A tiny journey in design

I was contemplating the cute little D&D facebook adventures


I was considering how to make my own little game like that, because I found it fun.

Essentially I know the key element of it’s fun – it’s got a good “low effort over high reward given” ratio. Meaning the amount of effort you have to put in to get a reward is low, compared to the reward. It’s fun in other ways, but I’d say this is the primary narcotic/attraction the game has – that it creates simple little stories is a secondary or tertiary narcotic.

I’m writing this because I went on a little journey and it might be of interest to others. I lay down with my notepad and wrote “Reality – while the light effort/large reward ratio works with others, as designer I do not get to enjoy its effect. I have put too much effort in already and will need more to complete the project”

But I still felt there was some way I can win at this, some way I can do it – the D&D facebook game seems so simple!

I can’t – the raw effort/reward ratio eludes me, unless I pretend that all the work to get it going wasn’t work. I’m not about to delude myself, so that’s a no go. I am cut off – I cannot achieve this goal, at all.

Next thought, almost blurred dangerously into that one, is that I can just write out bits of design I find amusing, with the express goal that I just write one amusing bit of design, and if I feel like writing more that’s nice and great, but the goal is just to write one amusing thing. Then if the thing or things I write actually make up a game that can actually be played, that’s a nice side effect!

The dangerous thing was I was close to not admitting to myself I could not achieve the first goal. It seems so close – the fun of the facebook app so simple to achieve. But it’s primary draw is that it doesn’t take effort to get it’s rewards. I would have to put in alot of effort to get my own going. That would mean a very high effort Vs reward ratio – unless I go into denial about how much effort I put in.

I still don’t think I can fully, emotionally grasp that I cannot achieve this – I think I have achieved intellectual understanding only. I think because the goal is based on almost pure emotion (the feeling of getting alot for doing little is a particular emotion). I think emotions are used to responding to outside, physical stimulous – emotions aren’t used to responding to the very fact they emotions exist.

Thus my emotions will probably bring me back to this behaviour – that’s partly why I intellectually write this out, as a reminder message to myself. The sickness in sickness post is like that too – there are things in it I haven’t emotionally internalised, and when my intellectual memory blanks (ie, I sleep, or think about alot of other stuff), it’s gone from mind and spirit.

I’ve run into this before, where I achieve more if I sit down and write out my thoughts on paper. It annoys me that apparently greater conciousness requires such a primitive outside thing as paper and pen involved with my inner thoughts.

Anyway, having written it out I can atleast intellectually say, I cannot achieve the first goal! The second goal is to see if anything design like is amusing to me to write down – just one thing – if I write a bunch, that’s nice but optional. If they form a game, that’s nice – but the primary goal of this activity is just to amuse myself with something designey. God that’s a vague word – designey!

And heh, I have concerns past this – I think if these designs do make a game/activity I find fun, if I keep building on them and do not keep the original versions, I may be throwing away versions I like (throwing them away by modifying them into something which is not the same, and not keeping a copy). So I can kind of see my ‘design any old thing’ modus in conflict with my game playing modus. But atleast I can see that conflict and that means I can learn to ride it, if need be.

Other peoples roleplay designs – seem to do this to me every time!

Well, writing it out helps me internalise it to some degree more than I was doing before. Still bugs me that to be more like the proper self awareness I think I really am at heart, I need tools outside of my mind.

See, just a little game did that to me? No, I don’t cope with the world at large – I move through it, but I wouldn’t say I cope! 😉

You want an activity that is about agreeing about fiction…you want it, therefore you have it, right?

The title just about poses the question entirely.

Okay, you want an activity where you all agree about fiction.

So you’d think if you want to agree, then you’d just agree.

And since you can just agree, and the other people you know can just agree, you can just decide to have an activity which is about agreeing with the fiction and BAM, you will get what you decided?

Will you?

I don’t really know how to put it any better than that, without getting ‘esoteric’ or whatever.

What if your future self does NOT wish to agree to the fiction? Haven’t you ever changed your mind on an issue? Something new comes up in between now and then, some new reason not to agree with a certain bit of fiction you otherwise would have agreed with.

I would say you cannot agree to a fiction agreement session – because something might come up between now and when that session arrives, that makes you unable to agree with some/all of the fiction. Agreeing to a fiction agreement session is the same as agreeing to a win tatslotto session. It’s a matter of chance as to whether you can do it – your agreement is rather meaningless, except like a lottery, you have to have bought a ticket to have a chance at all. However, having bought your ticket, that’s everything you can do.

Nah, too esoteric this piece, I bet. It doesn’t have enough practical ramification clear and present. I guess I could say it’s talking about a certain kind of madness – there’s a practical ramification. But everyone will get really uncomfortable with that as a practicality, I suppose. I don’t know why – I could say ‘look both ways before you cross the street’ and people don’t stress that I’m talking about someone potentially walking in front of a bus. In fact they find the advice boring and humdrum, not even a sliver of controversy. But if I say ‘look both ways before you cross your mind’ they freak out, like being run down by madness is worse and a taboo subject, while being run down and turned into sidewalk pizza by a bus is a perfectly comfortable subject. Ha! I suppose I should be explicit – when I say the problem is a kind of madness, I don’t bring up madness as a social stigma to shame and belittle – I bring it up as a problem like being hit by a bus is a problem. No shame, just impact.

