Monday, 19 October 2015

Gaming, politics, personalities. Stuff

Today's post will be a bit rambling, so bear with me.

It's always risky to put yourself out there.

Whenever you publish something, you're opening yourself up a little bit and that can be pretty scary stuff. We've all had that feeling when you have to do a presentation in the office, because you know how rough your peers can get, and now they'll be criticizing YOUR idea.

Scary, right?

A lot of game design tends to be very neutral. We aim for things that are emotionally distant and removed, because that way, we can limit the discussion to being one about mechanics and dice, one where every option is equally valid and personal tastes are all that distinguish.

But what happens when you make it personal?

Thinking about my favourite games of all time, they're all games that were steeped in personality. Where the desires of the writer were evident and where it was clear, the guy or girl was writing for themselves and we were just getting a peek into the process.
The Warhammer RPG, old Traveller, Laserburn, Rogue Trader, Burning Wheel. Nuts.
The list goes on.

When I write, I try to make things from my own point of view. Some of those sensibilities are about game design and mechanics I either like or hate.
Some of it is in a way to view the world.

When I did "No End in Sight", a lot of that game was reaction. Reaction to people telling me that certain things couldn't be done, reaction to what I saw as prevailing attitudes in the modern wargaming field.

I saw people setting up modern wargames and the scenarios were basically just a dice rolling exercise where the "modern" force was competing against itself to see how many insurgents they could kill.
And it never sat right with me.

Maybe it's because I grew up on books like All Quiet on the Western Front and with shows like MASH, but I wanted to capture something a bit different.
Most importantly, I wanted to write a game that I would want to play.

I've often joked that the "In Sight" system is more stressful for the players than for the troops getting the "Stress" markers. You are constantly fighting to get things done and often have to resort to desperate measures.
That squad sweeping through the buildings to secure the flank? They'll be scrambling in the dirt for a leftover RPG, so they can knock out the BMP chewing them up.
Your impenetrable defensive line? Now it's 3 survivors trying to guard the wounded and simply hold on for dear life.

If you haven't read up on the "third world war" campaign option in the book. It almost never ends well.
This is intentional.

Growing up as a kid in cold war Denmark, the impression we had was that if the balloon went up, we'd all be dead, and we were powerless to do anything about the two mad giants, aiming rockets at each other.
That feeling probably never left me.

No End in Sight, more than anything else I ever did, was a game that clearly delivers my own message.
And I was terrified when I released it.
Would people take offence to it? Would it become a tool of the people who want to fight culture wars? Was it a terrible mistake? Should I just keep my mouth shut?

In the end, it went well. Reception was great. I got emails from people who I knew to be staunch right-wingers with firm pro-military mindsets and they loved the game.
Not because it tried, in some tiny way, to be anti-militaristic but, I think, because they felt I had treated the topic sincerely and with respect.
Military people understand more than anything that soldiering is a distilled microcosm of what it means to be human.

Your soldiers in No End in Sight aren't cartoon soldiers. They're just little imaginary humans.
And being human is all we ever have.