Thoughts on Continuum

April 18, 2007

First off, the game fiction in Continuum is the best I’ve ever seen anywhere, period. Like, it’s actually good fiction, not just good game fiction. It reminds me a lot of The Time Traveler’s Wife actually and vice-versa, because it deals with many of the same themes with similar poignancy, especially on knowing the future and being unable to prevent it.

Second, I think Continuum has strong potential to support GMless play. Characters in the game basically have 5 “levels.” At Span 1, you are a member of a time-travel militia, basically, and learn stuff from your Mentor, reaching Span 2 when your Mentor says you’re ready. At Span 2, you join a special forces branch, basically, and learn more specialized stuff from the head of your unit, reaching Span 3 when a branch commander says you’re ready. At Span 3, you are the Mentor or unit leader of a group of Span 1s and 2s, and go to Span 4 once all your pupils advance.

So, basically, there could be a way for the “GM” to play a Span 3 character trying to fulfill the requirements for Span 4, while all the other PCs are Span 1s and 2s. Basically, the requirement for reaching Span 4 would become “GM a Continuum game, with your character as the Mentor, until all the PCs are Span 3.” That’s hot hotness and sorta Bliss Stage– like, in fact.

I was talking about the requirements for advancement with Shreyas last night, and decided that The Shadow of Yet is going to approach Secrets & Keys in a slightly different way than standard TSOY. The distinction between them is going to be less clear, I think, making them more like the Loresheets from Weapons of the Gods. Also, instead of just having Buyoffs, characters will have to fulfill certain conditions before certain traits can be gained. Like in order to get the Key of Conscience, they have to do something that they feel really bad about and try to make ammends. This is, in effect, the Cost of the trait.

Finally, I really like how Continuum spotlights the complexity of destructive acts. This is hitting me particular hard in light of the events at Tech. The society of time travellers in the game are ruthless at containing or killing those who lash out destructively against their society, against those who flaunt acceptible norms of social behavior in a way that harms and potentially kills others. These people must be stopped, no question, because they are a immense risk to themselves and others.

But it also speaks to the possibility of intervention, of the ability of people to work through negative feelings and isolation and to bring people back from the brink. It talks about the fucked up shit that can happen to a person and the depths of suffering it can drive them too. Some people, it says, can be saved from total self-destruction and inflicting massive harm on others. But it also recognizes the pain and difficulty of such things and that sometimes, even though it breaks your heart, a person goes over the edge and you have to bring them in or, worse, bring them down, even though they may be your friend.

All of that, to me, is very powerful. Some of the best Dogs in the Vineyard play also revolves around similar issues: How do you help those who have strayed? How do you convince them to come back to a safer, healthier path? When do they become a lost cause? When do you let go, watch them destroy themselves, and try to prevent their destruction from harming too many others? I don’t think those questions are ever easy, but I think it’s very important that we continue to explore them, both in fiction (including games) and in real life.

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