It all started after the 2016 election. The TESA Collective, which makes games and tools about social causes, was in a bind. They wanted to make a game that would inspire players to change the world, but they knew people also needed a break from all the crap. How could they accomplish their goal and combat the fatigue? So, co-founder Brian Vanslyke blurted out: “Cats fighting fascism—in space?”
That’s how Space Cats Fight Fascism was born. The card game, which is about exactly what the title promises, recently hit its goal on Kickstarter (the campaign ends May 31). This means that sometime around the holidays, two-to-four friends and family members can gather around the dinner table and play a cooperative game where sentient animals in the year 3,000,000 are waging a galactic rebellion against a rising tide of fascism and anti-cat bias perpetuated by the Rat Pack. In an interview with io9, Vanslyke said TESA wanted to make a game that educated people about how ideologies of hate can rise and spread, using one of the best tools for speculative storytelling: science fiction.
“It was so awesome to work on a game that was scifi or fantasy, in that we could take liberties with reality and tell a story in that way. To be like, ‘Cats teleport now, deal with it!’” Vanslyke said. “Science fiction has been a tool for social change and for telling stories about fighting fascism for ages. I mean, you look at Ursula Le Guin, you look at Star Wars... These are all inspirations for making art through science fiction about fighting fascism or ideologies of hate. We’re not doing something new. We’re building off that rich cultural history.”
Vanslyke said the number-one goal for the game is, of course, to be fun—you don’t have to play it with the goal of learning about fighting fascism, but it’s definitely a takeaway you get from playing it. After all, educational games are kind of their thing: Previous games from TESA include Rise Up: The Game of People & Power, about building social movements using tools like protesting, social media, and community activism. That game was developed before the 2016 election, and Vanslyke said they didn’t realize how pertinent it would be until the Trump presidency came to power.
However, they soon discovered pertinence can be joined by anxiety, depression, and exhaustion. Given the rise in hate campaigns, propaganda, discrimination, and racism, Vanslyke said they found people weren’t wanting to “play” something they were already trying to do every day. But at the same time, they didn’t want to feel complacent.
“These days, people are just being so tired of the realness of having to constantly fight for your rights, against this sort of proto-fascist surge we’re seeing in our country,” Vanslyke said. “Fascism is terrible and awful and we’ve gotta fight against it, but we also have to find ways to laugh and it and not let the fear of it control our lives.” Space Cats Fight Facism was their solution.
Even though the game might be about escapism, the real world has still reared its ugly head. After announcing the game, Vanslyke said their social media campaigns have been pummeled with pro-fascist messages, along with racist, homophobic, and other hateful comments. Vanslyke said they first responded by trying to positively engage, but quickly learned that that wouldn’t fix anything. So, they turned to funny cat GIFs, and then removed men as a demographic from their targeted advertising—a move Vanslyke says cut down the harassment by about 90 percent.
“It reminds you, ‘Oh, there are people who actually believe this kind of stuff,’” Vanslyke said. “There are people who believe this, and that’s why we made this game.”