Is roleplay culture a massive typhoid mary?

I was musing today (then rereading some of the forges narrativism essay) – I think to make a game worth making (worth it to me), it has to start with a story (well, the initial start conditions that a story could be derived from).

I’m in the same position I was with narrativism – I tried to appeal to players and applied force to my own story making. Being your own source of typhoid maryism* is just dandy!

The thing is, I’d considered it from another direction – why am I putting all this player interaction shit in, when I could just write a book? Why am I insisting on putting that in?

Part of it is a stubborn desire to ‘win’ at game design. But that’s not the big thing.

The big thing, I realised, is that if I chose to make a book…*creeeeak CRASH* the doors of the roleplaying community, whether that be friends or forum members, all close their doors in terms of encouragement. All the human encouragement, support, smiles and warmth is IMMEDIATELY cut off, should I decide the right format for my story is a book/comic/home made movie/whatever.

Everything is fixated toward interactive gaming – should you decide that’s not the right format, all encouragement is removed. You might get a ‘oh, that’s nice’ or whatever, but all the people who are clearly electrically excited by roleplay wont give even a volt to a prospective author choosing to write a book.

And you know, I’ve come to think that you don’t decide format until you decide what you want to make a story about.

This means, (perhaps?) unintentionally the roleplay community essentially applies force to the author. Whatever the story, it MUST involve player interaction – that comes first, then your little story has to fit in with that somehow, or otherwise no encouragement or excitement from us. It’s a system – where you get a reward for authoring in the format they prefer, rather than the format that the author thinks is right for the story base. That system isn’t story orientated, it’s format orientated. For story to come first, story decides the format! Not the other way around!

It’s probably unintentional, but I think of the simulationist focus in RP culture and the forges nar essay commenting on how simulationists train people out of their usual reflex toward nar or gamism. It might not be unintentional at all and more of a proliferated habit that supports an overall sim agenda. Or not. Who knows, but my grinding teeth like to at least form a hypothesis or they keep grinding.

Anyway, it’s a two step thing – you might have written stories as a little kid, but as a teen, in game you found the throbbing, beating heart of narrativism and it got you excited. Except you could never have it unless you gamed, because people are excited about other people roleplaying, not other people roleplaying then splitting off to write a book or a comic. It’s all fixated on roleplay.

Not that I’m that fussed about such a system in place. Big deal – once you can see it, you can work around it.

But that’s why I’m writing it – so I can see it!!! Because I’ve been in that system for so long! I turned away from nar since it wasn’t supported. Then with gamism…well, I’ve run many games…I’ve run enough games. I’ve had enough because they still required a story base at the heart of the gamism, to make it worth it to me to do all the prep to run a game (been hating prep more and more every year for years). Because again, format is deciding story.

Avoiding a typhoid mary system is easy once your intellect can see it. But it’s wrenching your heart away, that’s the hard part. That’s always been the hard part. I found my heart there, dammit – how can it be destructive to me when I found it there?

Whats worse is I felt guilty after all my time at the forge – felt I HAD to write a game, or look a big waste of time. Mostly self inflicted guilt, mildly reinforced by a few choice words from there.

Even now I keep going to wrap up this post with “No more – next time, whether I’m writing a computer game or roleplaygame, story will decide format” and I’m fucking up again! Look at the sentence structure – if I’m writing a game (game being a particular format) , story decides the particular format? WTF? The goddamn stuff must be burnt into my neural pathways!

Lets try it afresh – I will craft stories. And those stories will decide their ideal format to be produced in.

Will anyone cheer if I write a book or comic like they’d cheer if I wrote the next dogs in the vineyard? Hell no. But now I can see, I’ll cheer. That’s enough.



*Typhoid Mary (from the forge glossary): GM who employs Force in the interests of “a better story,” usually identifiable as addressing Premise; however, in doing so, the GM automatically de-protagonizes Narrativist players and therefore undercuts his or her own priorities of play, as well as being perceived as a railroader by the players. An extremely dysfunctional subset of Narrativist play.  (note from me: Rather than deprotagonising players, imagine a GM deprotagonising himself. Yeah)


You know, I have considered both RPG and computer game designs where you just collect stuff. And they seem incredible dead ends – the game play is entirely predictable. You will eventually either gather the object, or quit the application.

But played 359 times as of this writing, is this

I wont describe it except to say it’s been put in the RPG category at yoyo games.

