Category: Study

Articles that relate to or build off my academic study. This is both things I wrote about my university life and things written about the things I learned there since.

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The Whole Sort Of General Mish Mosh Of Confrontation

If you haven’t worked it out, since I read every day, and I don’t want this blog to just be a nonstop festival of Hey, Here’s Today’s Academic Boring Stuff, I’m doing some of these out of order.

More reading from Tracy Fullerton’s Game Design Workshop. In this case, this is super useful because it gives me an academic source for just a very simple list, a starting place, for my thesis argument of the idea of confrontation.

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This post was deemed important to my PhD and has been moved to my academic blog. If you don’t know where that is, that’s okay! Or you can contact me to ask me where to find it.

Otherwise, don’t worry about it.

Virtually Virtually

With this talk of Virtual Reality going on, ever sit to wonder what virtual means?

What do you mean when you say something is virtually done?

It’s a weird word, isn’t it? It has some connection to the word virtuous, perhaps, and we use it so freely to describe digital spaces that it has a sort of connotation of the internet, or videogames, or something like that, but that’s not really what it means. When we describe reality, we mean pretty much reality. What makes that really interesting is that for a lot of intangible things in our virtual spaces, they are already virtual reality.

Brendan Keogh wrote about this, in that thesis I’m grinding my way through.In that, he outlines the question of virtuality as it pertains to things that are secretly trying to obscure their connection to the real world, that they are virtually real, and we are prone to pretending they are not. There’s no reason in particular we do this. We don’t file Warcraft goals as more important than Solitaire goals and yet less important than local sports team goals, even though one of those three is much more complex and within our control to influence.

When we say a task is virtually done, we mean that it might as well be done. When we say a thing is virtually real, we mean the same thing. It is real, or might as well be.

This comes back to my idea, the idea I can’t stop circling. We need to take games seriously, because they matter to people.

The Semiotic Threesome

Is it weird to call a PhD thesis’ language erotically charged?

In A Play of Bodies: A Phenomenology Of Videogames, Brendan Keogh, author of Killing is Harmless: A Critical Reading of Spec Ops: The Line, Australian games academic and probably someone I’m going to have to call ‘sir’ at some point going forwards, writes about the challenges of videogame texts. In the thesis, he forwards that videogames are a unique medium where there’s a challenge in divining a text, and that we have to re-examine what a text means and –

Look.

There’s good stuff there.

But, during this writing, he says (quoting Aarsith, describing Ergodicity), the semiotic threesome. The model of semiotics we normally use is one of encoding and decoding; the creator makes the text (encoding), the consumer experiences it (decoding). But that term, that turn of phrase, the idea of the semiotic threesome, where we consider an encoder, and their experience, the decoder and their experience, and the text itself as a trio of entities.

It’s romantic, in a way. It’s something I quite like to imagine – the encoder glimpsing the edges of the decoder, through the text. The text, curling and sinuous between all, entwining them, a thread that transforms and mutates and becomes its own thing. And it in a strange way, means that there is a time, a moment, when the art, the artist, and the audience are all together, in the moment when the audience enjoys the work, and considers what it might mean to mean.

It’s quite sweet.

Procedurality

I don’t know if anyone else is using this term to talk about this, so here we go, my best effort to try and coin this term so I can talk about it easily.

The Procedurality of a game is the degree to which game pieces imply the existence of one another. That is, when you’re confronted with a game pieces, you can probably extrapolate what the other pieces mean. As a player this determines how you learn and study the strategy, while as a designer, procedurality shows you the extent of a design space.

Here are some examples:In this pretty ordinary poker hand, you can look at the cards and glean some information. First, there are cards that number up to ten, and cards that number down to four. There are numbers on most cards, and there are some different symbols – a heart, a diamond, a club and so on.

Based on just this information, if you’d never seen the deck before, you could probably extrapolate what forty of the cards are, maybe forty-four based on the Jack probably not being totally unique. The design of a deck of cards works with this – there are two jokers, but aside from that, the whole design is contained pretty tightly within the two variables of each card: Value and Suit.

These are cards from a packet of Dark Signs. One of them is very much unlike the others, the area pieces that you’ll play to win. But two of the cards kind of imply the values of other cards, while the third shows that there’s at least some cards in the deck that don’t fit that pattern. The basic runes in Dark Signs represent the lowest sort of procedurality – they show some value that the players will have to deal with, but they aren’t the whole of the game. The procedural cards in Dark Signs show a sort of design space, but they aren’t super obvious. Also, and it’s a small thing, in Dark Signs, the basic runes all have prime number values, which makes them just a little bit trickier to make score ties.

