Yesterday, I edited the rewritten objects (2,5, and 7) and reached out to people to voice-act them. Some of those folks will only be available as of April 19th, so I’m back to working on the sculptures again. I’ve got two left to make and honestly, I need a bit more inspiration.
Today, I had an impromptu conversation about the project that I didn’t record (because it was impromptu) with one of TAG’s visiting artists, Jonathan Chomko. We talked about the goals of our respective projects, and, talking aloud, I identified three “pillars” for TRACES:
The first, as I wrote about when I started the project, is “Alienation” — which is one of the feelings that got me started thinking about this project in particular. The second is “Exploration” (and speculative fiction, exploring the space, etc). The third is “Recognition”, but as in, recognizing yourself in the game, or identifying in some way with the game (this one being aimed at other queer and marginalized folk).
Alongside that, I want people to feel like they’re doing something sort of covert, and like they have to watch what they do in the space.
I also expressed my worry that the game will somehow wind up feeling like an audio museum tour (I really hope this is not the case) because of the scanning of sculptures and accompanying audio. I think the kind of audio and the objects in question will prevent this, but it is something that was briefly brought up at the Arcade 11 playtest. I don’t find the comparison flattering.
So I kind of want to bring in more “game-y” rules. Maybe some kind of way to track what audio has been collected (my nightmare) would work, but I don’t think so. Maybe some kind of reward? Maybe some kind of rule for how to behave around the objects? Maybe something else? Possibly I need to help players get into character more? I’m looking for low-cost (timewise and difficulty-wise) ways of making the players more involved.
Maybe I’ll get the chance to talk this over with some other folks at some point in the near-future.
Meanwhile, here’s hoping I can get two more sculptures ready to paint!
Here’s what the task list for the game is looking like:
– Finish and paint sculptures, add RFID tags to them.
– Record and edit Audio for 3 re-written objects
– Amend the JSON dictionary for the game
– Measure timing for the text and speech in the game and adjust those variables accordingly (hopefully it’ll be similar within one object).
– Update the Raspberry Pis with the new code and audio files and hope they don’t break.
[NOTE: These notes are transcribed, annotated but unedited, from a handwritten version.]
PROJECT 02 for my dissertation. Sept 9th 2018.
I was hoping to find inspiration for this project in my travels. Before I even left, I was sort of dreading this trip. I was feeling exhausted but still had so much to do. I didn’t want to leave home and Tom because of all the work to be done, and also because we’ve been away from each other so long with no time to rest and just be in each other’s company. The first 24 hours of this trip were stressful and restless, with trains to catch and a new country to navigate, with the knowledge that when we arrived, we still wouldn’t be able to make it to the place we were staying [clarifying note: our train arrived at 11:17 but the last train to Steyr departed at 10:52]. The next day, we found out that the folks in charge of setup had been unable to get the project working, and when and how they told us this was a tad frustrating and unprofessional.
We fixed it.
Still, the frustration and exhaustion didn’t go away, and in many ways we struggled to feel welcomed to this place.
This is the first place I’ve felt truly out of place as a trans person. I’m not on on any sort of supplement to alter my hormones, but i guess with a binder and short hair, I “tip the scale” into an uncomfortable place for these people. I felt stared at, and was worried when someone approached me on the train platform to ask how I felt about gay and trans people. It wound up being a friendly conversation, but the whole place feels fraught. So. Discomfort and alienation, even from the people we’re supposed to be here with, is definitely a huge, present concern for me.
Yesterday was a bit better. We checked out more of the other exhibits, had to fix part of our installation that someone decided to fiddle with, and I had a long conversation with two older artists working in textiles. They’ve been collaborating for over twenty years (and they also totally thought I was a dude through most of this conversation. At least they thought I was a nice dude).
The installations that we saw and that discussion have got me tihnking about this project as a narrative wearable project about being a stranger in a strange land. I am also thinking of the wearable as a living, alien guide. Maybe using defamiliartization and recontextualization with language. I’m definitely thinking of the work of Blast Theory and ZU-UK.
A narrative you can experience and carry around with you.
I’m trying not to let myself get too bogged down in how technically difficult the concept will be at first. I could see this requiring QR, GPS, radio coms…
I also really do want to think about Augmented Reality and also interactive theater/escape the room projects.
I’d like this to not need to be site-specific. At the same time, I’m only one person. I’m not sure I can keep track of someone wandering through a truly open space.
What if someone wanders off, or gets lost?
I don’t want this to just be an app or a webpage people use on their phones. I want to highlight the interface. But phones come equipped with so much useful junk — the GPS, gyroscope, the QR scanner.
This is why I don’t think I want to narrow the focus and worry about scope or tech yet.
I’m also thinking of the voice that the writing in transgalactica uses — sort of rueful, sort of hopeful, but jaded, a tad bitter.
I’m also thinking about time travel because of the Time Travel RPG I’ve been running. And again, that whole ZU-UK, Place des Alts [explanatory note: a recent TAG project that started out as a collaborative piece between ZU-UK and TAG] inspiration.