Open plan gaming, a rough outlay of a procedure

I realised I’d do well to describe a game procedure – I’ll call it open plan gaming. This is a rough layout – it’s hard for me to remember all the components.

To start off with, there’s a stark understanding at the table that people are just going to be adding story fragments, for the majority of play. Story fragments are like the toitoise beats the hare, because slow and steady rules – or even that if you have sex, the psycho will immediately kill you. They don’t have to be particularly rational or coherant. Often they will be a chinese whisper version of another story – just a warped fragment. That’s okay – mistakes are another way of looking at things. Also sometimes you’ll just make up story fragments from wholecloth – be careful not to get too attached to these. They probably do deserve center stage in their own story, but this is open plan gaming – it’s not there to nurture your gentle inner creativity. It’s more like making soup by throwing in whatever sounds good. If you’ve got a fantastic ingrediant, I’d suggest keeping it away from the pot or putting some in the pot and making your own recipe with it latter.

Second; other people are going to riff off of those components and bring in their own. It’s really just riffing – don’t get too excited (or unexcited) about any links you can get going. If everything seems to be fitting together in some amazing way, that’s great. But it’s doesn’t make or break the activity whether it happens – it’s adding components that’s the activities key. That it fits together is nice, but it’s just bonus points. Make sure you don’t get so excited that bonus points become the point of the activiity – they aint, even though they can be exciting.

Third, you all deliberately try and push for whatever direction you want as an individual. It’s like everyones hand is on an ouija board, but everyone knows everyones going to give it a little nudge towards various letters. No one pretends the ouija board moves itself, but they do know that since it’s a mixed up combination of everyones hand pressure, it’s slightly random and slightly guided. Also everyone knows its quite possible to utterly take over the board as everyone else just gives it nudges – don’t do this, not because it’s bad, but because you could do this at home already. The semi randomness of the ouija board is a special thing – if you want full authorship control, that’s understandable, but you can get that at home or you can even call us all over and well sit around cheering you on, drinking your beer, while you brainstorm with complete solo control. That’s a note for the desperate authors out there – their understandable. Some people will just take over because their jerks – potentially even people you know well (bad week at work, control issues, whatever and bam, they grope for full control) – now you know, you decide what a take over is and when to walk out. No one else can really tell you, without being a take over merchant themself. Just remember, whoever silently respects you leaving was likely sharing power as best they could – silence says alot here; remember the quiet people.

Frankly all of that is usually pretty intuitive – usual folks off the street don’t get mad, they’ll just make a face and cease participating. I suppose I’m saying it, because if you need too much instruction on it, it’s probably not an activity for you.

Okay, now you have this ouija board thing. Basically you aim for the ending you want – everyone else does, as you know, and you’ll end up with some kind of wacky hybrid ending of what you want and what they wanted. It probably wont make alot of sense as an ending (or maybe it’ll make a ton of sense, who knows).

Here’s the odd bit – I don’t expect it to make sense just in terms of what story was cobbled together. What makes sense to me is that everyone contributed bits of story that are somehow important to them – these people added what is important to them. These people I care about. That make some sort of importance in the whole mixed up ouija soup, because its made of the important parts of people that I care about (note: if your intending to play with people you don’t care about, not even in a faint way, oh dear god…). At the very least, the whole great lump tells me more about these people, and I think the lumps I added tells them more about me. So at worst, it’s like a meandering conversation – which isn’t worst at all – meandering talk is great to share. And occasionally it’ll shape into something coherant story – my god, that tells you something about all these people AND it makes history amongst them as a repeatable part of them and what is important.

And that’s it. That’s the raw, McGuyver version, making it up with whatever components you have around.

When you actually bring this into contact with a system designed to influence the ouija board, its…it’s like another hand on the ouija board, but one utterly inhuman. It can also be granted the absolute fik’n power I talked about before, if you’d trust it, to actual interesting effect. Alot of current designs would take absolute control, but due to shit currency design, someone at the table can mechanically take it over and you get that crap effect I talked about above. The usual RP denial is that they are bad to do that – which begs the question, why do you guys keep using a system where what they can do is bad, if its so fik’n bad. Or the other denial is to discard the dice, which raises the question why bother owning a system. But that goes on forever, that crap – here I talk about an actual activity and how its fun, rather than harp on about broken, broken activities.

Anyway, letting system get its paw on the ouija board is a whole different thing – that’s what makes it potentially worth buying a game system. After all, if it did the same old thing as before, why bother? So, since it’s a whole nother thing, I’ll take a stab at describing it in another post. I’m not even sure I do raw open plan gaming justice here – it might need a few more posts itself.

