Monday, 22 November 2010

Finished my therapy last week

I've been talking a lot about sense of security on this blog. What I feel lost on the way is that sense of security is just the foundation to build a sense of freedom upon.

Trust might be a better word. Life coaches and conservative patriots tells us that perfect security is a possibility - Just hold on hard enough to positive thinking or nationalism, or what have you, and we will never fall. That's not how it works, though. Real security, a sense of trust, is trusting we will survive failure. Real trust comes from trying, falling, doing hard work. You must find trust in that failure is not a catastrophe, but life goes on.

It is not by enforcing our models and thoughts that we find trust, it is by challenging them, working with them with someone we trust, exposing the parts that makes us uncertain, stiff, fearful.

Tear it down. Build it up. Be free. 

So, I've been doing a lot of building. My blog is called "I'm building something" for chrissake. I think it's time to take a break from that - Building thigs is too safe, I do it all the time. Now I'm going to try feeling instead.

Maybe I'll see you later


Thursday, 21 October 2010

A talk with Halling

This summer, I interviewed Tomas Halling, dadaist and improv performer. You can listen to our entire talk and download it at this location:

Tomas Hallings performs his show XgLosCho2 on Teater Sesam, Gothenburg, Sweden this weekend. (Friday, saturday and sunday at 19.00)

The entire interview is in swedish. Originally I had intended to film the entire event and include english subtitles, but technology was not on my side, so I settled for this. What I will do though, is publish a few themes here that emerged from the interview. I wont write a lot on each, just let the quotes themselves sink in.


AAC: "You're self-taught, how did you find improvisation?"

TH: "The word that springs to my mind is survival, pure survival. You have to find yourself a world that works for you, where you can do what you like, express what you like, and feel exactly what you like"


On freeform improv:
TH: "And it doesn't have to lead anywhere, anytime, you don't have figure out where it is supposed to be going"
AAC: "And there is a freedom in that"
TH: "Yes, it is the complete freedom. (exhaling puff) It's bungeejumping without a cord." 

"You can do anything - and that's fun! It struck me just now - "Of course you can", of course I can do that, if I want to build seventy-eight galaxies, then I'll do just that. It's super simple... but it doesn't work at the employment center (laughter)"


On word association: TH: "It can never be captured, never domesticated. Put a false tiger in a cage - what am I saying? (laughter) That's what I'm talking about. Well, everything wild you put in captivity - It dies."

You can not force creativity out of someone else, that's a pet peeve of mine in traditional roleplaying which has a guy not conducting, but rather demanding creativity from the other players.

There is something here you can find in the moment in improv, that just isn't there in something that is planned and prepared.


AAC: "People always want to have some kind of insight in what's going to happen. You wish to understand, you wish to know what the conditions are. It's so important to provide a clarity in this"
TH: "Clarity, that's it, right! To give clarity to the wildness"
TH: "Is there anything more explicit and clear than a wild animal?"

I spoke a lot about the meeting and the meeting of audience and performer. By being clear, you are there, open and present, but oftentimes we are obtuse and unclear with our wishes and our intentions. I think it's a form of defense.


TH: "You pretend to be confident. Before, I used to think "If I'm in the blackout, liberate me into the complete abyss", my improv always looked like I was hanging in an endless chasm, and it was great performance."
TH: "The more you stayed in it, the better it was"

I have always imagined that all creativity stems from a sense of security, knowing that the scary parts aren't really dangerous, but Tomas describes how pure insecurity could actually fuel his performance. Makes me think of locus of control - If it feels like you're being annihilated by the abyss, but you also believe in your capability to beat it, survive it, perhaps that channels into a great performance? Man will survive.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Planning an improv night

On tuesday, it's the first night for our new improv group. I'm sitting here, writing a program that will get people hooked, with new and interesting exercises...

Wait, hold it!