I was really inspired by the MIT Cillia project. I wonder if there would be a way to access that.
A pocket companion, guiding you through an almost familiar, alien civilization…
Actually, it’s worth noting that I just finished Ursula K. LeGuin’s “The Left Hand of Darkness.”
I guess I could maybe limit the scope to certain parts of the EV building, 10th+11th floors.
Players could play different parts — some the populace of this alien, different time, a few others the time travelers. Maybe something like two rooms and a boom?
I think having audio communication through some kind of wireless device would be nice. I think having some kind of costumes (I’m thinking scarves) could be nice.
The scope of the playtesting immediately comes to mind as a concern, but I’ll try to put that aside for now.
All of this makes me think that this might ultimately be that game about genderfeels that I wanted to make in some form.
It’s been exactly one month since I last wrote an autoethnographic blog post, and let me tell you, it’s been some month. There’s still plenty ahead too — I’ll be traveling to Europe for Ars Electronica, Hamilton for a BTS Concert (yes, I’m a fan — it’s astounding how many graduate students in game studies are and how many of us de-stress [not relax, but de-stress] watching their flashy music videos), Montreal for QGCon (which I’m co-organizing!), Worcester, MA for Different Games, New York for my nibling’s christening, and home again in Montreal for Maker Faire.
From the end of July into the beginning of August, I continued my yearly tradition of participating in GISH (formerly known as GISHWHES). That finished August 4th, and I’ll eventually post some of the items and videos that I made — one video even featured Harle, Avi and Drake as puppets from the 1950s!
From there, from the 5th onward, began a nightmare move that I still haven’t seen the end of. To make a long story short, I have had to make insurance claims and the movers were very unpleasant. It’s left me with a lot of work in addition to my already-hectic schedule, and it’s pretty stressful. At times, it’s been overwhelming. I’m chipping away at it bit by bit, though, and hopefully things will keep shaping up. There’s still a lot of cleaning, renovating, painting, furniture-buying, furniture-building, and decorating to do.
I have run four playtests of Flip the Script in the past two weeks! It’s a game that takes up a lot of energy, and I’ve decided that in the future, I think that the best that I can do is run it once a day. The game relies heavily on the facilitating role, and the facilitation itself IS heavy.
As you might remember about Flip the Script!, one of the debriefing and de-roling exercises that I do with players is formulating a statement that we’d like to put out ot the world — it can be a statement of hope, advice, just something that the players would like others to know. I try to listen and facilitate this. There were four statements to come out of these playtests. I won’t tell you which statement is in relation to what topic.
“Please be attuned to the subtle signs of our inner experiences and invisible struggles (and thank you for your patience).”
“Each ‘small’ drop in the bucket still eventually fills it and can make it overflow.”
“Be critical of the information you consume; be a good observer, be a good listener, and go deeper than the surface.”
“In recognizing each other’s humanity within rigid systems, there may be potential for unusual alliances and creative solutions.”
Some things that I’ve learned from the playtesting: the microbit and LED technology isn’t pulling its weight as much as it could, although it’s not horribly mismatched, it’s a facilitator-heavy game, I need to help players connect to their puppets by making sure that they interact with them early and often and make things up about them, and I need to carefully shape scenes by regeneralizing any personal anecdotes that people tell, and ensure that the scene is robust enough to support multiple playthroughs. That means carefully setting up the characters and potentialities/story seeds. Also, the way that the game goes and how much is disclosed depends very heavily on who is playing (but I knew that would be the case).
Player reception has been generally positive, and people seem to get something out of the game on an emotional level, even if it’s not a perfect game. I guess it’s okay that it’s not perfect.
What I think I am realizing is that I do need to be careful about how much emotional labour the next project demands of me, because these playtest sessions have been very rewarding, but also quite draining. Given the fact that there are many draining situations in my life at the moment (this nightmare move, everything to do with Tom, just the general stressors of being a grad student with many things to do, plus community organizing and the things that come with it). That means I need to offload more onto the tech and interface and game rules and less onto the facilitator. That’ll hopefully mean that playtesting will be easier, even if initially there’s more work to be done with the tech (which is not necessarily my strongest suit — but it’s always getting stronger!).
With Flip the Script!, I spent a lot of time agonizing over the game idea and getting it to a point where I felt good about it. Then, a lot of my time was spent making the puppets and their interfaces. The rules themselves also took up a good chunk of that time. I’ll have to see where the next project takes me, but I think I need to be able to run the next game even if I’m not feeling at 100%. Maybe that means bringing back a screen. Maybe that means bringing in Raspberry Pi and pre-recorded things. Maybe that means more quick, written rules.
