Meetings of the Learned Strawmen

So you thought the Strawmen weren’t real?

That they were fictional beings? Collections of opinions that nobody actually held? Of plans that nobody had actually laid?

You were so naïve.

They do exist. They meet in secret places to lay their sinister plans. To discuss YOU. To find out how to control YOU. To make YOU think and act the way THEY want.

Let’s take a look and find out what they’re up to.

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The Patriarch’s Head

 

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I wrote a short storytelling game based on the mysterious murder of Patriarch Lukijan Bogdanovic. They said it was a suicide at first, but then they never found his head.

 

It’s for 2 or more players, super easy, no prep, takes 10-60 minutes depending on how much people describe stuff.

 

If you read it or try it, let me know what you think!

 

 - Matthijs

Get it here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1r0zJCxuo8_cy5msWCA1KALecTNpUWrdRXv3az7Epo2U/edit?usp=sharing

 

Small talk the RPG

A conversational role playing game for 1-∞ players.

Characters: The player’s play themselves, so there’s no particular character set-up process.

Small talk is a game of conversation for its own sake. It’s a collaborative game. The reward is opening for deeper conversations, affirming relationships and avoiding silence.

It’s good practice to play the game with new acquaintances.

The game can last as short as a casual greeting or as long as it takes to get your hair cut at the hairdresser’s. Or the length of a taxi ride, as the case may be.

Some rules:

* Greet the other players in a friendly way.
* Try to keep the conversation upbeat and positive.
* Casual compliments are ok, but keep it superficial. Don’t get creepy.
* Try out some casual eye contact now and then, but don’t stare.
* Smile.
* Respect the other player’s personal space.
* Be polite and respectful.
* Find common ground. Be politely inquiring about the other player’s interests, and see if you can find some topic of conversation that will interest you both. Or that you can endure listening to.
* Ask open-ended follow-up questions starting with words like «how…» and «what…». Or make relevant statements.
* Share some stuff about yourself and your day, but don’t over-share. Don’t get into symptoms, diseases, sensitive subjects and extreme negativity.
* It’s ok to bitch and complain as long as you don’t do it about sensitive topics. The weather is a very good topic of conversation.
* Notice your surroundings. You can riff off of them for further conversational topics.
* Avoid sensitive subjects like religion, politics and sex. You can also drop death, divorce and diseases. You know what I mean.
* Humor is good. Just remember the taboo topics.

You can even play the game without anyone knowing you’re playing a game.

To round of, here’s a quotation from Keith Johnstone’s “Impro – Improvisation and the Theatre”, which you may or may not find relevant:

“Many people will maintain that we don’t play status transactions with our friends, and yet every movement, every inflection of the voice implies a status. My answer is that acquaintances become friends when they agree to play status games together.”

Sources: Slik blir du god til å småprate, How to make Small Talk, Wikipedia.

Follow-up to “Status in small communities”

Some additional thoughts after my last blog post.

Category: Connectedness

I was going to write this, but plain forgot. This one is connected to visibility, and is very relevant for cultural production.

  • Do you have friends who can tell people how awesome you are?
  • Do you have high-status people who can help you gain visibility?

 

The flashlight metaphor

I tend to think of status like this: Every member of a community has a little flashlight – something they can use to shine on themselves or others, to direct attention.

  • The higher your status, the stronger your flashlight – if you’re a high-status individual, people will look at the things you point at.
  • The better you’re connected, the more friends you have that can shine their flashlights on you.
  • A group of friends who keep shining on each other will get a lot of attention, and a lot of people will get jealous or angry that they’re hogging the spotlight.
  • If you’re not connected at all, you’ll have to shine on yourself to get attention, and that can backfire, because it makes you look selfish.
  • When you’re in the light, you better have something to show, because otherwise people will be less inclined to point at you the next time you get your chance.
  • The light you receive is not directly connected to the quality of your work or person. You can be great and stand there in the dark, because nobody’s heard of you and you don’t have any friends in this community.
  • Light hangs around for a bit, and then fades away.

