A Modernist sensibility

27 11 2007

So Modernism, as we (I) think of Modernism, is not really something that meshes well with the idea of a documentary-style game. It covers a pretty broad swath of movements, most of which revolve around the ideas of bucking tradition and structure. Trying to embrace Jackson Pollock in the rules of this game would be.. well, it’d end up looking like the board after a long game of It’s Complicated. So I’d better pick and choose.

So the bit of Modernism I’m grabbing for this game– tentatively titled Retrospective— is from the very beginning of the movement, before it went into the hyper-real or lost its subtlety. Impressionism and Henri Bergson’s theory on Duration are the big influences here.

The theory with Impressionism is that people don’t see objects; they see light. Bergson believed that no two people could ever experience the same moment, and even in remembering something, you could never experience the same moment twice; it’s more complex than that, but you get the idea.

What this means for the game

Our most important experiences– the things which really shape us as human beings– are not marked with eidetic memory; no matter how keen our thought processes, when something changes who we are or the world around us, it is impossible for us to divorce our emotions from the events. Not that we should! Ignoring how the events make us feel is also changing the experience– basically, the point is this: four people, in the same small space, sharing the same pivotal experience, will in fact, experience it in four completely different ways. And that’s what this game is about.

In the beginning of the game, players decide what they will be reflecting on. This could be anything– they could be war buddies reminiscing about Viet Nam, or high school football players talking at their 10 year reunion, or a rock band on Behind the Music, whatever. The important thing is that what they’ll be discussing is an event, or series of events, which shaped who they are today. There is an outsider present; a Narrator– this is essentially half a GM, more of a facilitator than a storyteller. The Narrator is filming a documentary, or getting a story for the local paper, or is the child or grandchild or spouse of one of the players. The stories are being told to the Narrator, for his benefit.

There are two different kinds of scenes: interviews and flashbacks. In interviews, the Narrator asks questions of a player to set up the flashback; we’ll have rules for these questions once the game itself has rules. Interviews are clever ways to give cues to the other players, about who will be in the flashback scene, what the flashback means to the interviewee, etc.

Once in that player’s flashback scene, the other players must play their characters as explained by the interviewee; motivations and personalities and actions mirror what the interviewee remembers, and not what the players have decided their characters truly are. At the end of a flashback, another character interrupts; “Wait, you got that wrong.” or “You missed something.” Or “Here’s what really happened.”

The Narrator interviews that character, and a new flashback starts.

The True Meaning of Friendship Design Challenge

26 11 2007

So the True Meaning of Friendship Design Challenge that Shreyas and I have going over on the Knife Fight kicked off today, with people declaring dibs on the anonymous blurbs. This is the one I chose:

I’m an environmental advocate. I think that ordinary life and material things can hold more wonder than fantasy worlds or the supernatural. I dig themes drawn from 18th/19th/20th century modernism. I like games with political/ historical/ real world dimensions. I enjoy games designed to explore serious or quirky topics – documentary or docudrama games.

I’ve been thinking about something with a documentary/flashback style of game structure for a while; this will give me a chance to flesh out those basic ideas, and maybe take them a step further and make it even more cinematic. (When I say “documentary” I mean more Ken Burns, Spike Lee.. less Michael Moore.) I don’t know if I want to center the game around something specific and historic (my brain is still all wrapped up in the BPP), or if I just want to come up with a system that lets you do The War and Behind the Music with equal ease. Maybe I’ll do the system and loosely have an example setting.. we’ll see.