Category Archives: Games

I write about games! I write a LOT about games! Everything I do about games is here, in this tab, in some way.

Boyfriend Material

I default to tabletop games when I make games. It’s the skillset I have and it doesn’t involve, typically, reaching into a new skill space to try and develop something. But it’s not the only system I’ve ever used, and there is a design that I’ve had kicking around in my head for an idea of a few different visual novels, or maybe even RPGmaker style games. One of them that I think has a perfect name to go with its concept is Boyfriend Material.

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USP-01: January’s Custom Cards

Across Achresis, there are ruins of the great scourge, machines left scattered and broken with the heavy machines of a war made to strip the forests. The refusal of the dead to die seemingly foments ancient mythical spirits that want to punish those that try to live eternally. New forms of life take on famliiar shapes. Wherever you are, it seems, there’s always a reason for everyone to have a Best Friend.

The logo for the Usurper's Palace, showing the title text overlaid on a six-pointed spiral vortext.

Warning: Wizards employees, this post contains unsolicited designs of custom magic cards.

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Game Pile: Love Letter

It used to be that Love Letter was a great start to a modern niche board game collection. Now, it is possible for Love Letter to be a modern niche board game collection. At this point, the boardgamegeek site lists over thirty four variant reimplementations, alternate boxes or art styles or licensed versions of Love Letter, with varying sizes and scales. So steep was this proliferation I was seriously tempted to do a gag of reviewing a different copy of Love Letter every month for a year only to realise I wouldn’t get through more than half of them doing that.

For the unfamiliar, Love Letter is a tiny card game — usually something like eighteen cards — originally developed by Seiji Kanai, and as burly as it is having thirty iterations of a game in your developer credits, Love Letter represents about half of Kanai’s work. And you might think in the same vein as heavily franchised movies or long-running soap opera TV shows, is there being a lot of something a signal that it’s potentially a bit bad, right?

But no.

I think Love Letter is great.

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January’s Game Project: Adventure Town!

Adventure Town is a roll-and-write game about running a town that adventurers pass through, a type of thing that I seem to find really fascinating.

Gunna level with you: I had a lot of writing to do this month. I work on it a little bit at a time, trying to find time to make pushes to finish it, especially since it seems to me to be a really easy project to just get finished, but tell you what: I haven’t had the time in January. This is life, and part of my life in January was a combination of helping someone move, a convention, and a lot of writing for the most important project of my life.

Adventure Town suffered. But it didn’t get nothing done. Particularly, what got done was a very important thing, in my mind: I stopped trying to make perfect mechanics, and managed to instead, get some good mechanics down.

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Distributing Abilities in 4e

Ability scores in Dungeons & Dragons are one of the game’s many mechanical systems that float atop a liquid surface of questionable justifications. They’re a perfectly serviceable set of dials to use to define a character, they do a job and they create a lot of thematic hooks you can use, but also, under the hood, they are not sensible at all, and part of where they get unsensible is where you try to treat them as strictly representational depictions of a coherent measurable reality.

Which is a problem.

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The 2022 Kickstarter Autopsy

Normally, this time of year, I’d do a rundown of what I got from kickstarter in the previous year, what I had expected to arrive and what hadn’t arrived yet. What I’d received and what I thought of them, as a sort of general demonstration of the kinds of projects I’d been backing. It is, in my opinion, a good idea to do this kind of reflection and in my case I want to do it to have a good, reasonable analysis of the kinds of games I’m backing. I can tell myself that I support kickstarter because I want to make sure small industry-excluded voices get a shot, but if I actually mostly just back Reaper minis and the latest We Like It million-dollar plastic-fest, then I’m probably not lining up my self-image and my actual behaviour.

A wrench, however, has been thrown into this project.

Late 2021, Kickstarter, during the flurry of stupid posts from idiots trying to take money from bigger idiots, decided that they would be looking into ways to pivot to the blockchain. This idea was dabbled with, experimented with, teased and tested and cajoled and flirted and then suddenly the CEO of Kickstarter was replaced, and the new one said – to me, personally, on twitter! – no, we’re not doing that. Weird. I’d like a more reliable source than that but whatever.

