Friday, February 29, 2008

Narratives in Video Games

Regarding this Panel Discussion on Narratives in Video Games

Selling a lot of games is the key to their sense of success. "It is empowering. It makes you honest about what you're making." My sense, at least for Bio-Shock, is that what makes people gravitate toward it is the hellish blackness of the concept, along with the gritty horror of the artwork. It is telling that the creator of the Bio-Shock story in reminiscing about his original story line calls it "fucking insane".

To me it raises the question: If the motive is to sell games, then at what point are you selling out your artistic integrity for the sake of sales?

Perhaps that sounds like a cynical question, but then again, I note, perhaps irrelevantly, that the stage was black, the chairs were black cloth directors chairs, and all of the speakers were dressed in black. Why? Because black sells games? But why is that? Because kids want and will buy blackness? But why? Because they hate the world as it is and they want it destroyed? But why? Was it always like this? I think that more and more this has become a vicious spiral downward where the best selling video games sell *because* they are dark, and they add to the darkness by projecting an even worse, more horrible future (Bio-Shock) to be hated.

What was not asked at this conference is this question: What is it about your narratives that sell your games?

I think they are selling because kids feel angst and frustration and hate for the world as it is because we just see so much incredible hypocrisy and stupidity in our society, and it makes us mad, and drives people crazy and so people want to vent their rage, and a good dark killer video game with awesome graphics is an engrossing and mesmerizing way of venting. You can run around and blow away tons and tons of people, and monsters and slime things, and whatever without any consequences (other than a shriveled spirit). The games reflect that, but they also, I think, feed the cycle. Personally I'm not that impressed with the trends in gaming, and I think the artists who contribute to it don't have very much moral integrity. Why should games be held accountable to any kind of moral standard? Well for me, its because they contribute either positively or negatively to our culture. And whatever has an influence should be held accountable for that influence. Games have always had an incredibly strong influence on the development of the individual, and video games are now becoming a predominant form of gaming experience. And therefore they need to be critically assessed for impact and overall effect, and part of that critique should cover the moral dimensions of the game's Narrative.

Well, that's my take on it. I'm going to continue working towards my World setting that is not all about the death of hope, as much as that may totally uncool, and against the contemporary grain of things, and regardless of whether or not I ever sell my world to anyone at all. That's what my artistic integrity demands of me. I must go with my vision of what I believe is right.

Not that I'm saying that Bio-Shock isn't fun to play or successful, or challenging or electrifying or shocking or whatever. Or that the other games aren't the same, or different. But for me, games have a specific role to play in the evolution of the individual human psyche, and that has very much to do with role playing. All games, as they mention in the panel discussion, ultimately, are about role playing. The next step to ask is, What kind of role DO you want to play? And what kind of roles would you want the people you rely on in life to want to play? I think this is important to understand. People who want to play heroes may learn something from that experience and become more heroic in their real lives. And people who want to play destroyers may also tend in that direction in their real lives. Now you might say, well each person heads in the direction they are predisposed towards, right? But then again, isn't it possible that people are influenced also by the ideas and concepts that they encounter? Concepts which they may encounter while playing a game, even?

The next question for me is: Does the world setting of the game you're playing allow you play the kind of role you admire? Or does it instead head you off at the pass and prohibit you from role playing your dream of who you wish you could be? I find that in a lot of dark games, the answer to that is a flat, perfunctory, No. You are not allowed to be a hero because the premise of the dark nihilistic game is There are no such things as heroes. I have this impression, btw, of some people's Paper and Pencil RPG Worlds, as much as I do of some video games. But that's just my impression and that's how I've come to think of the Dark Game Genre. It started with DOOM, and has gone on a downward spiraling rampage ever since into darker, more hopeless and corrosive World settings.