Finally we have the most procedural game I’ve ever made:

There are 26 cards in You Can’t Win and 24 of them are immediately obvious the second you look at any given card. The other two are Wild cards. Each card shows a value, and a rule that relates to cards with that value.

Procedural games are a good place to get started. It helps you get your mind in the space of working out how many cards you need, and if you do it right it can help you explore spaces, defining boundaries by how many different permutations you need of an effect.

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This post was deemed important to my PhD and has been moved to my academic blog. If you don’t know where that is, that’s okay! Or you can contact me to ask me where to find it.

Otherwise, don’t worry about it.

Sharing

One of the weird things about growing up in fundamentalist church with a deliberately stifled education is that some concepts kinda just get thrown around and you never really learn what they are. This meant I had to teach myself a bunch of this stuff, and I realise, there are some people similarly uncertain as to where the heck the idea of Shares come from.

The basic idea of what a share is is that it’s a portion of something. The place it got its start – more or less, there are always earlier versions of things, but the place it sort of got its modern kick-off – was during the (absolutely god-awful) trading history of large fleets of vessels, things like the Dutch East India company.

The way these things worked was, buying a boat – like, a whole boat – and managing an expedition over to do trading was, as an up-front cost, totally ridiculous. Like, we talk about wealth disparity, but it’s kind of hard to translate wha that was like when you’re talking about a period of history when you might not even exchange money for food, because it simply wasn’t affordable. So there’s a striation of wealth between poor and wealthy people that’s like, mindboggling, and I tend to think about ships from the perspective of the poor people. Each one of them represented more than a lifetimes’ worth of wealth, so the idea of rich people owning multiples is kind of impossible.

Anyway, even so, the task of sending a boat to get goods for sale was still a gamble – every time it went out, you didn’t know if it was coming back, and if it didn’t come back, you were out a ton of money, enough to ruin someone. The solution, then, was for people to band together – wealthy people, mind you – and instead of buying one ship, buying one tenth of ten ships. When each ship came in, you got a tenth of its proceeds. If one sank, you were out a tenth of a price of a ship. Then they got really fiddly with the numbers, and bookkeeping got involved and you started to see people making more and more careful subdivisions of the shares, and things you could do to interact with the shares and eventually things got decoupled from ever needing to turn a profit at all, because everything about markets eventually sucks butts.

Still, the thing with this whole system that makes my ears twist is, no matter how I think about it, the more I think it’s kind of inevitable that people will come up with this idea if they have some way of representing it. And then the weirder thing is: We have this idea for buying and owning shares in objects and businesses, but it seems fundamentally inimical to the current mindset of the world to have shares in the government you’re part of. Like, taxes are seen a an imposition, rather than a percentage ownership of the country you’re investing in.

Stop Being An Asshole About Fidget Spinners

Last year was the year of the Fidget Spinner, which is to say, it was the year people noticed the existence of dedicated stim toys and started to make a thing about it. During this time, teachers began the eternal gripe about whether or not they’re entitled to the attention of students, something that philosophically, I’m sort of resistant to. It’s not so much a resistance to the idea as much as it is surrender to its impossibility. If you’re a teacher, and you’re dealing with students who aren’t paying attention to you, that’s on you. Your job is to communicate ideas to the student in a way that they can remember. If they’re not engaging – if they’re not even trying – and you can’t find a way to make them that works for you too, then the two of you aren’t compatible.

The thing that blows me out about it was that the whole regime was just assholery all the way down. It wasn’t some sort of brilliant incisive conversation, not even slightly. You’d see people ostensibly employed in the task of scientific research or pedagogy or parenting or anything, people who you’d think have some degree of appreciation for nuance and maybe a recognition of how kids behave, acting like fidget spinners were the ding-danging apocalypse.

I mean, consider that adults do a ton of annoying stuff that other people put up with but they never realise how much people are ignoring it, because it’s not normal to call out strangers for being weird. If I stand at the bus stop clicking a pen nobody at the bus stop is going to tell me off for it, not because it doesn’t bug them, but because you respect other people’s boundaries.

