Would You Play?

So, there was some noise going on at Game Chef about “Would you play this game?”

To which I say, well, that’s not a super great question, now is it?

There’re a couple of reasons for that, but the first and foremost one is, Nobody wants to play every game. Like, in my case, I basically don’t want to play games unless I can imagine stuff that never happens in real life, and also I generally don’t like to have an uncertain grip on the fiction. If something’s within my rights to affect, then usually I want free rein to affect it however I choose.

Whereas, maybe you prefer games where anything can be wrested out of your grasp, in the appropriate conjunction of circumstances, or maybe you like games that are really close to the ground, and if things happen in them that can’t happen for real, it takes you out. Okay. That’s fine.

But what that means is that there are some games that I’ll play that you won’t play, or vice versa, because of facts about ourselves.

The early history of storygaming effectively masked this phenomenon by being dominated by games like The Pool, Shadows, etc., in which strong genre or color reinforcement was absent. This makes it possible for many groups to play The Pool, and one group can play “Magic Swords,” another group can play “Furry Noir,” and a third group can play “Domestic Abuse Dance Theatre,” while all still nominally playing the same game. I’m going to call these games “colourless.” Even apparently coloured games from this era, like Trollbabe, have strong Internet traditions of being hacked shallowly to play with different colour (in Trollbabe, one usually just changes the names of some things), in part because they don’t systematically resist this treatment. Try doing the same thing to a more strongly coloured game like Polaris or carry and you’ll find it’s not as easy!

The reason I’m going of about colourless games is that they’re important to the “would you play this game?” question: By removing colour from the question, they allow the answer to be “yes” for more players, and as a result, they act like social glue. The people that played Furry Noir and the people that played Domestic Abuse Dance Theatre have some common ground to talk about their games, because their system text (distinct from Baker Care Bear Stare system) is the same.

Since “talking about games we play” is the most accessible social glue we have in common (as an Internet community, the standard “hanging out” glues are harder to come by), this creates a social pressure to play the same games as other people even if you don’t share tastes with them.

But that doesn’t change the fact that, even given unlimited time and resources, I wouldn’t play exactly the same games as you, and it’s not personal. I just like some stuff you don’t, and you like some stuff you don’t.

Thats the other issue about “Would you play this game?” too. That is, can I play this game? I don’t mean, “Is it possible in an ideal world?” I mean, “Given my resources of material, friends, and time, and my current social calendar and priorities, would I make this game fit into my life?”

The answer to this question almost always has to be “no.” We just don’t have that much time on our hands.

So, I mean, it’s not a terrible question, but it is ambiguous, and to answer it in a way that’s useful to the person who asked, you’ve got to know which question they’re asking and which you’re answering.

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3 thoughts on “Would You Play?

  1. Like, in my case, I basically don’t want to play games unless I can imagine stuff that never happens in real life, and also I generally don’t like to have an uncertain grip on the fiction. If something’s within my rights to affect, then usually I want free rein to affect it however I choose

    I actually really want to talk with you about what this means, cuz it’s interesting. When we were talking a few weeks back about this, we were talking about arenas of absolute power that don’t overlap, and I’d like to know where those boundaries are. Like, is it cool if you control air creatures and I control sea creatures? (Shock: works like this) Or does it necessarily have to do with the protagonists? Or what?

  2. In the abstract, I’m happy with any partition of absolute powers; air creatures and sea creatures is okay for me, in theory.

    In practice, I’ve only gotten to try this out with different partitions of authority over player characters. I know that the way that characters get passed around in Polaris is okay with me, whereas I’m less happy with IAWA’s thing where you can say anything about anyone unless they succeed in stepping in to stop you. “No, that’s my fiction territory,” should be enough.

  3. Actually, that’s not how it works. In IaWA (and Beowulf), I can say, “We run into each other again at the oasis and you fall in love with me and we run away from your wife together,” but it’s implicitly a suggestion. You don’t have to fight me over it if you don’t want it to happen. All I’ve *really* said is that my character went to the swimming hole. If you don’t like any part that would have required your character to do anything — that you’d go to the swimming hole, that you fall in love, that we leave your wife — can be immediately vetoed without question.

    So, let’s say we’ve already established that we’re both at the oasis, and I say, “I see you, and I come over to you, carrying water on my head in a bit pot. ‘Do you need water?'”

    You say, “I’m totally checking you out. ‘Yeah, thanks.'”

    I say, “I pour you a big cup of water and hand it to you. ‘You were here a month ago, right? With King Awwad’s messenger? I remember you.'”

    You say, “Yeah, that was me. You’ve got a good memory.”

    I say, “Not for everyone.”

    You say, “I’m glad I made a good impression on you, then.”

    So, we’re flirting. We’ve established, without a fight, that we’re flirting, by describing our characters’ actions alone.

    You say, “I wish I could introduce you to my wife, but she gets jealous whenever she finds out I’ve been with another woman.”

    I say, “Whenever she finds out?”

    You say, “I’m smiling coquettishly.”

    I say, “OK, so that night, your wife goes into the tent in front of you, and I grab you aside, and say, ‘Run away with me. My father is a wealthy sorcerer who lives in a palace in the desert. Be my husband and he will pass his power on to you.”

    (It’s not a problem for me to say what your wife does, btw, so long as the GM’s cool with that. She’s his character, but he wants us to be in dynamic Situation, so he’s cool with this.)

    You say, “But my wife…”

    I say, “I don’t care about your wife. I’ll be your wife.”

    We argue back and forth for a while.

    The GM says, “Inaka, your wife, calls from inside.”

    I say, “I run and you come with me.”

    You say, “No, I don’t want to do it that way.”

    I say, “I walk into the tent and stab your wife with my bronze dagger that steals souls at the moment she looks up.”

    We roll (you’re trying to stop me, your wife is trying to stop me, I win, your wife is gonna die and be trapped in the dagger.

    You say, “Holy shit! OK, I’m gonna negotiate out of this. Um, how about my wife is OK, but I go with you into the night anyway?”

    The dice are there to coerce, you dig. That’s the way you make things happen that are outside the realm of your own character’s actions. You force them to. Now, if the other players are saying, “OK” all the time, it looks like everyone’s narrating everything for each other. But if I’m saying, “You run into the night with me,” and you say, “OK”, you’re really saying “I’m running into the night with you.”

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