Sunday, September 27, 2009

Ganakagok - A Not Review

Let me start out by saying that I love Ganakagok. I do. I love the fact that the storytelling is awesome. I love the fact that everything you do is always there in character, either by helping people through your character's past and present actions or by being in the scene at that moment. I love how you can tell a disjointed story and that it's okay to do that. I love how the cards give you something to work off of, it plays perfectly into the style of GMing that I love which is just go off the cuff and see how you can make it work.

However, I do have a small little problem with it. This problem went away long enough for me to buy it after talking to some people but now it's back. You see, Bill is pretty awesome. I've talked to him at Dreamation and I've read some of his critical work and it's really good. My problem is still a little bit on the apropriation end.

When I first heard of the game my appropriation hackles went up. Why? Well, it's a very Inuit flavoured game and Bill isn't an Inuit. Whenever you do something like that it's pretty damned tricky. The key thing to doing anything like this is to make sure that you did your research and that you treat the material with respect. And it's there, but not as much in the book. Out of the references there are only two references that are from original sources. By original sources I mean from actual Inuit people. The Inuit Myths page is run by the Nunavut Artic College and Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner is a movie by Zacharias Kunuk, an Inuit film maker. However, that's it. The rest are from white authors who have written about Inuit culture. Not that this is bad, but it's kind of a lacking list.

I'm personally going to feel better, for the three people who actually read this thing, if I provide a list of additional material for reference when looking at Ganakagok.

There's another film by Zacharisa Kunuk, The Journals of Knud Rasmussen (2006). A portrayal of the lives of the last great Inuit shaman, Avva, and his beautiful and headstrong daughter, Apak. It's based of off the works of a Danish ethnographer.

Here's a list of a group of books you can look up for a non-exhaustive bibliography here. There are suggestions on the site to get a greater list of books but this is a good place to start.

A couple other books you might want to check out are Thomas King's Green Grass Running Water which takes several creation stories and mixes them with real life of many people on an Alberta reserve. The second is Drew Hayden Taylor's Me Funny which is a colleciton of essays on Native Humour.

These two are big suggestions because they deal with the one thing I've run into the couple times I've played Ganakagok (well run it because I'm the only one with a book) we've run into the situation that it plays a bit more like a Skald than a myth. There were little chances for humour, few moments that turned into something that could be funny. It doesn't need to be full of belly laughs but once you read a couple stories you get that there's a sense of humour that's missing. Maybe it's the way we played it, maybe it's the way that it's written, maybe it's a combination of both.

There's a quote that gets used in the "Running the Game" section that I think should be pointed out. It's from Songs of the Dream People and it sounds:

I want to laugh, I, because my sledge it is broken.
Becuse its ribs are broken I want to laugh.
Here at Talaviuyaq I encountered hummocky ice, I met with an upset.
I want to laugh.
It is not a thing to rejoice over.

When I read that in the book it felt more like it was a fatalistic view of what was happening. I feel that what it is that it could be more of a sense of laughing against the world. What I want to try the next time I play is to infuse a sense of humour to the game, just to see what happens.

NOTE: Mistakes addendums: The first is that I gave a non Inuit source in Thomas King's Green Grass Running Water. Still a good book, go read it, but it doesn't really apply as well as when I thought. I just like telling people to go read that book.


Bill White said...

Hey Jonathan --

Thanks for raising the cultural appropriation issue; it's one I've struggled with, and I can live with your judgment that the book doesn't go far enough to inculcate an Inuit sensibility. I appreciate the list of references and will consult it prior to any future revision of the game.

As far as the quote from "Songs of the Dream People" is concerned, I read it as simultaneously rueful and defiant: yes, my sledge is broken and that's bad, but I can't help laughing because here I am, alive in an icy waste, and the worst has happened. It's hard to articulate, but I don't read it as fatalistic. It's like you've got a flat tire by the side of the road miles from nowhere: you'd laugh, too, if you were a certain sort of person, and then you'd get to work fixing the tire.

Unknown said...


I hear that Bill. Again, part of why I purchased the book was that I felt that it was a solid effort in trying to be respectful of the traditions and the people involved.

The playing of it is what made me think, which is why I was trying to also talk about the playing of it. Because the playing of it gave me those impressions, and the reading of the play in the book gave me those impressions too.

I still want to say again that I love the game.

Firestorm Ink's Fan Box