s story, I met a game designer from South Africa who gave me the answer to that question. I was very interested to talk to him, a white man from South Africa would surely have a unique perspective on the history of his own country. Most people know of the terrible apartheid system that was ultimately torn down by Nelson Mandela and his ANC. I was expecting him to tell about how his country has advanced so much in equality in the last decades.
He actually told me different, he told me that he was born a white man in a country where he had to work harder than black people to achieve the same benefits as they have. To him, post-apartheid South Africa is not a state in which everyone is treated as equal, it is a country that is trying to make up for its past. He said that, according to public opinion, black people in South Africa have some catching up to do. He believed this to be true, but he didn’t agree with the solution, since the government had decided it was best to restore balance through positive discrimination.
This is not equality, he said, young people who had no part in apartheid are now victim of this new system. He continued about unequal education opportunities and the government spending millions of dollars on black poverty, while white poverty seems to be ignored entirely.
I genuinely believed that he felt there was still much wrong with his country, that its views on equality were not his own, and that he hoped it could be better for all people some day.
I needed this perspective. It was precisely what made Herald so important to me. My interview with him reaffirmed that having many different perspectives on a story is incredibly valuable, and that Devan’s mixed background is exactly what his story needs. It is Devan’s character that makes the topic of diversity so relevant today, because our own multicultural societies still deal with the fear of exclusion and the necessity to adapt to a culture and its ideals to truly fit in. The people I interviewed had first hand experience dealing with this. They all had to adapt their morals, ideals and ideas to the popular narrative, to be able to take part in the society they live in.
I was no longer afraid that I could not do justice to Devan Rensburg’s story, as I now knew that my perspective does matter after all, it is vital. I believe that as a writer, you can be genuine about unfamiliar subject matter, as long as you are open to new ideas. These multiple perspectives is what Herald is really all about. Not giving one view on the subject, but offering many through the diverse cast aboard the 19th century merchant clipper Herald.
I feel that I can write this story because it is about characters that I have created with lots of care for their real-life inspirations. People that were heavily inspired by all my interviews and the books that I’ve read, but also inevitably embody my own views on the subject.
Speaking of my own views; I believe that every part of a person’s identity shapes them to what they eventually become. Cultural background, race, sexuality and gender are such profound aspects of one’s development, slamming black skin on a character for the sake of diversity just won’t do it for me. My hopes are that people who play Herald will see this, and come to an understanding that, it is not just our identity that diversifies us as humans, but also the things that we can do because of it.
Thus, Herald is not a story about all people of mixed heritage, not even about any of the ones that I’ve spoken to. Herald is the tale of Devan Rensburg, a personal story about the choices that he makes, and the ones he doesn’t have.