Thursday, October 20, 2011

[Gamma World 4E Solo Playtest] Dystopian

Going the solo test was interesting to begin with. See, trying to create some sort of story that either 'hooks in' players or can just be dropped, never to live, not even in bad fiction format, forever, is just an incredible exercise in creative whorism. I'm not attributing this to exclusively to GW, plenty of other games I own operate off the same principle - your supposed to make some compelling story, but if everyone just doesn't feel like it, well, in effect you may as well have just thrown your effort in the bin. And you know, that's fine - the texts in all of them basically tell you that's normal for how you treat your creative outlet. I guess perhaps this read comes to a head in my contact with Gamma World because it's actually succinctly written, while all the other books (rifts, blue planet, D&D 4E and lower, underground, hol, others I forget, etc) use obsfucation methods, primarily very large texts and hiding the tell tale signs in various semi random positions amidst mountains of text that suggest something else entirely. So it feels a bit bad to knock the book that is better written and more honest for it.

As a nod to the recent narrativist threads, what of the idea of not writing a story? "Just let it play out, man!" along with the well written article. It depends - to me, GW and the other books, they allow a dead character, devoid of any desire or hunger, to be brought into play (an exception to this is 'The Riddle Of Steel', I think). Drumming up players to do more just feels like tacking on some sort of TROS spiritual attributes onto it, but being in denial of that modification of the game. It definately wouldn't be just playing the game. I'm pretty damn sure that upon contact with the regular joe gamer, you will just get dead characters. Perhaps with non gamers you wouldn't, interestingly, but I suspect the structure would soon train them into dead characters. Probably from having their alive and fruitful character becoming dead, ironically, at some random moment and that really being a non moment in play due to structure. But anyway, that's my nod toward that idea. Any argument that it doesn't break down that way?

So anyway, it occured to me to skip that self flagellation process (one that feels like being a whore sitting in a window sill facing the street, there for taking or forgetting on whim) and simply play by myself, so instead of just looking at this thing I'd bought, I could actually, you know, play it. Sure, it's kind of an equivalent of masterbating, but a cheap thrill beats not only beats no thrill, it also beats beating yourself up for the hope of a grander thrill that may just not come.

And after a couple of encounters won (one PC), barely, I have this reluctance to play further. I really wonder if I have some instinctual grasp of the crap shoot and that comes out as reluctance to play further. Because the odds will eventually add up and kill me. There is no other mechanism that'll make anything else happen. And that'll be it. If it were a book you were reader, the character just gets pinched out and no eplilogue, nothing, the book just ends. How bizarre is that?

And I've kind of being trying to think of ways to get to level 10 or continue play and in as much, experience play.

But the reason I type this is because I suddenly thought I have experienced play. And it is utterly dystopian. All the bright and colourful monsters - do they make it some mario-esque fun land? No, they actually add to the dystopia. Are you going to find it fun dying to a wierd moving cactus that shoots spines at you? Unless as a person you heartily enjoy schadenfreude, the cartoonishness of the monsters adds horror instead of levity. The world is a cartoon and joke filled - and it's going to murder you just as much. Whats the difference between a scar faced man or a clown faced man murdering you - the latter makes more of a joke of your end. That reminds me of Hol as well - haha, the soddomy bikers! How funny is that idea! And yet if you play it out, is it funny when they are going to either kill you or incapacitate and rape you? There's like this family guy-eque humour in making them and thinking about them, but if you actually make fiction via playing the rules, how is that funny anymore?

So I was basically trying to dig through the bleak stone to find the seam of gold to follow in play. Until I realised that either the bleak stone is the seam is the fun of the game, or don't play it.

Now, you get alot of bullshit advice, just like in the other books I mention, where it's all about the fun and...what the hell does that mean? I'm guessing it involves stuff which, since it's advised in the text, is essentially in game stuff, but in terms of experiencing the system in play, it's advice to stop the players experiencing the system. Well, every time the GM thinks they don't seem to be having fun. It's classic 'stone soup' design, where the game insists its fun ... if you just add an ingrediant ... or two ... or three ... or a dozen. And after two dozen things your GM adds into the pot, isn't this game just freaking awesome!? Except it's the classic stone soup - it was just a pot of water that is vacant anything. What tastes good isn't the pot of water.

Except Gamma World isn't vacant. Revealed of it's stark core, just as much as drinking straight whiskey has its place, indeed you might want an evening of drinking straight whiskey and being in a world where joy and hope and sense of noble death are utterly, utterly blown away. No, I'm not being sarcastic. It's be a hell of a frightening ride to just feel the dead world and maybe beneficial for it. Beneficial if you don't go in expecting a mario fun land. If you've ever written fiction and no one gave a shit about it but you still did (and good on you), well play this and expect to make fiction that doesn't even care about itself. Zip, a critical, that PC is gone what.

There's a feeling in that. One that does not confirm your existing beliefs. One that does not comfort. GM, resist the temptation to put 'fun' first, and you might find another type of fun. One which requires nothing of you. One which might require a few stiff drinks to get over.

It depends though - I don't think that was the intention of the designers. So is it really playing the game to play it that way? Probably not. And yet when you get rid othe GM pulling the wool over your eyes every time you stop having fun, it is the truth of the game.

And where else would dystopia be, but beyond good intentions?

Handle with care.

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