The main thing I took out of the whole lesson was that the people you saw complaining the most about trying to distract people from fidget spinners were that they were people obviously uncomfortable with being shown that they’re not good at holding an audience’s attention. If people are going to zone out during your class, the fidget spinner’s not going to help them do it faster.

Literally every reason to ban fidget spinners is a reason to ban pens and paper.

Term: Dice Pool

A dice pool refers to a resolution mechanic where rather than rolling a dice or a number of dice and summing the results, the number of dice themselves is some part of the mechanics. The simplest version of a dicepool is one where you roll a large group of dice, and then select which results apply to which part of the resolution.

A single dice (or number of dice plus a modifier) is a resolution mechanic that follows a very simple experience: You roll the dice, you do the math, and then you have your result. This makes a dice roll, singular, as a very simple ‘switch’ experience, comparable to pushing a button in a videogame. You press a button, the system responds to the math, you get a result. That’s a really good, robust mechanic I like using for any game where you want some variance in a reliable, regular action – like in D&D, for example.

A dicepool, by comparison, is more of a system for making resolution itself a game. This isn’t all it’s used for! But it’s a simple way to use dice that isn’t just adding or subtracting on top of them.

Utility

So one of the most basic things you can do with dicepool systems is you can make players make decisions. Let’s say you have a system where players are setting up a car for a race. You roll a fistful of dice at the start of the game, and select, of those dice, some to be the engine, some to be the tires, and some to be the seating. Then, as you play the game, you prioritise how you drive your car based on those earlier decisions.

One way that Exalted uses a dice pool is that you roll your d10s, and all dice that are 7s or higher are ‘successes,’ and you need a certain number of successes to win. This is a weird bit of terminology that maybe a designer who cared about language might fix but whatever, like in Blades in the Dark the point is that you can use a dicepool to handle a resolution in a system where you want players to succeed, on average, but don’t want the degrees of success to be as varied as the numbers on each dice face.

A dice pool doesn’t even need to be rolled: You can use a dicepool system to have a number of counters that are kept at a particular number, or incremented as appropriate, based on the players’ choices. And even then you can use that these counters are dice as part of the play: Make it so it’s calibrating a computer, and sometimes a virus rolls some of the dice randomly!

Limitations

Dice pool systems can get pretty weird when you make them success-or-fail. It’s also got a mechanical limit – rolling 1d20+30 is not the same physical question as asking someone to roll 30d6 and count the successes.

Another thing with dicepool systems is that when you add components per player, they get out of hand fast – so if you want a game where each player needs to roll 5 dice, then one player needs 5, and 2 needs 10 but if you wanted 4 players you need 20, and you need to store those dice.

One final thing with dice pool systems is that while rolling big fistfuls of dice is exciting, doing fiddly book-keeping or rules changing or changes to each dice in the pool multiplies irritation. So it doesn’t always work with every type of dice mechanic.

Examples

Exalted, Scion, and the other of White Wolf’s other various roleplaying games.

Blades in the Dark.

The Hyperlink Is The Message

Sodom Me, So Do You

The story of the city of Sodom is barely worth recapping, but in case you’ve never heard it, basically there was this place that God didn’t like that was basically named Doomedsville, and the only good people who lived there were shown in one incident how they were too good to live there, before God told them the town was hecked and they left. I’m glossing over some plot points, but it’s honestly not important, because what’s really remarkable about this story is what it’s about.

See, right now, if you ask people, it’s about the sexual immorality of the city, the way that the people of Sodom used to stick their hoo-hahs into butt-holes and that’s why it was a sign of what a problem things could be. That’s why God hates gay marriage.

Except those people, these days, are also opposed by people, equally certain of their familiarity with the religious texts of the now, who want to assert to you that, in fact, the sin of Sodom was their failure to show the messengers proper comfort: That the story of Sodom was a place that failed to respect people enough, and right, and therefore, God loves gay marriage.

This is not, in any way new.

Back during the 1930s, the city of Sodom was a story about a failure of the people to care for their travellers and interlopers, brought up as an example of people who weren’t in the proper spirit of Christian Charity. In the 1940s and 1920s, Sodom and Gomorrah were known to be about the vile practice of race-mixing. In the 1890s, Kelogg was certain that Sodom and Gomorrah were a story about the foulness of indulgent humanity who ate fancy food.

