Friday Five – Roleplaying Edition

I wish I could say that a lot of thought goes into creating these Friday Fives. That’s why I’m so consistent about it, and encourage y’all to suggest themes in the comments (or on social media, if that’s your thing). Because very often (99% of the time, actually), the Friday Five is a thorn in my side until some time on Thursday when I run into yet another reference to something, scream, throw up my hands, and pull the post together in under an hour. (This one took longer because it took fewer than five references to set me off.)

This week, it was the collision of memories of being involved with roleplaying games. I wasn’t allowed to play roleplaying games growing up. It was just as well, as I had very few friends who gamed. In college, I fell in with a group who did game, and I played a couple of times with them. I’ve experienced a handful of different tabletop RPGs and a couple of LARPs since then, but more often than not I end up in short-lived campaigns because the GM loses interest or I sit on the sidelines listening and contributing snark.

Anyway, you’d probably rather just read the Friday Five than listen to my bad luck with roleplaying games. ūüėČ

1. LARPs: The Series¬†– This one is a bit unfair, as I’ve been watching it since right after it started running on Geek & Sundry’s YouTube channel. But it’s a fun little poke at LARPers, both in game and out of game, and if you’ve ever LARPed you’re probably going to relate to it. (I’ve also said this about¬†The Guild.) My own LARP history consists of being an NPC in a V-LARP (which I enjoyed) and being everything from a wizard to a scout to a reeve (referee) and game maker (Somewhere, I may still have my game book, complete with scenarios, mini encounters, monsters, and relics.) at a fantasy boffer LARP.

2. Critical Role (This is the first episode, but the series runs here.) – I find Twitch a bit difficult to navigate, so I apologize in advance if you encounter problems, too. I didn’t pay close attention when I finally heard a description of this show. Actually, that’s not true. I somehow got a bad description, which suggested this would be an animated D&D game, and I thought,¬†Oh, hey. Cool. Like the old cartoon. It turns out the source was misinformed, and this is actually a lot cooler than that. It’s a group of animation/anime/video game voice actors playing D&D. And it’s pretty much like listening to any laid-back D&D game I’ve ever sat next to. (And I’ve sat next to a fair few in my time.)

3. PBS Idea Channel recently thought about¬†how writing comic books could resemble tabletop roleplaying. It’s an interesting idea. Given how long many comic books have been running, there’s a situation now where those who are writing stories around these characters aren’t the ones who created them. (There’s a parallel for fan fiction here, as well, although it’s sanctioned because of the licensing…sorry. Off topic.) Current writers don’t know what the original intents for a character were, but they can create situations and then have the characters react in ways historically appropriate for them. While someone running an roleplaying game cannot realistically control how the player characters react, they can create situations that should provide some sort of stimulus that will allow the characters to react and respond in ways true to them. Of course…I then start remembering sessions with missing players, and… ;D

4. “Real Magick” in RPGs: Spellbooks – As I’ve mentioned, I’ve played a wizard class a time or two in my roleplaying career. Yelling poorly written poetry at the top of my lungs and pretending something actually happened as a result was sometimes far easier than taking foam-padded shots to any part of my body from guys two to three times my size. While I don’t remember much about the memorization component (beyond the fact there was one) in D&D, I do remember the equivalent (if it could be called that) at the boffer LARP was your spell list, because you had to spend time going through all of the spells available to you to craft a decent list with the points you had available. Most people built a regularly used list, plus ones for special events. I tended to just build my list every week. It wasn’t entirely practical, but it allowed me to do lame things like bring an entire field to a halt when I, as a max-level wizard, pulled out a first-level spell ball and cast it. (I didn’t have the points to carry the higher level of the same spell ball. I knew I’d never get off the verbal side of the higher level of the same spell ball. So I went for cheap and easy…and got away with it.)

5. I don’t have a fifth thing to share, so I’ll just remind those who like a little background noise with their roleplaying that Tabletop Audio is a lot of fun. It’s also not bad for just getting some writing done.

