Video Games Make Me Feel Weird

Meandering thoughts, mute nao.

I’ve been playing the bejeezus (for me, i.e. a couple hours each night) out of Stellaris of course. Kind of forgot what vidja games do to me! Mostly I get weird and antisocial and I spend all my brain cycles grinding on the game. It’s sorta-kinda intellectually satisfying but sometimes I wonder if it isn’t just kind of a pacifier for my brain to chew on. I’m just talking about me, here, don’t freak out.

Tonight we’re playing session number… seven or eight, maybe, of The One Ring. It’s been a really interesting ride so far. It’s a nice game. Flawed, but no show stoppers. It’s fun, but I don’t get super-pumped about it. The sessions are always interesting but rarely, as a GM, do I feel like things are building toward anything. It’s a slice of Middle-Earth life, way more simmy (in the “right to dream” kind of way) than my typical fare. Like, the drama is neat when it happens but there’s no purposeful building toward drama: shit just lines up where the players suddenly need to make a hard decision. I kind of like how those moments sneak up on everyone, but it means I need to be vigilant.

Mutant: Year Zero is very similar, and I needed to be similarly vigilant when it came to noticing meaningful character statements being made. Without incentives baiting the players or structural prompts mandating that An Ethical Statement Be Made Now, those moments are purely aesthetic. “Wow, things really lined up for you, here’s two Fate and a Persona for that moldbreaker” just feels different than when the fiction has to stand on its own. I’m totally not making a value judgement; my players continue to itch for the incentives because they like to win more than they savor the drama. And that’s okay.

Probably my favorite part of playing games like this (setting aside the loaded language of a term like “incoherent;” let’s say instead “broadly appealing”) is that there’s always something for someone eventually. The best practice here being sensitivity to what those somethings may be, and letting them happen. I’ve sucked at that in the past (me: “I’m super bored by this, I’m skipping over all this shit you want to roll dice for, can we please focus on the storyline instead?”), and it’s a skill I continue to hone.

I’ve got a few games I’m already thinking about trying soonish! Alas, they’re mostly in the PbtA camp. I think my players are feeling burned out/meh, and I blame myself partially. I realize that my one-shot style of PbtA facilitation makes long-term play hard. When everything is high stakes, nothing is high stakes, you know? So my personal skill development wish list is to better modulate the stakes, so I don’t rush to the hard moves and I let the players drive toward their stuff a bit more. I too would feel burned out if my play was largely reactive.

Anyway, my try list right now is:

* Playtest Keith Stetson’s Seco Creek Vigilance Committee …takes a lot of players, and that’s hard to pull together until The One Ring is over (sorry Keith!)
* Undying
* Uncharted Worlds
* My super secret American West game
* My super secret time travel game
* Ryuutama
* Dungeon World (for real!) + one of the Magpie setting books. They all look nifty. Makes me wonder why nobody’s done a series of Apocalypse World setting books, tbh. Probably after 2E hits.
* The Clay That Woke. My big bag of wooden chits is looking forlorn and unused.

I also picked up No Thank You, Evil! for me and the kiddo, but she’s probably a couple years away from playing it still.

0 thoughts on “Video Games Make Me Feel Weird”

  1. Very curious to see you take on the first two on that list.

    Which games have gotten you the most pumped, so far? I’m assuming BW and BE, natch.

  2. Mark Delsing​ yeah, BE/BW have gotten me pumped. But my most recent experiences with both were not good, so I’m feeling really resistant to getting back into them. The BWG supplement may get me going again but right now I’m just not feeling them.

  3. It’s funny. I feel like “take a point for creating Drama” games were a gateway drug for me to more freeform and PBTA drama games, where there’s fewer incentives but everybody brings teh Drama anyway because that’s How You Play TM. It’s sometimes weird going back to “incentivized drama” games now because it can feel forced or push you to add MORE DRAMA when you’re already at Drama Level 7. Or you just forget your Keys / Highlighted Stats because everyone’s hitting them all the time anyway.