Status in small communities

The word “status” gets used a lot in discussions, especially in some gaming communities I’m part of. This is my attempt to understand and describe what the word means, and how status works in a small community. I’ve spoken to people from different countries and communities to try to get different viewpoints; however, this isn’t a scientific article in any way, and the thoughts presented here are my own, incorporating ideas and thoughts from many sources.

My intention when starting this article was to give some sort of definitive answer. Not going to happen. This is a part of an ongoing discussion, but it might be a good reference for later talk. Enjoy, and comment!

What is status?

Social status, according to Wikipedia, is “the honor or prestige attached to one’s position in society”. However, it’s not as simple as that: You don’t hold only one position in one fixed society. Rather, your status is relative to each specific community – and each member of a community will have their own idea of what your status is. It’s a moving target – one of those words that we use that everyone knows what means until you start investigating it. (For more words like that, check out “immersion”, “art” and “love”).

But let me try to define it at least a little bit. It seems status isn’t just one thing – rather, it’s composed of different categories. You could say that the higher your “score” in each category, the higher your total status. I mean, if you were a gamer, you could say that.

So here, without further ado: The categories of status.

Category: Visibility in the community

Do people have reason to notice you in the community? For instance…

  • Are you present at gatherings, big and small? Cons, festivals etc.

  • Do you make your presence known? Are you charismatic, well-dressed, a party animal…

  • Do you make your voice heard? At online fora, panel debates etc.

Radars

People notice different things, of course, and have different filters on reality – so one person might not notice you while another knows exactly who you are and where your children go to school. This is based a lot on personal interest, but it also seems there are different types of relational radars, by which I mean:

Some people notice social hierarchies. I know I do: I pay attention to who gets to speak when, who gets to interrupt people, who gets listened to, who makes the final call in group decisions. I sometimes see people as leaders and followers, and base social decisions on that.

Some people care more about social closeness. Who do you trust, personally? Who gets to be in your inner, most intimate circles, and who stays just a little further out? If this is your radar, you’re likely to talk about people in terms of whether they’re trustworthy, how they treat others, because this information is important to you. (Also, see the “Ethics” category below.)

Category: Contribution to the community

This is not the same as visibility. If you do a lot for the community, some people will notice and some won’t. If you talk a lot and do nothing, again, some will notice and some won’t.

So are you an unselfish contributor? Do you do things not just for your own sake, but for the sake of everyone? For instance…

  • Do you organize things for others? Cons, trips etc?

  • Do you help others get their projects going? With funding, social ninja-ing, proofreading etc?

  • Do you set up organizations that strengthen the community?

Category: Cultural production

This one’s a bit tricky, and I’m not sure if I’ve nailed it – that is, something about it feels fuzzy and undefined, but it’s the start of a thought.

  • Do you produce artifacts that are valued by the community? For instance, if you’re in a gaming community, are you a game designer?

This is related to both contribution and visibility; being a cultural producer makes you more visible, and it’s a contribution, but it’s not an unselfish one. These things make this category interesting and hard to pin down.

Category: Attractiveness

Weighted, of course, by what community you’re in – however, there’s no escaping the fact that looks matter.

  • Are you, by the standards of the community, physically attractive?

  • Do you dress right? Or even set the tone for how to dress?

Of course, here a lot of sexual undercurrents and unwritten rules make things a bit muddled. For instance, if you’re a very beautiful and sharply-dressed woman, that might make it harder for you to be accepted for some positions, in some circles etc.

Category: Ethics

The wrong behavior can really fuck up your status in a community, no matter what else you do.

  • Do you behave like a good model participant/leader should?

  • Is your personal conduct good?

  • Is your personal conduct as people would expect from your position?

Fighting is an interesting thing here. It’s wrong to start a war (for instance, to conquer an oil-producing nation while lying about your motives) or a big public fight (for instance, to make the other guy/girl accept that You’re The Smartest). Still, fights can give you great visibility, and as a leader, you might be expected to fight… so yeah. It can make you popular, because we’re animals.