For the record, I do have the very first d20 I ever stole off someone. It’s somewhere around here. (read: It got misplaced when I moved a year and a half ago. Oops.) And my dice bag, filled mostly with marbled dice sets, sits on a shelf of my desk for easy access…although it really doesn’t get used for gaming these days. Transparency!

Friday Five: Game-Based Movies and Television Edition

It’s been a busy week, so it was last night before I realized I hadn’t started working on this week’s Friday Five. I hadn’t even thought about it, actually. But I went to make myself some chai to keep me company while I was writing tomorrow’s Saturday Scene (Yes, it’s been that full a week.), and Mom was watching¬†Clue. We got to talking about the movie and how well it represented its game. And it got me thinking. I enjoy watching movies and cartoons based on games, so I thought this week I’d share some of the ones I’ve seen, and my thoughts on them.

1.¬†Clue – Might as well start with the one that inspired the post.¬†Clue is kind of a brilliant live-action representation of the boardgame. The story takes place in a house with all of the appropriate rooms and secret passages (although the layout doesn’t match the board). The key characters are Mr. Boddy and the six playable characters from the game (plus an easily startled butler). And after Mr. Boddy is killed early in the movie, the characters then set about trying to solve the murder. The movie even has three endings, a nod to the process of players guessing the contents of the Confidential folder in the board game. It’s hilarious. It’s self-referential in all the right ways. And it’s so worth watching way too many times.

2.¬†Tomb Raider – There were two: a good one and an attempt to mash up¬†Tomb Raider and all of the action flicks obsessed with ebola at the time. Let’s focus on the good one. *grin* The first¬†Tomb Raider movie was a clever blending of elements from¬†Tomb Raider 2 and¬† Tomb Raider 3. Complete with a Shiva that Lara takes down too quickly (I have been proven wrong about this.) and by utilizing her environment. It felt like¬†Tomb Raider, but left me and other fans complaining that she got to do the two things we couldn’t in the game: grapple and pick up anything to use as a weapon. I guess it was a good thing, because we can now make Lara grapple!

3. Mortal Kombat РAgain, there are a lot of directions to potentially go here, but I love the first movie. I have never played Mortal Kombat, but I used to watch friends play it. Often enough that I was able to recognize that the movie aligned with Mortal Kombat 3. Like Tomb Raider, it felt like I was watching a Mortal Kombat game, only with an actual story component. So much attention to detail! *swoon* (Plus, I really, really like the soundtrack.)

4. Magi Nation РI played Magi Nation when it first came out, and then I moved to a larger city where the game shops had never heard of it. I was sad. My Arderial/Naroom deck is in a box somewhere around here. When I heard there was a cartoon based on the video game that was based on the card game. I was excited. Given how other TCGs had transferred to cartoons, I was curious to see how Magi Nation was going to work out. The show had the e/i stamp on it, and that kind of colored a lot of things. But what broke my heart more than a technicolor Furok (one of my go-to Naroomi creatures), was the way the Arderial magi were misrepresented in the cartoon. I stopped watching shortly after the characters left Arderial City.

5.¬†Saturday Supercade – Can’t leave this one out! I was obsessed with¬†Saturday Supercade so much as a kid that I actually was one of the characters from it for Halloween. I have to say it that way because I never got to play the game that cartoon segment was based on. (I think it was¬†Space Ace.) Our next-door neighbor repaired game cabinets for local arcades and pizza parlors, so I got to play on them after he was done fixing them. (He actually invited us to come play with when he was done to make sure they worked.)

There are so many more. I could keep going. But¬†that’s it for this week. I’ll try to be better about this next week

Find Five Friday – Girly Geek Edition

I don’t know how things have gone for y’all, but for me it’s been a week. Actually, it’s been a long couple of weeks, and next week will be pretty crazy, too. You may have noticed the blog’s been a little quiet this week. So has the social media. I’m not even sure I’ve done the bare minimum. What I do know is that this week’s Find Five Friday only has four links because things have just been that crazy.

Soooo…on with the show!

1. I have designed jewelry off and on my entire life. I’ve just re-opened an Etsy shop, and was strong-armed last week into a craft show that my work was not a good fit for. But because I have been designing jewelry my whole life, I tend to be fascinated when someone does something interesting with jewelry design, like creating a wearable light show. You can tell from the pictures it’s still a work in progress, but it’s an interesting idea.

