Logo, Label and Cliques; “Who’s Deserving?”; Discussion Begins.

I intentionally intended this post to be only about the Discussion, if you want to skip my thoughts, go to the end. However, I keep having ideas put in my head when I’m thinking of posts, and since these are relevant and may further ferment the discussion to follow, I will post these ideas. It’s not like you can stop me.

So, the current Project is about finding a logo for CSI Games, but once we have it, a new question arises. The question will be put to voting in a future Project, which gives us time till then(a month or so) to discuss the issue here, to bring up whatever you want to discuss regarding it.
The issue is, who gets to use the Logo and/or “Label”?

Some people are against the Logo because it puts a Label on their product, Labels are often associated with Cliques, and this is my personal belief on why people have an inherent resistance to the idea. Often because they may already be part of their own clique.
Most people have no need to belong to more than a couple of social circles, because these fit their needs, and once they settle down they are slow to change. Why accept another label, another clique when you have no need for one?

I currently “Pull” people, I actively approach people whose works I think fit the profile about using the Label(and perchance even the Logo). This is done in order to kick-start the idea, rather than an attempt by myself to form a clique. I will not lie that when published/noted game designers’ games fit, it makes me a little happier, but that is not because I try to form my own clique, but because through them I will be able to extend the word into their social circles, of which I may not be part.

Let’s leave aside that for now, and let us hear what you think should be the way(Leave aside the “For what?”, that will be the next Discussion) people who are interested in applying the label/logo to their game could get to do so; Matthijs Holter, maker of The President is Superf****d, may not have used the label had it not been up for him to decide if his game is or isn’t, free for all and free of commitments. Or at least, that’s the impression I have received.
On the other hand, Andrew Cooper(I think), who’s working on Fantasy Game Engine, raised the issue of “Quality Control”, where if you apply the Label, you’re in part identifying with all games with the label, which requires a certain quality control to prevent “bad seeds” from dropping into the barrel.

A method suggested was a committee, on which all those who already have games identified as “CSI Games” sit, and they “pass judgement” if a new candidate applies or not. I think that idea is cumbersome and unwieldy, and also raises financial questions as those people need to read the text(even if provided in .txt format, they may still opt not to buy it based on that, though Clinton R. Nixon‘s Creative Commons products initiative give us hope there), and thus suggested the idea that you’ll have three members, who rotate(perhaps with one permanent member) who review the submission and decide.

You can always decide that it’ll be decided by one sole person, me, though as you may have noticed, I’m slowly setting this project so it could theoretically survive and prosper without me.

Well, this discussion is open for everyone, those who work on CSI Games and those who don’t, feel free to state your opposition to the Label, to the Logo(as a concept), to give us your thoughts on how the Logo/Lable rights should be handed down, the sort.

Role-Play Vs. Playing a Role; The Semantics’ Attack; The Immersionist Trap.

Here we are again, with another semi-service announcement. In a day or two I will post a new post that will gear towards the next Project. That post will require your replies, and without them it’d go nowhere. So please keep your eyes open, and once the post gets here, give me your opinions!

I must give you a piece of my meandering mind, that is, before I continue to do so with the body-text of this post. I have noticed something funny, as I gear up to write a post, that is, think of the post’s topic, I start noticing all sorts of things which support/relate to my topic at hand. Or people only start saying these things when I begin thinking of them? ;) Anyway, take a look at Michael Shermer’s Skeptic column on Scientific American’s July 2006(Volume 295 Number 1) issue, about fighting self-induced bias.

So, someone asked about Role-play in Cranium Rats, and I said it’s not an RPG, it’s a CSI Game. Role-playing is a possible side-effect, but isn’t the goal, or a goal, that I try to accomplish or facilitate. This brings up the horrible question(or debate) of “What is a Role-playing game?”
Add to this the piece of information I came across over the weekend on Ron Edwards’s Gamism article, which in turn is originally from the GM section of Arrowflight (2002, Deep 7, author is Todd Downing):
“The best games are those where everyone is playing a role, striving for a goal and working as a unit (that doesn’t mean that every character must like every other character, but player must at least properly play the role they’ve chosen).”

Now we reach the problem, at least, what I find as a problem. On one hand we have “Role-playing” and on the other we have “playing a role”. It seems like there is no mix-up, these two phrases, but then, let me present you with several cases: In Magic: the Gathering you portray the role of a planeswalker, in Monopoly you play the role of an investor, in Settlers of Cattan you play the role of the expedition/community leader. Do you consider these to be Role-play experiences? You do not, which shows a disparity of terms.

This disparity of terms didn’t come from nowhere. Language shapes thoughts, language shapes ideas. I posit that this is something of an Immersionist Trap, if you want to see some discussion of Immersionism, then Thomas Robertson is having an Immersionism Month on his blog, this very month.

