A Short Game of IT IS FORBIDDEN

So I wrote a game about culture clashes that is a little bit DOG EAT DOG (now in a shiny new edition) and a little bit DIALECT (holy crap it got $100,000 wtf how do I get that kind of cash?) and a little bit Microscope (actually a link to Ben Robbins’ latest game which has just a few hours to go on Kickstarter) and some people think it’s cool.

At PAXAus I got to play it for the first time since its release (which raised a bunch of cash which helped me out immensely). We didn’t have time to roleplay very much or let everyone have a scene in each era, but it’s a very expandable and compressible game. In 25 minutes, we told the story of these two cultures, presented here to preserve them and tantalise you about this exciting game that is only available under special circumstances.

The original culture call themselves the Boomiputra. Their land has very bountiful soil, but is troubled by floods. They are confused by the newcomers because their blouses are too flouncy. Their culture has no priests, for they find religion strange; their ways are kept by a rule of law and the stories of culture, not some mumbo jumbo about sky gods.

The new arrivals call themselves the New Romantics. They find this land full of beauty and are horrified to see the Boomimputra tearing it up to plant seeds. The land lacks cafes, however, which is quite disappointing. They find the Boomiputra odd because of their unreasonable superstitions about werewolves (ie that they are no big deal). The New Romantics have no low born in their society as they are very big on equality and let none go hungry or be denied beautiful landscapes or delicious coffee.

The Laws of the Boomiputra are:

It is forbidden to remove the soil from one’s skin or one’s possessions, for it is life.

It is forbidden to tamper with the soil, for it is life.

It is forbidden to besmirch another person’s reputation unless a crime is proven.

The Laws of the New Romantics are:

It is forbidden to make non-picturesque landscape.

It is forbidden to cut down trees, for they are pretty.

It is forbidden to do science that may cause autism in children.

The New Romantics laws prevent the Boomiputra from farming and caring for the land, and the laws of the Boomiputra make having a clean cafe and a nice view impossible. Eventually, the Boomimputra try to create a new kind of plant that can survive in soil without trees, but soon the New Romantic press accuses them of causing autism in children. This is libel against the good name of a Boomiputra citizen – so the newspaper is closed by an act of force. Protests break out. War is prevented, but a Boomiputra farmer suspected of having these dangerous seeds is killed by a New Romantic activist.

Is that a crime, or a necessary act to save children’s lives? And under whose law will the criminal be prosecuted? Those questions had to wait as time was up.

 

 

PAX 2016 Jetsam: In No Particular Order

My biggest impression of the con was that board games are huge (basically half the show) and growing, the barriers between the two are evaporating and Australia is leading the way in both. We’re not the 200 pound gorilla but the world has noticed that we are entering that nascent period of hyper-innovation that comes when everyone catches on to a great idea at once. This is THE scene to watch, internationally, because it’s where the exciting new vibe is right now. We aren’t just getting that games are huge and commercially viable and culturally important, but that they are something we can excel at uniquely as Australians and – most importantly – that they are an ART FORM. Melbourne International Game Week and GCAP inspired an art display at the State Library which wasn’t just about games, but took for granted that games were important, and was looking at fringe games with artistic and political radicalism. To borrow a comic metaphor, this is our Watchmen moment (let’s not screw it up).

Indeed, Philip Minchin was walking around trying to get support for a government body about games – like the AFI is for movies. It’s going to happen eventually, it needs to start now. Find out more about what he does at his website or the Australian Play, Imagination and Learning Institute (hoping to be the AFI equivalent) or the Australian Play Alliance. He’s also a game consultant which I want to be. The TGDA were kicking ass with their booth as well, and the example of their work was the proliferation of Aussie games around them. Alex Wynnter is a powerhouse for the TGDA and ran a great booth.

Thanks to twitter I’m not going to report everything wonderful I heard and saw but I have a bucket of stuff to go through and report on and link you to. I tipped out my big bag of handouts, remembrances, business cards, tweets and notes and I will share them as I pick them up. I like sharing things. This is a huge part of why I like cons and game events: a place where my skill set, values and bliss meet is a place of teaching and connecting. I’m the guy who loves nothing so much as telling person A that booth B contains everything they ever wanted, to the benefit of A and B.