There's three things going on here:
1) Fear of rejection
2) Trying to be original
3) Planning real hard

None of these really belong in improv, at all. So, maybe I should just write a program with classic exercises that I know by heart and are, simply, fun.

Hey, maybe The Flow-er Model applies to this group activity as well? Let's translate it to seven steps for building a group:
1. Create an interest
2. Create a sense of security
3. Formulate a vision
4. Get everyone involved and active
5. Be open
6. Be clear
7. Listen and build on that

Well, that makes sense to me. For our first session, let's make it fun and interesting, and then safe, let everyone get a feel for each other, and then we can start talking about expectations and visions for our group, and involvement in it.


Okay, I'm officially an over-analyzer. Rather than feeling uncertain before our first session, and picking simple and fun exercises, I have to instruct myself to do things in a fun and safe way. :-)

Why Apocalypse World flows

This is what it's all about.

Okay, so in my last post, on Why Apocalypse World rocks, I wrote that "[the] game is fluent, fast-paced, involving and fun."

Why is that? Let's take a look with the steps outlined in The Flow-er Model.

Step 1-3.

1. Player investment
I've got to admit, I was pumped as hell before diving into this game. Reading it, I felt that this is my idea of how improv roleplaying should be designed - So it had better work, or I would be wrong. I also got a group together I thought would be right for the game and my improv playstyle.
Okay, so that was a huge boost of energy for the game "for free". But there is also a way to increase player investment in your game design, by making a good first impression, and here Apocalypse World shines - When the players picked up the playbooks, they got invested. This was a game we wanted to play!

2. Sense of security
I think AW makes a very, very important point when establishing that the characters are sexy, the MC should be a fan of the characters, and that the MC should play with the other players, not against them.As I wrote in The Flow-er Model, if you make the players feel safe in their control, they will let go of control. If you try to yank their control out of their hands, they will just hold on firmer to it. Without this, I don't think AW would work, at least not in the way it does now. Apocalypse World is such a harsh place, it requires trust in your game group.

3. Shared vision
Here is where the benefits of a distinct style for your game comes in full force, and of course the fact that it is an improvised game.
The book specifically states that for first session prep, you should "day-dream some apocalyptic imagery", without committing to anything in particular. As the world is created through play and pre-play, the vision is shared. No-one knows anything anyone else doesn't know.
The game also has one move and one principle for the MC to ensure everyone is the same page: Tell consequences and ask ("This is what you think would happen, do you still want to do it?") and Draw maps like crazy. Basic advice, but very sound.

4. Agency
Nothing happen that the characters doesn't make happen.
Except for fronts. Fronts are these clusterfucks of badness to be managed before they end in catastrophe. That guy raising an army to take over your hardhold, the army itself, and your rival holds, that's a front.
What is neat about this is, as long as the characters creates trouble for themselves, you don't have to touch the fronts - But if you want to ramp the game up, or if things are slowing down, you bring in the fronts, they do something that brings them closer to fulfilling their agenda. And this in turn, encourages agency.
What I love about Apocalypse World is, every time you do something, you stick your neck out. You risk getting burnt, but if you don't do anything, then your guaranteed to sink and drown when trouble catches up with you. That's what the apocalyptic world is like - You can not be safe, unless you carve that safety out with tears, sweat and blood.
If you manage to convey the idea that there is no right or wrong, no story, and make both triumph and defeat interesting, the players will just keep acting. Great agency, great game.

5. Blocking
This is interesting. In a way, Apocalypse World has the ultimate blocking - When you fail a roll, you are punished by an MC move. It doesn't feel like blocking though - Because even if you fail, you get something, something interesting that adds to the story.
Again, for this to work, the players needs to feel secure in the game, and be interested in exploring their character rather than playing to win. This is of course not a unique stance, most story games share it.

