The Forge Forums

Inactive File => Endeavor: Ronnies 2011 => Topic started by: Ron Edwards on February 10, 2011, 07:16:03 PM



Title: [The Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Ron Edwards on February 10, 2011, 07:16:03 PM
The Secret Lives of Serial Killers (http://www.1km1kt.net/rpg/the-secret-lives-of-serial-killers) by Willow Palecek wins a Ronny. My notes actually put it this way: "All right, you win the Ronny, you depraved [expletive]." And they don't say "expletive."

... and now what? I'm dumbstruck. I disapprove of it from the git-go, I can't imagine actually playing it, and yet I know it'd work. I'm reminded of the classic line:

Quote
Then he got an idea!
An awful idea!
THE GRINCH
GOT A WONDERFUL, AWFUL IDEA!

Can you just imagine what a published version would look like? It'd be "Sunshine Boulevard" in all its glory, done up with nicey-nice lemon-yellow hip packaging as if published by Emily Care Boss if Emily Care Boss were a beaming Mormon who never wrote Under My Skin. And perhaps with some kind of removable pamphlet accompanying it explaining the real rules.

I will try to express myself better with reference to the film Benny & Joon, itself merely one particularly clear version of the common film plot that if someone is a little bit kooky, alienated, perhaps downright irrational, that this means they have a big loveable heart with all sorts of love to give which happens not, at the moment, to be fully appreciated. Closely related to the also-common idea that mental illness is really some kind of personal window into a more wonderful world, which the rest of us are privileged to glimpse through the lens of this daffy, occasionally irritating, but ultimately transcendent person (Depp again, Don Juan DeMarco). One can find another version of it in Twilight, as satirized exceptionally successfully in the Buffy vs. Edward: Twilight Showdown (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O2fdIXGgdnw) video. Geez, I could go on - the more off-kilter the person, the more wonderful they are, or will be once romance has found them at last, and their terrible, terrible loneliness is eased, and the childlike goodness of their big, big heart can finally be unleashed. Like in Shine. The more I try to describe it, the more film titles just crop up as I go.

So what do I want to express about that? Easy: bull fucking shit. Mental illness is not whimsical joy. It is not "wise" underneath all the irritating parts, which, in addition, are not themselves cute. What's that you say, you met a fellow who lives almost as a shut-in, whose sense of humor seems enchantingly off, who says inappropriate things and then covers it with a certain opaque, clueless charm? Has hobbies that are a bit too compulsive? Stutters and becomes sullen at the mention of his mother? How charming! How wonderfully insightful he must be, if only he could trust someone enough to express it! How he must yearn for the touch of someone who truly cares! What love must be beating and throbbing away in his big, big heart, to be unfettered by you! How grateful he will be when you teach him to bathe regularly and to use shampoo when he does it!

Except it's not his big, big heart which matters, it's yours, after he's dissected it from your chest while you're still alive and put it into a jar of alcohol, then put the jar in with all the others in his cupboard. This game is about that. And to cap it, you do exactly the same thing psychologically to one of the players in raw social terms even as this is done to his or her character in graphic gore-porn terms.

You nailed it, Willow. Fucking nailed it. You took the Big Model and made it your bitch, for the ultimate inside-out Narrativist gut-punch.

I have one whole criticism. it needs some mechanics which would fit perfectly in one of those "I ripped off My Life With Master like all the rest of you for my hawt new story game" threads at Story Games, to be incorporated into Sunshine Boulevard to make the cover story perfect. Just enough to be actually pretty fun.

Oh, and an addition to the Secret Lives part of the rules text: After "apologize," add "and if necessary, run like hell."

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [The Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Ronnies feedback
Post by: jburneko on February 10, 2011, 07:45:30 PM
Oh fuck.  Fuck, fuck, fuck!

So, when I read this I had the same thought as Ron.  "Man, this would work."  Hell, I even thought of a couple of people who I thought could probably handle the "joke" if I sprung it on them.

BUT!

What I totally failed to do was make the connection to this
Quote
Closely related to the also-common idea that mental illness is really some kind of personal window into a more wonderful world, which the rest of us are privileged to glimpse through the lens of this daffy, occasionally irritating, but ultimately transcendent person (Depp again, Don Juan DeMarco).

Which is is like one of my favorite movie genres.  K-PAX, Neverwas, to a lesser extent-Franklyn.  I seek these movies out.  I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE them.  Hell, the LAST design competition I entered I wrote http://www.grahamwalmsley.net/littlegamechef/games/BreadMoldMightBeMedicine.pdf (http://www.grahamwalmsley.net/littlegamechef/games/BreadMoldMightBeMedicine.pdf) SPECIFICALLY to do this kind of story.

I'm even more disturbed now.

Jesse


Title: Re: [The Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Ronnies feedback
Post by: stefoid on February 10, 2011, 07:50:07 PM
sweet jesus


Title: Re: [The Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Ronnies feedback
Post by: stefoid on February 10, 2011, 08:03:34 PM
P.S.  can I ask that anyone who actually  plays this game do a 'you tube Sunshine Boulevard reaction video'?  this has internet meme written all over it.


Title: Re: [The Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Willow on February 10, 2011, 08:06:13 PM
Quote
Can you just imagine what a published version would look like? It'd be "Sunshine Boulevard" in all its glory, done up with nicey-nice lemon-yellow hip packaging as if published by Emily Care Boss if Emily Care Boss were a beaming Mormon who never wrote Under My Skin. And perhaps with some kind of removable pamphlet accompanying it explaining the real rules.

Oh yes, Ron, oh yes.

Of course this means you're going to be responsible for coming up with a fake blurb about how wonderful Sunshine Boulevard is.

Yeah, SB needs to be actually playable as written for the cover story to work.  Love the fake dice mechanics that don't really do anything idea.