I would like to work more with costumes and theatre, but at the same time, with toys and tiny worlds. I guess I’m thinking of wearables and board games, or even of something like Polly Pocket, or, for a digital reference, Gnog. I want to embed a narrative into the interfaces and have players spend time exploring and discovering that narrative through the interface. I am also feeling inspired by Ida Toft’s Promises project, which I think is vibrant and alive in a very satisfying way, even though it’s quite stripped-down. There’s a suggestion of life within the vibrations in the river rock-like objects that the player engages with.
On another note, playtesting made me feel oddly “on-track” for my dissertation projects. I feel like this project, even if it’s imperfect, is a success. I think it engages with complex ideas that are coming through in the game, that the level of work that I put into it feels appropriate for a six month project, and I feel like I’ve accomplished something. It’s a nice feeling, amidst all this turmoil.
Since my last post, I’ve been doing a lot of reading in order to revise an article for a journal. I also wrote a draft of the full rules for Flip the Script! The week before last, I got to talk about them with the Reflective Games Group, and run through some of the rules, which led me to rewrite my section on intersectionality. This week, we did a full playtest (which I recorded the audio for).
The playtest went well, on the whole, but I was astounded to find that the run time was two hours, and I will have to find a way to streamline that amount of time in the future. It’s just too long to reasonably expect most festival players to commit to.
The major revisions that I plan to make other than trying to streamline the introductory parts is to try to use the LED interfaces in a different way. Squinky and I had criticized another puppet interface for just being buttons on the puppets’ heads that did things in game, and it’s true that this interface isn’t as embedded into the puppets as I originally envisioned. The truth is that I didn’t want to embed the electronics in places where I couldn’t easily access them, in the end, and so we’ve got this current version where the electronics aren’t even really sewn onto the puppets. And I’ve made my peace with that — it’s a different game than what I thought it would be in terms of its use of technology.
But, at the moment, there was very little reason for players to use the technology, and players rightly suggested that maybe offloading more onto the tech and getting it more involved would do good things for the game. It was also suggested that maybe I could have my own microbit to send signals, especially if the meaning of those signals changed (like perhaps the players could switch roles, or a new character is introduced — maybe I could make each of these into a more formalized rule for each round, sort of like the way that the games change in “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” — I don’t know why that specific reference comes to mind except that it’s the same general concept each time, with specific rules for each individual game/scene. Another interesting idea that came up was what it would be like to play my other nanolarps using puppets instead of having the players play themselves.
It also occurs to me that I wound up using a blackboard to record notes from the session where all the players could see them this time, and that I will want to do that in the future. That means I’ll have to get a carry-on sized whiteboard (possibly at the dollar store, possibly a picture frame with plastic or glass in the frame?) to do so in the future.
The subject that we wound up discussing in this game was the concept of the “good” migrant, explicitly asking “what does it mean to be a ‘good’ migrant?” To contextualize this, we were problematizing the idea of a good migrant while also recognizing that many nationalists and other people have expectations of what good migrants are, even if those expectations might be subconscious. We unpacked those in the context of apartment hunting.
I feel good about the playtesting, though, again, astounded that it took so long.
This is the statement that the players and I jointly came up with for our playthrough to release out into the world:
“Use what privilege you have to act in concrete, actionable solidarity.”
I figured it was time for a little update from my notes and documentation!
So, since my last update, the project has moved forward considerably!
I also presented my Reflective Games research on a panel which I chaired at CGSA (the Canadian Games Studies Association) and had some great questions about it from other scholars, and had the chance to chair a talk by Kara Stone about Reparative Game Design and Time (in many forms — queer time, crip time, deep time). We got a lot of good questions and feedback, and I felt quite recharged by the conference.
To simplify things a little, beyond preparing for and presenting at CGSA, here are the…
Egh. As I opened the link to github with the intent of sharing my code repository, I found out about the news that github is being acquired by Microsoft, and I’m not too sure how to feel about that.
Well, at any rate, the code lives there for now, so here’s a timeline of the progress since my last blog post, along with some short descriptions and pictures.
TIMELINE May 20th-21st:
After finishing Harle, my first puppet, I got to work on a puppet that I came to call Avi. The names of the two colours of fleece that I bought from Fabricville were Guacamole and Chai Tea, and reminded me of the colours of the inside of an avocado. So, despite the fact that Avi looks a lot like a turtle, their look is actually avocado-inspired.
I was invited to an impromptu get-together at a friend’s house, and I knew that I would have a lot of hand-sewing to do, based on Harle. So, I machine-sewed everything possible ahead of time, and brought my pins, fabric, stuffing, needle and thread over to this friend’s house. I have found that I can watch, listen and speak while handsewing, and so while we conversed and others played board games, Avi’s body came together. The next day, I added features like Avi’s eyes and other details.
My friend Gina suggested that my third puppet should be a red dragon, complete with wings. I had been planning to use red fabric so that the puppets are each sort of in correspondence with CMY/RGB colour theory (Avi, while not Cyan, is both green and yellow). Since Drake was my third puppet, I felt confident enough to experiment with the design, particular when it came to character details. I had this vision of fringes and crests, and, measuring against the puppet’s face, I free-handed a pattern on a piece of cardstock, cut it out, and used the same technique that is used to machine-sew the hands of the puppets to sew my fringes.
