Artist and game developer Hannah Shaffer always imagined herself working in a creative field, but what she made never had an easily definable place. “I was always asking questions like, What about a video game that’s also a stage play? What about a choose-your-own-adventure story that you create on a whim with friends? When I found that roleplaying games could be all those things, it was like coming home.”
In 2013, she launched Make Big Things, a game design cooperative, with her friend Evan Rowland, and the duo was later joined by Brian Van Slyke. “Everything I make is made with the help of friends, and it’s better for it,” she says. Together, the trio focuses on “games that feel accessible to new players and ask interesting questions about the world” — including an especially life-changing Kickstarter project called 14 Days, a tabletop game about living with chronic migraines.
“Everything I make is made with the help of friends, and it’s better for it.”
“Every month since the project funded [in 2015], I’ve gotten emails from people about how the game has impacted their life for the better,” she says. “People have told me the game gave them new language to explain the experience to their partner, or their partners have emailed saying the game allowed them to better understand the pain of a loved one. A game about migraines isn’t going to be a blockbuster, but it’s very meaningful to know it helped someone feel less alone.”
Shaffer’s thoughtful approach to storytelling is front-and-center in her latest project, a new narrative tabletop RPG called Damn the Man, Save the Music! Taking influence from movies like Empire Records and Clerks, the game centers around the staff of the fictional Revolution Records as they attempt to rescue it from the oppressive hand of “The Man.”
“Damn the Man started as a re-imagining of Questlandia, the first game that we funded on Kickstarter in 2014,” she says.”We wondered — if people like collapsing fantasy kingdoms, what about collapsing ‘90s record stores?” Luckily, her loyal audience is willing to follow her wherever she goes.