Now this is no secret to anyone familiar with Christian movements: Everything in the story is just a justification for today’s latest problem, and nobody wants to read any further than the destruction of the city for their metaphor.

Emoji Rebuses: FPS!

Hey, here’s a bunch of Emoji arranged to suggest the names of various classic First-Person shooter videogames. Can you guess what they are? I bet you can’t! Oh yeah? Says you! Well I never!

⤵️⤵️🏰🐺🍺

Return To Castle Wolfenstein

☝️🔺
Rise of the Triad

💉
Blood

🤴☢
Duke Nukem

💰
Legal Tender

((🌎))
Quake

👨‍🌾🐏📄
Redneck Rampage

🥇👁
Goldeneye

🇺🇳🎣
Unreal

🇺🇳🎣🏆
Unreal Tournament

🐈🅰️💇🇩🇩🇩
Catacomb 3D

👽🆚🦁
Alien Vs Predator

🖥⚡🖥⚡🖥
System Shock

🛤😭🛤😭🛤😭💉🐉
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon

🔫
🔫
🔫
🔫
🔫
🔫
🔫
🔫
🔫
🔫
🔫
🔫
🔫
🔫
Tower of Guns

🥋🐉✊ 🌽
Ken’s Labyrinth

🍝

Dishonored

💏🔪🎪
KISS Psycho Circus

🕕6️⃣🎲
Hexen

🤘🤘
Turok


Mirror’s Edge

The Fear of the White Slave

The stories we tell, and how we tell them, shape our worldview. This isn’t ‘media programs you,’ not a satanic panic fear-of-the-demons-in-your-media, but something slower, more grinding, more insidious. There’s an acretion of the world around you as you pass over it, little bits of the everyday. Making everyone’s clothes show ads, we thought, would be about making sure you were always showing off the #brand. Turns out that it mostly just meant people saw ads on clothes as normal and not worth noticing any more.

It’s hard to turn that kind of ubiquity into money in a pragmatic one-on-one sense. It’s difficult to monetise a brand if the main job monetising it is to be everywhere all at once, you need a certain scale for that to have an impact. You need to be Pepsi, for example. What you can do with it, though, is reinforce an idea of what’s normal, and thousands of sources doing it all the time can do a lot to shape that idea of normal.

It’s Marketing Whiteness.

CW, gunna talk about slavery and fundamentalism and whiteness and dismiss the historicity of the Bible, which just gets some people up in a dander.

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The Power Of Hate

I like pigs.

It’s a weird thing, considering. Maybe it’s a childhood story of Babe. Maybe it’s after being raised in a weirdo Christian cult, I thought the ‘unclean’ label they got was a bit rough. Maybe it’s Asterix comics that made it look like the poor boars were on the losing side of things.

But I like pigs.

CW ahead for descriptions of war and some unpleasant ways we refer to history.

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Hyperirrigation

Originally this was just going to be a short note about this curious term I’ve become used to using and relating the anecdote of when I remembered hearing it, and therefore, where I learned it, because it’s a good word. I like it.

The notion of Hyperirrigation is the idea that it’s something that encourages something that doesn’t need it. It’s like watering kudzu, or fertilising bamboo in the hopes it’ll grow even faster, plants that themselves do not need that sort of encouragement (in the environments I’m familiar with them). It’s a word I thought I learned from Christopher Hitchens, describing his view on American Objectivism – that it was a hyperirrigation of the cultural attitude towards selfishness.

I went to find the quote so I could put it in a neat little sconce and share it and appreciate just the word and its contributary nature as an idea while I was sharing it. You know, removing from the totality of Christopher Hitchens, a man who was pro-Iraq invasion and thought Margaret Thatcher was hot, and instead just showing the interesting word he played with and the idea he used it to express. Because even jerks can use words well (and indeed, understanding the wholeness of the jerks who do is a useful tool for understanding people).

And then I went looking for the quote.

And I couldn’t find it.

I did find something similar, but it lacks the word.

“I have always found it quaint and rather touching that there is a movement [Libertarians] in the US that thinks Americans are not yet selfish enough.”

Straight up, I don’t know where I learned this word. What’s worse, is that looking for it, it seems more of a medical term as it relates to nasal irrigation, which is interesting but you don’t want to do an unfiltered google image search for it, trust you me. This puts me in a strange quandrary – because if I didn’t learn this quote from Hitchens as I thought I did, did I invent it? Surely not.

