A personal game about depression and its effects intended to help people with invisible illnesses broach the subject and explore it in a way they can have power over it.
ImagiNation is set after the fall of mainland Britain to a strange reality breakdown. The barriers between imagination and reality, dreams and nightmares have shattered and strange things dreamed up by people caught in the event teem across the land.
Only those who are already ‘broken’ can hope to cope with exploring, understanding and combatting this strangeness for the sake of the huddled refugees that sit and wait and watch from the smaller islands around the coast.
Chaosium’s Lynn Willis has passed away. Ken Hite writes:
He played a key role in the refinement and balance of the Basic Roleplaying system, which makes him one of the crucial designers of RuneQuest and Call of Cthulhu, as well as the other lesser lights driven by BRP. He also co-designed the Ghostbusters RPG, which is the second-best licensed RPG ever created, and incidentally provided the die pool architecture for Shadowrun and for the White Wolf Storyteller engine.
He also played a key role as shepherd and guardian of Call of Cthulhu for its first twenty years.
I’ve been meaning to learn more about the serious “unfun” games known as “Nordic Larping” ever since I learned about the activity from Eleanor Saitta at WeirdShitCon. Lucky for me, Paul Graham Raven just happened to finish a three part series of articles for Rhizome on the topic:
First played in 1998, Ground Zero has a good claim to ur-game status, and is a great example of the ‘un-fun’ ideas that Nordic larp plays with: its players sat in a room standing in for an Ohio nuclear shelter circa the Cuban Missile Crisis, listening to mocked-up radio reports of a blossoming bout of Mutually Assured Destruction, then spent the rest of the game having their characters come to terms with the annihilation of the world outside. Far from being an outlier, the deep emotional implications of Ground Zero are indicative of the psychological spaces that Nordic larp would go on to explore.
For the sake of simplicity, I’ll be following Stark’s lead and using ‘Nordic larp’ to refer specifically to the avant-garde school of gameplay rather than the geographically-defined set of players. As Stark is careful to point out, larp in the Nordic countries is not a monolith so much as a collection of localised scenes, and the Knudepunkt circuit — despite its greater visibility to outsiders — is a marginal part of the greater whole.
Marginal it may be, but Nordic larp is a teeming ecosystem of styles and approaches which, again, mirrors the confusion of subgenres and styles to be found in the contemporary genre fiction scene.
Other larps build a more open-ended world. The White War, a larp about military occupation, is one; Mad About the Boy is another: it has a few scripted events, but the outcomes have been vastly different over its three runs. In one Norwegian run, the Last Man’s arrival was met with tea and blankets. In our version, the game ended with a convoluted quadruple-cross and a lot of brandished prop guns — although, while our organizers feared Americans might be trigger-happy, none were actually fired. The forty of us were given a place to live and people to be; what we did with that was up to us.
Giving players this control tends to lead to unexpected results. “I don’t think I’ve ever organized a larp where at one point I haven’t said the following words: He did what? She did what?” Raaum says. In one of her larps, the World War II-based 1942, a group of soldiers was meant to execute a prisoner, but the plan was derailed. “They were meant to feel what it was like to look her in the eye and shoot her.” Their commander, however, “wanted to spare his soldiers their feelings, so he did it himself. That’s bullshit,” she adds.
In some cases, though, this turns out well, even if it started with a failure on the organizers’ part. Finnish war larp Valokaari was meant to feel cramped and filled with interpersonal conflict, but due to a misunderstanding, participants decided to play it as a hyper-realistic military enactment. “The characters who we expected to get on each others’ nerves never did,” the organizers wrote in larp anthology States of Play, “because most of them spent all their time either patrolling, eating or sleeping.” At the end, the players considered the game a success, even if the game hadn’t worked out remotely how the organizers intended.
Interesting, but there’s a fundamental causation vs. correlation problem here. I know at least one person who says she doesn’t play RPGs because she’s not imaginative enough.
A study forthcoming in Thinking Skills and Creativity found that people who play table-top role playing games (e.g. Dungeons and Dragons) engage in more divergent thinking (a common measure of creativity) than people who play electronic role playing games (e.g. Final Fantasy) or people who don’t play any role playing games.
What makes a game like Dungeons and Dragons so beneficial is that it gets at the cognitive core of what creativity is about — the act of connecting existing knowledge in a novel way in order to generate new knowledge. This new knowledge can be a pleasant way to place paint on a canvass, a plan to stop the leak in your sink, or a way to explain how a Dwarf’s Level 3 Fire spell is repelled by a Dark Ogre.
Tomorrow’s towns in Transhuman Space have certainly evolved from eras past, and there’s no doubt that they’re still vibrant, exciting places. Cities on the Edge is your guide to the dangers and delights to be discovered downtown.