One of my purposes in the LRPGSW has been to talk about how to make games Literary in quality. And by Literary I include those aspects that make classical literature uplifting and inspirational. Thus, my tag line remains "Aspire to Inspire" for that reason. However, with the world getting as dim and grim as it is, I have my doubts that I shall be able to spark even a moment's notice amid the horror stories being trotted out from every direction. Nevertheless, I frankly don't give a damn about what the Dark Lords do, and will continue as ever to shine the little rays of light here and there as I am able. And who knows if that might ever lead somewhere brighter than the world the Dark Gamers are creating? I don't know. Time will tell.

- Mark

Monday, February 11, 2008

#RPGNet IRC Conversation...

Gray Lensman
This recent conversation was interesting, and I thought it worth posting. In it we discuss Indie RPGs in terms of pros and cons, likes and dislikes. The conversation proved enlightenning to me. I thought I'd share it. In the conversation I am Z9M9Z.

[Plastik] being bored really, looking at my list of RPGs i'm thinking of getting
[Plastik] marked all indie games off of it
[Z9M9Z] I need to get one of those cool side cars for the moter bike now.
[Charmed] :)
[pip] Long list?
[Charmed] Yes you do
[Z9M9Z] btw, do you wear a cape?
[pip] Mine is pretty short at the present.
[Plastik] I have 8 games on mine
[Plastik] nm 7
[Z9M9Z] whats #1 on your list?
[pip] Down by 1 in a few seconds?
[Plastik] they are not organized by desire Z
[Plastik] pip yeah I missed an indie game
[Z9M9Z] crap! it's is waay too windy outside!
[Z9M9Z] it's starting to scare me.
[Charmed] Yeah, that's why I don't wear a cape...wind and stuff wraps me up and I can't move!
[pip] Missed?
[Z9M9Z] right... I wear silver spandex and blue googles
[pip] That reminds me, I wonder when Eldritch is slated for release.
[Plastik] pip all indie games are getting booted off my list
[Plastik] i'm sick of them
[Z9M9Z] um... why is that Plastik?
[Z9M9Z] I've just started toying around with the idea of trying some out. What's the deal?
[Plastik] don't get me wrong, alot of the little indie games have neat concepts but I find them a bit to restraining for my tastes
[Plastik] also i've come up with a better term for them
[Plastik] novelty games
[Z9M9Z] interesting.
[pip] I thought indie games was a pretty broad umbrella.
[Plastik] I generally refer to smaller forgeish type games
* Agamemnon2 has quit IRC (Disintegrated: Ich will die Welt verstehen und alles wissen und kenn mich selber nicht.)
[Z9M9Z] well, it's one of their big design imperatives is to focus the game to fit the game's proposed "Aboutness"... no rules should be included that don't directly relate to what the game is "about"... or so I am lead to understand
[kasdaye] Okay, Warhammer question, why do Skaven wuv Warpstone?
[pip] Ah, like Life with Master and that ilk?
[Plastik] it powers just about everything they do
[Plastik] kasdaye thats like asking why humans love coal and gunpowder
[kasdaye] Ah
[Plastik] Z its works fine but it feels a bit too restrictive to me and it kinda limits replayability in my eyes
[Z9M9Z] i see
[Plastik] I can see myself playing these games once every now and then if that
[Xyphoid] the restricivness is totally by design, though
* Z9M9Z finds this scientifically fascinating
[Plastik] yes I am aware Xyphoid
[Z9M9Z] yes, that's what I understand about it too, Xyphoid
[Z9M9Z] I went to the last two Indie Design Panels at Dreamation and I got that impression very strongly
[Plastik] some people like being told to play this exact sort of role in this exact part of the game world
[pip] Where does stuff like SotC fit on the scale?
[Plastik] I however do not
[Plastik] SotC I actually like
[Z9M9Z] SotC
[Plastik] though I don't see myself running it often
[Z9M9Z] ??
[Z9M9Z] which one is that?
[Plastik] Spirit of the Century
[Z9M9Z] ohh
[Z9M9Z] Freds game
[Plastik] Pulp action heroes
[Z9M9Z] yup
[Z9M9Z] that sounds fun
[Z9M9Z] I tried one that was fun as heck last summer at the Indie Explosion
[Plastik] I have it, and it is the one game I can actually see myself running fairly regularly
[Z9M9Z] the Fey game...