The thing is, I figured that if I didn’t want kickstarter to do something I should do something to divest of it; I made a point that I was avoiding kickstarter because of their consideration of blockchain and would continue to do so until I had a clear sign that they were going to stop. That means that in 2022, I backed no new kickstarters, and all I got to deal with there were the results of 2021’s kickstarters. What games did I get? What arrived?

And what did I miss, because of this choice to divest?

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How To Be: Cyclops (In 4e D&D)

In How To Be we’re going to look at a variety of characters from Not D&D and conceptualise how you might go about making a version of that character in the form of D&D that matters on this blog, D&D 4th Edition. Our guidelines are as follows:

  • This is going to be a brief rundown of ways to make a character that ‘feels’ like the source character
  • This isn’t meant to be comprehensive or authoritative but as a creative exercise
  • While not every character can work immediately out of the box, the aim is to make sure they have a character ‘feel’ as soon as possible
  • The character has to have the ‘feeling’ of the character by at least midway through Heroic

When building characters in 4th Edition it’s worth remembering that there are a lot of different ways to do the same basic thing. This isn’t going to be comprehensive, or even particularly fleshed out, and instead give you some places to start when you want to make something.

Another thing to remember is that 4e characters tend to be more about collected interactions of groups of things – it’s not that you get a build with specific rules about what you have to take, and when, and why, like you’re lockpicking your way through a design in the hopes of getting an overlap eventually. Character building is about packages, not programs, and we’ll talk about some packages and reference them going forwards.

I’m always left wondering, month to month if I can come up with an interesting example for How To Be, where I wonder when I’m going to feel like I’m running out of options. For GDQ I was considering a list of ‘speedrunning iconic characters considered, then rejected the entire list because I realised that, once again, I could imagine a way to represent that character, a way to capture the essence. Plus, there’s always different veins of narrative, different types of stories to consider like this.

A long time ago, when I first started playing RPGs, a friend (hi BigAngry) said to me, the thing with RPGs is that once you play in them you’ll notice the way that literally every single piece of fan media presents you a list of toys, things you can always look at, then point to and say ‘I want that.’

And I thought about another friend who doesn’t care about RPGs, and I thought: Yeah. Let’s do Cyclops.

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CoX: Swivel

Time to time, I write up an explication of characters I’ve played in RPGs or made for my own purpose.  This is an exercise in character building and creative writing.

In all technicality, the man known once as Vice Swithin doesn’t exist. He never attended public school, never was recruited into the military at a young age, and was never court-martialed. Officially, he didn’t spend over a year in prison being constantly the subject of assault attempts due to his lean frame and youthful looks, being constantly upgraded in security due to his self-defense capability leading to injured inmates.

Such high-risk prisons were certainly not combed for inmates experiencing minimal deviance from a genetic mean to find strong candidates capable of surviving a protracted full-body implant and neuroconnective surgery. Medical records don’t exist for a process that wired him from heart to head, that upped his reaction time, accelerated his thought process and kept the young man wired on a personal basis alongside the firewalls and flamewars of wireless internet.

One life, redacted.

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The Circle Highway in Dal Raeda

Okay, hit the ground running fast: In Cobrin’Seil, I had a quandrary to solve. I knew that Dal Raeda (Big Irish-like Empire) has a section of the King’s Highway in it. This presented a problem, because Dal Raeda is a peninsula, and to have the highway in it would require that highway to connect two parts of the Eresh Protectorates. That meant the only options are:

  • The Eresh Protectorate don’t build their highways between their cities and might build one into Dal Raeda for convenience, which I didn’t like
  • There’s an Eresh Protectorate city inside Dal Raeda, which would be politically surprising
by Tyler Edlin

What follows here is the story that flows from addressing that question and thinking in terms of how pieces of infrastructure get built and maintained.

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The Grasshopper’s Gotta Go Fast

One of the most common academic books you’re ever going to hear me mention, if you hang around me for any meaningful length of time, is going to be The Grasshopper: Life, Games and Utopia, and I’m not double checking the order of the terms in the title. It’s a book published first in 1978, by a guy called Bernard Suits, a lecturer from the University of Waterloo. The book is considered, now, fundamental to the philosophical consideration of games, and is the source of one of the most common definitions of games you’ll hear — indeed, the one I use to be maximally inclusive: A game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles.

