06 March 2006

A Response to Peaseblossom (from Story Games)

Jess, I'm not sure if this is exactly what you're getting at, but I started writing you a response and this just sort of came out of me. I hope it sorta gets at what you're asking for here. I apologize if I'm wide of the mark.

There seems to be a large number of unsatisified players who want play that supports a high degree of negotiation and interaction between players but also very little fiddling with meta-mechanics or resources or tactics or the like. They want some system support but also want to preserve some degree of immersion or don't want to break the fantasy to deal with mechanics or just don't really like fiddling with mechanics. And most of the Forge stuff and even the non-Forge indie stuff tends to create interesting story conflicts by encouraging inter-player conflicts using mechanics (Universalis, MLwM, and PTA being the clearest models here, but even including stuff like Dogs, Mountain Witch, Polaris, and Breaking the Ice).

And, honestly, a large number of the players interested in high collaborative, low meta-mechanics play seem to be female and on the edge of both mainstream and indie roleplaying (the indie crowd, as different as it is from the mainstream, can still be a boys' club), so their interests aren't really being taken into account by recent design and theory work, unless it's being done by folks like you, Jess, or Mo, or Annie Rush, or Meg Baker, or Emily Care Boss.

And, while most male designers really respect, enjoy, and want to support the kind of work the indie women are doing, I get the sense that most of the indie crowd aren't really interested in that kind of play or don't think that it's really possible to have some serious system that doesn't require messing with mechanics or fiddling with resources or creating inter-player conflicts through reward systems or whatever. This seems too much like freeform. Or like Amber. But when you drop something like Neel's Lexicon or Shreyas' Mridangam or my KKKKK on them, something that reframes things completely differently than other RPGs, they go "Oooo, that's neat," but it becomes a one-time thing, an experiment. Nobody is picking it up and running with it and really playing in this sandbox yet.

Still, I think the interest in this kind of collaborative, low-impact play, potentially (and once we actually figure out how it really works), is HUGE and I sympathize because I often feel that way and have been trying to get at how to best support play in that style. Unfortunately, most of what I have to show for it are my 2-player experiments and not real solutions yet. But it's definitely something that I hope to continue working on.

So that's a long response to say, basically, I don't think the style of play you are looking for has really been formalized in a game yet. There are games that do some of that and there are games in development that will hopefully do a lot more, but I don't think this area has had sufficient attention put to it yet. I've been trying and so have a few others, but this is not where most people's attention is right now (where is it? I don't really know).

Maybe you'll be the one to really make it work.


Anonymous Nir Shiffer said...

I'm not sure that's what Jess was getting at, but this is exactly what I've been trying to say for a while.

A hugh "GOD, YES" to your entire second paragraph.

One thing though - a large number of the players interested in high collaborative, low meta-mechanics play seem to be female in the American scene. Both in the Israeli and the Swedish gaming scenes this is the majority opinion (or, because "majority" is a bitch to define, at least a very widespread preference) regardless of gender.

This is why we make such heavy use of Freeform and Freeform-halfbreeds - there just isn't a fully confined system to support it yet.

2:45 AM  
Anonymous Jere said...

I'd agree with most of your post. Its what a lot of people have been saying for a long time. Though in all honesty I disagree with the premsie this is some women-centric approach as that does not sit with my experiences.

9:39 AM  
Blogger Jonathan Walton said...

Jere, I'm definitely speaking out of my own experience here, since I haven't met many other boys who are interested in structured freeform, while I've probably met 20 female players who've expressed this desire. I wasn't trying to make a generalization; just speaking from where I'm standing.

I guess I'm just trying to figure out how people have been talking about this for such a long time and yet have nothing to really show for it. Instead, these players are forced to satisfy themselves with mediocre play of Amber, Ars Magicka, Changeling, MET, and, nowadays, Nobilis and Buffy (and probably Serenity too, gah!), plus some of the Forge stuff, when that isn't really what they want.

Every so often companies seem to try to make games specifically for this market, but end up not really getting it. Take Blue Rose or the other True20 stuff, which tries to strip all the dumb out of D&D, instead of actually listening to what this potential market wants.

Anyway, yeah. I'll try to stop characterizing it as a gender thing, especially if, as Nir rightly points out, it definitely isn't a gender thing outside the US.

10:16 AM  
Anonymous Jere said...

I think one of the reasons is that so much of this happens in that other part of System, social contract and actual play. Theres less a ened for mechancis to do this and more a sympathatic group of people and a set of good skills.

So these groups (some very large) have developed the tools to do what theyw ant. But ebcause you (and others) want to approach everything as a mechanical solution you are pretty blind to the solutions that they have wrought.

Now I'm a firm believer that there are some interesting otentials in bringing mechanics to bear on this style of play, but I don't think mechanics are it.

11:32 AM  
Blogger Jonathan Walton said...

Jere, calling someone "blind" really isn't the nicest thing to say. I think you're making assumptions about what I do and don't know that aren't necessarily accurate. If you think I'm barking up the wrong tree, that's great, but you're gonna have to say more than that. Otherwise, you're just being a hater.

I don't claim to know all about the online freeform scene, but I've been heavily involved with it at several points. And while I still haven't read enough about Nordic-style freeform larps, I'm trying to learn as much as possible.

I know that mechanics can be replaced by a strong social contract and/or a strong play history with other members of your play group. And that's definitely part of what I'm trying to get at.

So if you have suggestions to make about drawing from the techniques that people in freeform communities have developed, then please say so. If not, don't just sit there and shoot my ideas down. Cool?

4:17 PM  
Blogger Mo said...

You say it Mister. Amen.

What's the link, for the thing you're responding to?

12:50 AM  
Blogger Jonathan Walton said...

Here ya go Mo:

1:29 AM  
Anonymous Jere said...

My apologies, when I used the pronoun "you" I meant it more in a general sort of way towards a particular movement rather than at you specifically. I should have chosen my words better there.

5:41 PM  

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