Yes, Drake is an obvious name for a dragon-inspired puppet, but I was also thinking of my Toronto friends who are huge Drake fans (in particular, the writers, artists and game designers).
I spent the next few days working on Microbits/Neopixel code, and created a Git repository for this (not very reader-friendly but very small in size) code here.
I used the Microbits coding environment and their drag-and-drop code along with the Adafruit Neopixels package/library for the environment. It was astoundingly easy to get things up and running. I ran into a persistent problem using repetitive loops (like the While loop and the loop that allows you to repeat code multiple times) — the code couldn’t be interrupted. That meant that I couldn’t turn the signal off when I wanted to. That felt clunky, so instead, the LEDs animate a few times, and then continue to be their rainbow selves until the other button is pressed and they are turned off (this is something that I just updated yesterday, but didn’t feel like I should separate from this section — it’ll still get its own timeline entry!).
One major change was deciding to use one neopixel instead of two — basically, I didn’t want to have wires hanging around everywhere and the one LED seemed sufficient for the signal.
Following that, I started to design vests to hold the electronics. While I could have embedded them directly onto the puppets, I felt that it would be better not to damage the puppets and also easy to develop an agile, changeable solution if the electronics were on something that the puppets wore instead. The vests are perhaps not the most aesthetic things in the world, but on the whole, I think that they look fine. I only had time to start the basics before having to pack and get ready for CGSA. At first, I thought of using my cat’s harness pattern, but that seemed to take up too much fabric, and anyway, wasn’t based on the same shape as the puppets. This gave me the idea of using the existing puppet pattern as a base. So, using the larger puppet back pattern, I slightly altered the shapes and left room for arm holes.
May 29th – June 2nd: I was at CGSA!
A whirlwind of staying up too late and sewing tiny vests for puppets! After designing the shape and ensuring that it worked, I had to design a pocket for the batteries (which I talked through with Tom), a way of making the Microbits buttons easier to use no matter a person’s handedness/what hand they chose to put the puppet on, and decide on LED positioning. Tom helped me talk through the pocket decision, which due to the flexible positioning of the microbits (which are attached by velcro and can be repositioned), had to be in a specific orientation. Last night, I finished all three vests and they’re all in working order.
June 4th: After finishing the vests, I tweaked the code, cleaning it up to reflect the single neopixel, turning down the brightness of the LEDs, and making it so that the second button turned the pixels to “black” or “off” instead of to the very-bright white setting.
And that brings us to now.
I am ready to draft rules of play for the game, but I have started to do some reading to familiarize myself a little bit with the literature on psychodrama and on sociodrama (which may actually be more what I am aiming for — systems and the experiences of a group rather than necessarily individual experiences).
In terms of narrowing down the themes of the game, I have been thinking a lot about harassment, bullying, and microaggressions. This, I think, is the confluence of a few factors: some of my friends and colleagues have recently told me about harassment which they are experiencing, my own family is facing harassment and bullying, and I just watched Season 2 of Thirteen Reasons Why.
So, I’ll be doing some reading and thinking before I sit down and commit to the rules.
On the Autoethnography side of things, I wanted to note the difficulty of tracing the influences on my thought process. This thought is based partially on this quote from a recent blog post by Pippin Barr about Translation Studies:
“One of the most difficult things about trying to actually talk about design is that it’s so ephemeral much of the time. Even with the best will in the world and the determination to pause and reflect on your design work in the moment as you make decisions, it can be hard to think of how to even frame what you’re doing, and thus hard to get words out. The most important thing in that context is to actually know what you’re trying to make, for which you can refer to design documents, artist statements, or similar. But even then it can be tricky to make the connections between some specific design decision and the high level statement of purpose.”
To really note all the overheard bits of conversation, all of the media that I am consuming (willingly or not, whether it’s the music playing in the grocery store, or an accidental glance at someone else’s phone, or all the myriad things I might scroll past on social media) that might have an influence on my process, and still have this project be manageable in scope is…just not possible.
What I can do, and what I am doing is documenting, writing notes, and recording conversations when I can clearly say that yes, this is part of my design process. I am taking notes about the things that I am deliberately consuming and thinking about as part of this design process. But there is so much going on, and for both ethical and practical reasons, it can’t all go in. So, the data is necessarily incomplete. I guess I have to make peace with that. I already have hours of conversation recorded.
On another note about productivity and scheduling: I was having a conversation with a friend and fellow designer this morning, and we were talking about what I’ll summarize as the concept of “lying fallow” — I’m not sure if others have used this term before… I feel like the answer to that is yes. These thoughts are also definitely influenced by Kara Stone’s CGSA talk, which is forthcoming as a paper, about Reparative Design. Increasingly, I am coming to recognize the importance of the times where a project is active but I am not working on it. This is something I think that I discussed in my writing earlier this year, in January and February, when I was experiencing burnout symptoms.
