Norwegian spillskaper Matthijs Holter and American RPG designer Emily Care Boss made a text. It seems to be a kind of living thing, that may change as it goes, much like the games it’s all about. It’s called Play With Intent, and a lot of people are never going to get past the introduction:
It’s time to grow up.
We’ve been playing in this hobby for more than 25 years now. We’ve seen it change, specialize, mutate. The tiny battles in our tiny ponds.
Roleplaying. When we describe what we do, we say: “It’s like let´s pretend, only with rules!”
Kill those rules.
Do you remember play? You were, what, eight or nine, probably. You and friends.
Do you remember when it clicked? When it became magic, and you were that character, that new person you didn’t know you had in you? The Other. The shadow.
There were no fucking “rules” for that. For that danger, that exploration. And there still aren’t. The lack of rules is what makes us human. Accept it and become real.
We’re here to show you how to get rid of the structures that are keeping you in place. Away from the safety you wrap yourself in. It’s very simple, very simple.
You already know exactly what to do.
We’re about to remind you.
Y’know, Matthijs is a very earnest person. Not just earnest. Ardent. I don’t think he’s a master troll, though he should be. He should be sitting in a lair somewhere now, drinking your rage, growing fat and bloated on your impotent warbling until your hoarse screams of ire fade and you keel over, wheezing, dripping and utterly spent, your now husk-like form fluttering in the bright ruby-red glow from the Thing that throbs inside the towering, growing mass of troll-flesh. One does not simply tell a Gamer to grow up!
Since I’ve never quite managed to grow up, I retain a few childish habits. One of these is that I find nerdrage infinitely amusing, and am looking forward to going out prospecting for the rich seams of it that are doubtless accumulating in them thar intertubes even as I type this.
Anyway, as my wife (WIFE! Dear gods above and below, I really have done some growing up in the past decade or so) recently reminded me, you need playtime and you need grownup time. She was talking about being inundated with adorable children who wants to hear her fairy tales every. Damned. Minute. Of the day. But the principle can be extended. Games can be designed to belong both in playtime, or in grownup time, or in both, or any.
And that doesn’t mean that they have to fit into one of the grownup boxes – school, therapy, gettin’ it on and so on. They can be games for games’ sake, and still be for grownups. Not necessarily non-fun, but fun in a grownup kinda way. (It’s a weird and disturbing quirk of the English language that «adult» has come to be a synonym for «porn». It makes it harder for me to think clearly about these kinds of things while writing in it. Oh well.) And there’s room for everything – being able to do grownup games does not mean that you can never again gear up your Half-Orc barbarian and go mutilate some lizard man. Fun and Quality may be correlated, and may, if you so choose, be hitched to each other, but either of them may also be crazy-glued to some Glee or even a splotch of *shudder* Wish Fulfillment – and, get this, all these things can coexist, and your game will not be taken away from you.
It’s all about design choices and organizer choices, and allowing yourself an actual choice. I can do you a seven-course sad, sad story about characters you like dying in terrible ways, AND I can do your standard Bucket of Orc Gore Porn. Sometimes at the same time. If you’re going to design or organize games, it may be interesting and instructive to expand your repertoire, by Growing the Fuck Up. If you don’t like comedy or tragedy and stuff, it may at least help you put on an evening of orc butchery in a new and interesting way.
In other words, Boss and Holter will never get my level 12 hobbit necromancer, damn their dice, but I’ll try some of what they’re offering, occasionally, when I’m in the mood and think I need some.
It’s a weird twist on the whole issue at hand that you need to do a lot of grownup thinking and faffing about in order to remember how to do the playtime thing. Children, when presented with rules, just incorporate them; they become another form of play, a mold into which their regular mode of existence are poured, and so they use rules a way to constantly renegotiate, to pull the plot of the eternal playtime they live in this way or that, to aquire usage rights to a favourite toy, or be friends with someone who’s better at playing than them. And whenever rules interfere with play, they spoil part of the fun, even when the game is «see what happens if we flush Adam’s head in the toilet».
Adults don’t use rules that way… Nah. Can’t type that with a straight face. But, the point stands – we’re not supposed to use rules to push each other around with petty third-hand authority, though a lot of us never learn to step outside the framework of the rules and take part in shaping them. We’re all, at times, or perhaps in a part of our mind always back in school forever chasing the popular boy or the popular girl, jostling for position, quoting the rule book at each other.
We forget what it was all about to begin with.
To function well and be happy as a grownup, understanding and working with this fact about ourselves is a very useful skill. To pull out a cliché I think someone used recently: It’s part of growing up.
But, well, to be perfectly honest I remember having this debate in Norwegian back when Usenet was the finest in online communication technology and leetspeak was barely invented. I’m not going to do it all over again, if for nothing else so as not risk violent flashbacs to the Time of AOLs and the Spring of the WebTV. I did get past the introduction, and found that the contents are kinda familiar, and thus not as interesting to ramble on about.
The document is a bag of tricks we use in role playing games – things you may be familiar with, and things people you know have been doing for years but which you have been too much of a damned dullard to pay attention to. It’s the stuff that happens around a gaming table, which tend to emerge out of the group consensus in well-oiled gaming groups – the stuff that the rule books and larp compendia rarely thinks to write down, preferring to appont some random loveable egomaniac as ringmaster to the game’s circus as a reward for bying their product. It’s good stuff, well presented, with an attempt at participant priming, frameworking and structuring and other stuff that ends with «ing» running troughout it. If you’re good at GM’ing, you should have no trouble grabbing bits and pieces here and there, as needed. It’s not complete, if you think of it as a game book, and it can’t stand on it’s own if you think of it as a playset, or a manifesto or a larp or a design document, but it’s well written, insistent and earnest and thus unignorable.
Oh, yeeeeeahsss. The anger. The futile, scrumptious anger.