Would you look at that—Christmas is just around the corner! Perhaps you’re on your way to a warm reunion with those you love, or anticipating a tense standoff broken only by an armistice of present unwrapping. The holidays can be rich and full, or dark and lonely. Sometimes both at the same time. Each holiday gathering a different relational pattern.
Posting this a little later than usual because I was at a week-long training in Kristin Neff and Chris Germer’s exceptionally research backed methodology of Mindful Self-Compassion, a secular framework for deep inner compassion. It’s an individual practice, but with our paleolithically social nature ends up being all about the mechanics by which we interact and interpret our relationships with others.
This week, themes of agency. Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, the bots that welcome people into Wikipedia’s editing community, and of course, the mind-blowing artificial GM of AI Dungeon 2.
One of the things I was hoping would happen from looking back over my week’s information diet—instead of just letting it flow off into oblivion—is that I’d have a clearer sense of what actually grabs my attention.
When was the last time you fell over in a video game? Been playing Death Stranding this last week and I’m surprisingly touched by its grueling hikes across a barren pseudo-Icelandic America. I fight for every step, brace across a river, carefully wind my way down a treacherous slope, desperately trying to keep my cargo balanced on an aching back. I arrive at my grateful recipient grimy, covered in muck, visibly exhausted. The only way to save the game is to have Sam, our protagonist, literally rest. It may have epic purpose, but I can’t stop thinking about the mundanity of Sam’s trek, a porter piled high with everyday supplies and the world’s fanciest wi-fi password. It captures the idea of how difficult it is to really connect, the grueling, ‘boring as dirt’ everyday work that brings people together. It’s… a mood.
This week: the battle between bottom-up and top-down, between illusory individual control and systemic misalignments. When you observe everything, when you try to control, you snuff out the rich, messy process by which community knits itself into a “home where people notice when you’re not there”. On the other hand, you can start small, thinking about the subtle mechanics that make people feel comfortable and let that organically grow into community.
Golden Cobra! 🙌 🎉 🌱
Looking again at my blog post on Escalation, I realized I’d missed an important pattern, which I’m going to call Reflection & Clarification. It solves one of the important pitfalls with pure escalation: that players may generate contradictory and extreme content that pulls the story apart. The Reflection & Clarification pattern is the inclusion of explicit structures in the game that give players time to synthesize different directions they’ve created into one coherent whole.
I made a somewhat maniacal map of the influences on THE ZONE, as an exercise to see if I can talk about the game without mentioning the word “horror”.
I had a delightfully awkward first date a few days ago. The inevitable moment came where I found myself blubbering an explanation of storygames, but this time it was interrupted with: “Hey, let’s play one!”
My first time at Metatopia and I loved it! I’m still sleepless, feeling the con crash hard. I played some amazing games with staggering emotional range (particular credit to Alex White’s “A Cool and Lonely Courage”, which ended with 20 seconds of silence to process at the end. Thank god for a whimsical game of Fiasco In A Box immediately after).
This week I focused on a big open question for THE ZONE: pacing & escalation.
Well this is exciting. After my very first Big Bad Con last weekend, it feels time to gather some sticks, pitch a tent, and kindle a tiny little spot on the internet to talk about storytelling games… including the one I’m actually rather far along in making: THE ZONE.