[Z9M9Z] Fey Noir
[Plastik] DRYH, PTA, and DitV however
[Z9M9Z] I really enjoyed that.
[Plastik] those I can see myself running less and less
[Z9M9Z] fun concept, though I'd do the world a tiny bit differently in terms of setting.
[Z9M9Z] but just slightly.
[Plastik] don't get me wrong alot of indie games are massive amounts of fun, the first few times
[Z9M9Z] yeah
[Z9M9Z] I could see that.
[Plastik] but that narrow focus will leave you desiring more eventually
[Z9M9Z] how so?
[Plastik] well if your only playing say DRYH
[Plastik] your going to follow the same basic story path each time
[pip] It's the lack of breadth you dislike. DRYH?
[Plastik] Character get dragged into mad city-]face problems together-]eventually things get settled
[Plastik] the variability in characters can keep you coming back for a while
[pip] Ah, ran into a similar issue with All Flesh Must Be Eaten.
[Plastik] but its not going to keep you entertained forever
[Z9M9Z] right
[Z9M9Z] I can see that
[Plastik] DitV is the same way
[Z9M9Z] I grok that now.
[Plastik] these are great supplemental games to play every now and then to take a break from a big game
[Plastik] but to focus on indie games solely? well that just seems bleh to me
[Z9M9Z] on the other hand, I'm looking at them as tools to use to suppliment some aspects of the big game
[Z9M9Z] like the methodologies of story development might be of use in a general sense
[Z9M9Z] possibly.
[Plastik] they would probably be good for that
[Z9M9Z] that's my angle anyway.
[pip] There actually are folks who play those types of games to the exclusion of all else?
[kasdaye] Probably.
[Plastik] yes
[kasdaye] I'm with Plas on this one.
[pip] It seems like it'd get you burned out on gaming in short order.
[Z9M9Z] could happen
[Plastik] so i'm basically not going to buy anymore indie games
[Z9M9Z] that's why I'm thinking of them as tools for my homebrew, rather than as games to play in and of themselves (no offense to any Indie designer dudes here, but... )
[Plastik] i've got four big ones
[kasdaye] Also, *makes stabbing motions at the Forge*
[Plastik] thats enough for me
[Plastik] SotC, DRYH, PTA, and DitV
[kasdaye] I have DRYH and Burning Etc
[Z9M9Z] I bought a bunch but haven't even read through all of them yet
[pip] What is DRYH?
[Xyphoid] there are people who play these games a lot, but one thing to realise is that there are *heaps* of them - so even if you can only get a couple of months from a game, you can switch to the next...
[kasdaye] Don't Rest Your Head
[pip] Ah, never heard of that one.
* Leviathan has joined #rpgnet
* ChanServ sets mode: +v Leviathan
[kasdaye] It's a cool premise.
[Xyphoid] but I mean I'm right in your camp I think, I play longer standard-game campaigns, and occasional shortterm indies
[kasdaye] Decent execution
[Z9M9Z] yeah there's like hundreds of them
[kasdaye] Hey Levi
[pip] What's the premise?
[Plastik] DRYH has a horrible dice mechanic!
[Z9M9Z] 20 a month or something are getting added
[Plastik] HORRIBLE
[Leviathan] Evening, Kas. How does it?
[kasdaye] Says you =P Things are subjective
[kasdaye] Pretty good, yourself?
[Leviathan] Doing well. And for the record, DRYH has an amazing dice mechanic. I love it.
[Z9M9Z] Yup... one man's HORRIBLe is another man's ice cream with cherry on top.
[kasdaye] Roughly? You're an insomniac with superpowers in a town right out of someone's nightmares.
[kasdaye] Sort of.
[Plastik] pip, essentially your an insomniac with issues who gets dragged into this nightmare place called mad city to face your problems and the manifestations of your and others nightmares
[kasdaye] Mad City is hard to describe...
[Plastik] Mad City is the dark side of humanities collective unconcious, pooled into one place, it stretches across time and swallows all things forgotten
[Z9M9Z] m
[Z9M9Z] sounds ... um ... fun
[Crazy-Cabal] Are there flamingos?
* Z9M9Z shudders
[Plastik] your would think
[Crazy-Cabal] Are mirrors more fun than television?
[Plastik] you*
[Plastik] the dice mechanics...though so may like a pain
[Z9M9Z] my mirror happens to be more fun than my tv
[pip] Sounds like the premise of a surreal horror flick.
[Z9M9Z] but that's a rare case.
[Plastik] unless you have 4 different colors of D6 your in for a headache
