18 January 2007

The Future Arrives Without You

In the last year or so, Ron Edwards (co-founder of The Forge and all-around indie game publishing icon) has begun, on occasion, getting up on a soapbox and reminding all us whipper-snappers that he did a lot of this stuff first. Indie roleplaying has become a multi-limbed octopus spreading uncontrolled far beyond the influence of Ron and his games. Many people continue to play and praise Sorcerer and Trollbabe, but I think it's fair to say that Ron no longer represents the "cutting edge" of indie game design, whether you define that as the area of design where all the excitement currently rages or the area exploring new new ways of doing new new things. His most recent game, It Was A Mutual Decision, is pretty neat (as long as you like were-rats), but not especially groundbreaking in the way some of his previous games were. There's a good chance that Ron, with his steel-trap mind, will one day rock the boat again, but I suspect that it's more likely to be in terms of the social or commercial make-up of roleplaying, rather than when it comes to play or design. He could prove me wrong, though.

In any case, Ron is constantly on my mind these days when I see threads like this one or that one. The future I imagined for roleplaying is arriving. And, in many ways, it is arriving without me having done that much to help it along. I've written a few short games, true, and shared my thoughts with people (though I never really felt like that many people were interested), but my desire to drop a bomb on roleplaying, to produce a stunning game that changed the way people thought about the medium, never materialized in reality. Some of that is simply the naivety of youth that I need to give up, wanting to change the world and all that. And some of it is an adolescent desire for attention and to be valued and respected. And some of it is frustration that I have not written a minor opus. My Sorcerer, my My Life, my Witch, Dogs, Roach, or Carry has not been written yet.

But I'm beginning to come to grips with the idea that the future always arrives without you. No one can make the future happen. It just happens. You are a participant in it, not its agent. And I do feel like a participant or even more than that, a flag-bearer. I'm not leading the change necessarily, but I try to embody the cause. Push is a way to chronicle the transformation of this hobby as it diversifies and combines with related media. My short games mark out areas of design and play as they are uncovered. And, eventually, more extensively developed games (though not necessarily longer ones) may stake out a claim within these exciting new lands that we've uncovered.

As a matter of fact, this is a better way to go about this that building a city on a hill, a light amid the darkness. The games that I have found to be truly visionary -- Continuum, Nobilis, Mridangam, Lexicon -- sometimes seem less accessible to folks without a more familiar context around them. Now, with all of us pushing out together, after having built a shared vocabulary by playing and working on a similar set of games, we will advance towards the future together, as a community. And you can't beat that with a stick.

2 Comments:

Blogger paul said...

Jonathan,

"...my desire to drop a bomb on roleplaying, to produce a stunning game that changed the way people thought about the medium, never materialized in reality.....I have not written a minor opus. My Sorcerer, my My Life, my Witch, Dogs, Roach, or Carry has not been written yet."

Incongruously, the way to achieve this is to stop aiming for it. Stop trying to design a game that reflects well on you. Stop trying to design a game that changes others. Focus instead on what you personally need to learn or change about yourself. Get into your life frustrations, the counter-productive things you do despite knowing consciously that they're irrational, the things you do that make you wince in retrospect. And design the game teaches you how to be the person you wish you were instead.

Paul

12:33 AM  
Blogger Jonathan Walton said...

Excellent advice. Thanks, Paul.

10:20 AM  

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