And I gawk at it. I have been trying to figure out compelling RPG design for over a decade now…and I look at this, and I wonder if the masses of RPG players want this…this thing I do not like. I actually got my eight year old son to try it – and he just kept playing and playing it. I actually sat down to watch him and…dammit, I got interested in some of the buttons you can click to reveal new info, or where the gold count is shown. And I had to kick myself, because no matter how many doodads there are, how many little things you can reveal, it all ends in entirely predictable result (you get it, or you quit the damn thing).

And I think, perhaps the general roleplay inclined culture just wants this crap. I can’t win at this decade long task, because whatever I’d make, it wouldn’t be like this – and I don’t like this thing, that’s for sure.

My hypothesis is that it’s merely the ‘complexity’ of the world, ie the jagged coastline, the distribution of NPC’s, the shape of the forrest, that contrasts against the simple click-click-click solution to it all. A really, really, really complex world with a really simple solution. I think theres some part of the human brain, perhaps, that gives endorphins when, in a complex environment, you do a simple task over and over that, slowly but surely, beats that complexity. The slowly part is kind of important, as it gives more of that endorphin (this would be why world of warcraft has to be stretched out so much, so as to produce this feeling).

I mean, the comments below the game are great – here’s one that sums it up

Master IOR – “zomg! This is great! So awesome! In some way I feel like I have to keep on playing, even thought there is no reason”

I really think it must release some natural endorphin in the brain.

I also think I actually do like this chemical too. But I do not like it for it’s own sake – I like it if I get it whist achieving something in the real world, like…

  • A: Beating someone at a game
  • B: Improving my own skills, like maths skills, logic skills, whatever
  • C: Gaining real world recognition
  • D: Gaining some real world resource (unlikely, but some people play various games for money, for example)

But I’m starting to wonder, particularly in the case of mmorpgs, if there are millions of people out there who will play for this ‘beat complexity with simple solution’ feeling alone.

I’m thinking whether I can put together an experiment – put together some complex (in some regard) little game world and have very simple solutions to it all. Then I’ll run it and see.

Update: Amazing, it got a staff pick at yo-yo games!?

Your life at steak (pun intended)

You know, when saber tooth tigers were roaming around everywhere, I fully get the idea of putting work ahead of personal happiness. Whatever work it took to fend off those fearsome creatures!

I’ll describe the act of putting work ahead of personal happiness. Lets take eating a steak. Yum! It might not be a personal happiness for everyone, but it’s probably a pretty good general example. Okay, it’s yum, but it’s also full of calories. And it takes calories to do work. Its just a mechanically requisite to do work.

So, are you eating the steak to be happy, or are you eating the steak to do work? What is the act of eating it, for?

About here you’ll often find a ‘Have my cake(steak!) and eat it too’ perception. That you can enjoy the steak and then do the work with the calories it provides.

UNTIL you commit to that work, out of a sense of honour or duty or care or love or whatever the hell.

At that point, if you don’t happen to want steak right now, you still have to eat it in order to do the work. Is eating the steak an act of personal happiness now? No, it’s an act of work.

In fact I wouldn’t call it putting aside personal happiness to do work, I’d call it erasing personal happiness to do work. Acts of personal happiness are about being happy for the sake of being happy. They aren’t about being happy so as to achieve some other goal. That doesn’t even make sense to do – whatever the other goal is, you’d want it because it makes you happy – to give up happiness to achieve happiness?

But that’s what our parents told us, isn’t it? You have to sacrifice happiness now to get it latter. And this is where I get back to the saber tooth tigers. Your parents are damn right when it comes to natural disasters and various other things the world throws at us.

But you see, it’s not the world anymore. What surrounds you? Sabre tooth tigers, or people? People who are supposed to be on the same side as you. But people are still setting up a system where you sacrifice happyness now to get it latter. Or if you don’t want to, you are denied the infrastructures resources (IE, your denied money) and can live as a hobo. And that would be ‘your fault’ for slipping into such a lifestyle.

Were still setting up systems where you sacrifice happiness now for happiness latter, as if there are still sabre tooth tigers around. And you know, there are still dangers from the world – global warming, mutating diseases, etc. Also you get nearby countries (like, ahem, just above Australia) with rather…perhaps sabre tooth tendencies? Anyway, I fully grant there is conflict with the world and even with other countries of men who follow incompatible agendas.