  4. J. Walton oh yeah, that’s a very good encapsulation of how I’m feeling about Burning games right now. Unfortunately, I spend about 1000x more time playing, designing, blogging and thinking about rpgs than my regulars. It’s kind of a problem tbh.

  5. Paul Beakley, you’ve stated your love for burning wheel to me on multiple occasions. What is different about the narrative mechanic in Burning wheel (Fate and Artha) vs Fate points in Fate? You seem to really like Burning Wheel’s ability to drive into story. What is different from Fate?

  6. Nicholas Hopkins Fate sucks, that’s what’s different.

    (I’m totally bullshitting you but I don’t feel like this thread is where I want to throw down my comprehensive and ill-conceived anti-Fate manifesto).

  7. Ignore Jason Corley and get your ass to Uncharted Worlds.

    (Actually, he may be right, but I already know how I feel about Ryuutama, and I want you to tell me how I should feel about Uncharted Worlds.)

  8. I have an anti-Fate manifesto in my heart too. I wonder if it’s the same one.

    For me “gamification of drama” (like gamification in general) seems like an powerful but somewhat sledgehammery tool compared to, say, baking drama into the procedures/moves in more subtle or systematic ways. Yes, adept people can wield sledgehammers in subtle and nuanced ways, but it takes a lot of effort, because they’re really made for more smashy, gut-punchy stuff. And you never forget that you’re swinging around a sledge; it’s very clear to everyone, overshadowing a lot of other stuff. But that’s the point where my metaphor starts to fall apart.

  9. Nicholas Hopkins I confess I have a lot of misgivings about actually putting my manifesto into pixels in my collection, here. Although I already feel like I’m already failing the promise of the “Indie Game Reading Club” in other ways, so why not.

  10. Fate certainly isn’t without flaw (I think J.W. is on point especially in the low-fate-point implementations of fate points), but the Core implementation is a pretty decent toolkit for some things that I don’t think I could have launched otherwise.

  11. Huh if Brand Robins likes Uncharted Worlds, I feel way better about liking it.

    I’d really like to see more people talking about this game. And with Far Beyond Humanity coming out soon with space wizards and psychics and elegant weapons from another age, it’s gonna get more awesome.

  12. Jason Corley That comment wasn’t aimed at Fate specifically. My beef with Fate isn’t Fate Points but with tag-based simulation of fictional reality. I really dislike parsing the fiction the way Fate asks me to, but that’s at least 50% personal preference and the other half merely semi-justifiable real criticism.

  13. This doesn’t flow naturally from the conversation, but I think the main reason people haven’t done a whole bunch of setting books for AW yet is because with the exception of needing roads (or at least plains) for choppers and drivers to cruise around on,* AW can be ported really easily to all kids of settings. I’ve seen fallen cities, nuclear wastelands, classic Mad Max deserts, and even dinosaur-infested savannas, all without a setting book telling me how much harm a dinosaur bite does.

    *And both choppers and drivers are really easily re-skinned for Waterworld-style apocalypses, too.

  14. Yeah…like, I think Aspects can be made to work a lot better/more vividly than in the “generic” Fate Core setup. (And yes, Fantaji does one of many possible good jobs with that, you jerks.) But they’re a decent concept.

  15. Aaron Griffin once I got it into my head that UW can be a terrible PbtA game but a good game on its own, I got a lot more receptive. I really think that’s a hangup in the PbtA scene. Double edged sword! Live by the hype, die by the hype.

  16. American West, huh? I was thinking about reskinning some Tenro Bansho Zero to run a western. I read Owl Hoot Trail and was dissapointed, then I had this idea.

  17. Adam D yes but! But but but: think expanded basic moves list, compelling maps, and narrow/specific playbooks.

    Every time I think about the deeply troubled topic of $$$ in small press games, AW setting books jump to the top of my list.

  18. Nicholas Hopkins just a heads up here! But my operating thesis for Misfortune (my game about the American West) is that the history and the mythology are really, really different things. I think my game will not produce a good western-genre experience.