2. I’ve also grown up interacting with music. I danced for a long time. I’ve done choirs off and on. In school and at LARP, I even played a couple of instruments. I frequently joke that music runs through my veins, and I can’t imagine not being able to read or interpret sheet music. So, finding out that people with dyslexia can find sheet music daunting was a bit of a surprise. A product designer who has experience trying to get dyslexia and a desire to play music to cooperate has designed a way to create and play music in a way that doesn’t trigger a war with her dyslexia. The Dyssonance looks like Colorforms on steroids, but the idea and implementation are pretty cool.

3. This has been a stressful month for STEM women. In 2013, Mattel released a 2-in-1 Barbie book where one half was called I Can Be…A Computer Engineer. The Barbie line has a mission of trying to show girls all the doors that are open to them, and has come under a lot of heat over the years for the limited number of hard science/STEM professions represented in the line. I suspect this book was part of an attempt to address that. A pair of blogs discovered and shared the book this week, pointing out that while Barbie does design the game featured in the book (girl game designer = good), she then hides behind guy friends to code the game and clean up her virused computer. She then takes credit for both the game and saving the infected computer. Needless to say, women coders and their friends and supporters shredded Mattel, who has now offered a very half-hearted apology for the mess.

The book’s discovery comes only a week after STEM toy developer GoldieBlox announced their Barbie-like action figures. GoldieBlox still leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths after the whole Beastie Boys incident, but their CEO was recently the keynote speaker at a Texas women’s conference where the themes included responsibility and presenting positive role models for up-and-coming STEM women. (I just about spit out my chai when I read that.)

4. While many made memes of the more troubling statements in the Barbie book and some mocked the pink tech and the flash drive necklace, one woman coder created a mock-up of the book (PDF) rewritten to reflect the message Mattel should have put out if they truly want girls to see what they could experience as a coder. The book is heavy-handed, but the message is much more positive.

Also, my inner jewelry designer couldn’t understand those upset about the flash drive necklace. It was completely appropriate to Barbie. But what do I know? I spent part of a season of¬†Pretty Little Liars wanting Jenna’s owl flash drive necklace.

 

All right, there you go. Four links, but I tried to make up for it in the commentary. Hopefully, I’ll collect five links next week, but we’ll have to see what free time my workload gives me.

Find Five Friday: Eclectic Geek Mix

This week has been a little crazy. The voiceover work piled up unexpectedly. I got roped into a craft show this weekend, so I’ve been trying to pull things together for that. If you’ve been following my DigiWriMo adventures, you know I’ve been quiet there. And the only reason the Saturday Serial will have a new scene this weekend is because I managed to write it last weekend.

So, today’s offerings will be…eclectic. (To be honest, I had no idea what was sitting in Instapaper when I started writing this post.)

1. A fellow DigiWriMo participant introduced me to DailyCreate on Twitter. They post prompts for you to respond to. They’re supposed to rotate through a number of digital arts, but I’ve only seen visual prompts this week.

2. But it did introduce me to the coolest tool that allows you to create virtual magnetic poetry. I wanted to craft something about a Wall of Fire, but as my options were limited, I created this stirring poem instead.

3. Dork Tower introduced me to BrikWars, a system that allows you to use your favorite interconnected brick toys to create tabletop roleplaying spaces. I remember a few years ago when Lego released board game sets, but this strikes me as something a lot of geeks I know would really get into.

4. And while we’re on the topic of geeks doing cool things with Lego bricks, may I introduce you to Rick Martin? This is not a new link for me, but as it’s relevant and his scene recreations for¬†Words of Radiance¬†are cool enough to get shared by Brandon Sanderson, I’m going to declare it fair game.

5. Rounding out the list this week is this Wired article on Jim Davis and the phenomenon of Internet cats. Because it’s always cool and fun to talk about Garfield. (Plus, it was interesting to see just how he perceives the distribution of comics as technology advances.)

