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It's a Big, Big World We Play In

July 24th, 2007 (01:13 pm)

Last time I spoke about things which fell pretty closely to role-playing as in role-playing games (RPGs). Now let's examine some that fall outside the limits presented.

We'll start with 'solo' games. Erring towards the boundless side, I'll start with one suggested in the course of my original discourse on the subject. Let's take a moment to consider how 'lying' could be an RPG. (Being a liar or a con man was held up as an example of playing an RPG without anyone noticing.)

It does have a lot of the qualities most people associate with RPGs, but can anyone give an example of where it differs? I'll start: the person playing (inside the chara or liar) isn't really relating to anyone socially. Imagine bluffing your way into a fancy dress party; it could be fun and all, but in the end, you're all alone. Even the 'spoils' aren't really shareable; you can't reveal 'role-playing lies' without a certain amount of negative response. You might get your jollies, but you're all alone.

Given this, how could we change to making it more like an RPG? What would you do? I'm kinda naive here so I could use some suggestions. My first thought is to recruit others...and set some boundaries. No one should get hurt with this (how is that fun?), even bystanders. I'd also limit the participants to a sort of uniform or shared milieu. What I wouldn't do is require them to know each other or begin at the same time. For the most part, this sounds like an alternative reality game. We'll close; what do you think I'm missing?

Another suggestion was Holiday Villages (I love these, I don't know how I missed it¹). These are little dioramas that people often display during the winter holiday season. They have small houses and even smaller figures (sometimes moving about them). Aficionados really try to tell a story or two through this kind of sculpture. The question is, if you thought of this as an RPG, where is it deficient?

That one is a tough one. I can't really think of what it's missing or how to 'fix' it. I just have this vague sensation that it isn't. Can anyone help out here? (In the comments below.) I suppose the same answer would almost be true for model railroad layout builders (who do much the same, but with moving trains...and keeping to scale-sized schedules). But I'm stumped.

I do know I have some of the most well-read and thoughtful readers, so I thought I'd reach out to you. Thanks!

Next time we'll look at many of the different kinds of writing.


¹ We're planning to start a small on for all-year-round Halloween in our apartment!


Posted by: r_earley_clark (r_earley_clark)
Posted at: July 27th, 2007 06:27 pm (UTC)

"We're planning to start a small on for all-year-round Halloween in our apartment! "

Awesome. I'd be curious to see what sort of game you could make up with that set up.

As for it's "deficiency" as an rpg, I think there are two possible places:

One, often only a single person interacts with the set-up and it may become static because of that.

Two, even if multiple people are interacting, it may be at different times.

Although, now that I'm pondering it, that could be kind of interesting in itself. I wonder what would happen if, for example, you set up the village to _imply_ some sort of story situation. Then your missus writes fiction based on it, then re-arranges things a bit. Then you write a bit of fiction about the new set-up and change the set up again.

You keep taking turns like this for some set amount of time, then exchange the writing and see how the other person interpretted what you were doing.

Interesting thought experiment anyway.

Posted by: r_earley_clark (r_earley_clark)
Posted at: July 28th, 2007 02:10 am (UTC)

I actually posted a slightly longer version of this idea over at Levi Kornelson's gamecraft site if anyone would like to take a look.

Posted by: fang_langford (fang_langford)
Posted at: July 30th, 2007 12:14 am (UTC)
An Interesting Experiment

Well, our Halloween Towne won't be for gaming. We've too many settings for that already (and my wife isn't that experimental).

I don't think that asynchronistic play is inherently 'not a role-playing game.' Play by Mail, Play by eMail, Play by Post Forums and so on are all clearly role-playing games, so asynchronism isn't the problem.

I hope this isn't a problem, but I also don't think adding writing is necessarily the solution either. Obviously, co-writing a novel is not role-playing gaming. (Although I know an author who takes what they experience in RPGs to start writing with.) To be honest, I'm very dubious about the whole gaming <=> storytelling connection; I don't think it exists. I hope that doesn't bother you.

Further, writing fiction back and forth (when it is a role-playing game) doesn't require the village to begin with. Using rudimentary Play by Mail not only superimposes another form of gaming onto this situation, but it virtually renders the village itself optional.

Without the writing, I hate to say it, individuals moving the elements around gets to looking a lot like a board game. The real question is what rituals can we follow that make this 'board game' into a role playing game?

Please forgive me if I'm putting words in your mouth, but it seems like there is a certain distancing of play from the anthropomorphisation of the villagers. Being 'the hand of god,' and moving them about to serve the goals of your fiction, goes way outside of what I think I'm sensing about the gamishness of this set up.

How about this. Each player takes one or more of the 'movable' characters and creates a background for them. You earn 'points' for problems they face and spend points for the 'resources' they can bring to bear. For example, the figure you choose could be a doctor (spending points), but have large debts (earning points). During positioning, you can move your character around and work with the rest of the village. The first player who's chara interacts with something in the setting, gets to 'create' it; that is giving it a name and background (most likely using the same points system). For example, your doctor goes to the store for some Xmas presents; you name the store, it's proprietor, sketch out it's selection and realize (in the description) the 'mood' of the store.

Now let's say you replace your doctor with one laden with gifts. This will cost points because gifts are a valuable resource in an Xmas game. Likewise, you will have to forfeit some points for overcoming your poverty problem. One thing you could do is create problems for the shopkeeper that you take on as your own (earning more points, to spend on gifts), like seeing to the shopkeepers sick daughter. What are in the gifts? Don't know yet; we make that up at the time the gifts are 'used' (given).

How do you interact with the other player(s)? Notes. For example, when you are finished with your turn you could leave a note (marked as being on your office front door) saying what you did that 'turn;' for example, "I went out to get Xmas presents, then I'm going to the skating rink; see you there!" You'd also have to write up the store and all the other things you created on 'chara sheets' of a sort, so that other players could use them too. (Possibly adding problems or capacities to 'existing' places might also cost points over and above those used to interact with 'know' places; this would keep players from completely rewriting what you did on your turn.) But you would have to have a certain amount of trust in the other players, because they can interact with your character and things you've 'created' in ways not to your expectations.

Play proceeds one scene at a time, until Xmas (predetermined time limit IRL or in-game) and everyone shows up at a place designated in play for an Xmas party. Romances are resolved, truces created, gifts given and problems resolved. If you're feeling competitive, Santa could give a gift to the person who did the most (earned the most points - during play, spent or otherwise).

Yes, I think that anthropomorphizing the figures and scenes would be one important step, but also putting one's mind into a 'what would they do' mindset as well. Anything else would be a board game, I think.

What do you think?


Posted by: r_earley_clark (r_earley_clark)
Posted at: July 30th, 2007 05:58 am (UTC)
Re: An Interesting Experiment

I think you described what I was trying to get at much better than I did ;-)

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