If you’ve listened to me explaining games in any expansive way, you’ve absolutely heard me quote this. Maybe sometimes I’ll say consensual instead of voluntary and maybe you’ll see noncompulsory instead of unnecessary, or restructuring the sentence back to front in some other way. If you only learned one thing from the book, odds are good, it’s this definition, which is useful for a bunch of reasons. It gives you freedom, it’s very inclusive, and it also asserts that you can’t be forced to play, which I found very important to instill in those I teach, that if you’re not choosing to do it, you’re not playing.

It isn’t the only idea in the book, though.

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Some Sick Speedruns To Check Out

As this article goes up, it’s Awesome Games Done Quick 2023. It’s going to go down in history as Another GDQ, but notable because this one pivoted from a physical event to an online event in response to a Floriday business deciding to Florida very hard and lean heavily into COVID denialism with the wishy-washy ‘well we can’t act like masks are a good idea’ bullshit that really is just a soft landing for ‘people who deny germ theory have enough money that we don’t care about public health and safety.’ Point is, that it’s GDQ, right now, as you’re reading this.

You might not care that much about speedrunning, despite everything I’ve said about how interesting and engaging it is (in general), but are curious about now, how the experience of the event might feel, and what you might want to watch. I’d like to recommend then, a list of five things that haven’t aired yet (as of publication date) that you can look out for, and which I think serve as solid, single experiences (based on, admittedly, only partial knowledge).

These should all be screening, at some point after this articles goes up, on the Games Done Quick channel.

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3e: Haste!

Oh boy you know what’s the most broken spell available in 3rd edition D&D well now you mention it it’s a contentious slot because there are a lot of spells that are really, really broken and third edition had a lot of them flying around but when it got broken you kind of had to start in the core rulebook and see the things that you’d wind up seeing used all the time and nothing was really ever going to wind up being as broken as this one it’s haste it’s haste look it’s obvious I’m talking about haste haste was so very goddamn broken in third edition D&D.

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How To Represent Speed?

When working with videogames, there’s a a lot of different ways to represent speed, and a lot of the challenges they present start out as technical. Infamously on the PC, getting fast scrolling on a room to create the impression of single large spaces the player could move through was a big technical hurdle; outrun used a camera trick and moving single silhouettes, and the VR push of a few years ago (is it reasonable to suggest that VR is now over?) featured a whole host of ways to grapple with the question of duping a human brain that’s very very good at recognising when it’s standing still and convincing it that it’s not.

But that’s videogames, an entire form of games that I don’t really make. I could try, that may be interesting, but anyway for now.

How do we get to represent speed in tabletop game places, with human interlocutors? Have some ideas! Go go go!

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‘Losing’ Bridget

Some of you out there are currently feeling bad about Bridget Guiltygear, about how a character you really liked the way it was now feels unavailable to you, and it’s in the very fraught, very distressing conversational space of Transgender Issues. You’re probably feeling in a way about it and you want someone to talk about it… and there’s nobody to talk to about it, because the conversational space is, as said, distressing.

Basically, if you’re someone who’s feeling a way about Bridget being a trans girl now, but you can recognise you’re feeling sad about you and not mad about the way other people are feeling, I’d like to talk to you. And I’d like to talk to you and offer you advice and guidance from a cohort that you might imagine is kind of your opposite: the trans Harry Potter fan.

Content Warning: I’m going to talk about Bridget a lot, and I’m going to talk about Harry Potter, and I’m going to do so with what I hope will be seen as compassion for people engaging with media. I’m obviously not endorsing or encouraging transphobia. I’m doing this as a good faith engagement with something complicated to talk about, and none of what I should say should be treated as any reason to get mad at people who are expressing their feelings.

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Game Pile: Keep The Heroes Out

When I talk about board games I know I’m biased towards talking about small, highly portable experiences that can often be introduced and played interestingly the very first time without any need to reference a rulebook. I’m not prone to having anything to talk about when it comes to campaign games, because those are often long-form, and also, we’re kind of still dealing with minimising your potential social interaction surfaces, you know the kind of deal, and I’ve even written about how strangely impossible it can be to recommend the consideration of games which are otherwise inaccessible to buy.

