Soon the Kickstarter of Stonewall 1969 - A war story, the role-playing game about the Stonewall riots and the birth of Pride. Let's interview the author, Stefano Burchi, to find out more!

You've probably seen the ads these days: Stonewall 1969 - A war story will soon begin its crowfunding on Kickstarter.
For the uninitiated, Stonewall 1969 it's a Role playing game, created by Stefano Burchi and edited by Editions asterisk (Dura-Lande, Outside the dungeon).
As you can imagine from the title, Stonewall 1969 speaks, in fact, of the riots that took place in 1969 at the Stonewall Inn, the local historian in New York. From these riots, which broke out after yet another police raid in the club (because, you know, in 1969 not being heterosexual or cisgender was illegal), the first Pride was born, that is the first demonstration in which queer people (gays, lesbians, bisexual, transgender, etc.) took to the streets to claim their right to exist.

But how do you play such a special event as the Stonewall riots?
What system can be used to properly portray how queer people lived in 1969 New York? How can you make the experience alive and real for anyone, even if they're not part of the queer community? In this sense, Stonewall 1969 isn't it a game that risks speaking only to a very narrow niche of people?
To answer these and many other questions, we have interviewed the author of the game, Stefano Burchi.

Montsegur 1244, the role-playing game that inspired the Stonewall 1969 system
Montsegur 1244, the role-playing game whose system Stonewall 1969 It is inspired

1) How it was born Stonewall 1969 - A war story?

Stonewall 1969 - A war story was born more or less by chance, in 2015.
I was planning to participate in that year's Game Chef with a game about an experience of coming out. Unfortunately I was unable to stay within the delivery times and the material produced did not satisfy me. Looking at it several times, thinking about what to do with it, I came up with the idea of ​​trying to tell, through the game, a wider story, that of the Stonewall riots.

Some games I played in also influenced me a lot Montsegur 1244, an RPG about the Crusader siege to the last outpost of the Cathar heresy. In fact, the game flow of Montsegur 1244 it then characterized the design choices I made while developing my game. The idea of ​​siege, in particular, intended as a metaphor for the social siege to which people living in a state of continuous oppression are subjected, sparked me.

Stefano Burchi, the author of Stonewall 1969
Stefano Burchi, the author of Stonewall 1969

2) What kind of story will we live in this RPG?

In Stonewall 1969 a choral story is staged that speaks of the violent revolt of a group of people oppressed by society, who struggle to affirm their right to exist and to be left free to live. 
It's a story about a bottom-up rebellion. Where we do not have the heroic figures typical of other types of stories, but ordinary people, guilty of being considered wrong, sick, criminal, sinful and dangerous for what they were.
It is the story of people who face situations and problems that are much bigger than themselves and who cannot take a step back and let it go. Because what is at stake is their existence and their right to live freely without the fear of being killed, imprisoned, erased or worse at any moment.

Stonewall 1969 playtest materials during a game
The playtest materials of Stonewall 1969 during a game. Source

3) What system does it use Stonewall 1969? With what mechanics will the conflicts of the historic queer revolt be lived?

The game was developed around the design of Montsegur 1244, which I adapted to be able to stage the story and themes that I intended to convey through the game session. It is therefore a game of a single session, with a fixed cast of characters and already basted.

This is a game without a GM.
The narrative flow is divided into a prologue, five thematic acts and an epilogue.
Each person who participates in the game plays a main character and several secondary characters. The main characters are the people who are the protagonists of the story, those of which the group deepens the events and the choices made during the game. Instead, the secondary characters are the people of reference for the protagonists, who have the purpose of making support and opposition, in order to put the protagonists in a position to make decisions and explore the themes and conflicts that characterize them.
The narrative authorities are divided among the people who play and change from scene to scene. In turn, each participant frames scenes in which attention is drawn to some conflict of their main character.

The mechanics of the game

The main mechanics consist of:
1) The construction and management of the scenes. The manual indicates how to set them, how to manage them, assigning roles to the other people participating in the table, and how to determine the closing conditions;
2) The monologue. It is the heart of reflective scenes that allow the person playing to reflect on the character, sharing the reflections with the rest of the group. This is particularly effective in a short scene planned before the epilogue;
3) The presentation and the epilogue of the characters. Each character introduces himself with a ritual phrase at the beginning and takes his leave in the epilogue phase with another that shows the group how the experience has marked the character;

4) The questions on the character sheet and the connections with other characters in the cast;
5) Story cards that trigger thematic situations to be put into play;
6) Cards with ideas that help keep the framing and tone of the scenes focused on the details to be included in the scenes that recall the themes of the game.
7) Ritual phrases that help people who play to regulate the shared narration among themselves.