Notes and Phrases

Sometimes I just write down phrases I like that I’ve never heard before. Here are some of those from the panels I attended and appeared on:

“Radical inclusion”

“Velvet Rope” – not a wall, but just the right to say who can and can’t come

“The Missing Stair Metaphor” – a problem everyone is familiar with so isn’t fixed until the person unfamiliar with it falls victim

“Penguin Herders” – people employed by a space/event to link new people to other people

The three components that make people break the rules and do “bad things”, regardless of their morality are Anonymity, Scapegoating and Peer Acceptance. We often forget the middle one – you need someone to be mad at. Making out that there are enemies encourages bad behaviour.

That said: “Asshole is not a protected category” and doesn’t deserve to be enshrined or protected.

“The Oregon Trail generation” – a US nickname for the people between X and Millennials, who have seen the computer/internet world grow, and can act as a bridge for Xers who don’t get it but might not also get how immersed the Millennials are, that they cannot possibly “unplug” because they live there. And expect the constant connection it provides as normal.

“Pervasive games” – the meeting of AR games and place games like Pokemon, games that become part of life/the environment

Solid Vertical Slice – a computer game term for showing a bit of all parts of a game/project

The Door Problem – a way to think about the intricacies of game design

“Ludonarrative”

Larpwright – someone who writes LARPs.

The world is generally isolating and crushing, millions times more so when people are being attacked online. Send hope and connection as often as possible; a million times more when people are being attacked.

Things

Checkpoint – a group connecting mental health with video games. Which makes sense: in a gaming future where EVERYTHING is games, everything should connect with games.

Syrinscape is an ap that provides awesome background sounds for RPGs and tabletop games and LARPs. Free with in-ap purchases of suites. Heavy memory cost but a brilliant idea.

Alchemist’s Refuge in Melbourne is a bar that sits under a game store. Play space above, play space below. Also a physical example of how gaming is cross-culture now. I saw two old leather-clad barflies talking about Magic The Gathering power curves.

Also, Brisbane has two awesome new game cafes – Cafe SoSay in Paddington and Vault Games on Charlotte Street (which is freeeeeeeee).

The TGDA now has a magazine called the Campaigner. Well it’s already up to Issue 17 so I’m very late. Is a print zine useful still? Yes, because it can go into game stores and cafes and bars. Plus they have a great website. I talked to editor Matthew Lee about contributing but honestly there’s so much gaming going on I’m not sure I’ll have time…

Australian Games

At the TGDA booth Savage Yeti were playtesting a brain-burner area-control tile game called Cows and Sheep, and Karl Lange of Ark Angel Games had an amaaaazing game about mowing the lawn, which has that instant appeal of things that we all understand. Plus I’m a sucker for pun names – Mowtown.

A great game for families is Remarkable Rhymes of the Traveller’s Times from Humblebee Games, which is a simple idea: combine progressing fairytale telling with the Apples to Apples mechanic. Speaking of Kickstarters I got to help out on the Kingmaker booth, a seriously fun little bluffing and prediction game which was an INSANE success at the con. Look for it in KS next year. People were all but shaking us down to get pre-release copies.

Soon to come from the same scene is The Brigade from Red Genie Games and Reign from Garage Games and Illuminatus from Dark Mushroom Games I didn’t get to play any of them because there wasn’t ANY TIME. I also got a flyer for Wayfinder Live, which apparently is a free Augmented Reality game about running through the Melbourne Laneways. Also did not get time to play.

Mothership is an awesome looking not-whole-day-taking space wargame. Not for me but pretty as hell and skill trees for daaaays.

Because I’m a hideous nerd for games about medicine, I jumped on the Kickstarter for VAXCARDS a game about diseases. Not to be confused with the other game about diseases, the one where you are awesome anime style fantasy heroes but also antibodies. I can’t even find it now. I search and find all the other games about diseases OH GOD GAMING SINGULARITY.

I had no real time to go look at the computer games but two quickly caught my eye: Mini Metro which is about building a metro system efficiently (fun for map nerds) and Brief Battles which is another pun name – the battles are quick and involve hitting people with underpants.

And what better sign is there of a gaming golden age than a game about hitting people with your underpants?

 

 

 

Starting Something at PAXAUS

Fun fact: I have a box in my garage full of stuff from GenCon 2002. I can’t throw any of it out because it was such a transformative and emotional experience for me and every business card and freebie and prize I got felt like a precious treasure.

Somewhere online is my emotional, poetic reaction to GenCon Oz in 2008 where I talk about how I felt like a fisherman who spends his whole life in a mountain village where nobody eats fish and then one day travels to an ocean nation where his profession is the highest calling. My discussion of what happened at that con is this enormous diary. Also, as you will see, extremely emotional.