Now that this idea has had the time to lie fallow, all of a sudden, things are just coming together. It’s a joy to work on it. It’s a joy to talk about it. But it needed that time. And so did I — I think that, like a field that has given all it has to grow the previous seasons’ crops, I needed to rest. I needed to be taking in information and thinking about the project without worrying too much about time. My past development cycles have definitely been about these bursts of activity, followed by refinement.
Having given six months to each game project (eight in the case of the first one, though I’m hoping to not need all of those extra months, in order to be able to build more of a buffer), and knowing that I also have to do things like writing and editing (for my dissertation, for publication) as well as teaching, and y’know, taking care of my physical and emotional needs, I know that my schedule is a lot. It can be difficult to feel okay about lying fallow, but ultimately, the past year has shown me that it is a necessity.
Your faithful autoethnographer,
Doing the best that they can,
It’s been a little over three weeks since my last update, which is because I have been largely focused on reading and writing about larps and nanolarp design from a critical, reflective point of view. I finished a solid first draft of this paper last Thursday, and am letting it sit a bit before I write a talk and make slides based on it for this year’s CGSA conference in Regina. The paper is sitting at around 9500 words…which is a lot more than I intend to keep, so rewriting and editing is a future challenge on the docket.
I’ve been making some progress on my dissertation work since my last post. I have done some experimentation with the micro:bits that I ordered, and found that they do communicate in an easy, friendly way, as advertised.
I built code that displays a simple graphical pattern in LEDs when they receive a transmission from each other. This could be the signal for the “shoulda said” aspect of my first dissertation game. I also ordered a number of new electronic components: three Floras and a number of Neopixel rings that can easily be sewn onto textiles. I also made a sizable Fabricville order of different fleece materials for making puppets. This is reflected in the ads I am being shown on the internet, which have been asking me whether I would like to meet other single seniors in my area.
I have also bought a simple puppet pattern to give me an idea of what will be involved in making a traditional hand puppet. I feel confident in my ability to wing it, but that doesn’t mean that one of these patterns won’t turn out nicely, with a lot less effort on my part.
I’ve received updated ethics approval after submitting amendments regarding group playtesting!
I have also started to think about and draft the Background chapter of my dissertation. Though I’ll no doubt have to add to it before my final dissertation, having a version of the background chapter seems like a good goal, especially since the other activity that I have been engaged in is a great deal of reading. In the past few weeks, that has taken the form of the larp research that I have been doing, but I am now reading Adrienne Shaw’s Gaming at the Edge. A friend of mine has also recommended, based on a brief description of my planned dissertation game, that I read about Psychodrama, and loaned me a book with a chapter on it. Also, a project report about the followup to “Hybridex” has just been published about Hybrid games, and is just perfect for my background chapter.
The reason that one of the words in this blog title is “anxiety” is because I am feeling anxious about my dissertation. I understand that this is probably normal, but, I want to faithfully document these thoughts and feelings as well as I can for the autoethnographic process.
The first feeling, common to grad students and probably faculty members in academia everywhere, is that I am not getting enough done everyday. But, I know that I have been doing well, and doing a lot, on the whole, and making sure to take care of myself and others. I’ve done grocery shopping, gone to the gym, taken my cat for walks, cooked many sumptuous and delicious meals, and generally done a good job at those parts of being an adult human. I took care of my family and friends as well, being there for them emotionally, and finishing a first draft of two separate projects that I have been working on for about two years, with my father and my brother. I also wrote 9500 words in about two weeks. 9500 academic words! That’s a lot — so it shouldn’t surprise me that I’m feeling a bit tired, and haven’t done as much writing on the Background chapter. The reading is going well, and it takes time to read — I have to remind myself of that as well.
The next source of anxiety is related to Tom’s job, and unfortunately, there’s not much I can say about that, except to say that some of my days have been spent helping him, and I have no regrets there.
The next feeling is the feeling of time pressure: if you know me, you may know that I occasionally call myself a reverse procrastinator — that I like to get things done long before they are due so that I don’t have to worry about them. In planning my dissertation timeline, I wrote off January entirely and gave myself an additional two months for my first dissertation game project because I had a feeling that, with everything going on in my personal life, and with this being the first OFFICIAL PROJECT of my dissertation, that there might be some fumbling and stumbling blocks.
This brings us to what seems like a very important source of anxiety: designing the game itself. Generally speaking, when I make a project, I have the freedom to let the project be what it will be, take the time that it will take, and I don’t have to worry that much about making an “amazing” game. I am feeling a lot of pressure, somehow, to make this first dissertation project the best game ever, and feel like somehow the scope has to be bigger than my usual work. But that’s entirely not the point of these projects: I’m not studying whether the game that I make is any good, I am studying the process of making it and archiving it. I’m collecting data about the project and what people think about it. I’m studying my own game-making practice. I know that I will likely make better games, and I will likely make worse ones. I know that I also generally do my best work in small teams with other folks, and that for the most part, I intend these games to be solo. I know that I will be pushing against the limits of my skills, bettering myself, and learning entirely new skills.