Intra-community behavior

This might be a separate category, or maybe it belongs here; but it’s important to some how you treat others, as people. For instance:

  • Do you see others and help them contribute?

  • Are you kind and helpful to newcomers, and try to make them part of your community?

Category: Influence/power

Yeah, it’s good to be the king. It’s also good to own the web site that everyone visits, so you can decide what’s cool and what’s not. Or to be the person who decides what projects get funded or not.

For instance:

  • Can you make others do what you tell them?

  • Can you make decisions that impact what others can do in the community?

So, there you have it.

That’s what I’ve got right now. If you find this useful or thought-provoking, please let me know in the comments! (I’ll be moderating them, of course, so be nice.)

Follow-up to “My Scene is Dead”

There’s been a LOT of talk about my previous post. On G+, on Facebook, on blogs and fora and in person. I wanted to follow up with some key points. None of these are direct quotes from anyone (I think), but they’re meant to sum up arguments that I see here and there.

Bear in mind that I’m summing up only my personal perspective, from what I see going on. From where you sit/stand, things may look different.

 

1. People are still playing games

Yes, they are. I am, too. Right now I’m in two campaigns and one semi-regular group, and we’re talking about setting up a new thing for one-shot games. I know my friends play a lot, too. But the visible, communal discussions and design are pretty much gone. Which is too bad, because we’re not sharing our thoughts and ideas. If we’re just the same gangs, sitting in the same basements, playing the same games, the hobby is dead when we die.

2. That scene was just you (Matthijs) and your buddies

Some were my buddies, some became my buddies. I think we were all open to making new friends, and many of us did. In a tiny scene, you get that – people become friends because they share passions and interests. It was me and others who had the same (sometimes obsessive) interests. This is what art movements are.

3. That scene was insular, elitist and made people feel unwelcome

(This tends to come from people I’ve never met, or from anonymous posters).

We’ve tried to make people feel welcome. We’ve tried to bridge gaps. I don’t tell people that their play preferences are wrong or stupid. People have told me that, though. We tried engaging people in discussion, to find out where all this came from, but it was like sitting in a bright room while people would spit at us from the fog outside. This whole “fight” between “camps” is pointless, a waste of time, and something nobody I know wants. Still it keeps coming up from people I’ve never met.

At my “elitist” con, complete strangers stayed at my house for days and played Draker & Demoner or Street Fighter or GURPS. At the “elitist” fora, people discussed Vampire and D&D4 and talked about why traditional games were awesome and how we could make ARCON (the major mainstream gaming festival) even better. In the “elitist” competitions, people won without anyone knowing who the hell they were.

It feels as if people wanted me and others to play and design and discuss for them. We didn’t. We did it for us. We didn’t design the games you wanted us to design, because they were already out there.

4. There’s lots of shit happening right now

Yes, there’s things going on. But not as much as before, and not by new people. My impression is that some of the people from the scene will continue doing things until we die, but still, I feel that the majority has dissipated.

5. Here’s what you should have done: (…)

You’re not really helping.

6. Here’s what you should do: (…)

Thanks. I, and most people I’ve talked to, know what we should do/have done to keep things going. However, the things we never did, we’re not doing now, and I’m not sure we ever will (in my experience, people don’t start doing things they’ve never done). So I’m not very optimistic.

7. I’m going to do some shit!

YES! Do that!

8. Scenes come and go

Yup. They do, and I think that’s just the way it is. And this one is gone now.

9. The scene is still influential abroad

I know it is, and that makes me very happy!

10. The scene was very tiny, and not representative of what the rest of us were doing

We were representative of us, and what we did was pretty amazing. I’m not representing people I’ve never met or spoken to. I do wish you’d popped by and spoken to us, though.

11. We’re all growing old, and don’t have as much time as we used to

Tell me about it! Again, cycle of life. Scenes come and go.