Written by noted transhumanist and futurist Anders Sandberg, with science journalist Waldemar Ingdahl, this gigantic guidebook includes:
A tour of cities in 2100, from an overview of what they are and have become, to a look at what makes the towns of tomorrow tick. Unearth the allies and enemies of urban areas. Learn how police, health, disaster management, transport, and trade in the cities of Transhuman Space work. Discover how they’re run, and what happens when it all goes wrong . . .
A look at the bleeding edge of advanced architecture. Ultra-modern metropolises include mile-high skyscrapers, giant arcologies, biological buildings, high-density communications, and more!
Insight into urban culture: gray-collar crime, animated graffiti, urban AIs, self-configuring hotels, and other elements that make downtown dynamic.
A huge worked example: Stockholm in 2100! Visit the capital of Sweden, where eco-engineers discuss the restoration of the Baltic in trendy bistros run by Russian refugees; surrendering your privacy is so last year; and flaunting your naked brain in public is the height of fashion.
A sample scenario: “In the Walls,” a murder mystery that centers on Stockholm. Whodunit, and how?
The future is a foreign country, and there’s perhaps no better place to witness the wonders of the world than by visiting the grandest of the global villages. With Cities on the Edge, you’re at the center of excitement!
New York based game designers Luke Crane (of Burning Wheel and Mouse Guard fame) and Jared Sorensen (known for octaNe and the various games released through his Memento Mori imprint) are sometimes referred to as godfathers of the indie game scene. Tomorrow they’re releasing their new game FreeMarket at GenCon – you can find them at booth #1732. I talked to them a couple weeks ago about what FreeMarket’s all about.
Could you briefly go over what FreeMarket is and why it’s different from other role playing games?
Luke Crane: FreeMarket is a transhumanist RPG in which players take on the roles of telepathic, immortal infovores living on a space station orbiting Saturn.
Jared: That’s also what makes it different from other RPGs.
Luke : In order to get ahead on the station, players must make friends, cooperate and give gifts to one another. Doing so enhances a player’s reputation. Players can then spend this reputation to accomplish personal goals. It uses a unique card-based mechanic, comes in a box and is really pretty.
Left: Jared Right: Luke
It also sounds like it’s a more intellectual game than most – you’ve said you can, for instance, play the role of a philosopher and have that be meaningful within the game.
Luke: Yeah, but don’t think you can’t play Soulshitter Killfuck and have fun, too. But, unlike many other games that I’ve played, you can play an artist and have serious conflict about what you do. It’s impossible to just make a piece of art in this game and have it sit there, inert. Art is controversial.
Jared: And conflicts (especially philosophical, critical and artistic) are both internal and external and can have wide-reaching and unplanned repercussions.
Right. So you could do a more typical hack and slash scenario, or you could do something where you’re dealing with post-scarcity speculation. Or maybe both.
Luke: Yes. But the “typical” scenario is also turned on its ear.
Jared: Definitely. “Death artists” is a common FreeMarket trope we see in our games.
Luke: You can kill the living shit out of something in the game. In fact, when you get into a fight, someone is going to die, period. But that is very costly, so you better be ready to have another side to your character. You better be ready to cooperate and give gifts. Otherwise, you’re not going to survive.
Jared: Some of the nicest people on FreeMarket Station are killers… because they have to be nice in order to remain viable members of society.
So you can kill or be killed in the game?
Jared: Yes, but not permanently
What do you mean?
Luke: Yeah, the station just resuscitates you or reloads your back up into a new body if you’ve “perfect deathed.”
Jared: There are different levels of death… from induced death to brain death to total bodily destruction. If you just go around murdering people left and right, people are going to shun you and you’re going to burn your social capital to ashes.
Luke: Right, killing costs a lot of your reputation.
Jared: Especially if you’re killing people who are valuable members of the society. Assholes who kill each other off can get away with that for a while
Luke: *Laughs* True!
Jared: But kill a baker? Or a garbage man? You are FUCKED.
I haven’t role played in years, and it’s been even longer since I’ve been at all serious about playing. But Free Market sounds like something I’d like to play. Do you think this is the sort of game that people who have lost interest in role-playing or maybe never even role played before would get into?
Jared: We had a woman play — she was the CFO of a game company — who had never played an RPG before. She got it in five minutes. It was awesome.
Luke: It’s different. It’s not about roll-to-hit and not a number style play. People who are diehard RPG players have the most trouble with it, actually.
Was that your intention? To create a game for non-gamers?
Luke: No, we just wanted to create a game that we liked (and that Peter Adkison would like).
Jared: We wanted to create a game for people interested in science fiction.
Luke: That, too!
Jared: Not SF gaming, but actual SF.
Luke: Yeah, this isn’t space pirate romance.
Jared: No travel, no aliens. Which are two mainstays of the game genre.
You’ve said before this is the first actual science fiction game.
Jared: We say a lot of things.