Honestly, that’s a lot of pressure to put on six months of work that will include so much of the other necessary parts of grad school, even if they aren’t officially mandated: the reading, the writing, the preparing for conferences, the meetings, the interacting with the rest of my community. And yes, this all feeds into making this game, but at some point, I have to start making it.
Another problem with designing this game that I am having is that because I am putting heavy emphasis on the design of the physical objects involved, part of my brain is wary about working “for nothing”: I don’t want to start working on the physical crafting components, and have to scrap/restart them because the game has totally changed. Usually, that means I would just rapidly prototype with the cheapest available materials and be done with it. But that presents two problems at the moment:
— Fort McMurray is remote. I can’t just pop by the electronics store, the fabric store, or whatever other store to get more materials. There’s also no one or two-day shipping to Fort McMurray. If I need an object, I have to plan for it ahead of time.
— In this game, it feels like the interaction will only “feel” right and complete with the final objects because of their materiality. So, prototyping without a finished object is possible but presents some challenges for the imagination.
Another source of anxiety is working remotely in Fort McMurray: in addition to the difficulties sourcing materials, I am struggling with the fact that I am not in my usual creative environment. I have grown used to making things at the TAG lab, surrounded by other researchers, creators, and friends, and being able to casually discuss my project. I would much rather be working on these projects in Montreal.
…However, all of my crafting materials (and there is a lot of it) are up here in Fort McMurray, so popping back and forth to Montreal as I have been doing since the beginning of last year simply isn’t possible in this context. Or at least, it doesn’t feel very possible without a heck of a lot of money spent on checked baggage or shipping.
Thankfully, I should be moving back to Montreal soon. At the very latest, I am teaching a course in Winter 2019, and so I should be back in the city for my third dissertation project, at least.
This brings me to another very present source of anxiety or trepidation: Will this game be any good? Is “Flip the Script” a good idea? Won’t there be issues with constantly interrupting the play? How should I handle those issues? Should I make something a little less open with a little more story to it? Will this game be meaningful? Will it be reflective and critical? Am I taking advantage of the digital components enough? And, related to that: Am I running out of time?
Well…these are the things that are on my mind, and even just writing about them as been helpful. I hope this documentation will be helpful to future Jess as they write their dissertation. Certainly, the discussion about time limits, and the uncertainty about designing to spec and within certain limitations (that it has to be a game that explores physical-digital hybrid design, that it has to be made in roughly six months, that it should be about critical, reflective subjects) reminds me of my work with Rilla about critical game design, where a number of designers designed according to a prompt that we provided (you can read our chapter in Game Design Research)
Just a short entry to record for posterity an idea for a new nanolarp. This larp might be called “CAMP GENDERQUEER” or possibly “A SLEEPOVER PARTY FOR ADULTS” or…well, we’ll see.
Lately, I’ve been looking outside of nordic larp to other sources. This has led me to read a fair bit about “edularp”, which is to say larps and play-acting that takes place largely in primary school with young children. I guess this has contributed to my having childhood experiences on my mind.
Fellow Designer, friend and collaborator, Allison Cole made a series of nanolarps (well, shortish larps) for her MFA at the NYU Game Center where each game was designed with someone that she had not collaborated with before, but wanted to. One of the games that game out of this project, designed by Allison herself, Joachim Despland, and Carolyn Jong, is a game called “Remember That Time”, a game for three players and no facilitators which takes place at a high school reunion. Here’s the overview from Allison’s Anthology of Intimacy book (unpublished, artisanally handcrafted in a limited run):
“You are at a high school reunion. It has been 15 years since you graduated. When you were in high school you were in a triad and the three of you have found yourselves at a secluded table in the corner with a bottle of wine. The evening lies in front of you, with nothing to hold your attention but the exes from your fondly remembered youth and your memories.”
In this game, the players drink a bottle of wine together, reminiscing about their shared past and pouring toasts when they feel a scene is resolved, and playing until the bottle is finished. They then engage in a discussion about why the relationship ended and a number of other subjects. As the idea for this larp formulated in my mind, I was reminded of Allison, Joachim and Carolyn’s game (which I have not playtested because I do not drink). I’ve been considering what my next larp ought to be about, and I keep coming back to questions around my own gender and sexuality, and thinking about how to explore this very personal experience in a way that would be nice for other people.
As I flopped down onto my beanbag chairs in my office, in my permanent blanket fort (see picture below), I began to think about sleepovers and the intimacy of those strange, late-night conversations, which usually take place amongst people of shared assigned-at-birth gender of similar age. The conversations that I have had late at night during sleepovers, just as everyone is about to drift off to sleep, are some of the most intimate half-remembered conversations I ever had with friends in my youth.
