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Author Topic: [IGC:Snow Day] Postmodern? Huh?  (Read 5869 times)
hanschristianandersen
Member

Posts: 102


« on: May 04, 2004, 07:23:39 PM »

First of, another hearty round of applause for Mike Holmes for staging and judging the Iron Game Chef contest!

from Mike's review of my IGC game http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?p=115134&highlight=#115134">"Snow Day":
Quote
Who knew when wed debated the concept of a post-modern RPG that it would be delivered in this format.


(My questions are for Mike in particular, but anyone else who can help answer should feel free to chime in.)

First of all, what makes Snow Day postmodern?  I don't mean this as a challenge, I'm genuinely curious.  Curious and completely uneducated on postmodern theory.  Postmodernism didn't occur to me while writing the game; I had thought of it as a high-concept Simulationist tribute to the corpus of wintertime Calvin & Hobbes strips.

Second, the "Who knew when we'd debated..." line implies that there is a body of prior discussion on the subject of postmodern RPGs; could anyone point me towards any interesting threads on the subject?  I tried searching, but the closest thing I found was the http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=8910&highlight=postmodern">Hackmaster: The Postmodern RPG thread.
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Hans Christian Andersen V.
Yes, that's my name.  No relation.
clehrich
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Posts: 1557


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« Reply #1 on: May 04, 2004, 08:27:33 PM »

First of all, thanks for the link to the Hackmaster thread; I missed that the first time around, and it's very intresting.

Second, on your question #1 (isn't that confusing?), I'm not sure I would use the word "postmodern" in reference to Snow Day.  At the same time, I can see that certain elements in it do fit a postmodern mold.

My wife, who does Japanese literary criticism, explains postmodernism with reference to "Wayne's World."  The film is bits and pieces of other things, jumbled up at will, with essentially no meaning or message.  For example, there's the scene where they're driving along and suddenly drift into the opening of "Laverne and Shirley," for no particular reason.  It doesn't mean anything, and it doesn't have anything to do with story; it's just there, just because.  Similarly, the multiple endings, all homages to TV shows (I like the Scooby Doo ending, myself), entail that there isn't any real point or resolution to the story.  It just sort of stops.

The point, as she explains it, is that the work of art celebrates its own lack of specific and unitary authorship.  It borrows liberally from other works, but does so without Meaning (that's deliberately capitalized).  If you compare this to Ulysses, for example, which clearly borrows liberally from The Odyssey among other works, Joyce is doing this all with a clear and overt sense of purpose, and there is an absolute line separating Joyce from Homer.  In "Wayne's World," however, there doesn't seem to be any point to the references, and the authority of the author disappears.  In a similar vein, Joyce has a kind of alter-ego in Ulysses, something not uncommon in modernist works (cf. the Japanese "I novel," for example), but the artwork itself and the author himself are not present within the work; by contrast, "Wayne's World" presents itself as itself the creation of Wayne, who is entirely present within the work, shattering the specificity of author and work.

I see some elements of this in Snow Day, but not a whole lot.

One definite point is the use of Gold Stars.  While they are clearly "special," and valuable, they have no meaning at all.  They refer to themselves, and at the end of the game they apparently go on to refer to the game more broadly: they show how special you are.  Meaning nothing at all.

Another point is the fact that we have a dramatic and extraordinary fantastic setup: a huge snowstorm in Hawaii.  But this has no meaning, no explanation, nor is explaining it relevant in any way.  If you think about the discussions in KoDT, for example, the GM (I forget his name) agonizes about making sure that there are good reasons for every element in his dungeons, that the objects and traps are part of a seamless whole environment.  By contrast, Snow Day has no connection to its world; that's sort of the point, in fact.  And there is no reason for any of what's happening -- it's just there.

You could, I think, argue that the game mechanics make metagaming part of the character world, in the sense that each scene plan must be determined in-character, unanimously, and that conflicts at that meta-level must be resolved in-character as conflicts among characters (snowball fights).  I don't know how far you could push this, though.

What I don't see in Snow Day, however, is a sense that the players and characters are blurred in the other direction.  I mean, as I read it, the characters are themselves, and distinct from the players.  The one exception to this I see clearly is the Gold Stars again: they are marked as player distinctions, meaning nothing at all.