[Crazy-Cabal] She has dyed her hair red!
[kasdaye] I do actually.
[kasdaye] This dollar store sells green, black, white and red dice for $0.25 each
[Plastik] and browsing the various colors for successes to figure out which characteristic dominated the scene is a bit annoying too
[kasdaye] So I have a few handfuls
[pip] What gamer doesn't have a dozen different colors of d6? :)
[Plastik] true
[BlackIsis] hrm. Roy Scheider died. :/
[Plastik] I just find DRYH dice mechanic slightly annoying
[Plastik] but that is just me
[Z9M9Z] oh gosh
[Z9M9Z] I think it's going to be very hard to get people excited about my dice system
[Plastik] I actually reccomend buying the game for the setting and character freedom only
[Plastik] its good for a 2-4 session game
* Plastik shrugs
[Plastik] but honestly I think I have enough indie games, I decided to not buy The Shadow of Yesterday because I figure if i'm going to run a fantasy game i'll just play one of the bigger ones I already own
[Plastik] i'm the kinda guy who loves sourcebooks and pages upon pages of material
[kasdaye] Amen
* Z9M9Z looks around for Charmed ... where's that sidekick of mine?
[kasdaye] I want to play a long running AFMBE game
[Plastik] All Flesh Must Be Eaten
[Z9M9Z] oh
[kasdaye] All Flesh Should Probably Be Eaten
[Z9M9Z] probably
[kasdaye] ]_]
[Plastik] [_[
[Z9M9Z] yeah... well ... some flesh is better than others
[kasdaye] This is true.
[Plastik] picky zombies
[Z9M9Z] mine for example is pretty lousy
[Z9M9Z] not good for eating
[Z9M9Z] probably best to leave it alone, i'd say
[Z9M9Z] oO
[Z9M9Z] Oo
[Plastik] but yeah I think PTA, SotC, DRYH, and DitV will provide me with enough pick up and play games for whenever I need to run a one shot for some friends or maybe take a break from a campaign with a bigger game
* Ryan has joined #rpgnet
* ChanServ sets mode: +v Ryan
[Plastik] i'll prolly end up playing SotC the most out of the 4
[Z9M9Z] Fred will be gratified to hear that.
[Z9M9Z] *would be
[Xyphoid] kpfs is good too, if you feel like swearing a lot
[Plastik] I like DRYH, the dice mechanic gives me a slight headache but I can work with it, but the setting and the premise is enough to make it all worthwhile
[Plastik] its a good horror-ish game to eat up 2-4 sessions
[Plastik] PTA probably has the most playability, i'd say
[Plastik] replayability*
[Plastik] and DitV i'll prolly run the least
[Charmed] Night all
* Charmed has quit IRC (Disintegrated: Today is a good day to chat.)
[kasdaye] I've heard of PTA and DitV but I'm wary of Indie games
[Plastik] kasdaye, they are good if you need to eat up a few sessions
[Plastik] both are good off and on games
[Plastik] since DitV focuses on Towns and PTA focuses on Episodes
[Plastik] you can take a break and come back to it if need be
[kasdaye] Ah
[kasdaye] Risus is my choice for on and off games.
[Z9M9Z] the thing about indie games that i question is the shift in the so-called Creative Agenda
[Plastik] Kasdaye, i'm not a fan of Risus or Wushu
[Z9M9Z] that's the part i struggle with... I like the traditional model for GM-Player relationship to the story
[kasdaye] I don't like Wushu
[Z9M9Z] not crazy about changing that
[Plastik] Z then don't buy PTA (Primetime Adventures)
[Z9M9Z] k
[kasdaye] Risus is basic enough for my players to pick up.
[Plastik] lol, there is a GM and Player divide, but players end up narrating alot of the scenes
[kasdaye] Anything beyond that is going to take a session to teach them
[Z9M9Z] yeah that's the part i'm not too cozy with
* good_ol_egypt has joined #rpgnet
* ChanServ sets mode: +v good_ol_egypt
[Z9M9Z] of course, I haven't tried it
[good_ol_egypt] Evenin'
* Ryan has left #rpgnet
[Z9M9Z] so I really don't know how well it works
[Z9M9Z] but from what i gather, i don't think i'd like it
[Plastik] prolly not
[Plastik] its more of a collaborative effort
[Z9M9Z] crikey - it is windy (I know I keep saying that but it's like CRAZY windy outside)
[Plastik] than a "GM drives the plot"
[Z9M9Z] see... I don't like "GM drives the plot" much either
[kasdaye] I'm a fan of the traditional method.
[Z9M9Z] I like "GM sets up the backstory" and "Players drive the Plot - but not control the world"