But hell, it is not so bad that for food, warmth and shelter, you must bloody well sacrifice happiness now for the happiness of food, warmth and shelter latter.

There is no bloody war going on! Yet the structure keeps running like everyone has to sacrifice or were all doomed. Are we? There doesn’t seem to be anyone talking about us being on the verge of extinction as a country? You know, along with the talk of the latest reality TV, someone might slip in a word or two about you know, us being on the verge of annihilation.

Oh that’s right, they don’t because we aren’t. But we just keep bloody acting like we do, using a system where we all sacrifice happiness now for happiness latter, no matter how little sense that makes without any threat around. Our parents tell us to do it, and theirs before them, and so on a hundred thousand times, because for millions of years we were on the verge of extinction. From what I heard in terms of genetic tracing, the human race was down to two thousand people at one point. Think about that – that would mean all the ones who would work, would live. And be the seed of what we have left today.

Now all that’s left is the reflex to work to live. If you want to complain about your life, how things are monetarily, then you can blame this reflex in yourself and how you support this reflex in other people. The big corporate bastards aren’t screwing you down, you are. Your nurturing a reflex that is completely inapplicable, yet degrades your life. Those corporate bastards certainly work you dry, but without your ‘survival’ reflex and how you congratulate others for working rather than being happy right now, they wouldn’t be able to.

Ask yourself what’s so dangerous that you have to work the next hour, rather than play? And if it isn’t so dangerous, why is it that to get food, warmth and shelter, you must put work first and behave as if extinction is around the corner?

Crouching tiger, hidden win condition

I had this idea the other day for a game design type. Basically it’d be like a board game, but the win condition is hidden from everyone at the start. It’s generated randomly – perhaps some cards delt into a pile face down, or some such method – basically there is an answer physically produced, but no one knows it yet.

Play itself would involve – I guess groping for the win condition. The generation of the win condition would be spread into it’s small parts. For example, if one of the things you need to win is 50 grob skins, then this is one single part of the win condition. There would be some game play mechanics which allow you to earn the knowledge of one of these win condition parts.

I was thinking perhaps only the person who wins it, knows it (but has to show it after X amount of rounds). That’s tempting. But I would like to explore the idea of people using the mechanics to earn the winning condition info, and everyone knowing what they find when they find it. I think that’d make it a somewhat GM like effect – someone who sets out to find the win condition is take (some) control of setting the pace of the game. The hidden info makes it more a pure gamist thing. As much as gamism is my thing, I’m curious.

In terms of playing, I think it’d produce that sort of hazy mystery feeling I sometimes get in roleplay and even computer RPG’s – a sort of lost in the events of a world that matter, but I just don’t know how they matter. Too often in roleplay that feeling is lost because the GM’s focus is easily guessed, so what matters and what doesn’t matter becomes all too clear (well, it does to me – to many roleplayers, I think they either can’t see it and/or try to block it out).

Back to the pacing, the mechanics would allow resource gathering, but without a win condition it’s kind of hazy as to why you’d do it. I think there’s a creative void here, centered around not knowing the win condition, yet it still existing. Actually, not creative void – it’s not empty, just unknown. A creative ignorance? Nah, no one likes the word ignorance – but it does describe this pretty aptly.

On a side note, someone might have all the resources needed for the win, when the win conditions are revealed. They only win once ALL the conditions are revealed, though.

Also, I love my post title – I almost think the movie title ‘Crouching tiger, hidden dragon’ could be refering to the mystery and hidden win condition I talk about. Not in a direct way, but in a hazy, mysterious way 🙂

My perceptual shift – is my respect your only proof?

I wonder if I have this perceptual shift relative to the larger population.

I was looking at this flash game review:

The reviewer himself states that the game just gives the illusion of agency – the illusion you have some control.

In the comments I note that he has no evidence that can prove or disprove that. He just made that up that ‘fact’. Indeed my own hypothesis is that the game demonstrates that when overloaded with information, when given a choice between remaining in A: an uncertain state and B: making up a fact then treating it as true, people will by and large choose B.

While I choose A. Though I have to be careful in the above to say it’s a hypothesis – I have no evidence to prove or disprove it. But let me tell you, it’s hard to make a point about uncertainty whilst remaining uncertain 🙂

I do make hypothesis in the game – like that in corners your more often to get clusters of balls because of the diagonal paths they typically take, or that for large combo’s you can’t use corners, it has to be the middle in order so as to ripple both left and right.