I don't know.  It's funny: I think one could sit down and write a postmodern game for the sake of it, but I'm not quite sure that Snow Day is that.  But then, I don't know what Mike meant by it.

Mike?
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Chris Lehrich
hanschristianandersen
Member

Posts: 102


« Reply #2 on: May 04, 2004, 10:56:20 PM »

Quote
What I don't see in Snow Day, however, is a sense that the players and characters are blurred in the other direction. I mean, as I read it, the characters are themselves, and distinct from the players. The one exception to this I see clearly is the Gold Stars again: they are marked as player distinctions, meaning nothing at all.


So... if Snow Day were to dictate that your character, and your decision making, should be based on a younger version of yourself...  would *that* be postmodern?

(only semi-joking)
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Hans Christian Andersen V.
Yes, that's my name.  No relation.
John Kim
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Posts: 1805


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« Reply #3 on: May 04, 2004, 11:00:39 PM »

Quote from: clehrich
  My wife, who does Japanese literary criticism, explains postmodernism with reference to "Wayne's World."  The film is bits and pieces of other things, jumbled up at will, with essentially no meaning or message.  For example, there's the scene where they're driving along and suddenly drift into the opening of "Laverne and Shirley," for no particular reason.  It doesn't mean anything, and it doesn't have anything to do with story; it's just there, just because.  Similarly, the multiple endings, all homages to TV shows (I like the Scooby Doo ending, myself), entail that there isn't any real point or resolution to the story.  It just sort of stops.

The point, as she explains it, is that the work of art celebrates its own lack of specific and unitary authorship. It borrows liberally from other works, but does so without Meaning (that's deliberately capitalized).

I'd agree with this, but I would phrase it slightly differently.  Post-modernism is about emphasizing that meaning is created by the reader and the culture, not by the absolute rule of a single author.  Postmodern art is intended to discourage thinking along the lines of "OK, what is the hidden real meaning the author intended by this?" and instead encourage thinking "What does this mean to me?"  

So it does rip apart the idea of a structured, single story which has a deliberate message to impart to the audience.  It frequently makes use of bits and pieces of other things, because they are idiosyncratic -- i.e. they will mean different things to different people.  An ideal result from a post-modern perspective would be a scene where three people who watch it all walk away with a different meaning.  

Quote from: clehrich
  I don't know.  It's funny: I think one could sit down and write a postmodern game for the sake of it, but I'm not quite sure that Snow Day is that.  But then, I don't know what Mike meant by it.  

I think the earlier thread made a good case for Hackmaster being a postmodern RPG.  I would note that Over the Edge has a bunch of postmodern-inspired stuff in it -- notably the Cut-Ups / Chaos Boys who are an embodiment of postmodern thinking and technique, though I wouldn't say the game itself is post-modern as a whole.  I think a good post-modern RPG design would use bits and pieces from other RPGs, to make something which had different meaning depending on which of those games you played.  

i.e. What makes Hackmaster postmodern is that it doesn't just try to be like D&D, but it actively uses the memories and associations of playing D&D as part of what it means.
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- John
Peter Hollinghurst
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« Reply #4 on: May 04, 2004, 11:29:51 PM »

I would suggest that if you want a good breakdown of what postmodernism is that you get a copy of 'The Icon Critical Dictionary Of Postmodern Thought' ISBN 1-874166-65-X ed. Stuart Sim

So-why get a book and plough through it?

Firstly, there tend to be various different understnadings across disciplines about exactly what postmodernism is-so peoples explanations tend to be rather complicated and unhelpful at times.

Secondly, it almost certainly does have great relevence for rpg design-especially indie design. A large section of postmodern thought revolves around issues of cultural narratives (metanarratives) and how we relate to texts. The implication is that there may be a major cultural shift underway away from traditional author centered texts towards reader centered ones, and away from accepting grand theories of everything toward personal interpretation of our enviroment. If so, this has immense implications for the way people use and respond to rpgs, which especially in GM'less versions radically undermine traditional author-reader relationships.

My own opinion is that if you are interested in rpgs place and potential for impact culturally, then it is definately worth reading up on postmodernism. The book I mention above happens to be one of the easiest to get into and most comprehensive-especially handy since much postmodernist writting is hard to read, often translated from other languages(adding yet another barrier to many peoples comprehension) and tends towards a 'playfull' use of logic and arguement some find difficult to get on with.