The thought at the base of RPGs and the definition thereof is that Role-play is where you have a chance to immerse yourself. To act your character through and through it(for a short and simplistic meaning of the term). Then we reach games where the seperation through your character and you is distinct, or there is no character per se for you to portray(how does one “Feel” the Colour Red, how does one “Think” Cloud?).

If we do not treat these games as RPGs then our definition is exclusive, and we remain stagnant, with the same kind of games to draw from, whereas if we act in an inclusive manner, these borderline games are pulled under our umbrella, and then a pod is shot to the next-closest kind of game, pulling it under the umbrella as well. So that slowly but surely we expand the definition of RPGs. The Immersionist Trap defies time. We may call new games RPGs, but then the games they were linked to from, which had already been accepted, come under attack again, since they still do not allow for Immersion, or not the degree of which that these players seek.

I think that RPGs should be defined in a manner not dissimilar from Kevin Bacon’s Six Degrees of Seperation. Some games are RPGs because they are “Like D&D”[Insert link with Mike Mearls saying that all RPGs are basically “Like D&D”], and from there we slowly connect the games, until each game that we can connect to with enough points and under a certain amount of steps is now also called an RPG.

Check out this thread where Tony Lower-Basch shares some wisdom from his wife. It’s all RPGs. It’s all worthy of discussion and inclusion. If you’re too cool for school, then go away. And if you don’t want us in your schools, because these “Aren’t RPGs”, then you’re the fool.

“Going Anywhere?”; On Innovation.

First, a couple of service announcements:

First, Kuma(Brian Hollenback(sp?)) is talking about us.Give it a look.
Second, on the Wiki Preoject, I will be at the army next weekend, so I’m adding a day to the Logo entries. You may send entries for the “CSI Game” project logo to my email(tundranocaps(at)gmail(dot)com) till Sunday the 16th on 2000 GMT. You don’t have to be working on such a game in order to send me an entry. We’re short on entries, so all help will be much appreciated.

***

Ok, this time we’ll talk about Innovation, lack of it, what we need it for and all that jazz. This post came to be in large part thanks to the post “Reinventing the Alternator”over at Story-Games, also, continuing on my building-upon-prior-entries habit(reading this blog should be done from the bottom), it also is a continuation of the post where I mention Iconoclasm(though the real point of that post was that games, especially of the CSI Game variety are an outgrowth of their authors’ personalities).

I will begin with a couple of personal experiences. One of my backburner projects is called “Cancer, the RPG”, the more I worked on it the less progress I made. I felt the desire to create a new system, but the more I zoomed out, the more problems I’ve encountered, this resulted in me creating solutions on an even further out level, which yet again, created more errors on the next level.

Enter Cranium Rats, where I just took as a basis a system that was simple and worked, and went on with it(said system was the one used in InSpectres and octaNe by Jared A. Sorensen). I didn’t need anything fancy, since this wasn’t the focus of the game. I just needed something that worked, so I looked around(actively), found something that worked and took it to serve in my own game.

I also had a couple of passive “looking around” and a couple of “Alternator reinvention”, which are also called parallel evolution. There are some portions where the game had things that it needed, some “Holes” and I filled them. After the fact I identified that this is in fact the mechanic from game X(Token economy is influenced by PTA). On other occasions I created my mechanic, and later found out it has some striking semblances to mechanics I didn’t know of while creating the game(Goals and Muses from Nine-Worlds).

So, this time I took care of applicability first and foremost, now it’s time to delve into the theory(with little “t”) behind it.

When we say a game is innovative, do we mean it’s innovative compared to all that is out there or compared to what is accepted and mainstream(let’s not argue this, there is a mainstream RPG section)? For example: Conflict Resolution, Scene Framing, GM-less/GM-full are all common things in many Indie RPGs, these things aren’t innovative in comparison to them. However, when I’ve shown Cranium Rats to some of my friends who are not aware of Indie-rpgs, they really smiled about the Scene Framing issue. This is also the deal with “Fantasy Heartbreakers”, they think they are innovative, but they only are compared to two decades ago, so they’re not even innovative compared to the mainstream.

When we take something and refine it, that is innovation. The concept existed, but not the implementation as is. Consider Flags, each take on Flags is different, from Burning Wheel’s BITs to The Shadow of Yesterday’s Keys to Nine Worlds’ Muses to Cranium Rats’ Goals. Not all innovation must be radical and profound. We may have a concept we like, but no implementation we do, or we take an implementation we like and take it one step further, or polish it up. In fact, refinement is a very important bit of innovation; when you get a new idea it’s all sorts of rough, shiny and exciting. Innovation makes it safe to use.