Title: Re: [The Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Devon Oratz on February 10, 2011, 08:11:45 PM
This is an amazing idea. I immediately want to try it on one of my friends. : ) (Although my players and I never play games that DON'T involve murder so I'm afraid it would be hard to sell them that we were playing "Sunshine Boulevard" to begin with.)

I do have a concern though, and it stems from this:

"Ask the Victim questions about the setting, but do not take the answers as concrete facts.
Ask the Killer questions about the setting. Take the answers as concrete facts."

This and variations on it are repeated multiple times. It seems to me that even in a fairly accepting group, this could lead to one pissed off player (the Victim) long before the game gets to the punchline, by giving a very unequal control of the shared narrative space. In fact, it would be markedly worse than just having one GM who controls everything and two players who are powerless, since only one player is excluded. It's like the narrative control equivalent of "monkey in the middle". At best it seems like it would prompt some spoilers.

Another thought: could the Killer and Facilitator be conflated into one roll  for a two player game?

How to avoid this? Is there a better way to interpret these sentences that I'm not getting?


Title: Re: [The Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Devon Oratz on February 10, 2011, 08:14:24 PM
Er, the last two sentences in my previous post should switch places to avoid confusion. Me no likey not being able to edit.


Title: Re: [The Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Ronnies feedback
Post by: whduryea on February 10, 2011, 08:21:22 PM
I had two immediate reactions to this game. The first was, "I know exactly the player that I'd like to subject to this." The second was, "I wish I hadn't read this game, because now I can never be victimized by it."

Taken together, I think those reactions reveal how deeply unhealthy I am.

That said, I agree with Ron. I love the way this game works so well as a dissection (dismemberment?) of those irksome "mental illness = adorable" romantic comedies. The ones that want to be As Good As It Gets--one of my favorite films--but don't want to deal with the pathos and hard honesty of that film, and instead opt for superficial quirkiness.

The structure of this game seems perfect. I would like to see a lot more examples though, particularly of traits/habits for the killer that would seem charmingly oddball but have insidious implications.

Oh, and I love you word choice. Facilitator is such an ideal name for that role.


Title: Re: [The Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Willow on February 10, 2011, 08:25:54 PM
A major part of the game is deprotagonization of the victim player.  This starts subtly, with them getting less effective creative input, but remember that while the Victim player is supposed to think they have a fairly symmetrical relationship with the Killer (ahem, Recluse) the Killer is all antagonist, and in many ways co-'GM'

I don't imagine it would work as a one-on-one game, at least not with the same punch, which is that two people conspired to actively deceive you.


Title: Re: [The Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Devon Oratz on February 10, 2011, 08:40:42 PM
That's a good point.

I just think that the Victim might start getting indignant and demanding metagame explanations before the big reveal at the end. Of course it depends on group dynamic.


Title: Re: [The Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Callan S. on February 11, 2011, 03:19:13 AM
I dunno, it seems like giving an award for someone saying 'On the red light at the intersection, press the accelerator!'. Maybe it's a human conceit of 'oh yeah, I get it it/I'd get it' upon reading, because to admit it'd get you is to say your stupid like that - what's easier, to praise or admit personal frailty?

For some reason I think of a diff version where at the end of act four you drop a copy of the real rules right in front of the person, before you've gone the next step (if I'm skimming act four right). Watch them uncomprehendingly stare at you then pick the rules up and start to read, watch the horror of the twist, yet maintain a human understanding. Watch them realise they are standing at a razors edge, yet you did not push them. Watch their choice. Not some stupid PC's choice, a real breathers choice. Together.

I dunno - there seem to be alot of people who think there is some sort of 'together' after you ignore the traffic lights. But the twilight/buffy video was awesome - I think it was the sort of incision the author of buffy was trying to get at.


Title: Re: [The Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Baxil on February 11, 2011, 10:10:15 AM
Callan,

It's pretty clear to me that it's not a matter of human conceit or anyone's personal frailty.  As Ron specified in the original contest thread:
Quote
My criteria for a Ronny are whether you use the terms centrally and well, and whether your game design seems like it has a shot at working and would quite likely be fun. You win a Ronny simply by meeting these standards ...
And in the winners thread:
Quote
What [February winners] share, aside from meeting the terms requirement, is my judgment that this title is ready for playtest and the point of play ("the fun") is gorgeously clear.

"Secret Lives" reminds me of nothing so much as the "Freebase" RPG (http://www.squid.org/freebase.html) that was released as an insert to Hol's "Buttery Wholesomeness" supplement.  (To be clear here, I share Ron's nauseated admiration for Secret Lives.)  Both would be gloriously, brutally wrong to play, but their value lies outside the gameplay.  I think the better analogy would be:

"Look at this awesome device I made for your car!  It's fusion-powered, uses visual OCR to determine light state, and has predictive traffic algorithms that can reliably tell when a bus full of nuns is in front of your car."
"That's awesome! What does it do?"
"When you're at a red light and it sees nuns, it presses the accelerator."


Title: Re: [The Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Ron Edwards on February 11, 2011, 10:30:22 AM
Hi Callan,

I'm not sure whether your post is directed to me or to Willow, or "either/or." Most likely the latter, but I'd rather not butt in if that's not what you wanted.

For the record, I think your suggestion to reveal the "real" game at the start of the final phase is a viable option, possibly even desirable if we're talking about my own inclinations of play. However, my inclinations aren't especially relevant once past the awards process. The question for the designer is whether she thinks that change would make the game more fun in the way she wants.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [The Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Ronnies feedback
Post by: David Berg on February 11, 2011, 11:33:47 AM
I would thoroughly enjoy the twist if it happened to me, and I have a few friends who'd probably feel likewise.  The problem is that none of us would choose to play Sunshine Boulevard. 

Some sort of additional hook would help.  Something like, "the friendship story is quick to play, and there's a really neat endgame mechanic I want to show you."  (That might hook my designer curiosity.)  Something for the in-the-know players to sell the victim on besides just "you like Benny & June?"


