God Emperor

God Emperor

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The moral of the story

Good news: we just passed the minimum number of ticket sales, so the Megagame is 100% going ahead. Bad news, I just realized I made a mistake and set the end date for ticket sales to the day of the game. I've changed it to the 21st, three weeks away, one week from the game. I don't think we'll have any trouble filling out the place. A shedload of creative and awesome people are signing up. Someone who ran the game in New Zealand is flying all the way out here to play it with two mates!
It's gonna be the best thing I've ever done.

So - why am I doing it? What's so good about Watch The Skies that me and people all over the globe have started running it? Well, reason 1, the moral of the story and the high-and-mighty justification: it explores a massive, broken system we're all trapped in. Watch The Skies puts you in a giant, crazy situation of Global Politics and lets you play through what's fucked up about it in a game.

It explores an interesting situation in a safe way. Stories do this all the time ("What would happen if you stepped off the path and explored the woods?"). The difference is that stories provide an answer ("A wolf would eat you and your grandma, you wretched little idiot"). Book, TV show, play or movie, the creator has a message in mind. 

Games just ask the question: they are terrible at proscribing a definitive answer. There are more possible chess games than there are atoms in the observable universe. Many games are even more complex than that. You might try to make a game with the moral "Don't leave the path or wolves will eat you" - but the player might defeat the wolves, or avoid them, or end up in any of a million other possible game states.

If you do not recognize this and you try to proscribe morals and pre-set answers, this unpredictability becomes a massive frustrating albatross around the neck of the medium. If you recognize it and use it, it's an advantage. Tiger cubs don't learn to fight by hearing a story about fighting. They play it out. As a result, they get ideas that no storyteller could have told them.

Think of the Prisoners Dilemma. We could use a story to talk about the situation: "Bob and John played Share or Steal, and both voted Share." This sends a message: Trust people. But hey, maybe you shouldn't trust Bob. Who knows? By playing the Dilemma, we can ask the question and get an answer from the players. The answer will be different every time, depending on who's playing it. This is the ideal: The game design asks a question which the players answer through play.

So the moral is - hey, I can't hand down a finger-wagging moral about global politics. What I can do is simulate the system, put it under pressure, and dump you into it.