[kasdaye] But I've stolen Exalted's motivation and intimacies
[Plastik] well PTA isn't that
[Z9M9Z] somehow the indie games i've read about seem to have crossed the line somewhere along the way to Players Control The World.
[kasdaye] As in, made them more than just things in the background
* pip is now known as afk_pip
[kasdaye] Yeah.
[Plastik] PTA encourages the players and GM (producer) to collaboratively think up the TV Show, then the conflict mechanic basically could end up with Players controlling the entire scene (including other peoples characters) or the GM could
[Plastik] so its a collaborative thing, your character will most likely not even be under your control alot of times too
[Z9M9Z] hm
[Plastik] depending on how the conflict works out (conflict is resolved with playing cards not dice btw)
[Z9M9Z] again... i repeat ... hm
[Plastik] yeah
[Z9M9Z] why don't i like this idea? maybe i'm just stubborn and stuck in the old foggie way of playing
[Z9M9Z] or maybe I've got just plain old good horse-sense about these things
[Z9M9Z] hard to tell.
* Z9M9Z is going to take a peek out the window now... to watch the trees and cows and stuff flying by
[kasdaye] The farthest I go is the collaborative world-building in Burning Empires.
[kasdaye] After that, hands off the NPCs.
* kasdaye doesn't play BE exactly as written
* Dan-brb has quit IRC (Disintegrated: Trillian (
[Plastik] I don't play indie games that often, but they can be useful
[Z9M9Z] See, I'm not crazy about that idea either... to my mind it's better if the Players do not collaborate on the world building aspect.
[Plastik] I don't think PTA would be your game then
[Leviathan] I'll keep my opinion on that comment to myself.
[Z9M9Z] why?
[Z9M9Z] aren't we here to discuss?
[Leviathan] Because when I spout off opinions, Plastik has aneurysms.
[Plastik] your free to disagree Leviathan, these are just my opinions
[Plastik] i'm calm tonight
[Plastik] and I do apologize for last time
[Leviathan] Aww. Thanks Plastik. ^_^ I didn't want it to be a long, drawn-out bitter thing. And sorry for my part as well.
[Plastik] lol
[Z9M9Z] so what's your view Leviathan?
[Leviathan] I think my thing with Z9's comment is, if you don't trust your players to be involved in world building or simply don't want them involved in choosing or molding the setting they play in, then I kind of feel like that makes them less than players and more like people you're "renting your RPG to and allowing to play for a short while".
[Z9M9Z] BURN HIM!! BURN HIM!!! (heheh)
[Z9M9Z] just kidding
[Z9M9Z] yeah, well I can appreciate that, but it's not that I want to control the world building just to have control - my opinion as a player and GM is that it's a better setup for the players... at least for me it is, and I think for the players I know.
[Xyphoid] yeah, I love it when my players come up with world content myself, even in non-indie games. exalted seems to be prone to it, with people designing their own kingdoms
[Z9M9Z] see, for me if my players want to design their own kingdoms, they can... but it would be through the play of the game... through their characters... not via world building per se
[Z9M9Z] I know that's different
[Z9M9Z] but I mean that the players can shape the world
[Z9M9Z] only its via their characters that they do so.
[Plastik] well its not that I don't trust my players to contribute, and I encourage them to act in the setting in various ways, but sometimes I just tend to like where I set up the backstory for them and they play it out in their own way and do their own things to reach the goals
[Plastik] where they need to worry about themselves and not the entire setting, I can set the challenges for them, and I trust them not to minmax, munchkin, or generally be cheap and unsavory players
[Z9M9Z] for me its a matter of the players not knowing the back story so that when they encounter things in the world... those things are unexpected.
[Z9M9Z] and not something they already know because they built it themselves.
[Z9M9Z] to me thats where the creative tension in the game resides
[Leviathan] I guess I'm just curious as to the reasoning behind not involving players in World Building in you guys' experience. Is it that it's too complicated or takes too much time? Are you worried that it'll effect the cohesiveness of the setting?