Title: Re: [The Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Ian Charvill on February 12, 2011, 02:55:18 AM
It seems to me that a plausible reaction to the game of an emotionally mature, self-determining individual is just to say, at the point of the twist: that's not the game I agreed to play, and I'm not enjoying the twist -- so I'm out.  I'm not sure that outcome would be a positive outcome for anyone at the table in terms of it being a worthwhile game to play.

Another emotionally mature, self-determining response would be to approve of the twist and to play out the endgame.  So I think a challenge in presentation is how to invite people to the game in such a way as to select for the latter and not the former.

I think the challenge goes a bit further in that, there are people who wouldn't enjoy the twist but won't leave the table from a sense of social obligation.  Them staying will likely damage them.  I don't mean in some kind of melodramatic way, I mean in the staightforward sense of causing ongoing hurt and resentment.  The internet is littered with posts by people who are angry about a ten or twenty year old incident of GM deceit and railroading -- and this game has that as it's first principle: the GM will lie and railroad*.  So ideally, the initial invite to the game needs to select against that kind of person -- or following Callan's suggestion there needs to be some kind of opt-out clause that makes it easy for people to stop playing the game if that's what they want to do.  And is the game worthwhile if they decide to stop.

I think the biggest challenge, though, in presentation for this, though, is how do you publish it and have it find and audience in the age of the internet.  If you ask Bob to play Sunshine Boulavard with you and Jane, Bob's response is likely to be "is Sunshine Boulevard the secret serial killer game I read about on RPG.net?".  And if so, can the three of them still play the game with total awareness and enjoy it?  I'm reminded of a lot of old-school D&D discussions about character knowledge and player knowledge, and the idea that play can only be effective if players don't know what characters don't know.

Two thoughts occured to me while typing the above: firstly, there are a lot of films that follow the Sunshine Boulevard story -- A Beautiful Mind being a based-on-a-true-story example.  It's a popular conceit.  And also the personality type of the recluse as presented in the game text is: shy & quirky but loveable.  It's a personality type that's over-represented among the role-playing deomographic -- and therefore that the baseline goodwill toward the recluse character would be particularly high among roleplayers.

----
* at times the game reads less like something to be played and more like a satire on bad GMing and certain roleplaying personality types


Title: Re: [The Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Paolo D. on February 12, 2011, 06:23:38 AM
It's true that, probably, a lot of people wouldn't enjoy this game (staying at the table after the "turning point" or not), maybe me neither.

But: we should also remind that, mostly in northern Europe, a lot of people play and design games based on the principle of "hiding some rules". See for example jeepforms like Fat man down (http://jeepen.org/games/fatmandown/) and Previous occupants (http://knutpunkt.se/Members/tobias/previous-occupants)*. I know a couple of guys who would probably like this game.

* (but also, they hide some rules, they don't hide "what the game is about", so maybe we are still on a virgin land in roleplaying games...)


Title: Re: [The Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Nathan P. on February 12, 2011, 09:48:19 AM
Good job, Willow. I'm a big fan of secret knowledge in games, and this pushes it to an extreme. I think there's an interesting question here about whether it's still a worthwhile game to play if everyone does know about the turn? And, if so, if there's some way to choose (whether on the part of the Victim/Sunshine or perhaps Killer/Recluse) which way it will go in the final scene. Which could take it out of gimmick territory. This isn't to say I think the game is all a gimmick (it's not), but the "sudden reveal into something horrible" is so easy to critique as one, it may be worth considering how to get out of that zone in a way that preserves that core considerations of the game.

Also, for Sunshine Boulevard, it could be presented as something to be used with any of a number of "rules-light" or heavily narrative-based games/resolution systems that are considered easily "hackable" - Archipelago II (http://norwegianstyle.wordpress.com/2009/07/04/archipelago-ii/) and Lady Blackbird (http://www.onesevendesign.com/ladyblackbird/) come to mind. Or (Ron, this one's for you) do it with Wushu (http://danielbayn.com/wushu/).


Title: Re: [The Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Ron Edwards on February 12, 2011, 10:19:25 AM
Hi everyone,

1. At last, something worthwhile to do with Wushu.

2. Anyway, I want to clarify a bit about my first post. Specifically, the line in the game text and my personal agreement with it that the game should not be played. The fact that it is currently playable and with, I think, some changes along what we've discussed here, could be even more so, does not change that basic observation and judgment.

To clarify my clarification, I am not telling anyone what to do. Nor am I saying that the input about how one might actually play it is wasted time. But to say, "Oh noes, we have to make this less abusive," is missing the point as I see it. Perhaps it's my own issues cropping up, but as I see it, the nastiness of what the two people do to the third, in playing this game, is no worse than the nastiness represented by standard, illusionist practice as promulgated, praised, and exemplified in all those "Secrets of the Gamemaster" books and literally thousands of adventure modules. It's no worse because it's the same thing.

3. Back in 1994 or so, Greg Costikyan wrote a game that was published by Hogshead Publishing that was intended to be a deconstructionist slam on the disparity between real-life values and those displayed in the most widespread trend in role-playing. Which is to say, the difference between being a person at all and a repulsive psychopath. He presented it by taking the role-playing values to the extreme and effectively, calling out gamer culture on two things: (i) how grotesque and vile their behavior was via their characters, and (ii) what pussies they were for not owning up to it and taking it all the way in-game. Violence as a game was built to amplify (ii) to the max and thus bring (i) into the foreground, out of denial. My take on it was that it wasn't intended to be played so much as to prompt the reader to recoil from how vicious and nasty it was, and then make them reflect upon why the very same acts were somehow OK when dressed up with orcs and vampires.

Oh look! It's available at Greg's site for free: Violence: The Role-Playing Game of Egregious and Repulsive Bloodshed (http://www.costik.com/games.html). The published version also included a short piece called Power/Kill by John Tynes, now available partnered with Puppetland, which approached the same idea a little differently, so check that out too when you get a chance.

