I Don’t Want Anyone To Miss This
Posted by Nathan P. on April 12, 2006
The fact is that games are learning tools. People play games to learn about themselves and to take on skills. Your starting point as a modern RPG designer¹ isn’t the metaphor. It’s what you want to learn. And then you figure out how an RPG could teach it. But lessons are hard. We have defense mechanisms. So part of your task is figuring out how to make the medicine go down. Metaphor is just one tool in that arsenal. It’s a way of veiling what you’re doing, so as to fly under defense mechanisms. But Bacchanal doesn’t have a metaphor, and it’s as much a learning tool as My Life with Master. Bacchanal presumes that effective storycrafting is less about the way you string your sentences together and more about audience management. And it asserts that audience management is achieved by bringing personal honesty to your storycrafting. The game is a bit of a sink-or-swim, but it works pretty consistently because the dice mechanics impose constraints on narration in a way that gives the player plausible denial. “That debauchery didn’t come from me. It came from the dice.” So as long as you have one risk taker in the group, everyone learns something. What Ron is saying is that focusing on the technique of metaphor is putting the cart way before the horse. Figure out what you want to learn.² Figure out how a game can teach you that. Then worry about how to make the medicine go down. And it won’t always be a metaphor.
¹I say “modern RPG designer” because most traditional RPGs aim at the same thing. They aim at giving the player a chance to validate his worldview and test his personal viability in a complex world. That’s a pretty passive goal. And we all already have shelves of these games. Modern RPGs increasingly work to alter a player’s worldview and impart skills. (Ron’s own It Was a Mutual Decision is a non-Czege example.)
²The way to figure out what you want to learn is to figure out what truly interests you in the media you consume. All this stuff about making the medicine go down is me thinking about how my games work well in retrospect of having created them. I didn’t conceive of My Life with Master out of consciously wanting a tool for teaching how to resolve being controlled via suppression of self-esteem. I just couldn’t stop thinking about a game in which the player characters were evil henchmen.