2017-07-25 : #rpgtheoryJuly: Violence In My Games

Transplanted from #rpgtheoryJuly:

1. At heart, I'm a horror game designer. Violence against fictional characters is a crucial part of almost all of my games.

2. I think that this is fine. "Violence" against game pieces or characters isn't real and shouldn't be taken for it.

3. ...To the point where I don't see how we get from combat systems in games to any consideration of real violence at all.

4. I mean, identifying with our characters (or game pieces) provides a small link, but only a small one...

5. ...As violence against your character MIGHT constitute social violence against the real you, but doesn't automatically.

6. It totally depends on the game. In @PaulCzege's term, on the game's social architecture.

7. Play violence, in other words, doesn't and shouldn't require you to hurt anybody. The opposite!

8. So in my games, I always try to design ways for us, the real people, to have fun with play fighting.

9. Like, collaborating enthusiastically with one another to commit pretend violence on our characters/game pieces.

10. In all of my games, you can let your character suffer violence, without making the real you a chump or a victim.

11. ...In various ways, for various purposes, with various outcomes, game by game.

12. This always includes ways for you as a player to choose how much you're risking or willing to have your character suffer.

13. ...But it doesn't always include an out or a veto. In some games, it's "you risked this, and it came true, so it stands."

14. Because in some games, gambling big and losing is part of the fun!

15. So the design task is, divorce play violence from real-world social violence, aggression, hostility, between the players.

16. Keep the players enthusiastically in the game, collaborating, while their characters try to hurt and kill each other.

17. This isn't like a big challenge, it's just a task, but you can get it wrong. Have a plan! Design on purpose!

18. Oh, I want to add, about emotional violence.

19. If you're designing a game that features emotional violence against characters, even moreso.

20. You shouldn't have to bully me as a player in order for your character to bully mine. Gaslight me to gaslight mine. No!

21. Play fights should be fun for the loser too, even emotional play fights. Gotta divorce that play violence from the real!

22. That's basically it. Characters & game pieces are disposable, friendship & trust aren't. Take care of each other, yeah?

1. On 2017-07-25, Paul T. said:

Nice post.

This is why the Explorer can choose to "wake up" in Murderous Ghosts, right? That's this particular game's "out": the horror stops, and congratulations to the Ghost player, who is told they "win" somewhat to allay the feeling of having the rug pulled out from under them.


2. On 2017-07-27, DWeird said:

So glad you wrote this.

I am very much interested in emotional violence in roleplaying games. Say you wanted to make a game *about* that sort of stuff, and what it can do to a person. It seems like there's a degree to which wanting other people to have a genuine experience of this would have to involve hurting them, which is not something I want to do to my friends.

Am I wrong somewhere? How do you deal with this?


direct link

This makes...
AD go "MLWM is there canonical example"*

*click in for more

3. On 2017-07-27, Ben Lehman said:


I'd question what you mean by "genuine experience" in that sentence.

Moby Dick—to pick a great novel at random—gives the genuine experience of being trapped on a whaling boat with an obsessive, authoritarian captain without anyone reading it having to get shipwrecked or drowned.


4. On 2017-07-30, John Mc said:

Oh man, I can use all the tools I can get to make play violence separate from social violence.  There's a need for this stuff.


5. On 2017-08-08, Vincent said:

DWeird, it helps me to name the violence specifically. Take gaslighting:

To design a game where somebody's character gets gaslighted, you have to create a game where one or more characters deny what's happened and reframe it against another character, to the point where the victim character questions their own grasp of reality.

To design a game where a player gets gaslighted, you have to create a game that denies what's happened and reframes it against one of the players, to the point where that player questions their own grasp of reality.

These are very, very different design challenges!

Compare My Life With Master on the one hand with Sunshine Boulevard or The Vengeful Demon of the Ring on the other. The latter games, you can immediately and viscerally see how they violate good and normal social behavior.


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