  19. Larry Spiel I have a terrible setup here for hangout games. Although I’d love to get one rolling somehow. May need to rearrange my house a little.

  20. J. Walton​ I’m thinking about the Magpie model here: sell to an established audience. Carving out mind share for yet another hack, lordy that’s a lot of work and luck.

  21. I wonder about that. If I made a bunch of Blue Planet inspired undersea playbooks and setting stuff, would people buy it as a AW sourcebook rather than a stand-alone game? What’s the overlap there? What do I do if there’s a new edition of AW that’s not fully compatible (like there’s about to be)?

  22. J. Walton I’d love to hear Mark Diaz Truman​’s thoughts, unfiltered, about the pros and cons of the Anglekite books. For the effort involved, should they have just been standalone games? Is there something structural or cultural about DW that makes it different than AW?

  23. Pros: great projects for new team members to learn the process, relatively cheap, cool projects
    Cons: financially kinda lean, very slow, time-consuming

    In short, they are cool projects… but stuff like Masks makes a lot more sense for us down the road. If you’re going to go through all the trouble of designing a new game, why not get the benefits of a core book?

  24. I really like Anglekite and Cold Ruins (haven’t read the last one yet) — but, aside from Mark Diaz Truman’s notes, on the pure consumer side — I sort of wish they’d been games of their own.

    Like, I do not want to diminish Brendan’s work in any way, it’s all awesome stuff. But I sort of feel like he pushed DW to the edge of what it could do (and maybe past) in a way that I feel might have better supported his vision had it been it’s own thing.

    Meanwhile, I’m over here noodling on how Uncharted Worlds turned combat into the one-and-done model that most other PtbA games use for social engagement/human interaction, while giving a greater potential for the later type of moves to snowball.

    And now, because I’m just covering all the topics in one post — Paul Beakley I sometimes feel like I have an issue with FATE, but I don’t think I do. I think FATE works fine, I just think it works fine for something I don’t always like. When I watch folks playing, and enjoying FATE, and then critically analyze my own reactions in response to the games of it I’ve played I feel that FATE is about celebrating tropes. Where as PtbA games tend to be about tying tropes to a chair and inquisiting them until they scream. Not, you know, actually in any critically or ethically constructive way, but still, there’s a “oh so you think that being a hard ass bad mother fucker with a castle is cool, well did you consider the murder torture you have to do to keep it and how that’s going to fuck you in the end no matter what you do?” where as in FATE its like “You are a badass, you did badass, get a chip and high-five each other.”

    It’s easy to judge that, and call FATE shallow or PtbA deep or some shit, but I think that’s a false moralization as a lot of PtbA games “questioning” of tropes is cheap and shallow, and several FATE games I’ve seen (though not played myself) seem to make some actual ethical meat out of embracing and celebrating some tropes and not others.

  25. Brand Robins  where as in FATE its like “You are a badass, you did badass, get a chip and high-five each other.”

    Okay, all Fate discussion is now done. /closes up shop

  26. On a related note, I’ve thought A LOT about making the Planarch Codex a stand-alone thing, but so far I’m not prepared for the deep, soul-searching, no-end-in-sight, no-guarantee-of-success work that would require, particularly in coming up with a set of basic moves that I actually liked and would do what people need.

  27. Brand Robins​​ yeah, that’s where I’m at with Fate as well. As trope-y as I feel PbtA can be, Fate is like 10x. The economy is terrific for reiterating agreed-upon concepts but I have yet to play or read a Fate game where the incentive scheme prompted emotional/creative investment. For whatever reason, Compels feel more like a “say the cost and ask” type PbtA-style transaction than a player-authored BW style Belief.

    I probably should draw a diagram with clouds and arrows or something. The order of operations and the origins of the ideas and refutations are important.