The game's security mechanics

The game mechanics are not enough, however.
Indeed, since Stonewall 1969 tackles potentially problematic issues and situations for those who participate, there are also rules that deal with facilitating conversation at the table. The aim is to be able to take the measures, as a group, with the possible emotional intensity that the game can bring and to manage it correctly, because the people who participate are always and in any case more important than the game.

In particular, use is made of:
1) An introduction with a small pre-game ritual that aims to: a) set the tone of the game; b) indicate the approach required to play; c) present problematic content; d) inform the participating people on which tools the game uses to manage table safety;
2) The use of safety words during the game. These allow you to clearly express what is wrong, beyond how each person subjectively manifests discomfort. In addition, they explicitly give the player permission to stop the game if necessary;
3) A debriefing at the end of the game. This has the function of decompressing the accumulated tension and reflecting on what emerged in the game.

A table at Stonewall 1969 in Siena, during an event of the Pansexual Movement | Arcigay Siena, facilitated by Marco Spelgatti of La Gilda. Source
A table of Stonewall 1969 in Siena, during an event of Pansexual Movement | Arcigay Siena, facilitated by Marco Spelgatti de The Guild. Source

4) You have often told me that one of the biggest challenges you encountered while writing this game was to recreate the atmosphere and sensitivity of the queer community of the time, very different from those of today. Can you tell us what are the most significant differences?

To be able to answer you I must make a premise.
The sensitivity and atmosphere you speak of are reflected directly in the language and words we use. This is because words are a bit of the basic block with which we can represent reality and create models that we are able to share with other people, to make ourselves understood and to recognize ourselves. Words, in turn, put together tell precise points of view that tell stories, and stories are the foundation of identities.

“Gay”: an umbrella term that meant a little bit of anyone

In the XNUMXs, most of the most widely used words to describe the LGBT + community had a strong negative meaning. The very word "queer" was born as a degrading and humiliating term, subsequently claimed. The very act of claiming words by removing their negative meaning to give them a positive and identifying one contributes to changing the perception of oneself.
In the XNUMXs there was no lexicon that is used today to describe the countless facets of the LGBT + community. There were fewer definitions. Furthermore, words used even today had different shades of meaning. For example, "gay" had a much broader meaning. He was all gay, from the homosexual cisgender boy to the transgender person. The motto "Gay Power!" it wasn't just referring to homosexual cis men, and for several years Pride was called "Gay Pride". 

A completely different lexicon to talk about transgender people

To underline the weight of words and how they help to determine the perception of oneself and one's identity: to describe transgender people we spoke of "transsexuals", "transvestites" or even "drag queens".
The first two words still have a negative tinge of meaning today. And the word "transsexual" also has a medical meaning. Today, however, "drag queen" identifies an artistic form of expression.
On top of that, a person we might recognize today as a transgender woman at the time would have been more easily seen as a sick man with a problem. There were obviously exceptions, but they were very rare.

How to speak about oneself when all words have negative meanings?

When the words you know to define yourself have negative and discriminatory meanings, or are imprecise enough to put together everything that is perceived as "strange" or "wrong", and when they are imposed by an external and oppressive narrative, what happens to one's identity ? And how can you build a positive self-image without going through fear and suffering?
Here, I think this is one of the greatest distances compared to that period.

This doesn't mean it's all sunshine and roses today. There is still a lot to work on and the discussion of recent months about the Zan DDL is a painfully glaring example of this. However, today's society is a society in which one can find spaces, contexts, words, examples and positive representations with which to confront and recognize oneself.
Without the words that have been claimed and constructed and the reflections attached to them, there would not be the rich expression of identity that we are seeing.

Some of the characters that can be played in Stonewall 1969. Source
Some of the characters that you can play in Stonewall 1969. Source

5) What kind of characters will you play in Stonewall 1969?

The game features ordinary people, who more or less likely could have frequented the Stonewall. These are fictional characters, lightly inspired by iconic situations and characters of the revolt and by different facets of the various LGBT identities.

Why use fictional characters and not real people?

The choice to use characters of pure fiction is motivated by several reasons. I did not want, in the game, to carry the weight of a representation that could never be truly faithful to historical icons of the revolt. Those names appear in the game materials that mention them, saying who they were and what they did. I speak for example of Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera o Stormé DeLaverie.

Secondly, one of the objectives of the game is to make the player fill the scaffolding of the characters by putting something of their own into it. This is more immediate if you don't have to compare yourself with an iconic and well-known character and reflect on how to play him in a credible way.
The aim is instead to ensure that the player focuses on how to stage the fictional character that has been chosen honestly and as if he were a real person, respecting the themes that the game materials push to play.

