Interview With the Creator of Aberford: Representation & 1950s Women vs. Zombies

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Have you ever thought: “I wish there were a game that focused heavily on narrative, contained a diverse cast of women, and was set in 1950s suburban America”? Throw some zombies into the mix, and you’ve just described Aberford.

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Produced by SketchyPandaGames, Aberford is currently in the early stages of production and just launched its Kickstarter campaign on September 15th. Aberford is a video game with “strong female leads, tricky moral choices, and awesome zombie crushing combat.” You’ll play through the stories of four housewives as they fight to keep themselves, their friends, and their families alive as a zombie infection spreads through their town.

I was first introduced to Aberford while browsing through Tumblr. Initially drawn in by the cartoony art style and the subject matter (I mean, who doesn’t love to see women kicking ass?), I enthusiastically reblogged concept art of the nameless characters wearing ’50s garb, crouched and ready to attack using household objects as weapons. The idea of housewives taking up arms with frying pans and rolling pins delighted me. Upon browsing through other social media accounts, I came to find out this game was much more than bloody frying pans and scuffed high heels.

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But what’s so special about Aberford? Why should we as gamers, be excited? Fortunately for me, I was able to speak with Adam Clark, the writer/producer for the game and was able to ask questions.

Emma Kidwell (TMS): I’d like to hear about why you chose to have ’50s housewives as the protagonists. What makes them great?

Adam Clark: Last November, my co-founder and I were brainstorming through ideas for a video game, and I stumbled across the internet-famous post of Kelly Reemtsen art and some suggestions about a video game where 1950s housewives save the world from zombies. It was a fun idea, but really made the idea of ’50s housewives as heroines come together for us was critically thinking about 1950s women. Sure, they’re remembered as the “June Cleaver” stereotype, but they grew up during the great depression.

They built tanks and airplanes and bombs during WWII. They did all sorts of housework without the convenience of appliances in many cases, and they looked awesome doing it. They broke down a lot of the existing social norms and made huge strides towards gender equality. They were intelligent, resourceful women who could deal with hardship and loss. So as characters, there’s a lot of strength and richness we could explore, as well as underlying discontentment with their lives.

TMS: How will Aberford be different? It’s another game about zombies, with a visual style that everyone seems to associate with Telltale. What makes the game stand out?

Clark: What sets Aberford apart from other zombies games is going to be the gameplay. While we are using the story-heavy, graphic adventure format (popularized by Telltale Games) for the narrative, one of the drawbacks of a strictly story-based format is the low action. So we’re also giving the player a chance to cut loose and fight zombies in dynamic, open combat, but we wanted the combat to make sense with the 1950s world we were exploring.

Aberford zombies are designed around the fast, aggressive, “infected” model, making them very dangerous (and hard to kill) even in small numbers. And, much like real life, Aberford doesn’t have piles of guns and ammo lying in the streets for people to find. The characters have to defend themselves with makeshift melee weapons, and we’re building a brawler-style combat engine to help players do that. Rather than having each fight just be a panic of running away or firing your gun wildly until you have to reload, each fight will require you to switch back and forth between offense and defense, using all your resources and tools to keep from getting overwhelmed.

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TMS: I love the cast of characters. There’s a diverse group of women, and I’m especially excited about Betty and Norma. Can you explain how you went about writing Norma? I know she’s a trans woman, and I assume you didn’t flesh out her character without reaching out to actual trans women.

Clark: Originally, when I first mapped out the story, I hadn’t thought to include any trans characters. But after a few weeks of interacting with our audience, it became clear that lack of representation was a MUCH bigger problem than we’d originally thought. So we did a lot of research into trans women in the ’50s and found the story of Christine Jorgensen, as well as talking to several trans women who were supporters of our project. We also studied the early development of HRT and gender-reassignment surgery. Using that background, we were able to take an existing minor character (the woman who ran the boarding house) and craft a believable, interesting women like Norma. Norma’s a former GI who’d come to terms with who she was but still lived in a world that she believed (probably correctly) would not accept her. And we focus on her as a person, with all the complexities and strengths and flaws that go with it.

It’s very important to us to avoid flat, poorly-written characters whose personalities begin and end with “gay,” “black,” “trans,” etc., or characters that are just tossed in to fill some diversity quota. Diverse characters should add important layers and complexity to the story. So Norma has a crucial role in the main story and a well-rounded personality that appeals to a wide range of people. And we think that’s how diversification in games should be done.

TMS: How will the game be appealing to an audience that’s used to the action genre like a FPS?

Clark: If there are people who only want to play FPS games, Aberford probably isn’t going to do much in the way of attracting them. But if people are willing to try something new, I think they’ll be very pleased. We’ve taken two very excellent formats of gameplay (brawlers, graphic adventures) and blended them in a way that brings out both their strengths. As gamers ourselves, we’ve worked hard to avoid irritating or confusing mechanics.

The mix of strong story and combat keeps the player engaged the whole time. The dialogue is fast and smart, and the player has to constantly participate in it. We want the experience to so fun and seamless that gamers accidentally end up playing the whole game in one glorious sitting. For us, that’s the mark of a truly enjoyable game.

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I could go on about Aberford, but I don’t think I’m truly going to be able to explain how important this game is. All I can say for sure is that we need more diverse games with well-written women and I believe that SketchyPandaGames is going deliver. I highly recommend following their Tumblr and their Twitter to check out more FAQ. If you’re interested in seeing an amazing game become produced, donate to the Kickstarter campaign. Even if you can’t donate, spread the word! I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to kicking some undead ass.

Emma Kidwell is a self-proclaimed freelance writer who is usually seen holding a controller. When she’s not busy writing about all things gaming, you can find her avoiding impending adulthood responsibilities or dodging questions like “what do you want to do after you graduate?” If you want more, you can find her ramblings at Femhype and SpliceToday. Or you can find her on Twitter.

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