PAX was something similar. It was an assault on my senses and invigorated me in every part of the six health categories – physically (walking exercise), mentally, emotionally, socially, societally and spiritually. I am now going to try to make my attendance regular. I want to talk about the panels, the exhibitions, the trends…I may get to them in time. But the most important thing that happened was this:

Ben Scerri and I were discussing that while the TGDA (Tabletop Game Designers Australia) was going great, providing a real tangible service and community for its many members (and an amazing booth concentrating and displaying those benefits), the RPG design community of Australia had stopped talking to each other somewhat, at least compared to where we were at Gen Con Oz. Then we decided to do something about it. With incredible speed Ben gathered a meeting of RPG designer souls and we decided that this was a problem and we should do something to fix it. We had a guerrilla panel on the carpet and set up the RGDA.
Right now all we have is a Google+ group and a wild agenda to

Reduce the atomisation of the Australian RPG design community so as to share knowledge and work together in the pursuit of greater artistic output and greater commercial success

If you’re an Aussie game designer who wants to be part of this, join the group or otherwise get in touch. The first link has been forged, the chain begins.

Why I Didn’t Go to Art School

I am three years old and at my sister’s pre-school. I am quietly reading books to myself. I am discovered to be “gifted”. The next year I cannot go to kindergarten because I started screaming when the threat of parental separation looms.

I am five years old. I am at preschool. I have special lessons with my teacher, alone, where I do advanced work. We write a story together about a bird. The attention feels good. In the playground, nobody pays attention to me. I eat orange skin and everyone reacts. My nickname for a brief period is “garbage”. Maybe just a day. I like having a nickname.

A teacher from the primary school tells my mother I will be put in a gifted program. Years later I remember my mother ruefully saying that it never happened. I get the sense she hoped they would do whatever she couldn’t think to do.

I am six years old. I tell my mother I want to be a zookeeper. Later, she brings me out in front of her friends to repeat it. She says I am wrong. I want to be a zoologist. Zookeepers just sweep up monkey poop. I don’t think I am wrong.

I am in seven years old. I am sent to the headmaster over and over again. Only decades later, as an adult, do I discover why: I am throwing a tantrum every morning, terrified of going to school. The headmaster is trying to figure out why. I do my best to describe the stress of unrelenting standards I have developed in my head, but I am six, I don’t know what that is. I feel like I am being punished.

Nobody knows what to do with me – about me. I am sent back to my regular class. The regular teacher tells me, at six years old, that “a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do”.

I am nine years old. The class is divided into people who can work without supervision and people who work the old way. Without structure, I don’t know how to work. I deliberately play up to get busted down to regular work again. It feels right. The same year I am supposed to do a project. about olympic athletes. My mother teaches me how to cut corners and pad my word count.

I am ten years old. I am so strange my parents send me to drama school. I hate it. I throw a tantrum every time it is time to go. Eventually they send my sister with me to make me go. I win the lead in every single play, without trying. I still hate it. I don’t remember the applause, I remember the girl who beat me up back stage.

I am eleven years old. I am forced to enter a fiction contest. I envision a grand story about a boy meeting a grizzly bear who treats the boy like a wounded cub and saves his life. I imagine a long, complicated story, a story that gets away from me, that lives too much in my head and becomes hard to get down by the deadline. I go to my other in tears. She berates me. I tell her my story idea. She says it is stupid and cliche and childish. She tells me to go away and write something better. I write a story about a boy and his dog. It fits the bill.

We are choosing sports. I choose life saving because my friends like it and we get to go to the pool and I love the idea of helping people. My mother berates me. She tells me I should take tennis, because tennis is what people play with each other in society. Tennis helps you Get Ahead.

I am doing scholarship exams to get into important rich schools. To prepare I am doing previous exams. One of them stresses me out so much I get a headache and start crying. My mother berates me. She says I’m being stupid and childish. She tells me to go away and grow up.

I am offered class captain. I turn it down. I am offered school captain. I turn it down.

I am twelve years old. I am at the important rich school. I have a diary where you can write a secret. I write “I HATE SCHOOL”. I tape it shut. It is the worst thing I have ever written. It is the biggest sin I have ever committed.

The school has a magazine. I don’t work on it. My parents make that face. I have embarrassed them in front of nobody – just in front of themselves.