[Plastik] and they can trust me not to railroad, send grudge monsters after them, present them with challenges too high, or abuse the GM power
[Z9M9Z] what about what I just said Leviathan?
[Xyphoid] my view on surprising the players is, there's lots of context the characters should already know. that's the most ripe for player-generated content.
[Plastik] for me its a different kind of fun I suppose, one where everyone has equal storytelling parts, and one where there is the storyteller and then those who player the stories characters
[Plastik] both has the pros and cons
[Z9M9Z] i could see that, yeah
[Plastik] have*
[Xyphoid] i'd differentiate between worldbuilding and running the story. player-generated backstory is quite different from player-generated ingame events
[Leviathan] Your comment makes sense, but world building doesn't really need to be all-inclusive. You can still include all the secret groups and subplots you want. I guess I just don't see much harm in letting the players have at least a bit of World Building when it comes to their backgrounds and making up places, people, kingdoms, and monsters to fit into the backgrounds - which I view as a slightly...
[Leviathan] ...more contained version of World Building.
[Plastik] oh I generally ask for things they would like to see in a setting and present ideas before long campaigns/adventures
[Plastik] some of my players actually prefer to have nothing to do with setting believe it or not
[Leviathan] Ah. Ok. That makes a lot more sense then. I thought you were against any player input on the setting before the game, which struck me as a bit odd. So it's more of "shared GM role" that bothers you guys? That's understandable.
[Plastik] yeah
[Z9M9Z] pretty much
* GoldenH has joined #rpgnet
* ChanServ sets mode: +v GoldenH
[Z9M9Z] and it only bothers me to the degree that i think it disrupts one aspect of being a player that as a player i like ... the element of surprise
[Z9M9Z] I like the idea that i'm in someone elses' world... exploring it
[Z9M9Z] to me that creates a great deal of imaginative tension in the game
[Z9M9Z] which is a lot of what i find fun about it.
[Z9M9Z] if the GM said, Ok you can create parts of the world... i'd be like ... but that's not what I want
[Z9M9Z] I want YOU to create the world, and me to explore it.
[Z9M9Z] ... but i should add something
[Leviathan] Completely understandable there. In Exalted, for example, I'm big on World Building and letting the players fiat into existence different areas and peoples that aren't specifically mentioned in the books, but I wouldn't exactly want them getting access to all my GM notes or controlling the NPCs for me. LoL
[Z9M9Z] the worlds I love the most were very interesting because the GMs were like increadible sci-fi fantasy authors in their own way... they HAD Worlds that they really made into very original works of art
[Z9M9Z] so being in those worlds was truly a marvelous experience
[Z9M9Z] and unique
[Z9M9Z] in those cases I wouldn't want to have added anything because it would have impinged on my sense of "Being in another world" to do so.
[Z9M9Z] and that's basically my reason, ultimately.
[Leviathan] *nod*
* Damiar_the_Wolf_ has said many times before that he's into shared GMing and engineering interactins as opposed to surprises and detailed settings
[Z9M9Z] Yes, well that's what makes it all so interesting... we have different preferences
* Xyphoid has quit IRC (Disintegrated: )
[Z9M9Z] and so we have different games
[Leviathan] So true.
[Plastik] bingo
[Plastik] also
* Plastik shakes fist at Damiar
[Plastik] game hippy!
[Plastik] also sup
[Plastik] lol
* Z9M9Z thinks he should try to get in a few more lines of code before retiring tonight
[Z9M9Z] good discussion guys
[Z9M9Z] thanks
* Z9M9Z revs his drives and flits off into hyperspace "Clear ethers!" (lensmen reference)
[kasdaye] nn
[Plastik] so what games is everyone running/playing these days?
[Plastik] are*
[kasdaye] WFRP, Cthulhutech, Scion and Exalted
[Leviathan] So, Kas, any progress on deciding which game you'd like to run?
[kasdaye] No - _-

