On Shoulders

On Story-Games.com, Tazio Bettin (Suna)¬†has been asking how one copes with “standing on the shoulders of giants” in game design; that is, feeling like everything you might design has been done before, and possibly done better than you could hope to do yourself. This is an issue that’s always been close to my heart as an aspiring creator of art in any form. it’s easy to become intimidated by all the brilliant and inspiring works that have proliferated throughout history. And the more you love art, the more you’re likely to be overawed by that brilliance.

One of the things I cherish about roleplaying and storyjamming is the affirmation of the concept that everyone is an artist. Everyone has a unique voice that can gain expression in any number of artistic forms–storytelling, painting, poetry, you name it! Every person has precious gifts to share

I truly believe this. And yet Tazio’s question lingers: in the presence of greatness, how does one muster the drive to create at all? How do you shake the feeling that all the ground has been covered, or that you can never measure up?

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A Shocking Tale

I recently played a game of Shock: Social Science Fiction by Joshua A.C. Newman, with my wife and a couple of friends. It lasted something like 4-6 sessions, was fun and rewarding for us, and produced a satisfying story. Not only was it a work of art to be proud of, but it retained tension and life for us as players the whole time we were playing. Looking back, I can see several solid reasons why.

In Shock: you pick a future shock, some fantastic sci-fi development that irrevocably changes the world, then brainstorm relevant social issues that the Shock would exacerbate. You then each play a Protagonist in this alternate world who wrestles with one of the Issues. In our game the Issues were War, Class, Man vs. Wild (actually more like Civilization vs. Primitivism), and Living in Denial. The Shock was dependence on fossil fuels being replaced by dependence on alien technology in the control of a scientist elite. ¬†Utopian city-domes rise up across North America, while outsiders in the wasteland are left to their own devices, and exterminated when they cause trouble. After we concluded our final session, I reflected on play and noticed that several key aspects of the rules and procedures kept play fresh, engaging and satisfying. I’m going to break down the lessons I learned as I describe the path of our story.

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