Archive for December, 2007

The Snow Queen or, Ico the RPG

December 8, 2007

So I’m not allowed to start another game before I finish Geiger Counter or Transantiago. This doesn’t count as me starting another game. This is just a post describing a game that I might start after I finish one or both of the above games.

Adapted from the Project Gutenberg Etext of Hans Christian Anderson:

The walls of the palace were of driving snow, and the windows and doors of cutting winds. There were more than a hundred halls there, according as the snow was driven by the winds. The largest was many miles in extent; all were lighted up by the powerful Aurora Borealis, and all were so large, so empty, so icy cold, and so resplendent! Mirth never reigned there; vast, cold, and empty were the halls of the Snow Queen. In the middle of the empty, endless halls of snow was a frozen lake; it was cracked in a thousand pieces, but each piece was so like the other, that it seemed the work of a cunning artificer. In the middle of this lake sat the Snow Queen.

Little Kay was quite blue, yes nearly black with cold; but he did not observe it, for she had kissed away all feeling of cold from his body, and his heart was a lump of ice. He was dragging along some pointed flat pieces of ice, which he laid together in all possible ways, for he wanted to make something with them. Kay made all sorts of figures, the most complicated, for it was an ice-puzzle for the understanding. In his eyes the figures were extraordinarily beautiful, and of the utmost importance; for the bit of glass which was in his eye caused this. He found whole figures which represented a written word; but he never could manage to represent just the word he wanted — that word was “eternity”; and the Snow Queen had said, “If you can discover that figure, you shall be your own master, and I will make you a present of the whole world.” But he could not find it out.

“I am going now to warm lands,” said the Snow Queen. “I will just give them a coating of white, for that is as it ought to be; besides, it is good for the oranges and the grapes.” And then away she flew, and Kay sat quite alone in the empty halls of ice that were miles long, and looked at the blocks of ice, and thought and thought till his skull was almost cracked. There he sat quite benumbed and motionless; one would have imagined he was frozen to death.

Suddenly little Gerda stepped through the great portal into the palace. The gate was formed of cutting winds; but still the little maiden entered the vast, empty, cold halls. There she beheld Kay: she recognized him, flew to embrace him, and cried out, her arms firmly holding him the while, “Kay, sweet little Kay! Have I then found you at last?”

But he sat quite still, benumbed and cold. Then Gerda shed burning tears; and they fell on his bosom, they penetrated to his heart, and began to thaw the lumps of ice.

Hereupon Kay looked at her, “Gerda! Where have you been so long? And where have I been?” He looked round him. “How cold it is here!” said he. “How empty and cold!” And he held fast by Gerda, who wept.

But the Snow Queen might come back as soon as she liked. They took each other by the hand, and wandered forth, seeking a way out of the palace…

My preliminary thoughts on the design are posted HERE and HERE.

Plus, I just told Elizabeth: “I think, after finishing Geiger Counter, I will know how to write it; mapping out the rooms with cards and such. I could even make a big dungeon with rooms marked off and no description of what was in the rooms, like the World’s Blankest Dungeon. That kind of Prince of Persia-style play is totally something i’m capable of replicating. It’s like mixing Geiger Counter and Transantiago with the two-player stuff i’ve done.”

Me and the Big Model: Subjective Truth, Ideology, Literary Movement

December 6, 2007

A bunch of folks on Knife Fight found this interesting / helpful, so I’m reposting it here:

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In the Jess & Ben Talk About The Forge thread and in a few other places, Jess seems to be expressing distaste for the idea that the Big Model or GNS reflects objective reality or “The Truth.” From my perspective (and I could be totally wrong), it seems like she views the belief that the Big Model is “The Truth” as opposed to “a truth” or “one view of the truth” or “something that might be true” as an ideological jump, not one that’s based on carefully examining the actual evidence.

