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.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

The Flow-er Model: Step 4-7

This is the third part on the Flow-er Model. The first part is here.

Step 4-7 in The Flow-er Model concerns the process of play, it concerns how the players' input to the game are handled.

4. Agency (The will to grow)

The will to grow is what makes a plant out of a seed. Agency, to take action, to make decisions, is what makes play. Without choices, you're not playing a game anymore, or even interacting with the others. No matter if the choices are tactical, in-character or story ones - As long as they feel meaningful to the players, they will involve, activate and energize the players.

If you have a safe and secure environment (2), a clear and inspiring vision (3) and an openness for everyones' input, the players will jump to get involved in your game and start interacting with it! Active players means energy for your game and fun for everyone.

Now, I talk a lot about improv roleplaying, but I actually quite like D&D 4th ed. as well. What?!

Well, that game places player agency in its combat instead. Combat isn't planned, it's just a collection of conditions: These people have these powers, these people have these. They are at this place, and they have opposed interests. Now, let's see what happens! That is a very open setup, one that invites player input with cool powers. Also, between the encounters, our DM let's us mill around and explore his world at our leisure, going with the flow on our ideas and initiatives.

5. Blocking (Obstacles)
When players contribute to your game, they're adding valuable energy to it. Blocking is saying "No" to these contributions and energy. Blocking are big, ugly rocks in the way of your growth.

Instead of saying no, say yes. Say "Yes, and..." or say "Yes, but..." or say "Yes, if..." to other players' ideas. Take their contributions, accept them, and build on them.

That does not mean you shouldn't provide adversity to the players! You can definitly provide adversity by building on other players' contributions:
Don't take away their stuff, but let their stuff put them in trouble instead.
Let them see the impossible to see-high ranking official by their ludicrous plan, but have him angered by their hijinks and demand something from them.
Don't cancel out something that the player's have spent energy to obtain or plan or create, just raise the stakes instead - Add another risk, or raise the cost of failure.
Let the player's decide if it's still worth doing. Let the player's keep their agency and momentum.
Always build on top of what you get. Never take away.

And here is the big problem of pre-planning: When you've planned ahead of play, there is a right and a wrong, independently of what the characters are interested in. You have an investment in your ideas, you've already spent energy on them, and this means that at some point you are going to say "No" when you could have said "Yes", or you're going to let the characters head off in a direction you do not intend to build on yourself. In either case, you lose valuable energy and movement for your game.

When the players' wants to do something, that's a great opportunity for you as a GM. That's where their energy is, right now! That's what their interested in! Go there, meet your players where they are, and you'll have great reserves of player's energy and enthusiasm to scoop from and add to your game.

A big flaw in traditional game design is that skill checks are, essentially, blocking. You want do something - Great, either the game system let's you, or it says "No, you can't". It doesn't say "Yes, if..." or even "No, and...", it just says "no".

Crassly speaking, skill checks could be considered a blocking tool for the GM to keep the player's from straying off the right path of the scenario.

6. Clarity (Water)
Like water, both you and the game needs to be clear and transparent, or you will be blocking each other inadvertantly.

If the game rules are confusing and hard to learn, you will need to stop play and consult them. Only when you've mastered a game will it flow without interruption. So... don't design games that are impossible to master! (Duh.) Complex rules, sure, if you're okay with the player's spending the first sessions learning your game. Confusing, unclear and inconsistent rules, not so okay. Your players will never master those.

Also, the players need to be open and clear on what their intentions and interests are, what their visions are, either through conversation or through the system. Has the player's intentions and interests been clarified in step 3? (Shared vision) If not, the other player's are forced to guess, which makes nurturing difficult and blocking a hazard.

It never ceases to amaze me how hard it is for some practicioners of a hobby about talking with each other to actually talk with each other!

7. Yes, and... (Nurture)
"Yes, and..." is the opposite of blocking, it's taking another player's contribution and adding to it, nurturing contributions to make your game flow.

Mouse Guard is an example of a game that builds on player's contributions. When a player fails a roll, that doesn't mean sie can't do what sie wanted to do: Either trouble shows up, or sie accomplish what sie wanted, but at a cost, maybe getting angry, tired or lost. This adds more fuel to the story!

Is player reward, like XP, fate points, power points et cetera, a form of nurturing? Well, as long as it isn't a way to force the players to play a certain way, but rather something that stimulates the players and brings energy to the table - Sure!

A game can also invite the players to "Yes, and..." by providing inspiring output for the players to interpret. In the game Apocalypse World, when a character uses the move Sieze by force, you pick two or three keywords that define your action, and one them is "You impress, dismay or frighten your enemy". I can say "Yes, I frighten my enemy!" and then add "and I do this by quickly stabbing him, drawing my blade back, licking the blood off it and looking hungrily at him!" See what happened there? The game gave me a contribution that I got to accept and build on, I interpreted it according to the fiction and what it inspired in me. You can read more on this in my post on Designing with "Yes, and..."