And thus, I share this thought with you. I’m sure as soon as this goes up, someone will happily tell me where they heard it, and it’ll all be solved.

The Traits Of Objects

You may have heard about the idea of ‘objectification.’ When I wrote about Daredevil, I trotted out a list – Instrumentality, Agency, Ownership, Fungibility, Violability, and Subjectivity. Where’d that list come from? Is it a tool you can use for your own writing?

One of the things I like with critical tools is that you can turn them on work that exists, and illuminate traits of the work you wouldn’t otherwise notice, but also, like an inverted puzzle piece, you can turn the tool on a work you’re developing yourself, and in the process, see spaces you can use to fill things out to achieve what you want. In this case, the tool is useful for avoiding the objectification of a character, which is to say, you can use this checklist to imbue a character with character.

As for the list’s origin, it’s from the work of Martha Nussbaum, and her writing was about people, not about media. It was also expanded by Rae Langton – whose work primarily focuses on sex and pornography. I don’t have a strong grounding in either of these creators, and I have the nagging feeling that digging into the views of a pair of 50+ year old Feminist Philosophers will find something nasty and TERFy. So don’t take my appreciation of this tool as an endorsement of them.

The full list, including both Nussbaum and Langton’s categories, and the questions they ask, is as follows:

  • Instrumentality: Does this character exist to only enact the purpose of another? Are they a tool? Could you replace them with a vending machine?
  • Agency: Is the character ever demonstrated as having their own purpose, their own ability to make decisions for themselves?
  • Ownership: Is the character ever depicted as being literally the property of another? And if they are, is that depiction ever showing that as being reasonable? Parents, for example, are often depicted as owning their children. How do you think of that relationship?
  • Fungibility: Can the character be swapped for another character of a similar type? Is the character replaceable? How would the actions of the character differ if another character was called upon to do the same thing?
  • Violability: Can people act on the character without consequence? Can you punch them with no followup?
  • Subjectivity: Does the character’s individual experience and personal opinion ever matter? When they disagree with someone is it because of a personal interpretation of events? What fuels that thought?
  • Reduction To Body: Can the character be thought of as just a particular component of their body? Are they a fist to attack someone with, a foot to step on someone? This is very common in pornography – is a character, for lack of a less crude term ‘Tits The Girl?’
  • Reduction To Appearance: Does a character matter primarily in terms of how appealing they are to the senses? A good test of this again, is to check how these characters could be organised in terms of being ‘the hottest’ or ranked for appearance.
  • Silencing: Is the character voiceless? Are they treated as if they are voiceless? Does it ever matter if they say anything? Do other people react to what they have to say?

Sometimes there are some really weird things you can get by applying this toolset. For example, lots of the characters in Joss Whedon’s work are fungible – they almost all can say the same lines of dialogue. Zack Snyder’s Perry White in Batman V Superman hasn’t really got Subjectivity – he exists to oppose Lois Lane’s efforts, without a justifiable rationale for doing so. But you wouldn’t necessarily assume that Perry White is objectified as much, in this case, as he is just an object.

Not every character in a story needs to be a non-object. There will always be room for goons and audiences and randoms. Stories thrive on having objects in them. The thing to look out for in your own work is if all the objects you’re using have common traits – if all the black people in your story, for example, are fungible, you probably have a problem. If when you need a random character to dismiss as being meaningless, you reach to make it a woman, you’ve got to wonder why you keep doing that.

And also knock that off.

This list also makes a valuable way to examine your characters and see if there are new ways you can add dimensions to them. Make them more real. Just recognise that sometimes, a messenger can just be a messenger, they don’t need a backstory and a family and seven layers of motivation if they’re going to turn up and tell you that Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are dead.

Term: Hidden Role

A hidden role game is one in which a player or players, selected out from the group, have some element of their play goals altered in a way that sets them apart from the group. Hidden role games are not always asymmetrical team games, but they often are.

Utility

Hidden role games are most obviously useful for making deducing who is on what team part of the game. This is the basic core question of games like Secret Hitler and The Resistance: Avalon – the gameplay is almost completely about working that out.

Nonetheless, Hidden Role is not a mechanic limited to this. You can use it as part of a larger game, where for example, players are largely competing to put together a set of resources, while one player is trying to prevent that without being noticed. You can even make hidden role games where the hidden role is itself a power – look to games like Maskerade and Coup.