The thing is, these plans accept I’m working the odds – I don’t have direct control, but I can make plans which overlap the odds in a way that favours me more than raw randomness then test those plans by implementing them (over and over, typically).

It’s about then that I realised it was actually possible that other people think agency/the ability to effect things, is binary. As in, you either have it or you don’t.

Further, it occured to me that people might be thinking that they know how much agency they have. Like they actually know it, as if they have a mental ruler they measured it by.

For myself, I know my personal agency is dictated by circumstance – and I really have no true knowledge of circumstance*.

The curiously dangerous thing is, other peoples beliefs beget actions, and their actions are part of my circumstances. When they think they know whether they have agency, while I know circumstance dictates my agency, well…I dunno.

I suppose what happens is that to maintain human equality, you end up talking to them with a respect to their belief that their actions are with full agency, while speaking for yourself from a circumstances dictate agency. Curiously this is a spiral – emboldened by your respect, they will beget more actions which affect your circumstances and your agency, usually reducing it. That, or you give up on maintaining human equality.

Thinking on my own behaviour over time and how it’s changed, I think I’ve given up to a certain extent. Too many people have taken my respect for their belief as the very proof that their belief is real. Here, watch as I take that respect away to show there is no proof – oh, I’m being rude now, and can be dismissed?

I think there needs to be a change, to inform them that I don’t think they know how much agency they have, that circumstances decide their agency. Bit hard to say it in a casual conversation way though.

* note: I have considered how I can’t really prove I don’t know my circumstances. My hypothesis is that by and large you don’t, but there may be what one might call ‘destiny nodes’ where one is wrong about not knowing circumstances and one does actually know circumstances perfectly. However, such moments do not come to fruition if one chooses to believe one doesn’t know the moment – one can disbelieve destiny. One can also believe there is a moment of destiny where there is none. Most people talk and talk and talk about what they think is the way it is, then think that proves something enough to base some further action on that. As I understand it, the only way to know if you are destined at a particular point, is to tread the path.

Tiny adventure design musings

Some meandering thoughts on designing my own tiny adventures game.

First of all, each entry and it’s solution/failure result will be an expression of what I think is important. I think I will talk about survival in a sort of hard wilderness. There may be magic elements, but thats just to be a more fun representation of mundane problems. It’s still talking about what’s important to me and that’s the point of reading it, to find out what’s important to me. But there’s also going to be some room to reflect on what’s important to you. More on that shortly.

Each entry is a problem situation and again, the solution is talking about what I think is important (what I think is a good solution). The fail result is also what I find important, in what you would do to salvage the situation upon failing. Even the stat used to roll against will be a reflection of what I think is tested in the situation. I’m not sure what stats I’ll have – I think I will have wisdom, because for all it’s faults I think it’s sad no other games apart from D&D have wisdom – wisdom is a real element, even in our modern world. Well, probably no other games, anyway. And I might have some about love and romance, which then allows me to use the tag ‘love’ in this post semi legitimately >:) and perhaps increasing page views. God I’m mercenary – but I genuinely would be really pleased to hear someone comment about love and how its many questions might be implemented!

Finally, there player gets to reflect on the situation. I’m not sure how to present it, but basically you get three options to choose from, each of them gives you a certain amount of points towards a certain stat power up (used like a potion). These stat power ups would last X amount of encounters.

The three options might be something like how you would feel if you were there:

  1. Confident that your taking the right course of action.
  2. Speculative about another way to handle the situation.
  3. Hate it being in the situation and would have really tried another path.

Each would have different stat bonuses given for each encounter.

And here’s the twist – the confident one would always give more points towards a stat bonus than the rest.

“BUT!!!! That means we’d always choose confident as its optimal, and what if I’m not!?”

What if your not indeed – this is the thing. The others will give various stat bonuses and there’s a random element. You might very well be able to get through comfortably when you have no confidence in what I present as important. You can make your own path, in other words, and present your own arguement for what’s effective. Sure, the games slanted against you – that’s how I make a convincing arguement! I’d hardly make it go against my arguement! 🙂

I doubt that’s attractive to the vast majority of roleplayers, who are incredibly fiction focused – here, the fun thing is about a man to man discussion with me – well, you read my arguement in the game and argue against it. Then we probably discuss it latter in a forum or whatever. The payoff is hardly in the fiction, even though the thing which is the payoff (the discussion) will heavily reference the fiction.

Ah, that was some good meandering!