I respect the points made in these games. However - and this is pure personal take - I think Violence lacked draw to play when taken at face value, the kind that would suck people into confronting the point as strongly as they might, even upon reading. In other words, instead of saying, "Yuck, I would never play this game, holy shit, I do play this game in our Shadowrun campaign!", it's easy to say, "Look, ultra-violence, lots of swearing, good thing I don't play like that" and miss the point. Costikyan clearly wrote it out of disgust and rage at what the White Wolf and the dungeoneering scene were (and are) about, but although the emotions are there on the page, the piece as I see it stands more as an artifact of his emotions rather than a highly likely gut-punch to the reader.

4. Ian, I totally agree with you that our hobby subculture is full of guys who deeply identify with the male protagonists of Shine, Benny & Joon, Don Juan DeMarco, and similar films. That's another reason why I really like this game. I hope some of them read it and maybe grab a clue. Not that they are actually serial killers in disguise, but that their self-image as reinforced by these films needs some fresh air.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [The Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Ronnies feedback
Post by: stefoid on February 12, 2011, 12:12:11 PM
So is it a RPG,   LARP  (two people roleplaying at roleplaying and the third a kind of prop), or something else?


Title: Re: [The Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Callan S. on February 12, 2011, 03:21:10 PM
I think the question to ask as an author is at what point have I ceased to satirise a certain practice and am instead just literally practicing it and promoting it's practice?

Why is there going to be any gut punch? I mean clearly you can get humans to march other humans into ovens, if you normalise the practice enough. There's only going to be a gut punch here if you already subscribe to the philosophy that it sucks. I've heard accounts of guys who, without prior notice of the practice, shoot a new player under the table with a paint gun, so they know what it's like when their character was hit by a bullet. There will be no gut punch for these people. The only gut punch will be for those who already subscribe to the idea this sucks. This either perpetuates the practice supposedly satirised, or simply speaks to an echo chamber.

I just see this as another document that normalises this particular practice (and that document being promoted here).


Title: Re: [The Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Elizabeth on February 12, 2011, 03:52:12 PM
Ian, I don't have much to add, except that your post desperately makes me want to see a reverse Secret Lives Of Serial Killers, a la the game Braid, where the surprise isn't finding out the loveable guy is actually going to kill you, it's finding out you aren't a lovable loner, you're a creepy dangerous dude.


Title: Re: [The Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Larry L. on February 12, 2011, 04:00:12 PM
If we're going to get into referencing what has come before, I think Vampires: a postmodern roleplaying game (http://indie-rpgs.com/archive/index.php?topic=15208.0) should be mentioned. That game also had a fake game text for the real "gotcha" game, and was similarly better suited as a thought experiment for discussion, as actually playing it would probably involve a serious abuse of trust between participants.

I think Willow's effort is rather punchier, though.

I do hope no one actually tries to play this. Nonetheless, it is way too much fun to dream up things to do around making "Sunshine Boulevard" book.


Title: Re: [The Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Ron Edwards on February 12, 2011, 04:37:08 PM
Callan, I'll leave the discussion of the game's integrity to Willow.

As far as promoting the paintball practice* via the award is concerned, I disagree with you about the award and this game, but I do think you're raising a valid issue and I do not want to give the impression I'm ignoring it, or disagreeing with you on a more general level.

Best, Ron

* Holy shit!


Title: Re: [The Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Devon Oratz on February 13, 2011, 12:07:25 PM
I think the question to ask as an author is at what point have I ceased to satirise a certain practice and am instead just literally practicing it and promoting it's practice?

Why is there going to be any gut punch? I mean clearly you can get humans to march other humans into ovens, if you normalise the practice enough. There's only going to be a gut punch here if you already subscribe to the philosophy that it sucks. I've heard accounts of guys who, without prior notice of the practice, shoot a new player under the table with a paint gun, so they know what it's like when their character was hit by a bullet. There will be no gut punch for these people. The only gut punch will be for those who already subscribe to the idea this sucks. This either perpetuates the practice supposedly satirised, or simply speaks to an echo chamber.

I just see this as another document that normalises this particular practice (and that document being promoted here).

What precisely do you think is the practice being satirized or normalized here? I think you may be engaging with this material on a much different level than I am.


Title: Re: [The Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on February 13, 2011, 12:51:32 PM
What precisely do you think is the practice being satirized or normalized here? I think you may be engaging with this material on a much different level than I am.

That certainly seems to be the case. Callan's discussing the same thing Ron is, abusive GM authority. As Callan says, this game will only be interpreted as a gut punch if you already are bothered by the idea of objectifying your co-players in the manner proposed by the game.

For what it's worth, I'd share Callan's concerns about promotion vs. satire if authorial intent weren't ultimately meaningless - people read texts according to their expectations, and I can totally see how certain segments of the rpg community will see nothing strange in this game. There are plenty of designers (larpers, especially) I've met who wouldn't blink an eye at the idea of introducing a game under false tenets, with the expectation that immersive discipline (what makes you a good roleplayer in certain circles) will ensure that the players will follow the internal logic of the fiction wherever it leads, no matter whether they'd personally choose to take the game to those directions or not. How this particular game is written right now, or might be written for a serious release, has much less to do with the way a person might interpret it than their own understanding of roleplaying has; there are vast communities of play that would condemn this type of game, just as there are those that would consider this level of GM control over the game's nature a necessity for really getting an appropriate level of immersion to emerge.


Title: Re: [The Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Devon Oratz on February 13, 2011, 01:32:51 PM
Wow. I just had a read through that Vampires game. Interesting stuff. I appreciated how subversive and dark it was but at the end I was pretty offended by its transparent,  heavy handed preachiness and the incredible sexism of its underlying message. Anyway it is interesting seeing these concepts explored--the idea of abusive game design, for instance, or the idea that a roleplaying game in and of itself could be immoral or unethical--as I had not really thought about them before.