Hope this helps :)
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talysman
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« Reply #5 on: May 04, 2004, 11:56:36 PM »

I think Chris's explanation helped me understand why Mike called Co9C "post-modern". thanks!

I can sort of see Snow Day as post-modern, too, although perhaps in a more subtle way.
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John Laviolette
(aka Talysman the Ur-Beatle)
rpg projects: http://www.globalsurrealism.com/rpg
Peter Hollinghurst
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Posts: 44


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« Reply #6 on: May 05, 2004, 01:28:11 AM »

It may perhaps be more productive to see some things as having post-modern tendencies or aspects than as being exclusively 'postmodern', hence referring to something as having 'subtly post modern' is probably better than describing it as being 'completely post modern', but 'tending toward post modern' may be the more accurate. A lot of expressions of culture have post modern aspects these days without subscribing to apost modern viewpoint or reflecting one in their entire form.
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 10459


« Reply #7 on: May 05, 2004, 09:44:37 AM »

To clarify, because nobody is picking up on it, it has to do with the idea that each player, through his character, must have his own sense of what the in-game action looks like. It has to do with the Fantasy rolls. Does a successful fantasy roll mean that the character has actually done the thing in question? I posit that we really can't know for sure. Does Hobbes "really" speak to Calvin? From Calvin's own subjective view of the universe, Hobbes most definitely does speak to Calvin. From the POV of the kid making the fantasy roll, that ice monster just flew over to the fortress and breathed fire on that kid on the other side.

But did the kid on the other side notice?

This becomes especially important in PVP conflicts. No doubt that "in reality" the big kids are pounding the heck out of the little kids with "Real" snowballs, and taking no blows in return. But to the little kid making his fantasy checks, he's giving as good or better than he's getting.

It's the fact that the characters, not just the players, have their own view of the Shared Imagined Space. It's like cowboys and indians, "I shot you!", " noyadidn't!" Each participant is seeing the events through their own lens. And each player has to try to figure out what the whole thing looks like in their actual Shared Imagined Space. Does it match some in-game reality, or the perceptions of the character?

This allows the player to reflect upon the events, and the nature of reality in fact, in a rather novel way. Just reading it made my head spin. It goes to some very salient questions that have to do with childhood development, and how we all form our views of the world. Which is all about biases, etc. The game allows us to revisit that magical period in development, and thence to consider the subjective nature of our own perceptions of the world.

When we grow up, do we really learn what "reality" is, or do our fantasies just become canalized into what seems like a harder "reality"?

Maybe it's because I'm the father of a three year old that this is all so personally relevant to me. But I had a long talk with my son just a while ago, trying to disabuse him of the notion that the Power Rangers were a real organization (after all, they have web sites, so they must be real). This fantasy life of children really says something about the human condition, I think, that's completely postmodern.

Mike

P.S. Co9C is more traditionally postmodern (if that's not a contradiction in terms), in that the elements that are created are fairly random, and self-interperable.
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hanschristianandersen
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Posts: 102


« Reply #8 on: May 05, 2004, 11:49:19 AM »

Chris, John, Peter, John,

Thanks for your responses; they've all been helpful and thought-provoking.


Mike,

I think this is a case of complete serendipity; thanks for helping to open my eyes.

Quote
But did the kid on the other side notice?


Two weeks ago, as the author of the game, I would have said "Yes, the big kid clearly notices the dragon."  I would have based this on a rationale that Slush Points "objectively exist", no matter whether they were fantasy- or reality-induced, and that their existence ties the two realms together.

Today, as a reader of the game, I suspect that the author of the game completely missed the point.
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Hans Christian Andersen V.
Yes, that's my name.  No relation.
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 10459


« Reply #9 on: May 05, 2004, 01:50:41 PM »

That's what's so wonderful about "slush points." They're obviously to do with morale. But does the morale loss occur because of actual damage or fictional? Both, actually, and apparently. But the real question is whether the slush points and the target's percieved retreat actually occur, or whether that's just the opinion of the kid throwing the snowball. It's all about your own success, and it doesn't matter one whit whether or not the other kids even objectively exist.

I mean, for one, they don't.

Mike
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