Me, I don’t think I’ve ever had THAT particular problem with the Big Model or GNS. Yes, they are clearly part of a general “worldview of roleplaying,” but that does not make them inaccurate. I view the Big Model very much like I view a religion or another ideology (such as a given theory of art). If you look at the world through that perspective, everything makes a certain kind of sense. Instead of random happenings, you see intentionality and careful design, you see patterns instead of chaos.

Additionally, I have no problem simultaneously believing multiple incompatible ideologies. Like how the Pope says religion is not incompatible with evolution. Like that. If people say, “God created the world,” I can nod and say, “Yes, that’s true.” If people say, “The earth was created by such and such scientific processes,” I can nod and say, “Yes, that’s true.” If people say, “Art is a creative work that has the ability to elicit certain emotional responses,” I can nod and say, “Yes, that’s true.” If people say, “Art is a status assigned by a community of people with authority in matters of art,” I can nod and say, “Yes, that’s true.”

Likewise, if people say, “The Big Model explains roleplaying,” I can say, “Yes, it does.” That does not mean that I can’t simultaneously believe in other models that explain roleplaying in ways that seem incompatible with the Big Model. I am vast; I contain multitudes.

Because of this, I don’t think I really have much criticism of the Big Model as a model (at least not anymore). It is what it is. Is it accurate? Enough for its purposes, but maybe not for other purposes. If I want a model that fulfills purpose Y, and that isn’t one of the purposes of the Big Model, I don’t say, “Oh, the Big Model is flawed or wrong”; I say, “Oh, well, we’ll need a different model for purpose Y.”

This, I suspect, is part of the reason people claim that the Big Model is “The Cult of Ron” or an ideology rather than a theory: it pretty much is an ideology or maybe a literary movement (like first wave feminism or Marxism or post-colonialism). Most people I know who have spent time explaining the Big Model (and trying not to get dragged into defending it), like Ben and Vincent, don’t throw serious criticism at the model, not because it is the perfect tool for every situation, but because there’s no point, really. It’s a really good tool for the purposes it tries to achieve, and Ron is not likely to change the model drastically due to criticism, though he will explain his reasoning and purposes for creating it (and it has evolved slightly and been fleshed out with other people’s help).

Marxism is what it is. It is a perspective on things that is really helpful at understanding certain issues. But I would not use Marxism to, say, explain the rise of Chinese religion after 1980 (though, believe me, many people have tried). It’s just not the best tool for that. Similarly, the Big Model. To use another example I coined recently, it’s like playing Dogs in the Vineyard and going Back East to New York City to check on one of the Dogs’ cousins. You could do it, sure, but that’s not what the game is for and your results are not necessarily going to be as good as they would be if you were doing what the game is supposed to do. If you try to make th Big Model do things that aren’t part of its mission, there are liable to be similar problems.

It may be that some people are just flat-out uninterested in the kinds of things the Big Model is interested in. That’s cool. I think the people who tell you that the Big Model is inherently applicable to any situation you want to discuss are wrong, and I think Ron would tell you the same thing. It is not all things to all people. It is, in my mind, inherently interesting, but that’s because I’m interested in roleplaying and the things that people believe about roleplaying. Am I interested in discovering the objective truth about roleplaying? Not really. I’m not sure that I really believe in objective truth. But subjective truth, man that’s interesting.

Games Distributed Through Play

December 3, 2007

I just added a new project description to this site, The Severance of Heaven-Earth Confederation, which is a long-term project, not anything I’m going to complete soon. The idea of the game was to write something that can be transmitted through actual play, by teaching other players in person, rather than as a text, and also to create a game that would — due to the nature of distribution — evolve on its own, fully independent of the original creators putting out supplements or new editions or whatever. Games already do this, through house rules and hacks and whatnot, but this concept puts that right out there, front and center.

I may eventually write a small micro-game that tries out some of the ideas here on a much smaller scale, but no promises on getting to that soon, either. Right now my priorities are Push 2, Transantiago, Geiger Counter, Fingers on the Firmament, and the game about modern urban France. Which is more than enough.

