thread: 2011-01-25 : Social Context and Design Scales

On 2011-02-16, David Berg wrote:

Ooh.  Nice.  Thanks!  Great food for thought, there.

So, my example of a busted link is the Flashback rule from a 2008 playtest of Sign in Stranger.

The game is about forming an understanding of a place that began as truly alien.  Learning how to survive in it, communicate with it, meet objectives in it, and maybe even plunder it for humanity.  The immediate techniques are quite powerful toward that end, such as drawing random words and rolling colors to help establish the alien place.  These techniques are used nearly non-stop over the course of an evening, easily adding up to significant fleshing out of the world and the characters' understanding of it.

The game is also about how your character is changed by this exploration, possibly physically.  The char-gen process gives us a good idea of who each character is, the premise says that we take some weird drug that might alter us, and then we jump into an environment that may trigger such alterations.  Long-term, I think there's some mechanic for that.  Over the course of a session, I remember the odds of triggering that mechanic being very low.  In the one-shots I've played, no character endured any physical alteration.

This (combined with my personal taste) left me not really caring about character change—world discovery is way cooler anyway!

But then, when my character was faced with a stressful situation, I was instructed to narrate a flashback to a past event with a similar type of stress.  "What the fuck?" I thought.  "You're interrupting my exploration of this freaky cave!"  I grudgingly went with it, and the flashback itself was quite fun.

My character remembered some prior freaky situation, remembered bravely overcoming it, and then we cut back to the alien world as, steeled by this experience, I managed to avoid flipping out, and deal with the cave's menace gracefully.  It was fun to develop and share my character with the group.  Very cool scene.

But I felt this weird shifting of gears.  When we returned to the freaky cave, I'd lost my groove.  I quickly found it again ("Ah, yeah, this is intimidatingly inscrutable!  Nervous curiosity returns!"), but I really didn't want any more flashbacks.

Probing my character's psyche was great in the moment, but not at all what I was there to do tonight, nor a needed component of what I wanted from the game overall.


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