Tuesday, February 26, 2008

small idea: playing against stereotypes

Over in the Story Games forum, user komradebob started a thread asking for some more stereotypes to use in a game crossing Space: 1889 with Miss Schiffer's School for Young Ladies of Quality (Meguey Baker's game in development). Apparently characters in YLQ have a nationality, which gives them bonuses on certain tasks; these bonuses are based on stereotypes of those nationalities. Three examples he quotes: American girls get some benefit when attempting rash, bold, or dangerous things; British girls get some benefit in withstanding hardship or enduring duress; French girls get some benefit in dissembling and social exchanges. (There's also German, Swiss, and Italian, and Bob was looking for the equivalents for the Martian tribes and other Earth nationalities.)

So as mentioned these are of course stereotypes. My initial thought was, what if you could choose any one of the benefits for your character - because after all these traits appear among women (and men) of all nationalities, not just the stereotypes - but then you'd have to deal with being mistaken for someone of that nationality? That implies some kind of penalty to social/diplomatic rolls, but perhaps bonuses to espionage/intrigue/disguise as well... but it quickly opens up actual issues of exploring racial and cultural (and gender) stereotypes and prejudices, which is tricky ground. Can these be handled in the context of a typical adventure/exploration game without overwhelming it (or cheapening the issues)? Or is it best left to a game purpose-built to explore such issues?

I know Full Light, Full Steam approaches this, with Thematic Batteries that you charge by taking a penalty at first, and then later discharge to gain a benefit. The Shadow of Yesterday could handle it with Keys, although there it'd be more of a delayed benefit as the inconveniences would earn you XP you could later spend on improving yourself. Again, even framing it as "benefits" and "penalties/inconveniences" seems like making light of real serious problems; but if Star Trek could do episodes about these issues, surely we ought to be able to at least acknowledge them in adventure games. (Of course, that does presume Star Trek handled it gracefully...)

I called this a "small idea" because really, all I've got is my initial reaction to part of Bob's post, and then some questions. Mainly I'm just curious now about ways to play with and against stereotypes in adventure games, and adding a little nuance to them that way.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

What's Going On?

Wow this place is quiet.

Maybe it's because God invented January to test us and the devil invented February to show he could test us better. A pox on those two months of dreariness and dark.

So here's what I've been up to in game and design lately:

I'm still refining and updating How to Host a Dungeon. It's gotten some nice praise from quarters I never would have expected. Plus Ben Lehman won't let it lie.

We're still working on Principia. Brandon came up with a heap of secrets for the game, and I've been working up a new playtest version with the new secrets and positions.

I helped run the Story Games Lounge at Conquest NW. Here's an after-action thread.

Also, we have a date for our convetion, Go Play NW. It's going to be May 31-June1. Go to the Wiki for more information.

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