6. Clarity
This game is so simple. Whenever a player says they want to do something, it should be pretty obvious which move that is. Make that move. Roll 2d6 plus one of the five stats. Miss, bad things happen. 7-9 good things happen, but maybe trouble too, 10+, perfect.
MC'ing just consists of following the to-do-list in the Master of Ceremonies chapter.

7. Yes, and...
I define Yes, and... techniques in roleplaying as a point where a player or the game says something, and then hands this over for another player to build on and interpret. It's a very inspiring and productive technique, and to my knowledge, AW uses three Yes, and... techniques:
1) There are lists to pick from everywhere, both in character generation, resolution you get to pick from lists and interpret just what that means.
2) Making a dice roll opens up for new story contributions.
3) The MC is constantly asking the players questions, which means the MC starts something that the player finishes/interprets. There is a balance here: The questions run from open, vague questions that leave a lot to the player; and strong questions that really are more of statements for the player to interpret. ("You killed his brother. Why?")

Does it work?
Oh hell yes

This analysis might be a little unfair even, as I built The Flow-er Model to map out and explain flow in roleplaying games such as Apocalypse World, Lady Blackbird and Berättelser från Staden. Of course it's going to "score" in a test constructed on itself.

Nevertheless, I feel Apocalypse World brings a great clarity to a design philosophy used by story games for some time now, and this model really stresses clarity throughout it's steps. Clarity both opens up this design philosophy for trad gamers, and makes a good design, really.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Why Apocalypse World rocks

It has style
Apocalypse World oozes in style. The high-contrast illustrations, the words, the writing style... I can pick up a playbook and instantly know what Apocalypse World is about. Like, I see a picture of an  woman (?) in a welder's mask, and beneath the picture it says


in big, bold, broken letters. I flip it, and the back says

-The Gunlugger-
Apocalypse World is a mean, ugly, violent place. Law and society have broken down completely. What's yours is yours only while you can hold it in your hands. There is no peace. There's no stability but what you carve, inch by inch, out of the concrete and dirt, and then defend with murder and blood.
Sometimes the obvious move is the right one.
I open it up, and it tells me to pick moves such as Fuck this shit, Insano like Drano, Battle-hardened, Prepared for the inevitable, and NOT TO BE FUCKED WITH. 

I know what the gunlugger is about.
I know what Apocalypse World is about.
Let's play!

This style runs through the entire book, even when Baker speaks straight to the MC (Apocalypse for GM), and it just sets the tone and imagery for what kind of game this is.

Style is a underused aspect of game writing. By picking the right words, you will evoke images in your readers head, set up a vision of the game that is very loose but also very tangible. Excellent for improv games.

It's spot on
Vincent Baker has an eerie ability to point to exactly what is relevant, and then do just that.

In Apocalypse World, he points to dice-rolling and tells us what is relevant in that. We are given a list of moves that everyone can do. Act under fire, Seduce/manipulate, Seize by force, Go aggro, Read a situation, Read a person, and Open your brain to the psychic maelstrom.

This is when you roll dice.

All of them are supposed to be used in a charged situation, except for Open your brain, which can be used in a charged situation. All of them either opposes other persons, or help you figure out what you want to do (to oppose other persons)

Now roll. On a 10+, you get what you wanted. On 7-9 you basically get what you wanted, with some complications. On a 6 or less, you get trouble.

If it's not charged situation, and if it isn't the PCs doing things, don't roll, basically

What Baker tells us here, that is spot on, is when we roll dice, why we roll dice, and what should happen when we roll dice.
We only roll dice when it matters. We roll dice for the PC's agency, when opposed by other people's will. When we roll dice, it should add to the story, not just sucess-failure, but build on that.

My players quickly grasped this, and love rolling their dice.

It's queer
And not just queer, the whole of society is gone in Apocalypse World.

A human life isn't sacred anymore. A human life isn't secure anymore. Sure, we've seen post-apocalyptic people in stupid hairdo's and with stop sign shields before, in Mad Max and the entire genre... But still I got the feeling those were today''s people, dressed up. I get the same feeling from much of the fantasy genre: People in a historical setting, acting, thinking and talking like modern people.

