Flight Papers

feminism and creativity, art, madness, and play

Archive for the ‘gaming’ Category

Vagrant Stories.

Friday, June 13th, 2008

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You worked to realize an exceptional dream.

…Name the dream.

Your work violated the order.

…Name your crime.

The violation threatened powerful people or things.

…Name what and who you threatened.

You were punished for your crimes.

…Name the punishment.

Your dream was not destroyed, but changed.

…Say what you lost.

You work to realize an exceptional nightmare.

…Name the nightmare.

Through these trials, you have found:

A Heart, to tell the clean from the damned,

Your Heart is rooted in nightmare. Say what it is.

Claws, to ensnare the unworthy,

Your Claws take something that cannot be returned, or offer something that cannot be repaid. Name the thing.

Tongues to speak their true shapes,

Your Tongues grew in your punishment. Name the lie that they cannot say.

A Maw, to consume them.

Your Maw is lined with sharp teeth. Name the power you hold over those lesser than you.

Your name is not for you to decide. The others will name you.

Next up: the city.

Premise is easy, story is difficult.

Tuesday, May 6th, 2008

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I was browsing the Exalted wiki*, and I came across this little piece,

It is generally going to be hard to understand anything I write if you assume that I balance things with CAN and CAN’T. I balance things with EASY and DIFFICULT.—Rebecca Borgstrom

She’s talking about Sidereal and Solar Charms, and how certain abstract restrictions on Sidereals are actually represented, subtly, in the Charm definitions in a way that makes some people go, “omgbroken.” (If you don’t understand any of that, don’t worry about it, it’s not really necessary to understand the point).

She’s taking an in-world perspective. Some things are hard for certain characters, some things are easy for certain characters. From this perspective, balance is making sure there are enough things that are easy for each character that no player feels like theirs is useless.

But let’s switch stances for a second and look at it from the outside: now, we’re not looking at characters, we’re looking at people playing a game. And standing in this frame, those things which are “difficult” are things that produce conflict. They produce spotlight time. Those things which are “easy” aren’t worthless—they dictate premise. If it’s explicitly easy for a character to tear the heads off a ten-thousand soldier army, well, you’ll probably develop stories which take that fact for granted and build from there. If it isn’t, you’ll develop stories which take something else for granted, and build from it. From this stance, balance is about making sure that everyone’s character has enough meat that they feel engaged with the stories.

But you want characters to be good at the things they’re doing, right? Well, ah… no.

This is the superpower dilemma—if a character is good at a thing, the story will not be about that. House isn’t about medical diagnostics, and Buffy isn’t about killing vampires. Where this gets tricky is that players (and, let’s be fair, some writers) don’t always realize this. So they make characters who are good at the thing they want the story to be about, rather than the thing that will lead to their characters having trouble with the thing that the story is meant to be about, neatly short-circuiting the story.

It’s possible to do work to avoid this, mind. Shock: averts this by starting with the concept you want to address (Issues), and works backwards to world effects (Shocks), and then character traits (Praxis Scales and Features). This guarantees that there exists a vector between the protagonists’ qualities and kinds of issues you actually want to form the story. (Dogs does this a bit differently, with town creation and the hierarchy of sins. This definitely gives the GM [and Vincent Baker] a lot more power to define what issues get addressed.)

There’s a bit more subtlety here, too. I’m not exactly advocating that characters should be bad at the things they do—rather, the things characters do should have complications for them. If those complications stem from, “you’re an idiot,” then you have a particular brand of comedy. If they stem from the generally malicious nature of the universe, you have Hitchhiker’s Guide. If they stem from the confluence of particular institutional forces, you have a story about that (you can say that Serenity’s crew is just getting screwed over by the universe, but that ignores the bit where every obstacle they face is an artifact of the Alliance-imposed class system. The film makes this very explicit, directly addressing the Alliance as an adversary.)

* I wanted to see the second ed Sidereal charms, okay? DON’T JUDGE ME.

Twilight Thoughts.

Sunday, April 13th, 2008

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I’m working up some more substantial posts on radicalism. And it’s CU’s Islam Awareness Week next week (is it just me, or does that name seem… not right? Don’t we usually have awareness weeks for, y’know, problems?) so I’ll have some stuff to blog about that when it comes up.

