Graham Walmsley's Play Unsafe (which I highly recommend if you play TTRPG's) took a lot of its ideas from this book Impro . I just read it recently and it was pretty mind-blowing.
First - the idea that all human conversation can be considered a status transaction. Once you start looking at the conversations you have this way you'll be both alarmed and maybe even a bit depressed, but it will also give you new insight and understanding. Just as an example, the thrust-parry-riposte -- "I'm reading War & Peace" "That's my favorite book!" -- has the first speaker trying to elevate their own status by showing how smart they are, reading such a big novel; and the second speaker trumping by saying not only have they already read it, they have a deep appreciation for it. (And it sounded so innocent at first!)
So, yeah, after reading that, I can't make a blog post or write an e-mail without being aware of how I'm trying to elevate my own status, bragging, etc. (Look at this book I just read! Look at this thing I just coded!)
But also there's insight into other people: if somebody else says something that seems arrogant, it's usually because I've played high-status first and they're just trying to keep up.
Playing high-status can often get you what you want but it also can make you look like a jerk; it can lead to success but nobody likes you. Elevating someone else's status starts to look like a magic weapon, a way to create enough space for you to play high-status without coming off as a jerk.
Notice how almost all the media we consume is retread - or, at best, remix and mash-up? (sixty second shooter's a good example of mash-up.) Nothing unethical about that (though it does get tired) but what if you want to do something truly creative? Johstone has some neat tricks for getting right at your subconscious that can even be done by just one person. I played around with his 'automatic writing' trick (you imagine you're opening a book in a library and reading the text there) and came up with this weird thing. Another trick is to write a list of unassociated words. Combine that with reincorporation and boom - instant story.
What I'm wondering now is how to apply that to video game mechanic ideas ... using this technique, it would be easy to create a truly creative game story, but what about its mechanics ...? Any ideas?
- Hypnosis and Trance
At the end of the book, he starts talking about 'mask work' and here he starts to sound batshit crazy. Apparently in his workshops when people wear masks they get 'possessed' and truly become different people. But it's actually not that far-fetched: no, I don't think that his students were suddenly taken over by gods, but there are lots of studies that show being cast in certain roles or being 'hypnotized' can make people do some surprising things.
I'm not sure how to apply this to videogames but some of the best roleplaying experiences I've had were when the game rules encouraged or allowed me to play characters or act in a way that was totally out of my comfort zone. When I used to play 3rd edition D&D I tried to 'stay cool' - rarely talking in character, not getting too excited, usually keeping things to the math of the tactical situation (skip the role-playing, GM, we want to kill something!)
The other end of the spectrum is playing Munchausen - a party game where you play someone else telling stories. Maybe it was the booze (the game, I think, requires or at least strongly recommends that you drink) but the last time I played this I acted in a way that I never would have done if I didn't have an excuse. ("It wasn't me! It was the Munchausen!") Apocalypse World, Fiasco, and Kagematsu have all had similar effects on me - have me playing gay characters and love relationships like it's the most natural thing in the world. In a way, these games have hypnotized me - given me permission to act in ways I normally never would.
Is there a way to apply that to computer games?
Interesting (and gratifying) that you reference Munchausen (link goes to ebook of 2nd edition) because it's basically the result of running Once Upon a Time through Johnstone.
Munchausen starts with all the players being high-status and then the basic gameplay and the challenge mechanic are both about one-upping each other. This gets boiled down even more succinctly in the minigame 'My Uncle the Baron' in the second edition, which is all about status games.
I think it's difficult to apply that kind of structure to computer games as they currently stand, but if you look at narrative engines like Namaste's Storybricks it becomes obvious how the two could be combined.
I've often described Impro as the best book about game design that doesn't actually mention the subject, and in fact I wrote a long essay applying Johnstone's storytelling structures to roleplay in Interactive Fantasy #3 (1995) – that's not currently available but should be again shortly.
Avoid Impro for Storytellers, though. It's very disappointing.
Posted by: James Wallis | December 09, 2011 at 04:24 AM
That's interesting - if I was going to Johnstone-ize *Once Upon A Time* I'd keep the beautiful cards, and the first thing I'd bring in is reincorporation. Like, maybe I'd play it mostly as written, but that would just be the first act, and there'd be a second act where you'd have to reincorporate all or most of the cards you've played so far.
Actually, what I'd do is this: https://docs.google.com/document/d/17BgAr0w5i3yu-4xK55Mij6qvPuafI0SmhEeOyzqZTlM/edit?hl=en_US
Posted by: Jamie Fristrom | December 12, 2011 at 09:19 AM