Ungames

Nov. 11th, 2014 04:42 pm
liv: cartoon of me with long plait, teapot and purple outfit (mini-me)
[personal profile] liv
I think it's Wittgenstein or some philosopher of that ilk who has a famous discussion of the fact that it's really hard to define what a game is; any definition you can come up with, it's easy to think of an exception which most people agree is a game. Recently I've been playing a couple of things which are kind of edge-casey, and I wanted to talk about some of them.

One is Microscope, which [personal profile] jack discovered while looking for roleplaying systems more fun and less time-consuming than D&D. We managed to get session in with [personal profile] ceb at the weekend, and I really enjoyed it a lot. I mean, that's partly because it involved spending time with [personal profile] ceb, who is always awesome; she pointed out we hadn't seen eachother since Worldcon, which is a pity except that we've all been busy doing fun things.

For me, Microscope distils exactly the things I like out of table-top roleplaying, while leaving out most of the annoying aspects of D&D and its descendants. What I like: having a framework in which people can collaboratively create stories. Microscope does really well at this, it has enough structure to make sure everybody gets some input and you don't just reach false consensus based on letting the loudest person take over. And equally enough structure /constraints that you can usually think of something to extend the story, you're just trying to do the impossible task of "write something". It manages to be almost entirely open-ended beyond that minimum, though, which is a good thing if like me you enjoy the story-creation aspects of RP, but possibly less good if you like the discovery aspects of gradually following someone else's story. There is no GM as such; it makes sense to have at least one player doing some minimal organization and probably suggesting the initial story seed, but beyond that it's fully collaborative, not GM versus players. This also means that it requires vastly less preparation and buying pre-set scenarios than traditional roleplaying. You can just show up and put some pizza in the oven and dive straight in to play.

What I don't like: having to wrangle lots of complicated tables of statistics and rolling lots of dice to see whether you're successful in fighting monsters or possibly other things you might attempt. Trying to reduce your character to a further series of statistics, to the point where adding more fine-grained detail to the list of traits they have doesn't really help with characterization. Microscope has exactly none of that, so if what you like is strategic wargaming and levelling up and so on, it's not the game for you.

The concept where you start with the broad outline and gradually "zoom" in on the details means that the timing is really flexible. You're not in too much danger of running out of time with the story still halfway through, or having to rush through the final section or whatever. We played this in a single session of about 3 hours, and had a story that felt, not finished but at least satisfying. I think it would probably work as a complex enterprise over several sessions if you wanted it to, though that would probably require at least some amount of write-up between sessions to keep track of what you'd already composed.

There's a small amount of what might be conventionally defined as role-playing, in the sense of players pretending to be characters and improvising dialogue. That's about right for me, because I enjoy that aspect of table-top but in lots of ways many scenes work better if you play the broad outcomes rather than the exact words stated by the different characters. And you don't necessarily stick with the same character throughout the scenario, though I suppose in theory you could if you were really invested.

If Microscope is almost all creativity and no formal rules or measurements of success (the only victory condition is that you make a good story), you might say that the opposite end of the spectrum is Ingress, which is basically all gamification and essentially no strategy or play. It's the first pervasive game to really take off, the idea is that you use a smartphone with GPS to make the real world playable. When I first heard of it, I both loved and hated the idea. Loved, because it's so very cyberpunk, having a portable computer which creates a shared imaginary structure overlaid onto the real world. And hated, because the game is a very, very thin bribe to get people to transmit their fine location to Google at all times. What tipped me over into playing was that [personal profile] khalinche and [livejournal.com profile] timeplease were enthusiastic about it when I was hanging out with them in London the other week, and then [livejournal.com profile] ghoti also enthused about it, and hey, if my friends are playing that makes the game a lot more appealing than just the gameplay for its own sake. And to be fair, Google pretty much tracks my movements anyway, since I have an unrooted Android phone which reports my location pretty well when I connect to WiFi, even without GPS.