Session Close: Sun Feb 10 22:40:52 2008

Sunday, February 03, 2008

First appeal ... Progress Report

Well, not much came of that effort. I sent in a pretty detailed post about the Elthos RPG and got Willow's well meaning but somewhat frustrating response. She's kind of a hard core Indie Evangelist type who kindly tried to set me on the direction of redesigning the game again, as she did the last time when she was posting to the LRPGSW. I had to patiently explain again that what she thinks my game is supposed to be about isn't really what my game is about. The way it happens is that the Indie crowd have developed a "Help the Indie Game Designer See the Light" methodology that is supposed to help the would be game designer narrow their focus and make their game into what the Indie crowd believes is "the right stuff" via the answering of a series of Game Design Questions (called The Big Three, or the more extended Power 19). This means it needs to be "about" something specific, such as The Hero's Journey, and then all the rules should conform to making the game "about" that. Fair enough for an Indie game, I guess. But Elthos has 30 years of development, and was not conceived of being "about" anything in particular. It evolved over the years into what it is now, a setting that focuses on the Hero's Journey, however the rules were originally designed to leave the setting question open ended. So to now try to make the rules (even the new Settings Rules which deal with the Cosmology, including the Hero's Journey) conform to the current evolution of the setting (and even then, only a small part of it at that) doesn't really make sense for Elthos. At least not the way I play it, nor the way I envision other GMs playing it. And so there was the same friction as last time. Willow's previous comments were more brittle and corrosive the last time, and at least this time I was able to switch the subject to something more tangible, like how to find Play Testers.

That didn't really go anywhere, however, and so my thread began sinking. In a somewhat futile effort to keep my situation from bottoming out I took the outlandish risk of stating some of my opinions on other threads, on the hopes that some outlanders in the crowd might see my posts and take interest... Oh nothing I wrote was all so terrible, and some were even complementary to my peers who I find highly enthusiastic, energetic and brilliant in their own way. However, I think I already fell out of the Zen of Story Games by then.

And so I sink there. But I did, as advised by Rob and Tim and Willow, try them out. I think the main problem with my association to that scene is that we're basically at odds on the point of the "Creative Agenda" aspect of their initiative. Story Games, the forum, is *about* games that devalue and diminish the role of the Gamesmaster, whom they've identified as a kind of tyrant that crushes the spirit of their players. As phrased by the author of their site:

":::A Story Game is a type of role-playing game or gaming experience with a lesser focus on My Character and a greater focus on Our Story.:::"

Of course that is open to interpretation, but the way it reads to me, and the way this principal seems to be applied by the members generally, is that the idea of Players owning their own Characters and the GM owning the back story (the traditional mode of play) is being contested, and the Story Games (aka Indie Creative Agenda Games) are designed to buck that. However, as others have mentioned, it sounds like this imperative was born out of two things:

1) Bad experiences with Traditional RPGs (the legendary Tyrant GM).