A player can be nurturing by being a good listener, meet other players where they are coming from, understanding their contributions and adding to them. A good, nurturing player also feels safe, (Step 2) and doesn't try too hard. Sie doesn't try to be awesome, which makes play feel forced and unnatural, instead sie is obvious. Sie simply keeps an attitude of curiousity, spontanity and interest.

If you wish to learn how to be a nurturing player, that's beyond this model. Go buy Play Unsafe by Graham Walmsley, which explains it in an extensive and accessible way. Just as The Flow-er Model, it is rooted in improv theatre, but there should be something for everyone in it.

If you wish to learn how to becoma a nurturing game designer, that book hasn't been written yet. I will post analyses of games that inspired flow in me on this blog though, under the label "the flow-er model". Check that out for my thoughts on game design that makes flow happen.

The Flow-er Model: Step 1-3

This is the second part on the Flow-er Model. The first part is here.

Step 1-3 in The Flow-er Model concerns the basis for energy and flow. You can think of these steps as taken before the game begins, in how the game designer prepare you for the game, in how the game master (if any) explains the game to the other players, and in the play group's already set play culture and expectations. However, there aren't clear, hard borders between step 1-3 and step 4-7. It does make pedagogical sense to split them into these two categories, though.

1. Players' investment (The sun)
Energy is the basic currency of creativity. Just as everything starts with the sun, nothing will happen in your game if your friends doesn't show up and invest energy into it.

The more energy the players invest into the game, the more energy reserves it has to spend. You can invest energy by coming to the session eager to play, cook food for the other players (which builds group coherence as well!) and write little bits of in-game fiction or play reports, and prepare sessions, write scenarios, make hand-outs.

This is can be risky though, for if the other players do not invest as much as you do, you risk disappointment and bitterness, just as in any other relationship. (See my post on trust and investing it)

2. Sense of security (The soil)
As human beings, one of our top psychological needs is a need for control and understanding of the situation we're in. Therefore, a creative atmosphere requires the players to feel secure, and secure in their roles, just as a seed needs to sit secure in it's soil. For that to happen, the game needs to adress four points:

1. What is expected of me as a participant?
2. What contributions am I allowed to do, what authority do I hold over the fiction?
3. What if I lose control over play?
4. What if I mess up and do it wrong?

The first point (What is expected of me?) is all about what you need to do to make play good. Are you supposed to be inquisitive, tactical, obedient or creative in the game? Should your characters be reckless archetypical adventurers or ordinary people with great character nuance? If it is unclear what kind of mood and playstyle your game is going for, it's going everywhere and nowhere.

The second point (What authority do I hold over the fiction?) are all about making authority, stance and narration rights clear for the players. For traditional games, these are not a big issue: As a player, you decide whatever your character says, thinks, feels and attempts. To see if you are succesful in your attempts, you roll dice. Everything else, the game master decides. Whenever you leave established tradition (could be traditions and conventions of story games as well, of course!) of story authority however, you must be clear on these points.

If the players are confused with what is expected of them, how they play/run this game, or what they are allowed to say and do to the fiction, this creates insecurity. Timid players will feel intimidated and avoid doing anything while they feel confused, while brash players will just act to release tension, perhaps trampling more timid players in the process. Insecurity and confusion makes flow impossible, so always strive towards clarity!

The third point (What if I lose control over play?) is about creating a safe environment for your players. If the GM or the game have an attitude of punishing, opposing and controlling the player's characters, the players will close up and spend their energy to defend themselves against the GM's contributions, wasting energy both they and the GM could use to move the game forward. It is only natural that the players try to retain control over their characters' fates: The player characters embody the players' investment in the game, and the means through which they interact and play the fiction. If you take those away, the players have nothing, so the players will protect what they have.

As a GM, if your players are defensive, try telling them "I will never harm your characters against your will, and nothing will happen to them that you find not funny or uncomfortable". Maybe you'll see them relax a little bit, right there! A sense of control begets a sense of security, and a sense of security begets creativity.

Now, someone might object that danger and opposition is what makes the characters' lives interesting. Well, have you ever done the trust exercise where one person falls backwards, and another peson catches them? If your players feel 100% secure they will not lose control of their characters fate, they will willingly let themselves lose control. They will willingly fall backwards, have terrible things happen to their characters and explore catastrophes for their characters. Instead of you doing it against them though, you will do it with them, enhancing the game's energy rathe than blocking it. To have a sense of control is a very, very deep human need, and when we trust that feeling, we allow ourselves to do scary things.