Quote
For what it's worth, I'd share Callan's concerns about promotion vs. satire if authorial intent weren't ultimately meaningless - people read texts according to their expectations, and I can totally see how certain segments of the rpg community will see nothing strange in this game. There are plenty of designers (larpers, especially) I've met who wouldn't blink an eye at the idea of introducing a game under false tenets, with the expectation that immersive discipline (what makes you a good roleplayer in certain circles) will ensure that the players will follow the internal logic of the fiction wherever it leads, no matter whether they'd personally choose to take the game to those directions or not. How this particular game is written right now, or might be written for a serious release, has much less to do with the way a person might interpret it than their own understanding of roleplaying has; there are vast communities of play that would condemn this type of game, just as there are those that would consider this level of GM control over the game's nature a necessity for really getting an appropriate level of immersion to emerge.

I'd be very curious to hear what, if anything, Willow believes the game to be satirizing.

In any case, I think that my group probably falls into the latter camp. Which doesn't mean that I don't think that Secret Lives is "abusive game design"--it definitely is. I'm just not sure I agree that it promotes or satirizes anything. I read the game as a fairly mean-spirited but definitely amusing prank, which was also how the game played out for us.


Title: Re: [The Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Moreno R. on February 13, 2011, 05:39:05 PM
You took the Big Model and made it your bitch, for the ultimate inside-out Narrativist gut-punch.

I humbly disagree. It's even more interesting than that.

First: not all the players in the game can really influence the fiction in any significant way, or address the premise. Second: there is no common agenda (creative or not) between the players (not all the players, at least). If this could be narrativism, or even any Creative Agenda, then even a Illusionist railroading GM could say that he play narrativist because he (and only he) can address a premise.

Third: playing with a common agenda would castrate this game.

In some of the previous posts people said that a game like this would not be "acceptable" to players. It's not true, it depends on the culture of the gaming environment: as an example, until some years ago the playing of games with final "surprises" was so widespread in the Italian "Artsy LARP conventions scene" that for some years, you did KNOW that the organizer was lying to you, because EVERY SINGLE GAME had the "final surprise". Even if that surprise ruined the game and did not make any sense (just to make an example: I played a LARP set in the "Lion in Winter" movie, with the characters from the movie and some new characters. At the and of the LARP it was "discovered" that the new characters were Cpt Kirk and Dr Spock and other "Star Trek" characters, going back in time to get a Romulanl fugitive... things like this were absolutely normal. Boresome, terrible, but normal. Luckily they went out of fashion after a while...
Thinking about that gaming culture...  A game like this, in one of these con, would be completely acceptable. Losing the impact, and the reason to play it in the first place.

This game need a clash of different agendas. It's a game working BECAUSE is build around a CA Clash. It's game that need to be dysfunctional, to work.

Why not? After all, it's not made to have a satisfying game...


Title: Re: [The Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Kensan_Oni on February 13, 2011, 06:50:29 PM
My only objection to the game is that it is a bad piratical joke. It makes no attempt at apology. It is specifically meant to distress a specific person in a emotinal way. It reminds me a lot of school ground bullying, from a mental point of view.

While the game itself accomplishes it's goals, as art, it is not something I feel people should subject others to. It should be admired from a safe distance. To actively subject people to this game would create trust issues even amongst the most forgiving people.


Title: Re: [The Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Ron Edwards on February 13, 2011, 07:11:55 PM
Heya,

My take is that the game text acknowledges that very point up front in the first sentences. I don't think it advocates playing and thus perpetrating the things you're talking about. "Admiring from a safe distance" is about as close as I can get to it too.

Moreno, let's save the Narrativism-or-not point for when we re-unite just a matter of weeks from now. Don't let me forget.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [The Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Ron Edwards on February 16, 2011, 06:13:43 PM
Hey, I had an idea while riding the train home today. Could the game simply be called Sunshine Boulevard, for real - its actual title? I like that notion. The "Secret Lives" part could be the heading of the special section, if anything.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [The Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Callan S. on February 16, 2011, 10:51:25 PM
What precisely do you think is the practice being satirized or normalized here? I think you may be engaging with this material on a much different level than I am.
I think I'd ask the other way around, when do you cease to call something a prank?

I'm just wondering what sort of act it'd take for you to say "Shit, it's not a game or a prank to do THAT!"?

I'm not asking in a way that insists you say the same as me. I'm just wondering if someone puts something in an RPG, you'll just accept that as being something that is a game. Because it's in a game.


I had this convoluted example I was going to use before but didn't for convolutedness. In it I was going to have an RPG perhaps around a theme of some inhumanly gentlemanly guy romancing a lady, ala mills and boon or twilight. But here's the fun twist, aye, you invite a female player and latter in the game you actually touch her on her real life boobs, just out of the blue. It's a rule that you have to! Ha, she totally thought it was romance but here you are, hand on boob! Ka-pow, gut punch!

It's funny how defensive people (perhaps Willow as well) would probably get about five pounds of fat (with a nipple on it) being touched. Shit, man, that'd be socially apocalyptic! "Nothing to do with games, your assaulting her!" I'm second guessing the emotional responce.

Five pounds of fat with a nipple on it get this much reaction. When you think emotions and trust, which are a bit fucking closer to home...well, because you can't touch them, you don't value what you can't touch, aye?

Is there going to be another round of Ronnies? Maybe I'll try and sneak in project tit squeeze...


Oh, and I found a link to the paintball story (near bottom of page): http://forum.rpg.net/printthread.php?t=194252&pp=10&page=20 (http://forum.rpg.net/printthread.php?t=194252&pp=10&page=20)


Title: Re: [The Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Willow on February 17, 2011, 06:41:39 AM
Callan, I appreciate that you disapprove of Secret Lives.  It is not supposed to be a game that is nice.  And yes, it's rather abusive of the 'victim' player.