2) A Marketing Imperative to do something Different to compete with the Traditional RPGs.

Ok fair enough, I say. Let's have some new kinds of games sure. However, Elthos is not designed with that Creative Agenda in mind. I am, in fact, somewhat neutral on the topic of Creative Agenda. I think that the Traditional GM-Player relationship can work, or it can suck. It depends on the GM and the Players. My answer to that is not to necessarily to change the foundations of the Creative Agenda, but to cultivate better Gamesmasters. The reason why is that, as identified on Story Games itself, and I agree... most Players do not want to assume the role of Story Creators (myself included) while they are playing their Characters. It breaks the sense of immersion in the story to be able to, and even forced to, add back story during the game. Well that's my take on it, but here is what the poster Chearns on Story Games actually said:

Posted By: chearns
Posted By: Clinton R. Nixon If you want to play something, why don't you rustle up your friends and play?

chearns: Identity politics. In the city I live in, I've met plenty of people who specifically don't want to play non-traditional games because they identify as traditional roleplayers. That being said, it seems like the best policy would be to round up non-roleplayers to play. And non-traditional games are, in my experience, much better at appealing to non-roleplayers than traditional games (my father thought A Penny For My Thoughts sounded cool; you'd have to have grown up with my father to understand the magnitude of that statement).

Posted By: Hituro I totally agree about the division. I've come away from here, and the Forge, and CE, enthused about some games which are different to ones I'd played before, only to find that many of the gamer friends I talked about them with were very hostile. This was a surprise, but it's held true.

...It appears to be resistance to gaming style. They don't want to be more protagonised. They don't want to share in world creation (overtly). They want a GM who presents plot and holds all the keys (Matrix style).

As it happens Story Games have an incredibly small following, and extremely tiny sales numbers, though members of the community will argue that either sales don't matter bacause it is a "labor of love", or that their sales are good (ignoring, I think anything like a comparison to any other kind of sales of pretty much anything else), or that those who are in it to make sales are not "real artistes", or something along those lines. Bottom line: their sales are tiny, even for the most successful of them which maybe sell under five thousand units per year (at $10/unit that's $50,000 a year, which on person working alone could live on, but not run an actual company). My own assessment is that if their games are really appealing by design then I would think that their sales would be higher. They argue that they can not compete with games like D&D because they do not have the marketing clout. But then again, neither did D&D when it started have any clout. It just so happened that it was a brilliant game that lots of intellectual fantasyists loved and gravitated towards.

Do Story Games hold the same appeal, generally? Well, not for me, frankly. While I am very open minded and have no axe to grind, and nothing against Story Games, they simply don't appeal to me either as a player or a Gamesmaster. As a Player I don't want to be responsible for the back story, and as a GM I don't want the Players modifying the back story. Some story games do away with the GM altogether. I'm not crazy about the implication. And some of the rhetoric regarding traditional modes of play coming out of the Indie Community has been rather offensive. And so the Indie Scene is interesting, and a lot of people involved with it have great energy and some very cool ideas, but overall, it just simply isn't really my bag.

Nevertheless, I still have an open mind about it and haven't chalked them off or anything. This is just my current impression based on what I've seen so far, and I'm perfectly aware I have seen that much yet, and also aware that I may be pleasantly surprised. Even so, I don't think the Indie crowd is going to find my viewpoint all that appealing, and I'm not willing to hide my views for the sake of fitting in. So I came out all guns blazing, and I think people there have mostly concluded that I "just don't quite fit in". That, I suppose, will have to be ok.

Who knows what will happen to Elthos? Not I! While I love my game and think it's great, it may just be the case that it is unmarketable in the current atmosphere. Is it a case of too many cooks? Or ink in the well? Or just that Elthos is beyond comprehension? Hah! Who knows? Even so, I am quite determined to continue developing it and working towards it's eventual, and hopefully successful, publication. Some day. And I do believe it will be smashing when I finally get it out to market! :)