Finally, Hidden Role games can be made co-operative as a way to ensure quarterbacking can’t or won’t happen. Players can’t actually determine an optimal path of what players should or shouldn’t do without literally knowing what they actually can do.

Limitations

Hidden role games can kinda bottle anxiety. It can be exciting and thrilling to play a hidden role game with your needs and wants a secret, trying to keep from being caught, but it’s stressful.

Hidden role games also tend to be comparable to one another.

Examples

Maskerade, The Resistance, One Night Ultimate Werewolf, and Battlestar Galactica.


btw, I have no idea where that header graphic is from but it looks like it’d make a great hidden identity game

Rhyparography

There’s this term in art, typically used describing still life, of rhyparography. It’s a discipline that mostly is seen in some medium-poor light, as the term derives from a literal insult, meaning literally, a painter of mean things, or more cruelly, painter of dirt. More commonly it’s used to refer to representative art of fundamentally conventional, unremarkable objects. Some elements of hyper-realism in painting relate to this. Hyper-realism is a real as heck thing, by the way, and you can get a place to start looking by checking out the work of Pedro Campos.

Artwork of three Coke cans, by Pedro Campos.

The typical conversation about hyper-realism in painting is that it’s not rhyparography, because the point of hyper-realism is an effort to elevate the mundane object into a transcendant state. Rather, rhyparography is connected to the mundanity, the unexceptionality of the object. There’s also often some griminess to it – replicating dirt and smudges is a tricky thing.

What interests me about rhyparography is its special presentation in games. Many games are about constructing worlds through visual media, which means that there are people who, in the making of games, construct incredibly mundane unimportant things, sometimes in huge variety. Anyone who’s done texture work or asset packs knows that you’re sometimes asked to represent a huge variety of just stuff. Much of it never gets noticed. Some of it never gets used. There are asset store packs full of unimportant crap.

And they are all crafted.

It is a thing to think about: How much of what we create in games is the normal, unimportant and unexciting. There’s a quiet beauty in that, knowing someone spent time and effort rendering a discarded coke bottle on a counter top, so you could walk into that space and feel like this is a real space.

Term: Deck Builder

A deck builder game is one where building a deck of cards is the core mechanic of how one plays the game in play. This isn’t the same as a game where you build your own deck, like Magic: The Gathering, because in that case, building the deck is an experience you (usually) do on your own. In a deck builder game, you are typically doing something that builds the deck as part of the process of playing the game.

Utility

Deck builder games are great, because the mechanical structure of a deck builder lends itself to a lot of very satisfying things, while still being thematically really varied. Some deck builder games use the deck to represent short-term limited decisions and combat, some use them to represent the slow process of economic movement of kingdoms.

Deck builder games have a lot of room for variance. You can have games with a very rigid structure, like Dominion or games that do a lot with keeping things freewheeling like Star Realms. You can play with rarity or commonality, you can involve other elements like dice and boards. Deck building is really one of the easiest game types to approach as a designer who wants to make something really large without necessarily having the resources to make a big project.

Also deck builders, if balanced well, provide a lot of variance. If there’s no single best way to play, you can use a lot of things to make your play experience more varied and fun.

Limitations

It is one of the most glutted formats of games right now.

What makes this glut worse is that most players don’t need a lot of deck builders in their collection. One good one will usually do the trick, and some players will be dedicated Dominion collectors or Legendary collector, or maybe they just want a single big-box experience like Arctic Scavengers. The point is, everyone’s deck builder of choice tends to have a thing that sets it apart.

The other thing is it’s very, very hard to make a small deck builder. You need a certain quantity of cards, even cards that are very similar, to get the mechanism of deck building to work.

Examples

So many! Here are just a few.

  • Dominion helped to establish this archetype recently and it has a really large number of expansions. It’s also not the best-edited game in the world.
  • A Few Acres of Snow uses its deckbuilding to represent military communication
  • Legendary is a hugely expanded franchise game with a lot of high quality art and whole storage boxes and whatnot
  • Star Realms is a head-to-head deckbuilder that uses its cards to represent space ships and space stations.
  • Arctic Scavengers uses the deckbuilding to represent scarcity and garbage, and has elements of player interaction

 

Reversing Footnotes

At some point in my childhood, I remember mentioning something I’d read in a book – which I had, but since I was four, I didn’t realise this was gauche. It was immediately rebuked as ‘not interesting,’ because ‘I just read it in a book.’