  28. Paul Beakley I think we’re saying something close to in the same region as each other.

    For me PtbA games, when they’re “good PtbA games” and working well with the group, circle around the same magic center of “work with stupid tropes, but then question those tropes” that Burning Wheel does. There’s a lot of fight for it, and justify it, and be ready to deal with it if it goes wrong that comes out of a lot of narrativist thought. (Both from the Forge, but also a lot of it pre-Forge. Notably Luke did that stuff with BW before the Forge, so, you know…)

    So the “creative investment” in those kind of games comes from putting forward a statement, having that statement challenged, and then rolling with the result and seeing where it goes. It’s all about testing, conflict, and the potential that your character (and possibly you as a player) are wrong.

    Where as in FATE, it’s less about that and more about the moment when you’re watching Lord of the Rings and Gandalf comes back as Gandalf the White and you’re like “ZOMG SO AWESOME” despite the fact you knew he was going to come back and despite the fact that it’s not really a question of his beliefs or actions — it’s just proof that the guy who was right was always right and being excited that the thing we all love turned out to be true.

    These things build emotional investment in different people in different ways.

    I’m… well you know me. I’m not good at celebration. I’m good at breaking ideas. Give me an idea, even an idea I like or support ethically, and I can break it in 10 minutes. And I build engagement through processes like that: conflicting, at risk, breaking, engagement in direct headbutting. So give me PtbA, or Burning Wheel, and fuck yea — I will break shit and celebrate it’s destruction. I will fight for it and high five if my particular character wins or loses because it’s about the struggle.

    Or, you know, there are days where I want that. And other days where I want to be all like “I am Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die” and not then die in a pool of blood while the guy that killed my dad pees on me.

    And it’s that feeling, that Princess Bride celebration, that I see happening when folks I know play FATE and love it play. It builds emotional engagement through a more communal celebration, less about challenge and more about joint triumph. In most FATE games (not all!) it’s not really a question of if you’ll win — it’s a question of when you’ll win and which of your awesome things will help you win. It’s not about if Gandalf was a fucking moron to fight a demon he knew he could not beat, it’s not about if Inigo’s drive for vengeance is ultimately life-defeating and negative. It’s about getting your emotional charge when things we thought were true are proved out to be true.

    So me? I’m bad at that. But that doesn’t mean that’s bad.

  29. That’s because you’re (Paul) prompting Aspects wrong. The good news about Fate Core is that more or less every session, if you have an Aspect that you thought was great but feels artificial or imposed, you can switch it for a better one. (The fact that this never happens is a failure almost entirely of the Fate playerbase and not the rules.) Since you don’t have any freedom to create your character in PBTA games, you just circle options on a list, you’re mistaking amputation for a cure.

  30. Brand Robins yeah we’re talking about the same stuff, for sure.

    And now begins the argument from the Fate folks about how we’ve gotten it all wrong, which is exactly the argument I didn’t have energy for here, today.

  31. Jason Corley​​ I wrote my comment before reading yours. Agreed re PbtA, hence my saying that it’s also a trope enforcement engine (although imo less heavy handed than Fate). Neat that they’ve added a method for fiddling with Aspects, the baked-in static-ness of Fate was always a turnoff.

  32. I think Brendan Conway might agree with you, Brand Robins. We discussed how much DW was constraining something like Varkith, sometimes constructively and sometimes not, and I thinking working within those frames is ultimately limiting. PbtA is a robust framework already; I’m not sure we get a lot of out of using the DW-drift of that framework.

    And as a Fate fan, I’m 100% on Brand’s side for what makes Fate awesome. But I get why people aren’t into it!

  33. Mark Diaz Truman when I retire and start my second career as a super villain, I’m going to dose the nation’s water supply with a drug that will make people get why some folks aren’t into the same things as them. Here’s my super villain twist: that difference of opinion will not affect their opinion of each other in any way whatsoever.

    It’ll destroy the world. Mark my words. What on earth will we do with ourselves without tribes?

  34. Jason Corley, swapping out aspects after every game session goes back to The Dresden Files. Why can’t I get my players to swap out aspects? You speak truth, brother.