Keep The Heroes Out is a table-sprawling high-material campaign game by Luis Brueh, about playing the monsters in a classic fantasy dungeon fighting adventurers, it’s entirely based around scenarios you play through from a campaign sourcebook, and as far as I know, it was only available on kickstarter.

Hang on a sec.

Check check check…

Yeah okay, it’s not a conventionally available in stores, at least, not as far as I can see. You can find some copies on Ebay, and Brueh games seem to be distributing other games through other companies, so maybe this will become a commercial purchase at some point. I don’t know. No idea.

Gunna talk about it anyway!

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MTG: Introducing…

The logo for the Usurper's Palace, showing the title text overlaid on a six-pointed spiral vortext.

The territorial oceans of Achresis, known to the groundlings as ‘the Vast’ are dotted about with islands and estates, each one populated with the landbound lords considered too weak, too poor, too unimportant to command one of the vast, splendid Palace Boats. Great, towering constructs, many storeys tall, liners with whole permanent populations of courts, mages and warriors and spymasters alike carrying the great fist of the Crown of Blood to where it can most exult in its excesses or express its displeasures.

They say vampires can’t cross running water, but it’s another thing entirely when the water moves underneath you. The Crown of Blood, a title inherited by the Vampire who has at the moment, gathered the most of the true royal bloodline, speaks of who gets to wield the authority of the people. Coup after coup after coup, bloody and unreasonable, has set the Vampires of the Palace Boats at each other’s throats for generations, while they gorge themselves on lesser bloods and royal jellies for decadence’ sake. The needs of servants are done by Husks, soulless bodies that work off the debts of the living, and the energies of spirits are put to power great magics. Each Palace has its own character, its own tone, its own rebellions.

There are many things to occupy the royals of the Crown of Blood, of course. There’s a great iceberg burst from the sea but five years ago, and immediately captivated a school of vampiric artisans and researchers, who set to making it a beautiful ice palace, where research into the strange ice’s properties and inhabitants could continue apace. There’s the games of chance at the casinos, or the games of statecraft with the Masqued, the unidentifiable spies of the Crown. There are pursuits on land, exploring the scourged barren lands that were once ‘Outland’ territory, with its scattered barbarians and outcast god, where you could be the first to make a unique kind of Vampire. There’s of course, the fad for romancing planeswalkers in the name of reckless love.

And of course.

In the centre of the ocean, over the vast, dark spiral in the water, there stands on mighty columns, there is the six-sided shape of the Palace of the Dead, whose gates have been held open, and through which spirits struggle to fly, and whose largesse has ensured the steady flow of magic, and the denial of death. The Palace boats do not go near the Palace, knowing it is through respect to its King, their bounty is assured.

Everything is good, if it’s good for you.

And nothing at all is going to change that.

Warning: Wizards employees, this post contains unsolicited designs of custom magic cards.

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MTG: 2022’s Custom Cards, by The Numbers

Every day of 2022, I shared a Custom Magic Card — a card for Magic: The Gathering that I designed, using art gathered from the internet — on Reddit’s /custommagic Subreddit, My Talen_MTGee Twitter account, and then eventually, on Mastodon and Cohost. With 2022 behind me, I figure it’s now time to collect all the information I can about all the cards I made, and what I learned about myself and my assumptions.

Art Source 1, 2, 3

Warning: Wizards employees, this post contains unsolicited designs of custom magic cards.

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MTG: December 2022’s Custom Cards

Hey, it’s a new year, but there’s still some business from last year to tidy up. No-Effort November yielded a bunch of cards with no themes, obtained by grabbing everything out of my year’s total collected work that I cut from other lists or other ideas. Simply put, you got a grab bag of ‘huh, why not?’ designs.

Warning: Wizards employees, this post contains primarily custom magic cards.

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Decemberween 2022: Nice Boys On The Internet

I don’t watch a lot of streams. I have a very hard time engaging with a space like that, where there’s a lot of tangible avenues for human interaction that are all explicitly one way. It’s a byproduct of mostly only seeing and engaging with stream chat when it’s something that’s a big deal, like Desert Bus or Games Done Quick (oh yeah one of those is coming up and one of those just ended). It means that for all that the actual video content is pretty entertaining, when the volume of human engagement is high enough, I just feel like I’m being invited to engage with thousands of people all of whom will ignore me, so I’d much rather watch the whole thing on vod later, possibly at double speed to make up for the lack of crisp editing.

