The name of the Monochrome Workshop derives from the style of art that the Founding Artists selected as the source for the game’s inspiration: 1920s black and white cartoons, which often used what is referred to as “rubber hose” animation.
It’s not surprising that these artists have chosen to reach backward in history for their inspiration. This older style of animation offers evident joy, while those old black and white cartoons are magical in their oddness. Each object carries its own life, personality, and movement. Everywhere you look, movement and activity ripple, often in rhythm to the music composed to push the characters forward through their motions.
As such, the team set out to create a role-playing game (RPG) that uses similar kinds of characters and drawings as those that would appear in well-known cartoons from that era. But the story created as the basis for this game offers a profound insight into our modern world.
An older art style with a newish story, offering insight into the modern world.
The main character, Otto, lives in a town called Vaudeville. Most of Vaudeville’s residents are happy with their lives as entertaining cartoons; they exist to bring joy, as playful icons, without a need for a deeper cause or purpose. In other words, they live in a two-dimensional reality.
Otto is different – he feels out of place, isolated, and unable to connect with the broader community. Otto’s few friends form an “underground” community, apart from the main body of Vaudeville residents. Even then, Otto’s unsure of his place in the world, seeking out connections wherever he can find them.
This sense of isolation amidst a world that appears constantly happy and thriving, by comparison, is a very modern sentiment, especially in a world dominated by social media; such a plotline would be very out of place in a typical 1920s cartoon. Yet, by using ideas and concepts from the 1920s and 30s, the story becomes more believable.
Art does not magically spring forth to the isolated mind of an individual artist – quite the contrary. The artwork of any era reflects the cultural and social trends of the moment. Carried within that moment are the archetypes, symbols of language, and representations from the past, which reemerge to be discovered anew by a younger generation ready to recast pieces of history into new forms, thus becoming reborn.
So, it should not be surprising that a group of young artists have chosen to begin their collaboration by focusing on an era in which a very different form of social anxiety lurked underneath a gilded age of superficial economic advancement.
The 1920s offered a period of global prosperity and dislocation not dissimilar to our own times. The rich gained in status and wealth, industrialization crushed the working class, crime became even more dangerous as elites stretched the bounds of ethics and law, the wars of past generations caused social and economic dislocation, and the corrosive influence of colonialism haunted the power structures of the world.
Our world today still struggles with these issues in different forms, even with the tremendous advances in technology and economic capacity. The tools that are designed to connect us make us feel even less connected; the opportunities for employment and advancement offered to this next generation appear less robust than previous generations.
Otto is an everyperson for a new generation from an old-time, each of whom will start with a black, white, and gray reality that superficially presents as uniformly joyous but yet reveals deep and hidden challenges.
Yet Otto has power – the power to entertain, to shine forth as a person with a unique combination of humor, insightful yet somewhat cynical and sometimes dark commentary, a fighting spirit, and the ability to make friends. In other words:
Otto is just like all of us who, even in difficult times, remain open to each other’s differences, work hard to understand each other and find a common path forward to fight the evil we encounter in the world.
Ultimately, this story is about overcoming isolation, building community, finding yourself, and embracing those moments in which a group of like-minded friends can band together, build a team, and, with that team, confront and overcome adversity.
And that is the story of the Monochrome Workshop.
Brian Regli, Chief Facilitator