A Response to Peaseblossom (from Story Games)

March 6, 2006

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.

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