Then I spent my entire life trying to hide the fact I read books.

Telling people about stuff you’ve read, ideas you’ve heard, concepts you accumulated, life underscored, was rude, and weird, and gross and boring. You had to act as if you came up with things yourself, unless you were quoting television programs. I made it a habit to synthesise things in my head – it was not so simple as to read something and learn it, I had to find some way to restate it so it sounded like me saying it.

When I hit university, this behaviour, this habit, was proven to be not actually the way you should do things. University was a process of learning that being able to point to your influences, being able to direct where your process came from, to give meaningful context of what you had interpreted and found, was pretty much everything. I did alright in university, but this was overwhelmingly the hardest and most daunting component of my work. And then I started on my Honours thesis, a process that involved literally the opposite.

My thesis, at its core, was showing how I could play a game, interpret that game, then use components of what I experienced in that game to make a new game, documenting the point of inspiration and conception of different mechanisms. And moving on, this seems to be what I’d work on next: showing the process so people can see how it goes and see if they can do the same thing.

The Pisscourse

Sure, let’s do this. Why not. Why not. It’s just a Daily Mail article.

In mid September 2017 the Daily Mail copy-pasted an article – more or less – which was about little boys peeing on things, and science, and gender essentialism and making women researchers look silly, and they love that kind of thing. You can almost test whether or not a story will show up on the Daily Mail if you imagine whether or not the average Daily Mail reader could read it and either dismiss the ‘expert’ they laughingly frame as an idiot, or act as if ‘well of course, who doesn’t know that.’ This one got to add a bit of gender essentialism and Terfy Overtonse, so of course this was going to be a hit.

The article is being shared around as if the Daily Mail had shared quack science proving that men are better at physics because they pee on things, and then dismissed this science with the evidence that urinals are dirty. You probably saw this joke. A few times.

There are three problems with this article – which I’m not linking. Before we go on, this article is going to talk about dick-havers and refer to them as generally male. This is not the absolute case. This is not what all dick-havers are. Just wanted to get that out there. When we talk about structural power and things Men do, however, it is very common that most men have penises, and that’s part of the assumptions of this article. So if I sound like I’m being Not Actively Trans-Inclusive enough please recognise it is a shorthand when talking about existing Men-based power structures, which are notoriously unfriendly to trans women and also tend towards disqualify and exclude them from wielding privilege.

Anyway, with that in mind: Here’s a fold!

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Term: Roll-And-Move

Roll-and-move refers to a mechanic where players are given a field to move in, and roll dice to determine how and where they can move. They might be moving freely in a grid, or the dice values might determine where they can or can’t go. The basic mechanic is simple, though: Roll any number of dice, and use that information to determine your movement in some way.

Utility

Roll and move is effective as a starting point mostly because it’s really, really well known: Most people know a roll-and-move game and they get it quickly. It also has a lot of underexplored space: most roll-and-move games these days tend towards moving in one direction, like Monopoly or Trouble, but there’s a lot you can do with it – roll and move could be useful for representing things like the pull of variable things, or weather patterns, it could be useful for acceleration or deceleration effects.

Limitations

Roll and Move is a bit of a pariah mechanic in games because there’s been a lot of really bad roll-and-move games made that were distributed. What’s more there are some games that would be pretty good if they didn’t use Roll-And-Move and instead came up with some better, more thematically appropriate scheme to handle movement. Basically, Roll And Move is something of a Default and it shouldn’t have to be, nor should people feel obligated to consider it as such.

Examples

Some roll-and-move games include Hero Quest, Monopoly, and Snakes and Ladders. It’s obviously not a well-regarded mechanic but that doesn’t mean you should consider it unusable – it’s also the basis of the game Camel Up, and is explored in Formula D.

Term: Builder

A BUILDER game is simple to explain: It’s a game where you build something. That makes it sound silly to describe, but it’s a place to start. Most games can qualify as builder games. Dungeons and Dragons has you build a character, Betrayal at House on the Hill has you build a house, and Fiasco has you build tension. But those aren’t really games that fit the term ‘builder,’ because ‘builder’ is really a term about how the game feels.