There you go. Another five links for another Friday. Next week should (theoretically) be calmer, so maybe I’ll actually stay up-to-date on Instapaper and have interesting, useless links for you.

World Lore in Cartoons and Games

While I do play a fair number of games that have little or no story wrapped around them (otherwise known as “casual” games. My current obsession is Angry Birds Go.), I am a storyteller and a cultural anthropologist at my core. I like a game with a story to it. I like game worlds where a writer or a narrative designer took the time to create an actual world, with a present, and a past, and a future. A world with quirks, with a conflict I can make myself care about.

What’s really funny is that my favorite game set in a game world,¬†The Legend of Zelda, actually doesn’t have a connected story. Each iteration is a new glimpse into the life of Hyrule hero Link. It’s episodic…sort of. Final Fantasy, which I’ve had more fun watching than playing, has a similar issue.¬†What’s even funnier is that the games I decided to look at in this post…are games I have little or no experience with. I’m just fascinated with how world lore and story came together to form each¬†game’s world.

Twenty years ago, when a friend pulled out decks of odd-looking cards and tried to get us to play this hot new game, I glanced at it and went back to chatting. It looked like nothing more than a card game with five suits and funky art. Okay…so it was really cool art in a lot of cases. But still, it was just a deck of cards where you chose what suits you personally played with. The guys got into it; I just stole cards to look at the art. Eventually, I noticed the cards had text on them, beyond just explaining what that card did, and a passing interest with Magic: The Gathering was born. Through the flavor texts, I learned that the game was actually players re-enacting a duel between Urza¬†and Mishra. (I always forget about Mishra when I try to explain this to people.) The flavor texts not only flesh out the world Urza and Mishra are dueling in, but sometimes highlight aspects of that legendary duel. Tie-in novels have actually arisen out of the game’s flavor texts and world design. I lost touch with the game years ago, but I understand Urza has gone¬†on to duel a wizard named Gix.

Ten years ago, I fell into a cartoon that has become a bit of a guilty pleasure.¬†Yu-Gi-Oh is a story about an alternate universe Tokyo¬†where characters resolve their issues by playing card games. (Not even kidding. This was Takahashi’s intention. He thought it would be entertaining.) So, you have battles over souls and territories and egos…being resolved by a¬†Magic-style game. Characters are rescued from certain death…by playing a card game. It’s really quite bizarre, and just as lame as it sounds. There’s nothing really notable about the card game itself. If your only contact with¬†Yu-Gi-Oh was the game, you’d probably have no idea that the game has a backstory in the manga. Beyond the spirits inhabiting the Millennium objects, I probably wouldn’t have noticed, either, until much later in the cartoon. But about halfway through the first season of the cartoon, the character generally regarded as a moron (who becomes the poster child for what happens when you make unfair assumptions about people) shares the tales surrounding one of the monsters in his deck in talking through his strategy. It’s the first flash the cartoon gives (because it’s been so long since I read the manga that I don’t remember if it’s also there) that this story, and by extension the game, might actually have an interesting layer to it. It turns out later to be a rather tragic story, but still. Not bad for a world where all conflicts, small and life-threatening, are resolved through a card game.

When¬†World of Warcraft (WoW) introduced the ability to take on lore as a profession, I briefly started paying attention to it. I still have never played it, but I was following one of the guys working on it on Twitter for a while. I didn’t realize until the announcement of the lore profession¬†that¬†WoW had a story aspect. Apparently, it’s had several, making¬†WoW a far more interesting and complex massively multiplayer online roleplaying game (MMORPG). If I’ve understood things correctly (and¬†WoW players who actually play the story-related quests and activities, please feel free to chime in down in the comments), each release or expansion is a new storyline in this building exposition. And players really get into it. They will even call the narrative designers on continuity and logic issues.

Games really are pushing themselves to be a new storytelling form, through exploring telling stories in ways that make sense to the game’s narrative designers. The stories can serve just as the world background for the game, or can allow the players to help shape the world’s story through their play. As narrative designers continue to push and to work with game designers to explore different ways to deepen these worlds, games are going to become an immersive storytelling experience worth curling up with.