However, you compared it to physical assault (shooting someone with a paintball gun), sexual assault (groping someone's boob), and even the frickin' Holocaust* (systematically shoving people into ovens).  Don't you think these comparisons maybe go a little too far?

Other people have mentioned that they would enjoy- well probably not enjoy, but appreciate, in retrospect- this experience, were they the victim player.



*Which, by the way, gives me an idea for a Holocaust LARP.


Title: Re: [The Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Devon Oratz on February 17, 2011, 02:25:19 PM
Godwin's much?

 
Quote
I had this convoluted example I was going to use before but didn't for convolutedness. In it I was going to have an RPG perhaps around a theme of some inhumanly gentlemanly guy romancing a lady, ala mills and boon or twilight. But here's the fun twist, aye, you invite a female player and latter in the game you actually touch her on her real life boobs, just out of the blue. It's a rule that you have to! Ha, she totally thought it was romance but here you are, hand on boob! Ka-pow, gut punch!

"Real life boobs", lol. Anyway I'm not particularly shocked or offended by this either, but...if you're asking, hypothetically speaking, where to draw the line, that's pretty obvious. Unwanted physical contact. Yes, emotions and feelings are important, but how much can someone really get to YOUR emotions and feelings through a character? As probably the most hardcore, full-immersion roleplayer I know, even I think that the damage that can be done this way is very limited.

"If you roll all 1s, you get actually physically raped, in life" is a horse of a different color, but then again I'd be more afraid of the people who would play by that rule than the person who wrote it.

(Immediately I am given an idea for a tabletop RPG mechanic that involves punching people in the arm, really hard. Of course, this would have to be an up-front mechanic because, well, see above.)


Title: Re: [The Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Paolo D. on February 17, 2011, 04:12:54 PM
Other people have mentioned that they would enjoy- well probably not enjoy, but appreciate, in retrospect- this experience, were they the victim player.

Actually, I could have some names in mind.

Yes, people that search "abusive" games, deliberately, to enjoy them.


Title: Re: [The Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Callan S. on February 17, 2011, 07:03:52 PM
Callan, I appreciate that you disapprove of Secret Lives.  It is not supposed to be a game that is nice.  And yes, it's rather abusive of the 'victim' player.

However, you compared it to physical assault (shooting someone with a paintball gun), sexual assault (groping someone's boob), and even the frickin' Holocaust* (systematically shoving people into ovens).  Don't you think these comparisons maybe go a little too far?

Not really, Willow. As you typed you were thinking "All these things are outside of what games are, while my game is obviously within the idea of what games are!". So I haven't prompted you at all to consider whether something presented as a game could be not a game at all - all I've given you, from your perspective, are things that aren't to do with games and therefore not to do with your text. The very thing I try to challenge in you deflects me effortlessly "Why is he talking about non game stuff (when I wrote a game)?". Perhaps if I could seperate the SLSK text from the notion of game for just an instant...

So I don't think I went far enough - but really I don't know how to go any further anyway.


Title: Re: [The Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Callan S. on February 17, 2011, 07:24:52 PM
Devon,
Quote
"Real life boobs", lol. Anyway I'm not particularly shocked or offended by this either
Well, that's possibly the issue - in the other thread you talk about your group and what your group handles, etc. Here your literally taking your own sense of shock or offense like it's some sort of relevant benchmark. Like, if you can eat peanuts, that guy over there will have no problem eating peanuts either. So you'll sprinkle some into his food because hey, your not bothered by them.

Quote
Unwanted physical contact. Yes, emotions and feelings are important, but how much can someone really get to YOUR emotions and feelings through a character?

This isn't 100% through character only. I gave a paintball example before to show an outside of character element parralel to an in character element.

Do you want to say the interaction is 100% in character, particularly in chapter five? Right now your treating it as true it's all character and then moving on to a second question. I'd like to question the idea all interaction is solely via character.

Quote
As probably the most hardcore, full-immersion roleplayer I know, even I think that the damage that can be done this way is very limited.
It depends. You can't lose a limb twice, I'll grant.


Title: Re: [The Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on February 17, 2011, 07:53:44 PM
It occurs to me that the so-called "pervasive" larping that has been something of a trend in the Nordic countries in recent years faces many of the same issues Willow's game here does. Pervasive larps are games that forgo an explicit ritual space for the game, preferring to mix the game with reality by playing in urban settings, having players interact with outsiders as their characters and so on; an oft-used example is that a player's character might give confession in a real church to a real priest as part of play. I remember how we had some pretty strident discussions here in Finland about this topic when Prosopopeia (an infamous Swedish pervasive larp from whence the above example originates) was current; the issue with pervasive larping, as some of us perceived it then, was that it objectifies both players and innocent outsiders by instructing players to mislead others and falsely represent themselves in public. Looking at the topic now, I find a somewhat current English treatise on the problem in Markus Montola's pervasive larp design blog here (http://pervasivegames.wordpress.com/2009/10/16/pervasive-gaming-is-a-harmful-phenomenon-to-whole-larp-culture/) - pretty interesting read, that.

What I personally took home from these discussions on pervasive gaming was that it's very important to me as a game designer that I respect the personal autonomy of players, who participate in the game consensually, and I respect the social contract in general by delineating game spaces and acting responsibly as a member of the community.  This stance is no magic wand when it comes to drawing the line between appropriate and inappropriate games within the game group, though; that task remains with the social mores of the game group and their shared expectations of where the limits lie. I can totally believe that there are groups out there for whom Sunset Boulevard moves in an entirely conventional space; many gamers think that everything is kosher as long as the form of the content is respected so that the game remains in the realms of verbal interaction. The mere fact that the game presents itself under false premises to one of the players is not by itself a breach of trust when the group has established that this level of power asymmetry is expected and accepted. In this regard the ugly surprise in playing Sunset Boulevard doesn't differ much from the ugly surprise of playing D&D with a kill-happy GM; in both cases the experience is something that well might disturb you in a non-good way if you came to it cold, without the prerequisite social context.