    For me the light bulb came on when I played a Kerberos Club game. I realized that the shift had gone from “CAN I do this?” to “Am I WILLING to do this despite the fallout?” The lleverage mechanism that I used was the compel. Fate, I would agree, does not do failure well. What it does do is make you pay for your victories.

  35. Also instructive to compare to Smallville, where you’re encouraged to go against your established feelings in exchange for momentary bonuses and eventual XP; but players who agonize and craft an exquisitely perfect belief statement get nothing compared to the people who are like “I’ll NEVER fall in love!!!!” and then say “OH MY GOD, I THINK I FELL IN LOVE!” at the first opportunity.

  36. Jason Corley that happens in BW as well. My players are hot to get moldbreaker artha but hate that they need to actually establish a pattern of behavior first, in the game and not just in the backstory.

  37. (Retreats into a small cave where I will once again rethink Planarch’s relationship with DW due to Mark Diaz Truman saying smart things. Hmm…)

  38. I’m ready for a Cortex+ Drama Planarch Codex! he said, then quickly muted the thread so as to never experience disappointment and live out his days in the golden anticipation of better times to come.

  39. Yep, at some point in Varkith I was definitely struggling to push in interesting directions while still retaining a core of Dungeon World. Varkith is to the point where it practically adds a game on top of the game. With that said, though, I think that setting books like the Chaos Worlds can make sense, much more so than they probably would for Apocalypse World, because Dungeon World is a toybox game.

    Since Dungeon World is based on D&D more than on any other genre of fantasy, and has somewhere in its heart that D&D-ish idea that you can take it to so many different places and experience so many different adventures, it’s got a strong toybox element. We play it and we take out the toys we want for this session: that place, those monsters, this magical item, these classes, and so on. So having more toys in the toybox only ever feels like a good thing, and it was easy to initially conceive of the Chaos Worlds as me adding toys to the toybox from within the diseased recesses of my brain.

    When the Chaos Worlds shifted to me actually trying to change Dungeon World, to give new tools with which to take the game to new places, writing the books started to come up against the boundaries of DW. Varkith goes farther than Lastlife did in that space, and it’s easy for me to imagine a world in which Varkith wasn’t tied to DW, but was instead a whole new thing unto itself, with new basic moves—a real toolbox, instead of a toybox.

    For AW, setting books are tough because it really isn’t a toybox game, it’s a toolbox game. You can play with some portion of the playbooks, and there are plenty of fan-created ones, but really AW is largely about that core set of playbooks. And the playbooks are really the only pieces you vary like this—otherwise, you’re still playing with the same kinds of gear, and the same kinds of threats, and so on. There are no lists of monsters for you to pull from, or magical items to bring in, or compendium classes to point at, because none of those toys are a thing in AW the way they are in DW. Instead, AW is about giving you the tools and machinery to create a certain kind of story, and using its tools, I can create my own toys.

    Dungeon World definitely still gives me the tools to create my own monsters, but also, I’m probably more likely to use a pre-made monster that does the job, instead of making my own in the moment. Because at the table, the process involved in making that toy is too involved—while in AW, the tools of the system are designed so I can create a new threat very quickly and easily (name an NPC, pick a body part, set ’em loose). So in AW, I’ll use those tools to create my own toys at the table, while in DW, I want the toybox full in advance.

    Could be this is as much about the culture surrounding the game as anything else—that it’s a toybox culture more than a toybox game. But at least for me, yeah, that’s why I think Lastlife was straining, and Varkith was definitely pulling hard at the boundaries of DW—because they ceased to be just about more toys, and shifted some attention onto new tools.

  40. I think the way Fate wants to engage dramatic situations isn’t through directly “challenging” an individual Aspect, but by having the GM look at connections and resonances between aspects in a way that suggest themes — to my eye the scenario creation rules in the Dresden Files RPG have some similarities to the way Mouse Guard mission creation works. I’m skeptical about whether Fate can actually deliver on this type of play in practice — my experience playing Fate has been that I consistently get more involved in the internal life and/or dramatic potential of my character than ever gets developed during play so I end up frustrated.

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