#7. Is there an RPG genre you sort of like but gives you severe mental blocks? What do you like about it? What are your mental blocks?
I love this question because it’s so obviously personal to Paul Mitchener’s experience. This is how I did #indiegameaday so I appreciate where he’s coming from.
Eloy Cintron had a really good answer about transhumanism, and I kind of echo his sentiment on it. But! I think it’s more because I have yet to see a system really tackle the interesting questions of the genre: Eclipse Phase has fascinating material but is totally trad in its approach (even the Fate version) and Freemarket has a fictional setup that I find hard to connect with. Or maybe it’s that the Freemarket system doesn’t hook into the questions that gnaw at me about transhumanism. I’m working on a post about fruitless voids and I’ll swing back around to this topic later.
So! Transhumanism isn’t quite my answer. No mental blocks, not really, just no good tools yet.
I think my answer for #7 will be: Heart-warming.
When I was between games about a year ago, I put together a list of things I wanted to run and let my players secretly dole out “votes” (everyone got 3) in any way they wanted on that list. It’s good, it’s democratic, everyone’s basically happy with the outcome.
One of the games on the list was Chuubo’s Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine. This damned game has been haunting me for years, in large part because its procedures are so strange. I have no precedent to fall back on and I can’t really read how it plays, even when its fans provide great AP talk.
What jumped out at me in my voting process was that a) it didn’t get any votes and b) two of my four voters both said “heart-warming sounds like a great break from the grim and the dark.” Fair cop: I can do grim and dark and heavy in my sleep. It’s easy, the drama is right there on the surface, it’s naturally and easily intense.
I have no idea how to wrangle heart-warming.
Let’s just say, for the purposes of this conversation, that it’s a genre. I know it’s not “really” a genre under most definitions, but you can add it to nearly any other genre so it’s a big Venn circle. Heart-warming fantasy, heart-warming space adventure, heart-warming exploration, etc. (Maybe not heart-warming body horror or heart-warming espionage.)
My mental block, per #7’s question, is this: How do I keep everyone on the correct tonal page? Everyone, in this case, includes me.
My gut says it’s because nobody, me included, is comfortable expressing soft emotions like friendship and care and concern and love at my table. The funny thing is, some of my favorite fiction provides a great model for heart-warming play! It’s not like I don’t know how The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet carries off heart-warming space adventure. I get it. Lots of affirmations and reaffirmations of friendships, honest sharing of worries and insecurities, less focus on plot development and more focus on emotional revelations.
All that stuff is so hard at my table. But you know what? I’d totally take a swing at it in a convention setting, with strangers. Somehow a con table with a big X card and A-game-bringing superstar players is a much safer space for me to spool this out than my highly curated home group, which has been meeting in some form in a nearly unbroken string for, jeez, 20 years at least. I don’t even think it’s been the same people. But pitching this stuff at home is hard for me. Even when I’m being told point-blank they’re up for it.
A good part of my “mental block” is that, since I’m not practiced at working and exploring the heart-warming subgenre, there’s no small bit of fear there. What if I can’t resist the siren song of high-intensity melodrama? What if my players start tugging toward a plot arc and I can’t nudge them back toward their emotional arcs? My players, like me, are so untrained in this mode of play that I’m sure they’d feel maybe crippling uncertainty about, you know, how to proceed. When you have an economy driving you toward things, you just need to do those things and the game runs itself. When you have a clear premise, you drive toward the premise. Even if we used a game that leveraged clear emotional arcs (like Chuubo’s, which really is perfect for this), there’s the great yawning unknown of what happens when you feel actual feels, and those feels don’t have anything to do with blinding rage or smoldering vengeance or idealistic fervor.
So that’s my answer.