The reason that Sunset Boulevard reminds me of those larp discussions from years ago is that the tone of argument is sort of similar. Callan's penultimate post is pretty insightful in this regard, I think - the issue largely is about what a "game" is supposed to be socially, and how much weight something being a "game" has when it comes to justifying socially disturbing behavior. I personally was (and am) stridently against the sort of social irresponsibility displayed by creators of pervasive larps who argue that the nature of their activity as a harmless game or valuable art justifies shenanigans; in this case I'm not feeling myself nearly as moralistic, as although I personally dislike the idea of abusing trust among my friends in this manner, that's just because playing this game would be an abuse of trust for us: were this different for some other group, then it'd be no skin off my nose the way those annoyingly public larps are. In this way I'm willing to chalk this one up as a matter of taste insofar as abstract philosophical arguments go.


Title: Re: [The Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Devon Oratz on February 19, 2011, 11:01:10 AM
Quote
Here your literally taking your own sense of shock or offense like it's some sort of relevant benchmark. Like, if you can eat peanuts, that guy over there will have no problem eating peanuts either. So you'll sprinkle some into his food because hey, your not bothered by them.

My bad for thinking my perspective was relevant, I guess. Although, I am starting to get some really serious mixed signals from the Forge.

Quote
It depends. You can't lose a limb twice, I'll grant.

Could you explain what this even means in this context? Are you implying that I have "lost a limb" in some metaphorical sense?

Quote
Do you want to say the interaction is 100% in character, particularly in chapter five? Right now your treating it as true it's all character and then moving on to a second question. I'd like to question the idea all interaction is solely via character.

I know that with my group no one broke character. Every word out of the PCs' mouths was roleplaying. Every word out of the facilitator's mouth was narration.

Quote
It occurs to me that the so-called "pervasive" larping that has been something of a trend in the Nordic countries in recent years faces many of the same issues Willow's game here does. Pervasive larps are games that forgo an explicit ritual space for the game, preferring to mix the game with reality by playing in urban settings, having players interact with outsiders as their characters and so on; an oft-used example is that a player's character might give confession in a real church to a real priest as part of play. I remember how we had some pretty strident discussions here in Finland about this topic when Prosopopeia (an infamous Swedish pervasive larp from whence the above example originates) was current; the issue with pervasive larping, as some of us perceived it then, was that it objectifies both players and innocent outsiders by instructing players to mislead others and falsely represent themselves in public. Looking at the topic now, I find a somewhat current English treatise on the problem in Markus Montola's pervasive larp design blog here - pretty interesting read, that.

I have actually tried to write and run this kind of game here, in America with absolutely no knowledge that it existed overseas. I ran it twice at college (when I was a junior and a senior, respectively) as a ~one week game (but entirely pervasive for that period of time). I've actually rewritten it for being used outside of a college setting, and in a longer format, but haven't been able to playtest it yet.

Quote
The reason that Sunset Boulevard reminds me of those larp discussions from years ago is that the tone of argument is sort of similar. Callan's penultimate post is pretty insightful in this regard, I think - the issue largely is about what a "game" is supposed to be socially, and how much weight something being a "game" has when it comes to justifying socially disturbing behavior. I personally was (and am) stridently against the sort of social irresponsibility displayed by creators of pervasive larps who argue that the nature of their activity as a harmless game or valuable art justifies shenanigans; in this case I'm not feeling myself nearly as moralistic, as although I personally dislike the idea of abusing trust among my friends in this manner, that's just because playing this game would be an abuse of trust for us: were this different for some other group, then it'd be no skin off my nose the way those annoyingly public larps are. In this way I'm willing to chalk this one up as a matter of taste insofar as abstract philosophical arguments go.

The church example specifically does seem a bit distasteful. I am not at all religious, but blaspheming makes me uncomfortable and giving an "in-character confession" strikes me as a blasphemous thing to do. So hey, we've found something that "offends" me! Except that I wouldn't be outraged that someone else was doing this, I just wouldn't do it myself.

Anyway, I'm not sure how hardcore you could be about playing a pervasive LARP without risking, like, arrest. Ultimately, I don't see the analogy to Secret Lives. Everyone was aware that they were playing SOME GAME after all.


Title: Re: [The Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Ron Edwards on February 19, 2011, 11:40:35 AM
I'm stepping in as moderator.

Callan, you're being a pain in the ass. You've made your point, but now you're merely aggravating Devon. Poke, poke, poke, the classic Callan dialogue which consists of someone trying to answer you, but merely giving you more openings for poke, poke, poke. Having made your point, and now that it's there for anyone to read and judge, give it a rest for a while. And this is the big thing: there is no reason on this earth to keep giving Devon the message that he did a bad thing by playtesting the game. Your analogies with peanuts and tits and all the rest of it are simple and straightforward personal insults toward hm in this context, and I'm stomping it down now. Should have done that last week - my apologies for that, Devon.

And Devon - do me the favor of dropping these low-level hints about the Forge in general, and any of this sarcasm like "Please excuse me for thinking my input is relevant." Enough, please.

For what it's worth, I'm working up big posts for all the feedback threads at the moment and we can get back to the real work of this forum.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [The Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Thunder_God on March 01, 2011, 01:38:20 AM
I found this interesting.

I also found the link to Vampire interesting.

Also, the whole discussion on what constitutes a game is fascinating. Personally, I think there is and isn't a game here. The analogy to the pervasive LARP with the confession I felt was very apt. The LARPer is playing a game, the priest, and passersby who buy in, are not playing a game. Those truly are their feelings, in a way I think can't be said of people playing a game, regardless of how immersive the games are (there are plenty of emotions generated by games, but I think there's a fine distinction).