Fictional characters, but varied and multifaceted

As far as the characters are concerned, we find represented the boys and girls hunted or ran away from home because they are not heterosexual or cisgender, and who have nothing more to lose.
Bourgeois homosexual or bisexual people with a past, a position and risk losing a family, a job or what is important to them. Transgender characters who are always on the forefront of the heaviest discrimination and oppression.

These are characters who don't always just lead sad, shameful or fearful lives as you might think, looking back and thinking about how people were mostly hiding in the XNUMXs and XNUMXs.
These are people who had a life, dreams, loves, hopes, projects and networks of affection that for them were a family. Because even in the most difficult moments you can carve out your own dimension and space. However, a number of situations and social dimensions that are taken for granted for straight cis people are not at all.

Gender, social class, skin color: not just one type of discrimination

The characters are constructed with a view to the intersectionality of the oppressions they face.
They are characterized by gender identity, sex assigned at birth, sexual and romantic orientation, skin color and social class to which they belong. It therefore happens that characters, even very similar to each other in appearance, experience in the history of the game the problem of being separated by an abyss, which is the reality of the discrimination that is placed between them. 

Photo from one of the last Stonewall playtests 1969, at the Centaurus Arcigay Alto Adige Südtirol ODV in Trento. Source
Photo from one of the latest playtests of Stonewall 1969, Centaurus Arcigay Alto Adige Südtirol ODV of Bolzano. Source

6) Which audience is this game intended for? 

Stonewall 1969 is meant for anyone interested or interested in playing a story of oppression and struggle from the perspective of ordinary people who are faced with a much bigger situation than themselves. 
It is aimed at both LGBT + people and non-LGBT + audiences. It is also aimed at people who do not play a role assiduously or who do not play at all, not necessarily only to enthusiasts and enthusiasts of the hobby.

The game is for those LGBT + people who want to explore, with this kind of experience, the dynamics and situations that led to the birth of the homosexual liberation movement and the annual celebration of Pride.
It is also aimed at those straight cis people who see themselves as allies of LGBT + people but, despite having their heart in the right place, sometimes they don't understand certain dynamics. In fact, they do not live a queer experience every day and the difficulties that this entails in the daily life of a society that is culturally structured on strictly hetero-cis normed tracks and expectations.

During the various playtests and on the occasions that I have carried him around, Stonewall 1969 it proved useful to tell on an emotional level, leveraging empathy, the meaning of the motto “the first time was revolted”, when talking about the Stonewall revolt and its being at the origin of Pride.
Ultimately, it is a game that offers those who play it to reflect on how "Every oppression creates a state of war", to quote Simone De Beauvoir.
Obviously this is and remains a game: it is not aimed at anyone indiscriminately, but at those interested in the type of experience proposed.

Image for Pride 2021 on the Stonewall 1969 Facebook group: "Participating is a gesture of civility, because LGBT + rights are human rights." Source
Image for Pride 2021 on the Facebook group of Stonewall 1969: "Participating is a gesture of civility, because LGBT + rights are human rights." Source

7) The revisiting and re-writing of the Pride in a bourgeois and sanitized version, so as to be more acceptable for the straight society and for the respectable in general, is a phenomenon that unfortunately we know very well. We saw it when they re-told the first Pride in the film Stonewall of 2015, or with the general rainbow-washing of multinationals in recent years. How and why Stonewall 1969 does he distance himself from this narrative?

During the early stages of designing the game, I thought a lot about the fact that the story of Stonewall was a choral story and connected to the concept of the intersectionality of oppressions.

Revolt as the only way to make one's voice heard in an oppressive society

The stories of the protagonists and the protagonists of the revolt are very different from each other and tell of how we live on the margins of a society that does not recognize you for who you are and criminalizes you for what you represent. The protagonists of Stonewall 1969, each to a different extent, don't really have a place where they can be themselves safely. Safe places and people are bubbles that can explode and disappear at any moment, swept away by society, personified by the violent action of the police.
During the game, it becomes clear how the system is the source of oppression and how the people most affected are the very weakest.

Stonewall 1969 highlights how a certain movement was born through a violent revolt because there was no other way for certain people to be heard and recognized otherwise. They literally had nothing left to lose.
The game does not celebrate the violence of the revolt. But it highlights how and why the fear, anger, uncertainty and exasperation generated by the oppressive action of the system have prompted certain people to revolt against the system itself. Stonewall 1969 tells the story of unwanted people.