Builder games are games where your primary focus is on building things, and those games tend to be games with a sense of material to them. You’re building a thing that you can look at and watch grow, and the feeling of that thing growing is meant to feel rewarding. In Betrayal At House On The Hank Hill, there’s no personal connection to the growth of the house, and in Dungeons and Dragons the building of a character is of a slightly immaterial thing. Magic: The Gathering requires you to build a deck to play, but unless you’re drafting, you’re not building the deck on the spot.

Utility

Builder games are games with a lot of inherently obvious value to them. Making things is very satisfying. You can use building to be part of the challenge of a game, as with Junk Art or you can use it to be the reward for playing, like in Dominion.

There are a lot of things you can use Building for, representing a whole host of different themes. It’s almost too broad a term, but I want to put it in this little dictionary of terms because when I refer to a builder, or refer to builder mechanics, I want it eaisly conveyed I mean a game where making something tangible is core to the experience.

Limitations

The biggest limitation of builders is that the bigger the thing you build, the more difficult it is to easily mentally parse it. Builder games often inherently increase in complexity! If the building components don’t increase in complexity it can be unsatisfying to watch the builded thing grow!

Examples

Games with good ‘building’ feels to them are often deck builders, like Thunderstone, Star Realms or Dominion, or they’re about building up a thing in an empty space. Some games like Dream Home have an element of builder to them, but that’s filling out slots on your board, and may feel less rewarding. Some games like Barenpark have that same effect, but the process of building is more difficult and may feel more rewarding. Same to with Galaxy Trucker, where you’re building within a box. A game that has more of an open builder feel might be something like 51st State or Imperial Settlers or Seven Wonders.

 

How To Talk To Your Trans Dude Friends About Boobs

One thing that exhausts trans people and wastes a lot of their time is explaining Some Of The Most Basic Stuff. I try to make sure I offer some basic explanations of things, not because I have special insight, but just as a basic footing. And this time, we’re going to real quick talk about how you, a cis boy, should approach talking to your trans boy friends, about their boobs – not boobs in general, but their boobs, this is important.

Don’t,

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Thinking In Two Directions

Some notes about writing and notebooking in the
body of a book as it pertains to fluid thinking
once you get into the habit of thinking of ‘who
told me that,’ you’ll start verifying ideas, of ‘to
me, this makes sense,’ becoming less common.
The problem with much of us these days, with the
world, is a feeling of emotional certainty about what
is not necessarily true or even scrutinised. I’m
gunna admit my own habit of accepting ideas that
roll with how I already think, ideas that tell
me, ‘you are doing okay’ and to be honest
I don’t think that’s necessarily an evil. You
ain’t going to stop your brain doing it, so
the next best thing is to refine your responses to the
sharpest point possible to look at reflection as a
tool for critical self-engagement to make it
in an otherwise unexamind and uncritical world.
The next thing to do is examine the first word on each
shed.


this was originally written at MOAB, hand on paper

Term: Drafting

A draft refers to when players make exclusionary choices from a common pool; you’ll see this sort of thing in professional sports to determine where players wind up. In card games, however, a draft usually refers to a mechanism where players each are given a handful of cards, choose one card, and remove it from the hand, then pass their hand on to the next player.

Utility

Draft based on cards can put complexity on the cards themselves, rather than in the fundamental structure of the game; the game has a really simple rule of Take A Card, Pass Everything Else Along. That means players can focus on just the cards in their hand, that they can select from, and not need to worry about what else is going on at the table (though they might).

Draft is also simultaneous: Players will all be taking their turn at the same time, meaning that even if one player is markedly slower than the others, players won’t be waiting the entirety of their decision making process, since they have to do some of their own decision making process.

Limitations

Draft is a super duper complicated way to design your game. In the case of a bigger game where draft is used as a component, like Magic: the Gathering there are thousands of words written every month or so about ways to do it well, strategies for repeating the same game, things you can do to handle the variance and things you can do to capitalise on it.

Players get to see a bunch of the cards in front of them; they get to know what they’re passing, and that can mean that players seeking an edge may feel obligated to remember everything going around the table. You can find this a bit paralysing.

You can make drafts open, where everyone makes it clear what they’re taking each turn, which gives players even more information, and may be even more paralysing. If you do this it’s often best to have a common pool that everyone takes one thing from at a time. I’m less fan of this but it can be a good way to make players hold grudges against one another.

Examples

Some drafting games include Magic: The Gathering’s limited format (known as draft, helpfully), 7 Wonders, and Inis.