The facilitator and killer are playing a game, perhaps playing a prank. The "Victim Player" is a pawn. He's a marionnette. He's not really playing a game, you could omit the word "player" and merely describe him as a victim. A victim for a prank, perhaps, but I don't think when you play a prank on someone, or a practical joke, they truly are participants. In my experience, that's how those who play the pranks on them present it, especially to authority figures after the fact (school, armed services, to teachers and officers after the fact, "We were only playing a game, you didn't suffer, right, right?")

I think it has merit both as something to read and mull over, and as a discussion opener, as seen here. I probably wouldn't want to participate in a play of this, in any role.
I do think the suggestion of "pulling apart the veil", before the final scene, on the victim, so they'll see how things are and decide if and how they want to continue has merit (I wonder if this is just for the worth of seeing light dawn, but before they are truly hurt/angry). But like others said, the game may explode before, if you truly do not take heed of what the victim suggests for narration. I'd consider (insidiously?) to incorporate what they say, or in normal current SG practice, have the Killer incorporate and build up on what the victim suggests, and slowly incorporate less and less.

I do know if I played this with my girlfriend, as the victim, she would be really mad at me. Like, really.


Title: Re: [The Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Ronnies feedback
Post by: tzirtzi on March 01, 2011, 10:28:35 AM
Likewise, I've found this a very interesting read - both the game itself and the discussion.

On the central debate, I'd come down on the "it's a matter of taste" side. It seems to me that the issue is, indeed, whether this is a game. What distinguishes a game from reality is merely the fact that the players know that they are playing a game. In this case, all of the players do indeed know that they are playing a game - so, if their expectations/understanding of what playing a game means includes the possibility of being not fully in the know, then fine, everyone is playing a game and there is no problem. If their understanding of what playing a game means doesn't include the possibility of being in the dark about some elements, then for them this isn't a game and so risks being offensive/upsetting/a meaningful breach of trust.

The problem is then that for this game to fully work, the "victim" mustn't be completely expecting the twist - not expecting to be in the dark about anything. The best subject is someone (in a given social context) who doesn't really include lack of knowledge (at least in the form it takes in this game) in their definition of "game", but who would nevertheless not be offended or upset by it. For the unsuspecting victim, the point of the game is that it challenges their own definition of what a game is. Responsible other players will have to judge whether a given victim will respond positively or negatively to this challenge.

But that was probably all just rewording points that have already been made :P.

To focus a little more closely on the game itself, I'd like to raise a point made by Devon much earlier in this thread. It seems to me that Sunshine Boulevard is a little too naive/happy/simplistic. I realise that this is great because it makes such a huge contrast with The Secret Lives of Serial Killers when the twist is revealed, but I think there might be a problem with a) believability (i.e. players may suspect the twist before it actually happens), and b) actually getting players to play. Whilst obviously Devon did manage to get a player who wanted to play SB as written, I think I would have troublem finding anyone - I have few opportunities to play RPGs, so when I get together with people to play, we're really looking for games that are immediately very appealing! And SB on its own seems a little bland. The two things that occur to me that might improve it on this point are more character development mechanics  and a risk of not succeeding. What do you (Willow, that is :) ) think about this point?


Title: Re: [The Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Willow on March 01, 2011, 03:04:37 PM
It's a little amazing that I've gone so far through the looking glass: after exposure to Shooting the Moon, Under my Skin, It Was a Mutual Decision, and Blazing Rose, I figured *of course* people would recognize Sunshine Boulevard as a real game.  Or at least a weird, jeepy-thing worth playing.  But then I remember that most people only play D&D, and even the narrativistically-inclined players are playing sword wielding ronin, demon wielding sorcerers, and gun wielding teenage mormon paladins.  (and gun lugging gun luggers)

Again, this is a matter of taste, and play experience.

When I say in the rules that the game should not be played; that is not a rule, it is a statement of moral assessment of my own work.  On the other hand, I believe that games are meant to be played, which creates a contradiction, which is part of why I find this concept so fascinating.

I've said I intend to playtest SB straight far more than I intend to playtest SL- I actually plan on only playing the full game once, but the metagame many times.

I'm not sure that more mechanics are necessarily needed for the 'straight' game- it's modeled on the Jeepform paradigm, where rules inform the structure of play.  (Note that Jeepform/structured freeform lacks what I would traditionally call a 'resolution mechanic'- the closest thing SB has is the anti-fiat of the Sunshine, where the other players are encouraged to step on their suggestions to deprotagonize them- everything that happens is organically "resolved" through play.)


Title: Re: [The Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Ronnies feedback
Post by: tzirtzi on March 01, 2011, 03:48:24 PM
Just to quickly reply to only a part of your post - it wasn't the lack of violence/magic/etc that made SB feel lacking to me, but simply that it was missing... oh, drive, bite, tension, something like that. One of Ron's criteria for Ronnies is there being a clear reason why you'd want to play the game - I personally don't find that in SB. Blazing Rose, Under My Skin and Shooting the Moon all involve significant narrative tensions (which then create drive for character development), and even if It was a Mutual Decision has less in the way of obvious narrative tension per se, it still (to me) creates more of a compelling and complicated situation to drive character development. It's exactly to these sort of games that I'm comparing it and thinking: well, wouldn't I (putting myself in my "victim"'s shoes) rather play one of those, if I'm going for a relationship rpg?

Of course, perhaps if SB was more immediately three-dimensional and compelling, it would render SLSK that much less playable? :P

Anyway, I may be quite wrong here - these are just my impressions.


Title: Re: [The Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Ronnies feedback
Post by: tzirtzi on March 01, 2011, 03:51:50 PM
(Damn not being able to edit! I'm not used it :P)

I just wanted to add that I really very much like the overall game - the comparison of and relationship between the two component games is very interesting, and very well done. The whole thing was a very enjoyable read - so much so that I felt immediately compelled to email it to friends (an urge I should have resisted, so as to keep more potential players, but hey ho :P).