The people of Apocalypse World are truely post-modern. Society, values, tradition, it all broke down, and you can tell people are lost, or rather they have lost the foundation for their lives. This is post-apocalypse I can believe in.

But my most favourite part of this is that it's also so queer. Names aren't gender-coded anymore, you can be girl named Bill, or a guy named Mother Superior, or Shit Head for that matter. Ethnicity, sexuality and gender aren't important anymore, their meanings are forgotten and lost.

Everyone has sex. With whomever they like. There are six genders to choose from, varying from playbook to playbook: Male, female, ambigous, transgressing, concealed, androgynous.

This makes my group play things we haven't tried before. It's exhilirating.

The characters rocks
Okay, I already showed you the gunlugger, which is the baddest ass. But there is also the Maestro D' who owns an establishment, the Hardholder who owns a freaking town, the Driver, the Hocus, the Battlebabe, the Operator, the Chopper... They all move on different scales - One of the players is a doctor, one is a mayor, and one is just a troublemaker - They all have their different kind of trouble and ways to influence the story - And it works! I can see why a Battlestar Galactica hack is in the progress - It's basically the same story structure.

All of these characters are evocative, sexy and awesome. (When the players want to play everyone and pick every move, you know that's a good sign.) And when you pick them up, you know what you want to do with them, what they are doing in this world, right away.

This mystifies me still - Just how do you write characters that players will pick up, and instantly be ready to act on, yet two people will play the Battlebabe in two different ways?

And they need to act. There's no status quo in Apocalypse World, and no story either. What we do is we follow the characters around and see what they do, see what happens to them, because they are dead sexy.

It's got the flow
And here's the big one.

Apocalypse World is how improv games should be written. Game is fluent, fast-paced, involving and fun. We consistently have flow when playing, and two sessions were all flow. That's something of a record for me at least.

And I knew it would. In a way, Apocalypse World was proof to me that my ideas where not totally off the mark, they were true - At least for my game. That was a great feeling.

In my follow-up post, I will analyse Apocalypse World with my Flow-er Model, and try to explain why it delivers in this aspect.


Part 1 of 2. Part 2 can be found here: Why Apocalypse World flows
Apocalypse World, the forums and the playbooks are here:

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Give me myself back

Yesterday I posted a link to the song "Ge oss Sverige tillbaka", which translates into "Give Sweden back". ("...the way it was before the nationalists started hating")

After today's therapy, I listened to it again, but this time it wasn't about Sweden. It was about me.

Sometimes, rejecting someone is how you take hold of them.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

I want to be the post-modern man

I voted for the swedish environmental party, even though they aren't nearly as radical as we need them to be.

The winners of yesterday's election though, was the right wings, so our country is ruled by an alliance that have actually replaced environmental progress with environmental regression, as the environmental crisis comes closer.

On top of that, our nationalistic party got 5,7 percent, 2 more percent than last year, crossing the line for representation in parlament, (4 percent) sending the swedish people into shock, grief, and anger.

I need to get into politics. If I do not fight delusion, denial and projection with truth, science and acceptance, who will?

Everywhere around me, I see tradition and narrow-mindedness that demands me to fight it. Everywhere I see potential improvement and triumph - If I get into politics, who will fight to explain and spread my ideas on roleplaying? There are such a heavy tradition of injustice, labor and confusion in roleplaying design, and the swedish scene suffers badly from it's small scale and isolation from the international story game movement.

Only these last few years, I've begun to grasp the huge implication of gender theory, another oppression of ourselves born out of ignorance and small-mindedness.

And how will I find the time to do psychological therapy and research?

Somehow, I'll just have to do my best in this world and choose my battles. I want to map out what we're doing, show the fear, prejudice and short-comings, wash them away, find the better way. I want to be the post-modern man.