12. I tried to do things for the scene, but nobody listened to me

We all feel like that sometimes. I’ve felt like that A LOT. I know people won’t believe me, since I talk and talk and sometimes people answer, but yeah. The games I’ve made that nobody’s played, the magazines I’ve made that were only read by the people who made them, etc etc etc. People DO listen, even if they don’t cheer you on or answer when you talk to them (strangely enough). But then, nobody’s responsible for cheering you on, either. You do what you do, you see what happens, nobody owes you anything.

13. The things you did weren’t interesting to me or my friends

Okay.

14. I’m doing LOTS of shit ALL THE FUCKING TIME!

Tomas, I love you, you’re one of a kind, our biggest inspiration, and please keep on rocking.

15. You’re just a bunch of guys excluding all the girls

No. Ask the girls.

 

My scene is dead.

Four years ago we published the “Nørwegian Style” book. It was an anthology of Norwegian games translated into English. We wanted to show the world what we were doing, and how cool it was; how vibrant and fresh our scene was, how much fun we had in designing games and trying them on each other.

Today it seems that scene is dead.

How is it dead? Let me count the ways.

1. We’re not writing games and putting them online anymore. Most of the activity on this blog is about our games being translated, re-released or hacked; the games are alive, but we’re not making new ones.

2. The R.I.S.K. competition, which was a major source of new ideas and material, has had less and less activity. This year nobody bothered to run it.

3. Other attempts at game design competitions have failed. Most get no submissions at all. I won one nearly two years ago, with A Thousand Years Under the Sun. I was the only participant. When a few of us talked about maybe setting up a Norwegian Game Chef 2013, it… just didn’t happen.

4. The roleplaying forums at n4f.no (rollespill.net) have almost zero activity. New forums at rollespill.info have about five participants. The Facebook group for Norwegian roleplayers never had much buzz. There’s hardly anything on G+ or Twitter, either.

5. HolmCon, the tiny con at my house where people would come to try out new and strange stuff, had no newcomers this year (and was almost entirely made up of guys over 30).

6. The Arcon festival is struggling to get new roleplaying scenarios, and people to run them.

7. Playground Magazine came and went (although an international effort, it was based in Norway).

8. We’re not publishing game books anymore. (Itras By is a translation of a book published several years ago).

Why is it dead?

1. We’re not recruiting new people. As people grow older and get families and jobs or just grow plain bored with their hobby, there aren’t new people ready to take over. We’ve known about this problem for a decade, and never managed to muster a collective effort to fight it. There’s one light in the darkness: Tomas Mørkrid, who targets young players specifically with his workshops and campaigns.

2. As a result, all our potential designers, theorists, players are picked up by other scenes with more initiative. Through Fantasiforbundet, Laivfabrikken, Grenselandet etc etc etc, the Nordic larp scene is thriving and growing and getting all the fresh young minds. They’re doing amazing work. I just wish we did the same.

3. A few of us have been conspicuously absent the last years. Some have been sick for prolonged periods. I have been making hard priorities in order to get some major projects up and running (Playground, my novel), and am no longer trying to join in on everything. (I miss being part of everything).

4. Although we tried as hard as we could, some of us in the “hard core” of the scene were never able to shake off a reputation as elitists, snobs etc. This alienated people.

What would it take to build it up again?

I’m not sure we can, by now. I think it might just be too late. However, if we want to, we need to look at what the larpers are doing: We need to recruit, recruit, recruit. Teach. Reach new people. Not just go to the same old cons and hope some new faces show up, but do things like:

  • Grab young people who are interested and fan their flames. It’s easy to think that “this is just one obnoxious person with zits”, but that person might be running their own con in five or ten years, IF you just get them up and running and welcome them into your crowd. (I’ve done it, and seen it happen). No matter if it’s just one person you manage to recruit – that’s a billion times better than none, and this person might recruit a dozen more in a short time.
  • Devote your time at cons to playing with young new people, and get them excited. Make them love the game.
  • Go to new places. New cities and new cons and even non-gaming places. Play with strangers, talk to strangers about gaming and game design.
  • Take care how you use visibility! Keep some discussions for smaller circles – like your most theory-heavy or meta-advanced or weird and provocative stuff. Try to be welcoming and open, not authoritative and proselytizing.