The fourth point (What if I mess up and do it wrong?) sounds trivial, but it's huge. Being creative and improvising is scary! Everyone can improvise, but everyone also fears failure and looking like the fool. This too, is something deeply human. Playing towards flow demands a great deal of agency through your players, and not everyone feels safe with this!

But; If you cultivate a game where expectations, authority, vision and expectations are legible and clear, if you cultivate a safe and friendly environment, that will go a long way to make players feel more secure in their agency. Also, you can design your game to use techniques of Yes, and... (step 7), and then the game will go half the distance for your players, easing the load of performance anxiety markedly. Just going the second half of the distance is a lot less intimidating.

Also, fear of failure is probably the biggest difficulty for GM's to abandon pre-planned stories and start improvising instead. Give them the tools and the security they need in your game design, if your game is meant to be improvised!

3. Shared vision (The seed)
The seed holds an idea, a vision, for how the plant as a whole will turn out. Likewise, the players of a game will have a vision for what they're interested in, what they expect from the game, how the game world works and operates.

Much like sense of security, this step needs to provide a clear framework to the players - The game should evoke images in the players' heads, and these images needs to match up to each other. A game that conveys an unclear concept of what the characters do and what the world around them looks like will leave the players lost and confused, maybe heading in different directions.

The setting need not be detailed, it's enough to describe some details in evocative language for the players to get a vision and a feel for it. Again, it's a question of sense of security - As long as the players get a feel for the world, a feel for what kind of contributions and mood belong there, they feel safe contributing to it.

If the players' creative visions for the game differ, they will in best cases talk it through and reach a shared vision, and in worst cases fight each other to enforce their vision, or suck it up and feel bitter. This will make the energy and investment from step 1 fly all over the place, crashing into each other, and this is the one source of roleplaying drama.

Once again, a problem with pre-planning your story as a GM: You will have a strong vision that your players do not yet share with you, which makes it harder for your players to approach your vision. Furthermore, you have already spent great investment in your vision, which makes it harder for you as a GM to approach your players ideas of what should happen. In other words: When you have created a cool scene to show your players, you will steer play towards that scene rather than adapt to flow, encourage flow, and go with the flow.

The Big Model places great emphasis on shared vision, look up Social Contract and Creative Agenda in this article. Also, I talk a little more about shared vision here.

The Flow-er Model: Introduction

This is The Flow-er Model. Go ahead, click it. Check it out.

The Flow-er Model as illustrated by the wonderful Anders Bohlin (DeBracy)

In short:

  • Energy is the basic currency of roleplay gaming. If your game has energy, it is going somewhere, it is interesting, dynamic and involving. Simply put, energy is what makes roleplaying feel good.
  • This model identifies seven steps to cultivate this energy and bring it into a state of flow, which is what make roleplaying feel great.
  • The model is meant to be useful for both players and game designers.
  • The model places great emphasis on clarity, sense of security and sense of curiosity. It stresses confusion and rigidity as antagonistic towards flow.

Before diving in, a short introduction on my assumptions in this model:

Flow is psychological term for a state of total focus and immersion in what you are doing. You cease doubting and planning, you know what to do, and just do it. Performance is at it's peak, and all you need to do is to follow the momentum and your intuition, hence the term "go with the flow". Flow can be achieved in almost any task that requires concentration. The article on wikipedia describes flow as a very strong experience, but remember that flow is a gradient, not a strict category - You can have both slight and enormous sensations of flow, and everything in between.
For this model, let's consider flow as the moment when you're immersed in the game, whether you're immersed in your character, the story or overcoming a challenge. Everyone is active and throwing out great ideas, the mood is at it's top. Simply put; roleplaying that feels great.

Energy and flow is something that happens in play, in the group. To me, roleplaying is primarily a group process, it's what happens between the players. It is not primarily obeying, exploring or using a game book.
What the game book is though, is a participant in this process, just like the other players, one that shapes this interplay. A game as written can facilitate or inspire energy, but the game book never has flow or energy in itself..
Also, when I refer to "players", that includes the game master. (If the game utilises a game master at all)

Play style
This model is drawn from my personal experience, it's a way for me to map out what makes roleplaying feel great. Although I feel that energy and movement is what makes roleplaying enjoyable, other people might of course emphasis other qualites of roleplaying.
Also, the model places a great emphasis on improv roleplaying and story games, which I feel are the kind of games that lend themselves best to flow. If you are new to improvised roleplaying, this is as good a place as any to start learning about it, and how it works.