Basically, in Ingress you go to real world places, and get points for doing so. I like the mechanic where players can suggest new locations, called 'portals', and the game devs vet them and eventually add them. Portals are places of interest; it can be quite minor interest, like a bench with a plaque in memory of someone, they just have to be identifiable locations rather totally generic places. The idea of the game is that there are two factions, green (Enlightenment) and blue (Resistance) and the team that visits a location most often gets to control that location. You can pick up and deploy virtual objects to attack enemy portals and defend portals controlled by your team, that's about it so far.

So far I've been wandering around with it running for a couple of days, and I'm finding it reasonably fun, though I definitely am being suckered in by the standard reward mechanic that every semi-evil app has these days. It's easy to pick up, with a fairly standard modern app system where the tutorial itself is gamified. And I've visited a couple of places I wouldn't have gone to if I weren't looking for Ingress portals, including the village war memorial, appropriately for the season, which is tucked away at the top of a side street rather than in the centre as is more typical. It really eats battery, though, more even than just having GPS turned on in general. Just walking the ten minutes from my flat to the medical school (albeit by a slightly circuitous route so I could get some portals on the way) ate 2/3 of my battery, which isn't really manageable.

(Username ewerb, team Resistance, if you're playing or thinking of playing)

Apart from trying out new quasi games, I've had a fairly quiet few days. Some good conversations with [personal profile] jack, some gardening (for we are boring middle-aged home owners now), and a really fun visit with [livejournal.com profile] ghoti and [personal profile] cjwatson Saturday evening. The very good thing about being boring home-owners is that we have awesome neighbours.

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Date: 2014-11-11 04:56 pm (UTC)
yvi: Kaylee half-smiling, looking very pretty (Default)
From: [personal profile] yvi
Ingress has been eating a lot of my free time for the past two years. I started in January 2013 and have met so many great people and seen so many cool places I wouldn't have seen otherwise :-)

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Date: 2014-11-11 05:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ghoti.livejournal.com
I haven't noticed this; among people I know who play and people I've met playing out and about, there's a reasonable gender balance.

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Date: 2014-11-11 05:34 pm (UTC)
cjwatson: (Default)
From: [personal profile] cjwatson
I'm sure it varies from place to place, but FWIW the local bunch around here seem fine in that regard; it's a bit male-heavy, but there are several prominent women playing too, and it's pretty relaxed with none of the griefer stereotype that I've noticed. The fact that it is inherently social (especially at higher levels) seems to work to discourage people from being arses.

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Date: 2014-11-11 05:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ghoti.livejournal.com
Thank you for this; I like the dice rolling war game type of roleplaying much more than the story telling part, which I'd really rather skip over, so maybe Microscope is less of a fit for me than Jack was hoping.

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Date: 2014-11-11 05:40 pm (UTC)
cjwatson: (Default)
From: [personal profile] cjwatson
I have a bit of a mental block about games that require certain kinds of creativity from me; it's the same kind of reason I'm a bit averse to, say, Pictionary, so it's not completely obvious I'd like Microscope. But I think this block is something it's worth me exploring from time to time, because to some extent it's just being unfamiliar with the idea, and I might well like it in a relaxed setting with the right people.

In general I'd like to do more roleplaying - I think I'm one of the very few geeks of my acquaintance with no experience of it!

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Date: 2014-11-11 06:13 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ghoti.livejournal.com
In general, I think you've been getting more gamer-inclined over the course of our marriage, I'll make a gamer of you yet xx :)

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Date: 2014-11-12 05:12 pm (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
My impression is that Microscope was very good at bringing out interesting ideas from people who like stories, but are often put off by group-creativity situations, so I don't think you should force yourself to try it if you don't like it, but if you're curious, I think it'd be a good and fairly safe thing to try.

And yes, I'd also like to GM some one-off beginner roleplaying things, but that's waiting on me having enough time :)

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Date: 2014-11-12 02:37 am (UTC)
cjwatson: (Default)
From: [personal profile] cjwatson
Neither of us has played M:tG, although we did get a copy of Ascension a while back which is a deck-building game that I gather isn't entirely dissimilar, and we've been enjoying playing that.

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Date: 2014-11-12 11:11 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ghoti.livejournal.com
I don't, but could be persuaded. I had a bit of a snobbery formed by once having a boyfriend who kept his more valuable cards under his mattress (and I generally did not particularly enjoy playing games with)... but all the Magic players I know now are sensible people with whom I enjoy playing games, so that seems like a thing.