But first, let’s play some more.

Twilight is a game where you play urban legends. Bloody Mary, the Blue Woman, Santa Muerte, Jesus. You take on the roles of these people and their stories. The story takes place in the City.


The House.

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

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Okay! Now for something different. Here’s a game hack I’ve been working on. Comments are welcome. It’s a hack on a board game—Betrayal at House on the Hill. The original game has some role-playing elements; this enhances them somewhat.


Miscellaneous nice things.

Monday, December 10th, 2007

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On some happier notes, my media intake of late has included some quite nice stuff.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles is a lot better than I’d expected. It’s not overwritten, and the pilot at least doesn’t reach beyond its means terribly. The characters are a bit flat, but the writers seem to be content with letting them grow into being people—the distinctly unpleasant alternative (absent tight characterization right from the get-go) being to force them to have CHARACTER, of some sort, which usually means picking one trait and beating it to death so the audience can remember what box it is each character is meant to live in.

It seems that they’re removing a scene where a terminator shoots up a school. I understand it, I suppose, and it’s not like the show is tying in deeply with the emotions such depictions can bring up, but I still feel something is lost. There are some nice background shots of students comforting each other, going through the trauma of losing classmates in a violent incursion. It contrasts nicely with the 80s action movie sensibility of the rest of the pilot, filled as it is with seven kinds of running, shooting, and blowing shit up.

The best scene: John Connor is cornered by the terminator after the above-mentioned scene. He’s about to get shot when the robot is mowed down by a pick up truck. The truck backs up, the door opens, and the driver tells him, “Come with me if you want to live.”

The driver is the protectorator, played of course by Summer Glau. It’s one of refreshingly few movie shout-outs, and it is delicious.

More on the good TV front, I’ll be seeing Razor this Thursday, and whenever Dollhouse comes out, I’m basically going to die of happy.

In game news, I will soon be running a game of Mortal Coil. The system looks clever, from what bits I’ve read so far, but I’ll echo my friend’s sentiment that it could really use a Shock:-like world generation structure. I’m a little intimidated, truth be told, so any pointers anyone wants to drop here would be great. Particularly, if there’s anything we should do in prep that will make the game go smoother, I’d love to hear it.

“Feminist gamers” might just turn out to be an oxymoron, and other small notational difficulties

Saturday, November 24th, 2007

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(No offense intended, and I only kindof mean it. On which more later.)

Other people have already written about the insanity surrounding Jade Raymond, and I’m not going to rehash it all here. Suffice to say, the whole thing is just a catastrophically depressing illustration of how ridiculously sexist gamer culture is—and will for continue to be, for the foreseeable future. It’s beyond sad to me that an attractive woman can’t be the public face of a product without everyone in the damn room assuming that she was put there to titillate a male audience, that she’s being “whored out” (just a great term, by the by), and, necessarily, that she’s being degraded. It’s downright heartbreaking that said (male) audience goes on to assume that she is somehow unqualified or brainless, or that she is in some way complicit in the deeply sexualized harassment that would follow. (Inevitably, of course. These things aren’t ever the product of worthless individuals making shitty decisions, they’re inevitable, like fucking earthquakes).

(On the plus side, as Miyuki Jane Pinckard has said, Jade is smarter than all these asshats, and her career is going to keep going without skipping a beat. So that’s nice.)

And of course, when I say “everyone in the damn room,” I don’t mean literally everyone. The bloggers above, for example, have a solid take on the situation. But, look—the comment threads at Feministe are stuffed full of, “man, this isn’t that big a deal,” “this is just the internet/geeks/gamers,” “who didn’t see this coming?” Great ways to normalize deeply sexist harassment, so you can get back to Not Worrying About It and keeping girls out of your play house.

This is depressing shit, if you happen to be (1) a woman, and (2) interested in games. It gets even more depressing because I think the sentiment is, basically, correct.

What I mean by this isn’t: women will never be accepted into “mainstream gaming” (defined, ironically, as the mildly to strongly obsessive niche market that consumes the low-ish volume, high-cost games produced by large publishers). What I mean by this is: gamer culture is built on a core of sexism. You can’t work on making gamer culture less sexist, anymore than you can work on making iron less ferrous. Just try to imagine, for a moment, a gamer culture without the testosterone hierarchy and everything it entails: homophobia, objectification of women, and outright misogyny. What do you have? The Iris Network. Feminist gamers. Maybe some isolated groups of friends playing Rock Band, and Penny Arcade sitting vaguely at the edges.