Luke: *Laughs* True. Paranoia is the first science fiction roleplaying game. Our friend Joshua made a really neat science fiction game called Shock, but it’s not really an RPG.
What makes it a science fiction game and other sci-fi themed games NOT science fiction games?
Luke: They’re about fighting and romance. FreeMarket is about time, space and identity.
Luke: Not really!
Jared: D&D is as much about economics as FreeMarket. The title of the game is ironic commentary — the space station was renamed “FreeMarket Station” by its residents and it’s probably ironic commentary by us as well.
So it’s not Milton Friedman: The Game?
Jared: Hah, no.
Luke: Unfortunately, no. Milton Friedman would probably hate the economy in this game.
Jared: More Malcom Gladwell.
Luke: There’s no money. No market.
Jared: That’s the joke. The market is one of ideas.
More “free” than “market.”
Jared: And it’s a truly free society. For the first time ever, people have real freedom. And it’s terrifying.
And you’re going to be giving the game, sans artwork, away for free online at some point, correct?
Luke: We already did that.
Jared: With artwork even.
Luke: We gave away a PDF from November to April. We took it offline while we launch.
Jared: It was limited to 1,000 people. And we used that for our “colony program.”
Luke: I’m sure it’s out on torrent sites.
Jared: It totally is.
Luke: We’re discussing the future fate of the electronic life of FreeMarket. We need to see how well the printed version does. You can definitely get a sense of the game from the PDF. But to play it, it’s best to have the materials—the cards and chips.
How did you get interested in transhumanism and why did you decide to write a game based around it?
Luke: I’ve been a fan of cyberpunk since I had a brain…since about 1991. Transhumanism seems like the next natural step. It’s like cyberpunk, but without the 1980s and with some more thoughtful science fiction.
Jared: The game has gone through a lot of development and research but even from the first step we knew “transhuman science fiction” was going to be its thrust. And it was kinda unexplored as a game subject at the time (2007).
Luke: Yeah, somebody said to us, “What would you do with X” and we both said, “Transhumanist SF RPG. Space stations and weird technology.” I think I was reading Bruce Sterling at the time.
I suppose it would be hard to create a normal hack and slash transhumanist game. Unless you count Rifts or something.
Jared: You can play out brutal combat sequences in FreeMarket and it’s very satisfying. It’s just the consequences are all backward and upside down.
Luke: Rifts is totally transhumanist. But Eclipse Phase, our cousin, is a TH game about fighting. Did I just say that out loud?
Jared: *Laughs* Except that DEE-BEES are not human (so really, it’s transdimensional).
Jared: Rifts also has space whales I think.
Were virtual worlds like MOOs and MUSHes and newer things like Second Life an influence?
Luke: Absolutely. Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter too.
Jared: Everything from MUDs and Second Life to Facebook, dating sites and Slashdot.
Luke: Good science fiction expresses the present through the fiction of the technology. We wanted FM to feel like an outgrowth of today.
How were social networking sites an influence?
Luke: Well, in the game, you friend each other. Friending each other increases your overall reputation and provides “social insurance.” The more friends you have, the harder it is for you to be kicked out of the community. So the influence is rather naked. It was more “What if that shit was about people and real life rather than your profile?”
Why wouldn’t everyone just friend everyone then?
Luke: Hah, well, do you go around friending everyone on Facebook? Do you love the people who do nothing but friend you?
No, but it doesn’t really keep me from getting kicked off my space station.
Jared: There are game equivalents of “like” and “mod down” buttons, social groups and trolling. There are people on the station who try and friend everyone. But friending carries serious social implications. Friending is like allowing someone access to your Google Calendar. And Ebay account. And email. Etc.
So there’s a real trust relationship there.
Luke: And if you’re worried about getting kicked off, then I don’t know if we should be friends. because you’re obviously up to something that’s going to get me in trouble. When your reputation tanks, your friends all take a hit, too.
Jared: Klint’s friends are all switchers, breakers and wetworkers! Don’t friend him!
What advice would you give people who want to be game designers?
Jared: continue to want to be that.
Luke: *Laughs* Play lots of games. Start breaking games. And then play your games. And break them. Also, recruit tolerant friends.
Jared: And stay the hell off of game forums.
Luke: That, too.
Are there any books on game design you’d recommend?
Luke: I like Rules of Play by Salen and Zimmerman. But Jared and I are both self-taught.
I don’t really get into RPGs anymore, but this looks interesting:
The Swing is in RPG (Role-playing Game). The basic premise of The Swing is that Reality is like the swing of a pendulum. Sometimes it swings in one direction; sometimes it swings in the opposite direction. Sometimes reality is dragons and faeries, sometimes it lasers and computers. The Swing is about making your game into what you want it to be. The Swing is designed around the thought that a person?s WILL can shape reality. A character?s WILL can shape the game, the world and all those within.
What was the name of that RPG that was based on Burrough’s Interzone stories?