Improvisation and pre-planning
In my model, I draw a lot from improvisation theatre, and in a way the model is born out of my experience in both improv and roleplaying. Throughout the text I problemise and criticize the tradition of planning stories and scenarios before playing. This is not because I hate that kind of roleplaying, but because I hope to develop both the traditional and the improv style of roleplaying with my writing. My goal is to make a model that is useful for all kinds of roleplaying, that inspire and provoce development in the entire field of roleplaying games. I hope everyone can find something informative, inspiring or useful from this model.

Okay, let's go!

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Lead me into your darkness

When I was little, I was afraid of the dark. I am not afraid anymore, which is good, for people will lead me into their darkness.

Let me tell you about tonight.

I live next to a fantastic park (Slottskogen) and tonight I went for a walk. One part of the park was without lightning, and I walked in near-complete darkness for a while.

I understand why we fear the dark - It's loss of understanding, loss of defense, and thus loss of control.
When someone tells me they have a darkness inside them, and I believe everyone does, it means they have something inside them that they can't control and that they fear.

But darkness in itself, I'm not afraid of anymore, perhaps I even have a sort of lust for it, to stride into our dark sides.

Freud described a lust for death and destruction, called Thanatos, and placed it next to his lust for life and sex, Libido. I don't think destruction is the same as the loss of control I associate with darkness, though.

Destruction is to exercise control. It's the power to reject self-loathing, fear, shame and guilt, by destroying what would wake it, just as we wish to disintegrate ourselves when we feel ashamed. (To "sink through the floor", to disappear)

Well, I don't know.

But as a therapeut, I will contain your darkness, I will show you that it can be endured without disintegration, I will accept it. I will tell you it's okay.

As I walked home, I listened to Insoluble by Dave Gahan. You have nothing to fear.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

The sexism of roleplaying games

In my previous post on women in roleplaying I asserted that:

You don't need to design roleplaying games for women. You just need to stop designing roleplaying games for slightly autistic men.
Traditional roleplaying games require extensive learning and understanding of a game world and a quite elaborate rules system before play. These are qualities that most people do not quite see the charm with, but it is a great bit more appealing if you're high on the Autism Spectrum Quotient. .

This set roleplaying up for a specific crowd upon it's inception, a crowd of which women are not as common as men. Nerds, so to speak.

Okay, why the hell did I need to point this out? Haven't we gamers had enough of stereotyping and name-calling? The answer is, I was feeling frustrated with the issue of recruiting new players and more women to roleplaying. From my community and contacts, I get the feeling that many are asking themselves how to do just that, without recognizing that roleplaying games are traditionally designed to appeal to a minority.

In the discussion that prompted my blog post, and in the discussion that followed it, I was humbled by some very insightful comments on the subject, and I'd like to expand this analysis - Okay, so the first roleplaying games where designed for nerds and autists, of which many were men. What kept the roleplaying hobby from changing? What preserved these demographics?

  • Objectification - I did not consider chainmail bikinis and objectification of women in fantasy illustrations as such a big deal, gender bias if anything. As some posters brought this up, I started imaging what it would be like for me to enter the hobby as a woman, rather than a man. Jesus! I feel alienated by trad gaming already! What if I had to confront illustrations that said "You're not part of us, you're for our pleasure", as well?
  • Masculinism - As I outlined in my previous post, male values (conflict, groups, hierarchy, etc) are strongly present in the traditional roleplaying game design. This sends the message that these games are by men, for men.
  • The Other - As in preserving The Others different from Us. A friend of mine pointed out there are some real asshole male gamers in the hobby, gamers with a habit of treating female gamers in a really shitty way, pouring their stereotypes over them, belittling them or assuming they don't know how to play, what they're looking for in a game store... This is the kind of attitude that can grow in a group that's already homogeneous.
  • Invisibility - Another friend of mine pointed out that tabletop roleplaying, doesn't have... stuff the way that LARP or boardgames do. It's a lot harder to show, photograph and describe the hobby, making it harder to promote it. New players come by word of mouth, which cements old patterns and demographics. 
  • Minority in itself - And of course, by a feedback process: These patterns preserve themselves. They reproduce. Do I want to be the only woman in our gaming club or group? Do I want to go into an established system and fight to change it myself? No, not really.

I'm still just figuring these things out, and I've seen more insightful analyses on priviledge and power structures in gaming, Geek Feminism Publish Post101 for instance, dealing with things I'm still learning and internalizing from feminism. It does feels good to piece together what I've got so far, to connect my frustration with the assumptions in trad gaming design, with feminism's tools and analyses. That's how I learn, I write.

Despite this, I believe that things are changing. I have no statistics to back it up, but LARP has a rather even distribution of gender in Sweden, and Story Games seems to attract a more varied demographics... I think? I've heard testimonies both pro and against this statement.

Also, there are very few immigrants playing roleplaying games in Sweden. I don't know what to say about that though.