The idea is only half-formulated for now, but I think that, in this larp, which would stretch the definition of nanolarp, I would like players to arrive in pajamas, watch a silly movie or play some silly board games, and then hang out on beanbag chairs and couches (both of which TAG has) in a room with the lights turned off, where nobody has to look anyone else in the face, and talk.
I think there would be rules to facilitate disclosure, and of course, some kind of fictional layer/persona, loosely defined, for each player. Maybe, if someone discloses something intimate, other players also have to bring up something about themselves. Maybe there are rules about what is said, and maybe there’s a cone of silence involved — what happens at Adult Sleepover stays at Adult Sleepover? It’s still forming in my mind. This may not be the case for everyone, but there’s a certain safety and intimacy involved in being bundled up cosily, chatting in the middle of the night, that’s difficult to otherwise replicate. The topics might be the usual ones — weird little stories that are too gross or embarrassing to tell in the light of day (if you see me in person, ask me about “Nickel”, a story that I still remember telling at Camp Tamaracouta as a Scout about a kid who picks his nose a lot), about crushes, opinions about anything from music to movies to how to solve all the world’s problems. I am sure this is partially my nostalgia talking, but I think this could be a warm, intimate and sincere experience, if I design it right and the players are feeling it.
Last week, I finished a playtestable version of a new nanolarp/improv game called “Genres of Thought” and had the chance to play one round with the folks from the Reflective Games project. We discussed it before playing, and Enric brought up the idea that technologically-assisted larps could be a different way of framing a larp and thinking about what “counts” as a larp and what could count, opening up the definition and hopefully making the form more accessible and less scary to new players.
During the game, I noticed a few elements that needed smoothing out, or that I had accidentally omitted from the rules — but, this wasn’t so much of an issue since I was the gamemaster and could make a decision on the fly about things like who should start the scene (it would have been utter confusion to have all the players at once), or who should be the “odd genre out” (I used a random number generator).
The Group Genre was “Fantasy” and the task was “to keep the surprise party a secret at all costs. The Odd Genre Out was mystery, and the Odd Genre goal was to describe your alibi for a crime, perhaps explaining the details of the crime. In the scene, players were preparing a surprise party for their 30-year-old Elder (people in Fantasy medieval age eras didn’t live so long, remember) and the Odd Genre Out was professing that they had not in fact told the Elder about the surprise party. There was also a bit with a giant magical frog, and a lot of laughter. With five players, it was a bit of a jumble, but the players seemed to have fun.
The genres were not as much a part of the focus as I would have liked — I think this also might have been because all the players were active at once, and both trying to pay attention to each other and be active in the game. More playtesting is needed to determine whether five players is too many, or whether players just needed to go “on” and “off-scene” more in the way that improvisers do. For now, I’ve not included that as a requirement, because I intend for this to be a nanolarp, and in larps, simultaneous scenes happen all the time.
The question that we discussed at the end of the round was, “What is something that you used to believe in that you don’t believe anymore, and why might that be the case?”
One of the players, noting that it’s the “big questions” that are likely to occur to people right away, noted that they no longer believe in God. The rest of our discussion focused on this topic, and people’s experiences with spirituality and the institutions that surround religion.
We also talked about the experience of playing afterwards — I think that many of the first round jitters would have been smoothed out with a few more scenes, and I admitted that while I eventually expected players to build up a rapport and a comfort/intimacy through play that would allow them to get to the “heavy” topics, I was surprised that it happened right away for our group. The Reflective games folk generally seemed to agree that playing together did make players feel open to discussing this vulnerable topic, but that also our pre-existing relationships as a research group (with the exception of a guest to the lab who was meeting us for the first time) likely also impacted what the players were willing to discuss.
I spent a bit of time reworking the rules to clarify some aspects of the game for both gamemaster and players based on this playthrough. Primarily, the rules I added have to do with how to choose the focus for the scene (basically, it’s okay to do it however you want and have multiple conversations going on at once, because it’s a larp, but if you want to play for an audience, use the Gamemaster as a “camera,” focusing attention on certain players in the scene). And with that, this prototype is ready to release out into the world. Here it is! Here’s the github repository.
When I brought up the fact that I knew some fairly experienced improvisers who might be willing to try out the game, the Reflective Games group expressed curiosity about what the gameplay would be like with these more experienced players. While I wasn’t able to arrange anything for my current visit in Montreal, my friend Jordan McRae has put together a group of people who are willing to playtest the game the next time that I am in town.
I have been drawing inspiration from performance studies and theatre for some time now in terms of game design. In particular, since I often ask inexpert players to come up and act without rehearsal, I have found myself interested in improvisation. I have a close friend, Jordan McRae, who runs a monthly tabletop RPG-themed improv show called “The Dice of Destiny” — it has been happening on the last Thursday of every month since August or September, and I have attended every show that I have been in town for. Importantly, this show incorporates game mechanics and improvisation together, with the outcomes of important player/improvisor actions being determined by a d20 roll. In a lot of ways, there many similarities between what I am designing and this show such as the in-character and interstitial scenes (character creation in Dice of Destiny, the mid-game intermission/check in) and the other improvisational aspects.
