Sunday, October 09, 2005

Breaking the Ice in Out of the Box

Word has come out from Ken Hite about small press games he read & liked at GenCon in his latest Out of the Box column. The Mountain Witch and Polaris get excellent coverage, as do City of Brass, Jihad and Bacchanal, along with Thirty, the Farm, Dread and Discordia.

And, also, Breaking the Ice!

From the column:

Ken wrote:
Emily Care Boss' Breaking the Ice (38-page digest-sized softcover, black and white, $14) is likewise a game in which the narrative direction is predetermined, although there is far more room for player initiative, and the dice (sort of) resolve things. It resembles a romance version of My Life With Master, with a set time limit and story arc.

He's spot on the money in noting this influence. I am definitely exploring the new territory that Paul broke ground on in with MLwM. What he did was to structure the role playing game as a story type that then gets populated by the specific details the players bring to the game. This gives you the advantage of a clearly determined dramatic arc, while avoiding the single-use problem that modules & prepared adventures have. Instead of getting "used up" after you run it once, every time you play it's completely different. Can't thank Paul enough for his work on this principle.

This game, like many narrativist games, doesn't merely presuppose interested, cooperative players, it actively requires them; otherwise, there's far too much room for apathy or spite to wreck things. (This is also very much true of The Mountain Witch, Polaris, and Bacchanal.)

It's true. Especially since it's a two player game, both parties need to be engaged. Though it is sad that this may be seen as something unusual--don't we play these games because we enjoy them? But we all come to games with different experiences and expectations. Not everyone will be as willing or able to come up with things, or to get involved.

But, here, what the game has going for it is something that puts the wind in the sails of Primetime Adventures: player input. In PtA, the pitch session is where you get to/have to combine the best elements of all the players' ideas, and so you actually get the opportunity to, from the get go, make the role playing experience be about something that everyone likes and has the opportunity to have a stake in. Creating characters in Breaking the Ice opens that same door, and the way dice are awarded keeps it current throughout play. Every moment you are checking in, "is this interesting to you?", "does this make a connection, creatively, between us?"

Or so I do surely hope. : )

2 Comments:

Blogger Bradley "Brand" Robins said...

I used to find it odd that we'd write things like "it presupposes two interested, attached players to make it work." After all, we're all there to have a good time right?

But, at some level, I always wondered about that. I knew, from hard fact, that games often went wrong -- even (especially?) games played by people who were friends who had (ha ha) "similar" gaming styles.

Recently, however, I've started thinking that there are whole classes of players who do not fall comfortably into the mode of "we must cooperate to have a good game." And in this category I don't even include the dilberate asses who come to game to be dickweeds.

I'm thinking more about guys like Tony, who has admited that one of the things he likes in game is strong competition between both players and characters; or my friend Neil who always is getting into arguments over the tiniest and most insignificant of details.

Now, I don't know Tony well enough to speculate on his motives (and I suspect he's flexible enough to like a game like Breaking the Ice anyway) -- but for Neil I know that one of his primary issues is that he does not feel heavily emotionally engaged through cooperation. (Unlike my wife, who primarily feels heavily emotionally enganged through cooperation of players, if not characters.) He feels emotionally engaged with you when he is arguing with you, when you are demonstrating the passionate interest in his opinion that leads to both of you having it out directly and unabashedly, both bringing it at full vollume.

Niel is a good guy, and it is possible to play functional games with him. (Esepcially heavily "Step On Up" gamist games.) But I wouldn't play either PTA or BtI with him -- because his emotional agenda isn't complementary with the creative agenda or technical focus of those games.

I think Mo will be talking more about this on Sin Aesthetics soon, but I wanted to drop a note in here before I forgot about it -- I think now that we've started to get an understanding of the structural and procedural foundations of play, we need more analysis of the emotional and human reasons for people's modes of play and their interations with them. (The prisoner's dillema is good for telling you the logic of a situation, but bad at telling you why actual emotional beings chose as they do.)

5:55 PM  
Blogger Bankuei said...

Yeah, it's a sad commentary on our hobby when it considered strange or even necessary to mention that players ought to be there for similar reasons and enjoying what's going on...

12:57 PM  

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