Parallel evolution is another key-issue, for me at least. Innovation isn’t an act, it’s a mindset. When you are into the innovative mindset, you innovate. The fact you “reinvent the alternator” doesn’t matter. As far as you’re concerned, as far as your mental processes go, you just invented the alternator. Be proud. Be proud also because it shows you that the idea is a valid one, if only because you see its existence elsewhere.
Also, “reinventing the alternator” is crucial in terms of actual RPG Design and refinement! Now, that sure came out of the blue. But consider it, you came up with solution Ai in your game, and someone else came up with solution Aii in his game. When you compare the solutions you can see and learn from the differences, each is a refinement, each has a slightly different way it works, even if it strives toward the same goal. When you look at the differences between things that strive to accomplish the same, you learn, a lot more than you learn when you look at the differences or similarities between things that don’t try to accomplish the same goal, because you have more points of reference.

I believe innovation happens on its own, we tend not to be satisfied with things, so we innovate. Innovation for the sake of innovation is still valid and actually important. It may not be as useful because it doesn’t spring from an actual need(“See a need, feel a need”), but once people find a hole into which to find the solution, or use it as comparison, it works great. Sometimes, you also invent instead of refine because you feel like it. It may work out, and it’ll be great. There is no reason to say that the idea of innovation for its own sake is not valid. It is, and it encourages the right mindset. Innovate, invent, and it’ll end up refined and useful.

You don’t need to innovate, but it sure doesn’t hurt.

Expect a follow-up entry in the next two weeks about Innovation and CSI Games. Also expect an entry about “Competition”, but I keep pushing that one back, because the longer I keep it loosely(poorly?) defined, the more interesting discussions about it I have.

CSI Game Wiki; Public Service Announcement.

This blog isn’t really “My blog”, I don’t post about my random RPG Development ideas, these go on my LiveJournal or on Cranium Rats Central, or at least would if I weren’t so lazy. I only post entries here if I feel they have something to do with “CSI Games” or Competitive Games. In fact, you people can send me by way of email(tundranocaps >>at<< gmail >>dot<< com) articles and I’ll publish them here, fully crediting you(given that they fit the subject material).

Given that I believe CSI Games is a community wide project, which I just happen to spearhead, I created the Wiki, on the Wiki there are some rules(/guidelines) and I act as global Editor, because we can’t have disorganized anarchy. But all in all, everyone can post, everyone can add content, everyone can start new pages. You also will and should hopefully be able to use the site as a first-stop on all things CSI Games.

Oh, and it’s gonna rock, hard. Link? Silly me, head over there.

“CSI Games for All!”?; On Promotion

So, Emily Care Boss, author of Breaking the Ice, talks about CSI Games, even though it was prompted by me, asking her if she thinks her newer game(Shooting the Moon) fits, because I think it does. This raises an issue close to my heart, the issue of promotion.

I raised the issue of how Capes is promoted earlier. When I asked Tony about why he promotes the game as a super-hero game instead of putting Conflict in front, his answer(which I can’t find…) was(IIRC) that it didn’t attract as many asses, and when he talked about the playtest he said that focusing on it as super-hero game got him something to compare it with.

I serve in the army, people often ask me about what my game is about, and what RPGs are in general(It’s still the easiest to go from the RPG angle, CCGs and non-family board-games are all but unknown to the public in Israel, unlike Dungeons and Dragons, and if even D&D fails, LotR). When I tell them about the game, I eventually tell them about the Colour, the fluff, the setting, and that is what most people go “Cool!” about. Ron Edwards often says that he cares most about Reward and Colour. Me? I could care less about Colour, I don’t care for Capes’s Superhero aspect, I believe Werewolf: the Apocalypse high politics and Vampire: the Masquerade hack-and-slash are viable choices.

What this shows us is simple, and even obvious. Not all types of promotion benefit all folks. When I came up with Cranium Rats, the Conflict and Competition quickly took center stage, and the Colour, while I love it, isn’t half as important. But if you’d look at ECB’s Shooting the Moon love triangle situation, I think the conflict came from the colour and not vice versa, and selling the game as “A game about Competition” rather than “A Game about a love triangle and romance”(though very much the same) would hurt the game, would hurt the promotion, more crowd would be lost than crowd would be gained. 
I on the other hand talk about Conflict and barely mention Colour, which may not work as well, but I rather do that than “Bait-and-switch”(I think most people who like Capes like it because of the Competitive element, and those who dislike it, dislike it for the same reason, selling it as a superhero game doesn’t inform your audience if they’ll like it or not. I, like Alexander Cherry, am surprised when the game is brought up in Super-hero game threads, I don’t find Super-hero game content in it, though I love it for other stuff it has).

Those of you who do identify your games as “CSI Games”, please mention it in the text, if Competition is what you pride yourself on, do so on the first page, put the “CSI Games; a Definition” post in the front of the text. If your game happens to be a CSI Game, but that is not the focus, but yet you identify your game as such, please put a mention somewhere, even if on the book’s last page or two. This project is all about creating a support-net for other people who work on CSI Games, but once our games get out there, it’ll also help to point people who like the competitive angle to other games who contain that aspect.

JJ Prince, John Kirk, I’m looking at you, this also applies to playtest versions!