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Decemberween 2022: NixiiiE

It’s another Nixie Posting!

Nixie is of course an influence on my work, partly because she’s my adorable disrepectful internet family, but also because this year has featured some super dope Nixie Content.

I’m not linking to twitter, because


Twitter, right now.

But that’s okay because what Nixie has done this year that excites me the most is seizing the pedagogic means of production. What she’s been doing has included amongst other things, learning languages and that includes things like moving, something which sucks at the best of times.

But twice this year, Nixie has come to me to ask my help making a game. And then when I told her methods and tools I’d use, she did that thing that I always love to see: She went ‘okay, I got it,’ then she went and made the game to her specifications.

These games were then cool enough that she showed them to her teachers and those teachers went and told the class about them.

Twice this year, I’ve watched live-streamed performances of Nixie at choir. One of them was because she wanted me to save a video for her, and one of them was because, well… it was her recital. It was a choir performance she did, and she invited me to come watch, so I woke up and sat back and changed my day’s plans to make sure I was there to talk to her about it.

Is it weird to say I was proud of her? I know I clapped at my computer. That seems weird. Oh well.

Now of course, you already knew I think Nixie is great and adorable and sweet and definitely cool. And I’m really laying it on thick here just so I can bully her with reminding her of how wonderful she is. But the point is the longer this article is, the more of it she’ll have to read as she gets more and more annoyed at me.

See, she’s also a good writer, but without the threads to link to, I’m not about to be able to prove it. So that’s why this year, around when Twitter Looked Volatile, I made a cheeky little move to contact her and ask her to give some input to an article I was writing about one of her favourite movies, Air America.

And then, to my amazement, she and I made one of the same jokes in our writing, without any input from one another, and it’s an obscure bloody joke.

Game Pile: One Page Rules

One Page Rules is a family of tabletop material games with the design principle that the core rules for playing the game takes one page (back and front), and each individual faction you want to play can have all its game mechanical information conveyed again, on one page (back and front).

Once upon a time, this kind of thing would be considered an indie game, an extremely streamlined, microgame style arrangement. But the thing that sets One Page Rule aparts is that it has one of the most remarkable potential scopes of any game of its genre I’ve ever seen.

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Decemberween 2022: Life SMP

Do you like reality TV? No? Oh okay that makes sense. Not saying that none of you do, but on average, I can reasonably assume

What about wrestling? Yeah! Yeah okay, probably, statistically, you do.

What about Minecraft? Yeah, okay, statistically, you also probably do!

The Life SMP is a Minecraft SMP (“Survival Multiplayer”) set up as in Hardcore mode, where you have a limited number of lives. You can die a total of 3 times and then that’s it, you’re out of the game. A bunch of professional Minecrafters get thrown into this space, with rules for each iteration and what you get is kind of a really good single season narrative you can see from multiple perspectives.

The storytelling this presents is really interesting to me — you’re basically getting a mix of reality TV, where players need resources to actually do things to affect the world and make things happen (including violence), but there’s also an element of shared fiction where people are creating things that one another needs to react to. There are grudges (real and exaggerated), there’s kayfabe (real and exaggerated), and unlike other long-form Minecraft content where there’s a sort of timeless vision, the Life setup is very clearly here for a good time, not for a long time.

There are three seasons of Life and it works well that each season gets better than the next. It’s some really good bingeable content for the holiday period – just put the playlist on the TV and let it run because it’ll have that effect where plot points may zip past, but the next video will show you that plot point in a different angle.

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Decemberween 2022: Magic Documentaries

Okay, Magic: The Gathering content for Decemberween. I know, I know, some of you aren’t into this game and don’t want to watch anything relating to the game made by the company that treated Orion Black terribly. But I do watch content based on this game, I do care about it (even if I feel it’s always appropriate to mention the way the game is made by a company that treated Orion Black terribly), and some of that content is really interesting to me.

