Caffeine, nicotine, and sheer spite

These are what I’m running on today, and I’m struggling. I should be doing my practice, but I’m not. It’s another day of nagging guilt and creeping unfitness, with six hours down and another dozen to go. But I wanted to talk about yet another Swedish RPG.

Trudvang Chronicles is currently disemboweling its kickstarter campaign. I’ve been following it since it started, hemming and hawing about committing. The better it does, the more reticent I am. I’m nagged by the sense that this isn’t really what a kickstarter is supposed to be: a chance for the moneyed to get more, better stuff, and sooner. And this beast, once shipping is added on, is hardly cheap.

Trudvang is another darker-hued game from the spritual home of Ryvita and it does look gorgeous (unlike knäckebröd). And yet, the more I see of its lovely illustrations, the more reticent I am. I still haven’t opened Symbaroum, but the art and design for it communicated mystery and possibility: misty treescapes, masked characters, looming shadows. Imaginative manoeuvering room as well as eye candy. Not so with Trudvang, which feels proscriptively well worked out. Too much explored, already, in other people’s minds.

But then, I have always felt more excited by things I knew just a little about. The first ten minutes of a movie. The blurb on the back of a novel or box (how I pored, for hours, over these when I was young). Sample artwork and the odd excerpted page from a rulebook. The cover of a comic. Those demon-spawned packets of disappointment known to the foolish as Magic boosters. The dice when they are still tumbling. Possibilities.

That’s what I am buying (or, at least, that’s what wily marketeers are selling to me). Not concrete promises, but cracks in the actual where fresh hope can leak in. For me, that is what underpins the games I enjoy: maybe even all games. Surely the rules are there to guide and focus the imagination of the player, not to constrain or suppress it?

I played a metric gigatonne of Metal Gear Solid V. Crazy amounts. I am not kidding: if I’d been paid a lawyer’s hourly rates to play that game, I would be writing this from a beach on my own private island. Crazier yet, most of that time was put in after an incurable bug stopped me from getting more than 70% through the story. Which was no huge loss, because the story was utterly bonkers and I despise being narrated at in games anyway. Crazier still, for a significant proportion of those innumerable hours I wasn’t roaming the world killing dudes and stealing stuff: I was tinkering with my guns. Painting them different colours, matching them with different outfits, putting in different ammunition, testing different suppressors, trying to get the most cost-effective combination of features despite having virtually unlimited quantities of in-game wealth.

Why? Partly because I really am just that sad, but also because it was one of the ways that I could make my own impression on the world of the game. To make my unique mark on my experience I used every tool the game’s rules gave me: from the slightest tweaks of appearance (I liked to match the colour of mother base to my preferred uniform, and the chopper, and my guns) to complete changes of PC (I never played as Snake when I didn’t have to, and resented it when I did). In short, the game cooperated with me to help create my own story, told in the way I wanted. I was encouraged to express myself, but a specific version of myself which was both moderated and crystallised by the game’s design. MGSV has particularly diverse and rugged mechanics supporting such emergent auto-narration, but all worthwhile games must have some form of these systems too. They are the oxygen of play, and the most oxygen-rich breed of all games just happens to be those which need a Dungeon Master.

Imagine playing Metal Gear Solid V, but Hideo Kojima and an elite team of adderal-fuelled programmers are responsively redesigning the game in real time, while you play to make it more fun for you and your friends. If you don’t think that is pure liquid awesome, then you have come to wrong place.



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