The school magazine comes out. As I have seen in films, I ask my class to sign it. They write rude insults all over it and draw penises. My parents berate me. I am forced to buy another one. They want one they can show their friends. The two are kept on the shelf in my bedroom. The one to show to their friends. The one that is real.

The worst thing I can ever do is embarrass my mother. That makes her go cold and dark and stare at me like she hates the very idea of me.

She stares at me like that all. the. time.

I do the science and maths prize competitions. I get high distinctions. One year I only get a distinction. I tear it up. The same year I get a C in geography. I tear up the marksheet.

I don’t do the maths olympiad or the physics olympiad. Parents and teachers wonder why. I drop out of computer club. I stop doing the prize competitions.

I am told to do theatre, after all I am “artistic”, probably. I compromise and go for backstage. I end up doing nothing but putting costumes in a box after the performance. I am invisible. I never go back.

I am told to do choir. I am artistic. I go to one performance. There are hundreds of people standing around. I slip away.

I join the chess club. I am generally terrible. I am in the E level team. The pressure makes me sick. I stop playing and start organizing the tournaments. I can get a “colour” for that, a thing that goes on your blazer to show off all the School Achievements you have. I have two things on my blazer. Most people have over ten. But organizing is easy. You stand to the side and you can’t win or lose.

I don’t go to the writer in residence. I don’t go to the poet in residence. I don’t enter my fiction into the school fiction collection. Teachers cluck their tongues. There’s this particular sound I know so well that people make when they believe you are wasting potential. My parents make that noise all the time.

There is a trip to the university to learn about careers in science. I decline to go. My very kind teacher says there is extra space, I’m not taking anyone’s opportunity away, and it will be okay just to go and miss out on class.

I bring home a pamphlet covered in shiny fake people. I tear it to pieces.

I am choosing my courses for university. My mother picks the ones I will be doing. I snap and scream that maybe I just want to drive a van. Then I choose the courses.

My mother says to join a society designed solely to network with rich people, because that’s what people do in society. That’s how you Get Ahead.

I get straight 7s the whole way through. I get first degree honours. I win a gold medal and a scholarship. I am invited to go and work at the Australian Bureau of Statistics. I am given a pamphlet covered in shiny fake people. I tear it to pieces.

I spend all my time in maths class writing bad fiction and even worse RPGs. I am published – PUBLISHED! – in arcane magazine.

I don’t go to my graduation. I’m too embarrassed because I don’t feel like I’ve achieved anything or done any work.

Instead of submitting work to other magazines to be judged and found failing, I start my own magazine. Organizing is easy. You stand to the side and you can’t win or lose.

I go into a PhD. I drop out because I am spending too much time writing a webzine on RPGs.

I spend ten years trying to work in statistics and hating every single second of it, and wondering why every moment I sit at work is a living hell, an agony of hate and despair. I try to kill myself several times.

I go to GenCon and am welcomed as an equal. I go to DragonCon and James Wallis admires me writing as first class. Patrick says I am a natural journalist. For the first time in my life, praise doesn’t cut like a knife. The rain falls down after that day and I feel like I might be good at something. The child prodigy, the genius, the medal winner…

but none of that was mine. It was to please someone.

And art is tainted too, somewhat. I was SENT to drama school. I was SENT to theatre. They screamed at me to go to writers camp. (Friends berate me to write novels, write RPGs, make games, get it out, get it published. Their words are knives in my heart.)

I don’t join anything because nothing is mine.

Everything I did belonged to them.

And at the same time, art wasn’t real, even if I’d wanted it. They pushed that, even as they never understood it. Even when I was writing, when I did the magazine, I was supposed to be an accountant. You had to make money. You had to Get Ahead. Or if not, at least be SMART, for god’s sake. A zoologist, not a zookeeper. You didn’t go to ART school. You had to Get Ahead and Be Smart.

When I first tried to write a book I wrote it down in secret. I didn’t tell anyone at all. I wrote it in the secret box and taped it shut and it was the biggest sin the worst thing I had ever written.

Because when everything belongs to someone else, success at anything feels like betrayal of yourself. And wanting things is impossible. And trying is a weapon to your demons.

But.

Things change.

Very very slowly.

This month I took a dog that has never known love and taught it the world was safe. I am a zookeeper.

And now,

I am forty years old

and I think maybe I could think about going to art school. Which is something people who like art do, I am told.

And want to do.

And nobody makes them.

That can’t be right, can it?