Immigration in France (Part 1)

December 1, 2007

Yay for game research.

This stuff comes from James F. Hollifield’s “France: Republicanism and the Limits of Immigration Control” in Controlling Immigration: A Global Perspective, Second Edition (Stanford, 2004). I’m going to cover the background here in multiple parts, taking notes and extracting quotes for use in the game I’m eventually going to write about “artful resistance in Fortress Europe.” I may try to cover Britain (boo, Thatcher!) after I finish with France. Comments and additional thoughts, especially from European residents who know more about the situation on the ground, would be great.

Immigration Before 1974

Immigration control began in France with the establishment of a national identity card (like the ones they keep talk about instituting in the US) during WWI. However, it didn’t really become a big issue until the 1960s, when the dismantling of the French empire and the Algerian War led to a large influx of immigrants from North and West Africa. “Postwar policies were designed to discourage settler immigration and encourage some nationalities, particularly North Africans, to return to their countries of origin” (186). Instead, France focused on implementing guestworker policies and trying to ensure there was a rotation of temporary labor. This is what allowed the French government to pursue the possibility of halting all immigration in 1974 and 1993.

A major problem, from the government’s perspective were quazi-citizens from North and West Africa, who could generally move freely between former French colonies and France itself. These groups began to come under closer scrutiny in the late 1960s and early 1970s. “The ambiguous status of North and West Africans has continued to play havoc with French government attempts to control immigration given that individuals in former African colonies who were born during French rule have the legal right to request ‘reintegration’ into French nationality” (190).

First Suspension of Immigration: 1974

In 1974, “the justification for stopping worker immigration was clear: with the decline in economic growth and the rise in unemployment, employers should no longer be allowed to recruit foreign labor, and the denial of visas (external control) and work permits (internal control) was seen as a necessary policy response to worsening economic conditions. The new control policies were also viewed as a way to head off a rising tide of xenophobia… This policy shift reflected the following logic: if the receiving states could stop immigration, they could solve the unemployment problem; stopping immigration creates jobs and weakens xenophobic political movements” (191). However, even with worker immigration slowed to a trickle, family immigration to France, reuniting those already there with their kin, continued unabated, despite government attempts to construct disincentives.

“Even as the issue of control (immigration policy) continued to be debated, the issue of integration (immigrant policy) surged into the national agenda. The realization that millions of Muslims were settling permanently in France led to a reconsideration of existing approaches to immigration and integration” (192). Political parties were increasingly polarized over these issues. The left-wing socialists soon took charge of the government and began to implement more liberal immigrant policies concerning residency and “relaxed prohibitions against foreigners’ associational and political activities, making foreigners residing in France feel more secure” (192). However, the backlash against these more amiable policies, backed by growing resentment, was not long in coming.

Rise of the National Front

“…the issue exploded in 1984 when the extreme-right [Front National] won municipal elections in Dreux, an industrial town just west of Paris, on a platform calling for a complete halt to immigration and for the deportation of African immigrants. The electoral breakthrough of this neo-fascist, xenophobic, racist movement profoundly changed the politics of immigration in France and throughout Western Europe. For the first time since the end of World War II, an extremist party on the right was making itself heard and finding a new legitimacy, garnering support from large segments of the French electorate. Within a matter of years it would become ‘the largest working-class party in France’… From the beginning, the National Front was a single-issue party; its leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, called for a physical separation of the races” (193).

“The rise of the National Front contributed heavily to a sense of crisis in French politics and public policy, with immigrants at the center of the maelstrom. Suddenly, immigrants were seen as the cause of the French nation’s economic and cultural decline, provoking a loss of confidence in the republican model, especially on the right. Immigrants were accused of taking jobs from French citizens, and Muslims were deemed to be inassimilable and hostile to republican values” (193).