Reflect on a difficult situation, but without making it more "digestible"

The position of the hetero cis respectable, who did not have to clash with the system to determine their identity because the system is tailored to their size, is not part of the staged story, if not in the role of antagonists.
Pride is the celebration of a moment of collective awareness that has gone through the violent revolt against oppression. Stonewall 1969 talk about this. The game does not try to make Pride more "digestible" to the straight cis audience who want to play, but it presents a difficult situation to think about.

Stefano Burchi's comment on the sinking of DDL Zan: "Today you just need to watch those screams of joy and applause linked in the comments below to see why a game like this needs to be written". Source
Stefano Burchi's comment on the sinking of DDL Zan: “Today you just need to watch those screams of joy and applause linked in the comments below to see why a game like this needs to be written”. Source

8) How are you experiencing the work on the launch of Stonewall 1969 in this period, when the debate on the rights of queer people is more alive than ever, due to the (disappointing) discussions on the Zan Law?

Well, I admit that the current period has created tension in me.
In some ways, the current discussion on the Zan DDL reminded me of the period, in 2016, in which Civil Unions were discussed. Then it was not a good moment: the compromises with which the law was closed caused me bitterness. Today I feel the same bad vibes as back then.
I think the terrible scene of thunderous applause and shouts from the stadium when DDL Zan was sunk in the Senate was impressed on everyone and everyone.

It is not easy to explain what it means to be aware that who you are is suddenly at the center of a public debate where those who have the power to decide for you and for your future are not interested in what is really best for you or your current problems. On the contrary, it is only interested in creating or consolidating electoral consensus by fomenting hatred at your expense. Thus creating confusion for not really discussing the merits of the provision. And passing off as "mediation" the cancellation of identities subject to discrimination and the sinking of the already timid measures proposed as the result of a mediation that has already taken place previously, in the phase of first approval of the text of the law.
Both in the Senate and in online discussion platforms it seems that we forget how those we are talking about are real people and not faceless monsters with obscure plans for the destruction of civil society.

Stonewall 1969 it does not tell of such a different situation, in substance. Of course, it speaks of another time, which, however close to us, has passed.
Yet the story of Stonewall is still very relevant today. And facing it, through the filter of the game, can give us an emotional and concrete key to interpreting different dynamics of oppression which, with different faces, still weigh on the lives of too many people today.

When Stefano Burchi exaggerates with the playtests of Stonewall 1969 and even from Asterisco Edizioni they tell him to give it a break. Source
When Stefano Burchi exaggerates with the playtest of Stonewall 1969 and even at Asterisco Edizioni they tell him to give it a break. Source

9) What role did Asterisco Edizioni play in the production of Stonewall 1969

In the first place it encourages me to put the word "end" to the project!
Stonewall 1969 in itself it works, it has been tested over and over again and the procedures are now well established and clear. However, the way I am, without someone outside stopping me, I would not have easily found myself in a position where I could say "ok, it's over". This is partly because I am never really satisfied with my work and partly because I have a tendency to question what I produce too often.

In addition to this, in Asterisco I found prepared people with whom to discuss the contents and the political meaning of the situations and identities represented in the game.
This for me is a fundamental step, because at a certain point Stonewall 1969 he will have to walk alone, without my presence. To do this in the best way, in addition to the clarity of presentation and the robustness of the game mechanics, it is necessary that the contents and messages they convey are as clear and weighted as possible. This is to all intents and purposes a process that can only arise from a positive comparison with other people and that integrates with the design and playtest processes.


10) Can you give us some little sneak peeks on Kickstarter? So, because we want to be even more excited about crowdfunding.

For the moment I can only say that the campaign will start in January 2022 and it is already possible to go to the Kickstarter site to be notified when it starts. at this link.
Each update will be available on the newsletter to which you can subscribe Thu, on the Asterisco Edizioni website, It is on Facebook Group dedicated Stonewall 1969.

The logo of Asterisco Edizioni, the publishing house that will publish the game
The logo of Asterisco Edizioni, the publishing house that will publish the game

Some conclusive words

First of all, thank you very much Stefano Burchi for this interview.
Personally, I have tried Stonewall 1969 in a beautiful one-shot of about 4 hours. It was one of the most powerful gaming experiences I've ever encountered in my career as a role-playing player. Eventually, everyone at the table came out impressed, but very satisfied.
I believe that Stonewall 1969 has all the credentials to establish itself as one of the best Italian RPGs of recent years. Because in terms of game design it has nothing to envy to other very valid and rightly awarded titles such as Role-Playing Game of the Year, as Not The End, HouseHold e Broken Compass.
Hope its Kickstarter have the success it deserves. If you want to keep an eye on it, you will find it at this link.