That’s not a change in the current gamer culture—that’s just saying fuckitall and building a new culture. It’s moving away from radical and towards revolutionary.

I have to say, I’m all kinds of down with that. And those communities I mentioned? They’re all kinds of awesome. But a relevant consequence is that when we say, “feminist gamers,” we’re not really speaking English. Even presuming the listener somehow has a compatible definition of “feminist” (ha!) their definition of what constitutes gamer culture is like to be so different as to make the whole phrase unparseable.

The unfortunate part of all this is that “gamer” is a part of a lot of people’s identities. We don’t want to give up the word as an element of our self-definition (because that’s what it means for something to be a part of our identity). This happens in the pen and paper RPG world, too, but for largely different reasons—there’s a pretty big culture gap in that community right now, and you tend to get a lot of traditionalists outright telling new designers that their games aren’t roleplaying games, and they aren’t gamers (and their work doesn’t look interesting and could they please go away now?). In that instance, I don’t really think the label is worth the fight. Really, trying to convince people we have all the prestige and value of Dungeons and Dragons? …great. In the venue of electronic entertainment (and comics, incidentally), there’s a much stronger case to be made for trying to reshape the core culture. After all, these are large industries with significant momentum and they’re showing few signs of becoming less consolidated. In that environment, it’s absolutely necessary that we shift the culture—in slow, faltering steps—to be more in line with our ideals. If we do it enough, maybe at some point in the future, the word “gamer” won’t be saddled with all its icky connotations. Would that it could be the case today—alas.

Male gamers suck. Story at 11.

Tuesday, November 20th, 2007

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Back from my, ah, unannounced vacation. And what do we have here? Ah, yes. The gaming world consists of assholes. Consists in assholes, we might say, if we were philosophers. I’m actually too angry to write about this coherently, at the moment. Fortunately, other people have done it for me.

I do, as it happens, have things to say about this. Just not right now.

Touch and Drama

Saturday, September 29th, 2007

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I read The Rules for Hearts a few days ago, and let’s just pause for a moment to love the title and cover, shall we?

There are very few ways in which that isn’t the exact cover for Touch that I’ve had in my head, and there are very few ways in which the title isn’t, in fact, better than anything I’ve come up with. Which is perfect, because The Rules for Hearts and is precursor, Empress of the World, are precisely the genre Touch is aiming at.

Specifically, the genre is romantic lesbian high school drama.


Things like that only happen where things like that don’t happen.

Tuesday, August 14th, 2007

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There is a camaraderie in shared alienation. Nobody gives a shit about any of us, so we’re all in it together. We have weapons, we have violence in our hands, there are more of us than there are of them, but what can we do?

Stop. Change the circumstances.

Now, some of them are collaborators. They are loved and wanted, and their futures are shining brightly ahead of them, like those blue xenon headlights on some godforsaken SUV. We’re just problems. Speed bumps. So maybe a few of us will make the ride as uncomfortable as possible.


This is what I know: The characters are students at a suburban high school. The game session concludes in an act of violence.

This isn’t Touch, though it’s related (I don’t think it’s Vesperteen, either, but I don’t fully understand Vesp, and the page for it seems to be down at the moment, and Jonathan and I need to talk about it more, at any rate). Where as Touch hits its high notes being Buffy or Lost and Delirious, this game is Elephant through and through.

I’m not sure how I feel about playing that, but I’m damn sure I want to write it.

I am a space cadet whose chest is about to burst open

Monday, July 16th, 2007

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And because of that, I completely forgot to mention in my last post that Jon is working on a survival horror game of his own, called Giger Counter. He even linked me to it! I am, as he says, a pirate queen.

There’s some really interesting stuff going on in Giger, some of which I might well steal (arr). It definitely takes Afraid’s Conditions and runs with them, and the monster die-naming seems like a nice way to roll monster discovery and description into a low-prep system—I could actually see something like it working for player characters in a couple of hacks I’m currently marinating.

Anyway, the hack is cool, and he also links to a neat playtest report of a Scream-style teen slasher game played with Afraid. Go check it out.