Amazingly, we got our first deck-building game last year, Ascension,to which we were introduced by my Bristol friends. I've never even played Dominion!

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Date: 2014-11-12 05:08 pm (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
I think it is well worth trying even if you're not into story things in general, I still think you would like it a lot. But it might well be a "try one day, not really get into it" thing.

But it sounds like I should be pushing you in general more towards "kill stuff and get gold" roleplaying :) (My favourite is a mix of story and tactics, but I think both styles are good fun.)
Edited Date: 2014-11-12 05:10 pm (UTC)

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Date: 2014-11-13 07:01 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ghoti.livejournal.com
Yes, that sounds more like my kind of thing.

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Date: 2014-11-13 07:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ghoti.livejournal.com
Also, maybe I should try it before judging, usually a good option :) Thank you.

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Date: 2014-11-11 06:31 pm (UTC)
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
From: [personal profile] davidgillon
Oddly that's twice in two days I've heard about Ingress, having never come across it before, the other being from one of my old uni friends who says her husband and daughters are playing. Serendipity, it's a thing.

It sounds quite a lot like the online phone game 'Spooks' played by the characters in Charlie Stross's 'Halting State' (which turns out to be an actual front for MI-5).

Microphone sounds fascinating too. I'm very much split on role-playing, I possibly like the role-playing elements much more than the game-mechanics, but having come in from the wargaming side (and probably also from having the CompSci background) I'm deeply fascinated by the rule mechanics, the more complex the better.

I haven't been an active gamer in years, but noodling about in the depths of background or rules is something I often bring out when feeling stressed. With all the not-sleeping I'm doing recently, I'm spending a lot of time hacking spacecraft design spreadsheets for Traveller. If nothing else my Excel's getting a refresher ;)

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Date: 2014-11-11 06:49 pm (UTC)
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
From: [personal profile] davidgillon
Forgot to comment that the whole going to real places model of Ingress does make it a bit problematical for people like me who can't get out much. I'm not sure what the solution is, but surely there must be one.

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Date: 2014-11-12 12:11 pm (UTC)
cxcvi: Red cubes, sitting on a reflective surface, with a white background (Cubes)
From: [personal profile] cxcvi
...but having come in from the wargaming side (and probably also from having the CompSci background) I'm deeply fascinated by the rule mechanics, the more complex the better.

I think that you and I need to start talking to each other.

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Date: 2014-11-12 01:07 pm (UTC)
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
From: [personal profile] davidgillon
I'm trying to get better, honest ;)

I kind of favour simplicity for actual face to face gaming, complexity for solitaire nerdery and building backgrounds for the f2f stuff, but I really haven't been an active f2f gamer in a long time. In some ways this is why I like military alternate history, because doing it well actually includes this sort of development.

The has-both-positives-and-negatives side is that the deeply complex rules/simulations appeal to my obsessive side, which sometimes I need to feed, and sometimes I need to control.

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Date: 2014-11-12 05:04 pm (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
:)

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Date: 2014-11-11 08:25 pm (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
I think it's Wittgenstein or some philosopher of that ilk who has a famous discussion of the fact that it's really hard to define what a game is; any definition you can come up with, it's easy to think of an exception which most people agree is a game.

I wish I could hurry up the process of people realising the same applies to every single word in every language and stop being incredibly surprised every time they discover that it applies to another concept as well :)

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Date: 2014-11-11 09:51 pm (UTC)
andrewducker: (Default)
From: [personal profile] andrewducker
Ayup.

Game, to me, means "A system of rules to constrain actions, and a victory condition."

Some roleplaying games are more gameish than others - the victory conditions are a less concrete than in board games, but it's usually clear that "more XP" is better than "less XP" and likewise with gold, skill points, mana, or whatever.

Some RPGs are, clearly, less "game" and more "play" - like The Sims they're a sandbox for telling stories rather than achieving goals.

(And now I'm having flashbacks to long arguments about GNS theory. Brrrrr.)

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Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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