Where Radical Imagination Blooms – Mycelium Youth Network’s Gaming for Justice Adventures
What if you could reverse climate doomism with the roll of a die? Now, imagine a world where the Black Panther Party had actual panthers who protected the community alongside adventurers as they worked to solve problems like food deserts. Imagine a world where the only limits to creating social change were your imagination. What would you create?
These are the sorts of questions that players grapple with when they play through Mycelium Youth Network’s (MYN) Gaming for Justice adventures. MYN is an SF Bay Area nonprofit organization building climate resilience with frontline youth through hands-on education and community action.
Since 2020, our Gaming for Justice (G4J) program has been running original Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) campaigns exploring Bay Area-based environmental and social justice histories reimagining in fantasy and science fiction settings. In the program, youth engage with historical and ongoing struggles, such as air pollution, rising sea levels, gentrification, and more. Unlike in traditional classroom education, however, they navigate these challenges through the context of gameplay, where they can try on new identities and skills, work cooperatively to innovate solutions, and freedom dream new worlds into existence.
A Vision to Rewrite History
Through the month of August, MYN is running a Kickstarter campaign to publish a first-of-its-kind compendium, complete with ten original Gaming for Justice adventures, imaginative artwork by BIPOC artists and visionaries, new character-building options and D&D items, and more.
What do these adventures look like?
In “Fighting Tooth and Claw for Justice,” a group called the Claws of Justice has been watching the local police force and documenting abuses of power disguised as efforts to “keep the peace.” Adventurers must decide how to support the social programs they’re implementing while protecting townspeople from the aggressive Houndstooth Guard. In “Stormward Bound,” while helping to set up barrels at their school to harvest rainwater from recent atmospheric rivers, a sudden surge in the storm sweeps a group of students away from the familiar. It deposits them in an alternate Lake Merritt. Adventurers must ban together to figure out how to return home, or stay in this parallel world for good.
Most (9 out of 10) of these place-based stories have been fully written and play-tested with youth, and Kickstarter will allow MYN to complete the final adventure and commission more artwork and research to be included in the book. Each “campaign,” or story, will include:
● Environmental context and world building
● List of characters, including villains and non-playable characters (NPCs)
● Learning outcomes and themes
● Original artwork and maps
● Original D&D items
● Historical context inspired by the Bay Area
The compendium creates a radically hopeful narrative of resilience, activism, and collaboration that will be applicable far beyond the Bay Area.
In recent years, role-playing games have risen in popularity but largely still face a lack of character diversity and are limited to common settler colonial tropes in their narratives. Seemingly a world away, the climate field has historically suffered from a deficit of imagination and hope, contributing to the movement’s collective mental unwellness and unsustainability. This compendium bridges these two issues, creating a unique intersection where frontline communities can see themselves represented in narratives and where radical imagination can bloom.
We understand radical imagination to be the ability to envision the world and its various systems not as they are but as they could be. It recognizes that the world can and should be changed and that the future does not start in the future—it starts with the present and with daring to reckon with all the possibilities that could exist.
What does radical imagination look like in the context of G4J campaigns? These D&D adventures are rooted in real life happenings, but the lens of fantasy allows us to see and experience them in a new way. We can engage with places that are familiar as if they are new and re-examine history to learn from the past. We question more, try new things, dream up bigger solutions, and work together all the way through.
We’ve seen the necessity for more opportunities like G4J many times, especially in the climate field, where doomism and hopelessness are pervasive and limit meaningful action. Registration at our in-person G4J events has sold out two years in a row. Last year, we ran a family-inclusive live-action role-playing (LARP) game inspired by one of our campaigns around air pollution at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, CA.
This summer, we ran the same campaign through the tabletop role-playing (TTRPG) format in a room full of climate adaptation specialists at the California Adaptation Forum in Pomona, CA. We’ve seen the interest in our program grow exponentially, and we’re excited to publish a resource that will allow people to Game for Justice on their own.
Join the Quest
In our all-or-nothing campaign, people can “pledge” their support by agreeing to donate a certain dollar amount that corresponds with rewards, ranging from shoutouts in the book acknowledgements to non-playable character (NPC) voting access to VIP D&D sessions facilitated by our staff. You can also choose to donate directly to the project in lieu of receiving a reward.
Playing through these environmental justice adventures gives people the space and opportunity to dream, attain emotional catharsis, build relationships, explore aspects of their identities, and learn more about places that may be familiar and others they may have never had access to before.
Hope and radical imagination are integral to how we equip our communities and rising generations to build resilience for ourselves. Our compendium will bring to life the mycelial network that transports nutrients, information, memories, and visions across possible times and impossible places, giving us a chance to reimagine, reconnect, and recreate our worlds in the present.
We cannot build the future we want to live in unless we can envision it first. Join us as we bring more imagination into reality!
Learn more about Mycelium Youth Network and how you can get involved here.