Hope you try open plan gaming sometime – for some of you, it’s probably nothing new and your wondering why I took the time to describe something which is about as new and different as breathing. Well, I hope I described it a bit more than that – there is yoga breathing, for example – there can be more potential technique involved with a day to day activity than first meets the eye. 🙂

In game ‘truth’, as if the truth wasn’t a white eared elephant already

I was browsing through Lumpleys site

I read the line “You need to have a system whereby narration becomes in-game truth.” (it’s from a few years back) and it struck me, atleast with what I know today, how wrong that is. It probably sounds all naturaley and roleplayeyeyey and what-not, but that’s what I mean – it takes what I know today to just see the wrong (though I realise I’m one line quoting).

The reference to ‘truth’ is the uncomfortable seat of it all. If I started talking to you about this tortoise, right, and this hare, right, who decide to have a race – am I talking any kind of truth to you? Of course bloody not, you know I’m telling one of them old stories where everything in it is just part of conveying a central moral.

See, in the past if I’d heard roleplayers talk about truth in the game, I’d think they were just being a bit over the top with their wording. But seriously, roleplayers actually refer to truth in their game. Perhaps, if your lucky, they’ll add the prefix ‘in game’ before the truth. But ultimately, ULTIMATELY, they are ACTUALLY talking about the truth. No metaphor, no funny amorphasized animals used to convey a moral or a message or even a question – they actually refer to fik’n truth existing in the game.

It’s bizarre – it’s like they can’t work out who wins the race, rabbit or hare, unless they treat the shared ideas of rabbit and hare as ‘truth’. It’s as if they live in a parralel world where stories are started, then just exist in a flux state that needs to be resolved by some truth internal to them. Actually, I suppose that is where most roleplayers live – the bald truth of stories seems to evade them. If someone pulls their pockets out, then flops out their willy calling ‘White eared elephant!’ the ‘source’ of the elephant is pretty bloody obvious. But to a roleplayer, the rabbit and hare are some sort of creature that exists – they aren’t an extension of some other human, like the white eared elephant is, no, somehow the rabbit and hare just exist. The essential idea that they are puppets and someone has their hand up their bums, completely slips the mind of the average roleplayer – even when it’s their hand up the puppets bum. At those points, they tend to wonder why play is dull and lifeless, seemingly unable to see that the only hand in the puppet is theirs.

Anyway, I’m cruel – I’m pulling out the laser cutter on one line. But it’s like finding a landmine in a third world country – sure, there are millions more, why am I picking on this one being planted here? I guess I gotta take things in bite sized chunks.

The sickness in sickness

I think there’s a second layer in sickness. There’s this layer where your supposed to overcome it, get over it and get on with – well, frankly all the stuff society has decided to surround you with (it’s not like there are sabre tooth tigers still around to deal with – ie, whatever surrounds you is there because someone decided – someone supposedly on the same side). This is second sickness, because like a virus fooling a cell into duplicating itself, this too is a virus and it fools your mind into duplicating it.

Well, to be more exact, you trust it and that ‘fools’ you. But the insistancy that you pick yourself up and continuing societies great march (ie, tend the machines you’ve been assigned) knows no limit in terms of trust – it follows no overall structure, it simply bullies, shoves, cajoules, demands. It doesn’t appear to if you think it must have some limit, that it must follow some structure. Whether it does or it is merely your own invention that it must, I’ll leave to the reader.

Grand Theft Game-o

There’s a peculular blindspot around in roleplay, it seems. In normal society, there’s a trend that if goods are advertised as X, then when you buy them, they are X.

X, as opposed to Y or Z.

I had all the fun of the fair about that recently on a forum. It was rather like the monty python dead parrot sketch – I kept point out that the ‘parrot’ was dead at sale, and they’d play out the other side, with the usual snide assertions where they have given up on actually caring about you and it’s all territory to them now. My partner says it’s a guy thing – particularly a guy roleplay thing.

The specific issue here is that roleplay books call themselves ‘games’ but are apparently ‘toolkits’.

They just get this exception, without having to communicate it to any potential buyer. Of course I tried to sell the people in the forum some ‘genuine’ rolexes, but they didn’t seem to have a breach in their mental firewalls that’d let me make make casholas on the fake rolexes – it was just in terms of roleplay books.

The primary thing that seemed to convince them is numbers – if enough people believe game == toolkit, then it does. No information need be conveyed at the point of sale, it’s just osmotically known by potential purchasers. I imagine that’d mean there was this moment where a guy was standing in a hobby store, looking at the roleplay books and then this voice, vader style perhaps, enters his mind ‘All games…are toolkits!’. And the guy would just go ‘Oh!’ and clearly wouldn’t buy them thinking they were fikin’ chess.

They seem to act as if the word ‘game’ never came with any physical properties linked with it – as if it’s just a placeholder, like X, Y or Z is a placeholder for whatever you want to put in it. But then that can’t be right, because what they put in it, you better damn well believe it or it’s plenty of pisant bullying for you!

I’m pretty sure I’ve heard gamers complain about ordering a book and recieving it in the mail with a damaged cover. It’s kind of bizarre that if the cover doesn’t match the product, they’d go off, but if the word ‘game’ on the cover doesn’t match contents of the book, they totally let that slip.

I doubt anyone will find this, but no doubt if they do it’ll involve even defining, then using that definition as a fact since everyone uses it ‘I’ve got 500 people who define that parrot as alive!’. Anyway, cleared my head a bit.