Last year I got in the habit of watching a set of daily content creators who just shared videos of them playing the game on camera in a way that I liked. This year I thought I’d highlight some of those video producers that, in my opinion, treat Magic: The Gathering like the sport that it is, and make some really cool game documentaries about it. Liiike this great video by Rhystic Studies on Red Deck Wins, an archetype that kind of taught everyone playing the game early on what math was:

And for a similar long-form, here’s Pretty Deece that I don’t think I’m necessarily always in agreement of, but it’s a good channel for providing this kind of content, more zoomed in on specific periods of time rather than on the history of archetypes and what it means or how it feels.

The BEST MTG Match Ever Played | Pretty Deece

Want to engage with the game but you’re social distancing this Decemberween, not because you have to or anything but because you’ve realised how awful a lot of the people you were successfully avoiding these past few years were? Well, check out these neat channels!

Game Pile: Jelle’s Marble Runs

Is a spectator playing a game?

Well, they’re doing something, right? If the audience, if the crowd, wasn’t a factor in a sports presentation then there wouldn’t be a meaningful idea of ‘home team’ advantage. We know that spectators in a sport influence the game that’s being played, after all — if nothing else, there are a lot of times in Baseball’s history in particular where a game was concluded, thanks to the actions of the spectators.

MARBULA ONE S3 GP12 Mirage Meowntain - Race (FINAL)

Now, hang on, you might argue that that’s not playing the game, and yeah, maybe it’s not. It’s concluding the game, with a different set of priorities. But the knowledge that fans can do that kind of thing, concerns that the reactions of the fans could curtail the game certainly play into the game’s players’ functions. They are an influence on the playing of the game, so we can definitely not say that they are separate from it.

But let’s say that that’s a material concern; that the game is agnostic of the spectator behaviour, and that the game is only defined by the rules that they experience. This is a great big discussion, something you can delve into at length through The Philosophy Of Sport, but that mighty tome is built on the work of Bernard Suits, the author of the Grasshopper, Life Games And Utopia. In that work, Suits forwards a definition of games that I think has achieved widespread academic adoption, which is that a game is The consensual overcoming of unnecessary obstacles.

Marble Race: ML22 E12: Domino Bowling | Jelle's Marble Runs

Now I’ve written about this in the past, when I ruminated on the question of whether Carlos Santana truly ‘played’ SIlent Hill with his controller of Rob Thomas. But that’s about streamers and an engaged audience; an audience, like the spectators, who are present to the player, who are in a way connected to the scenario. They influence the game by dint of engaging with the player.

What about an audience who are completely disconnected? What if we took the audience completely out of the sport, let’s put them in a remote location, where they can’t say or do anything to the players, like the esports community of South Korea’s Starcraft channels. For lower-tier matches, outside of code A (at least ten years ago when I was paying a lot more attention), players weren’t getting a live audience, but their games were being broadcasted to satisfy a bottomless demand… and we know in that case, that nerves, choking, all are factors that the audience’s existence can impose on the players.

Okay, so what if we remove the ability of the audience to influence the players. What if the players are somehow, emotionally, unaffectable by the attention of an audience? What if they were cold, efficient, and entirely automated in their play experience in a way that could be equalised and fair? And in order to make sure they’re not too complex, let’s make these game players as simple as possible such that they can’t fail or break or be otherwise impacted, meaning the game can operate in the purest possible way, without any psychological influence of the audience.

Are those spectators playing a game?


Marble Race: Marble League 2021 - E14 Sand Rally

In that simplest possible definition, there is a goal, and the spectator is trying to achieve the goal, with a consensually-chosen unnecessary obstacle: Specifically, the goal is to get their chosen simplified actor into a victory position, with a control mechanism that is completely deprived of all functional agency.

The spectator wants a player to win, they want to succeed, but the only means they have to influence the game are by cheering and by wanting. They negotiate, they pray, they plan, they strategise, they try to find a way to see their chosen player win, or get better results, or wind up where they want them to be, all through no means at all, through the least effective means possible.

Oh yeah, and uh, Jelle’s marble runs is a super sick youtube channel with lots of long-form, child-safe content that is watching marbles being run through races, with just enough fictional structure to treat these marbles like teams and players, that you can get attached to a particular marble, go Goose. If you want something engaging and interesting, it’s super fun to watch. Hell just writing up this article took longer because I was too busy watching the videos of the marble runs.

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