Last night, I went to see Jordan’s show, and afterward, discussed my current reflective games project with him — although it’s a larp, there are heavy improvisational elements. Jordan pointed out a missing piece in the design, which was how to ensure that players who have the odd genre out would deliberately try to raise the stakes in the scene and actively try to highlight their genre, instead of going along with the other players.
Jordan suggested adding a new dimension: there would be a public goal for the group, but the odd person out will also have a secret objective related to their genre that would actively encourage them to interact with the others in a genre-specific way.
I think that this will encourage interesting scenes. I’ll be working on programming an app to handle the game this week. Here’s the pseudocode/wishlist for what I’d like the app to be able to do:
1. Display an introduction to the game and the game rules.
2. Display instructions for gamemaster [i.e. responsible for texting/letting players secretly know the genres, responsible for describing elements in the scene, responsible for cutting when they feel it is appropriate] and players [act like yourself if you were in that genre with its horizon of expectations, work with other players’ ideas (yes, and…), try to accomplish your set task, answer questions between scenes].
3. Display a genre and a goal for the group chosen at random from a list.
4. Display a genre and a secret goal related to that genre for the odd person out, chosen from a list. Compare to see that the genres are not the same, and if they are, re-roll before displaying.
5. Display a question chosen at random from a list.
6. Have a button that the gamemaster presses to re-roll for a new scene and question.
This week, I took some strides towards having something complete and playtestable for my latest larp. Since I want to preserve the process, I thought I would share my notes with you as well as the new insights I’ve had today into the design.
NOTES February 14th-15th 2018
“I have compressed disc in my back that I am getting treatment for, which has limited the amount of work I was able to do in the past little while. Last week I spent some time playing some games that I thought might have a reflective angle to them (What Remains of Edith Finch, Oxenfree, and Nicky Case’s simulation, the Evolution of Trust, which I highly recommend and I think belongs firmly on our list of reflective media — http://ncase.me/trust/). I also started playing Fallout 4, and am pretty disappointed by it so far.
I also spent some time thinking more about the larp I’m designing. Right now, I’m trying to work on what I might be able to say using the setup that I talked with you about last week, with movie genres setting the horizon of expectations, and one player belonging to a different genre that must nevertheless be integrated into the narrative. I think the setup is going to work well to create a productive pause that can lead to reflection but the question is, what do I want players to reflect about? One thought is that I may be able to guide the reflection through whatever goal or scenario the players are given to work out, where acting according to different movie genres will lead to different modes of thought and therefore different solutions. That would turn this larp into a system that could contain many possible areas of reflection, in the same way that /This Just In/ could possibly operate with different scenarios in an expanded version.”
NOTES February 19th-20th
* Every player assigned a movie genre
* 1 Player assigned a different genre
* All players have to use the “yes, and…” rule and incorporate each other’s behaviours as if they were normal
* They have to solve a problem together while staying in character as the “movie-genre” version of themselves
* changing a flat tire, doing a grocery run, deciding where to get food, preparing a birthday cake
This version of the game would not necessarily lead to reflections about critical subjects — but does a game have to be about a critical subject to get us to reflect?
I don’t think so, in terms of creating the moment of reflection, but it might be nice to target things a little more, in order to say, talk about problems in film? Representation in all spheres is a problem in Hollywood.
Is there a way to bridge in a discussion around stats/these issues? I think players that could spontaneously discuss such things would be rare, or I would be preaching to the choir. I think maybe the game needs to become more focused.”
At this point, I drew this mindmap:
Here are my notes from today, February 21st 2018:
“genres as frames of analysis
genres as ideology
*Ask them questions in between tasks a la In Tune
‘if your life as a genre, what genre would it be?’
‘how did the genre you were given affect your interpretation of events?’
Genres: a set of ‘rules’ and expectations
Ideologies: a systematic body of concepts especially about human life or culture, a manner or the content of thinking characteristic of an individual, group or culture
change the ideology/genre, change the interpretation of events.”
So. This is what the game might look like. I’m not one hundred percent satisfied that this will be the best game ever, but would look something like this.
1. The Gamemaster loads a web app on their phone which gives them the genres to assign to players in secret via text message. The app also loads up the nature of the scene and the interstitial questions.
2. Players receive their genres via text message. The gamemaster describes the scenario and the starting scene setup with as little or as much colour as they want.
3. Players play through the scene in physical space. The Gamemaster provides improvised supporting detail as needed.
4. The Gamemaster decides when to cut the scene.
5. After the scene, the Gamemaster asks the interstitial question. [Not sure if players should just be allowed some time to reflect here or if there should be a discussion.]
6. The Gamemaster reloads the page for a new scene.
7. Play is of variable length — 3-5 scenes?
I’ve created a repository for the code here, but haven’t put anything in it yet. My goal is to have a working prototype of the game for next week.