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That's a good game title

A bit unfairly, this is the last game played during the two-pal pow visit, after Jared had left for home and Simon and I had a bit more time. We'd been talking about French games, as he'd just visited there to investigate the crazy-indie design scene, and he had a bag full of weirdness. One of them seemed just right for the atmosphere at the moment, so here it is, Happy Together by Gaël Sacré.

I'd like to talk about "cazh" games, i.e., casual, not in terms of the attitude toward it by the players, but in terms of topic. It's when the imagined fiction is about people doing ordinary things during ordinary life, without ninja(s) crashing through the skylight or Elder Gods clawing through portals or what have you. I know about some of them, and my own Shine a Light leans that way for most of its content. Simon mentions It's Complicated during our conversation, and a while ago, Ángel told me about a game set in the bleachers during a football (soccer to U.S.) match, which was composed mainly of casual dialogue that was constrained not to be about the game. But there are very, very few such games, as a glance at any of our shelves will tell you.

Compare that to film, in which along with all the ninja/Elder God/what-have-you these sorts of topics are the majority. Nor is there any indicator that people in general have any problem with that, that they are bored with "regular people" fiction and yearn for ever more over-the-top Rifts-esque action. To the contrary.

So putting aside the no doubt interesting question of why gamers are obsessed with the excess (cue much talk of "power fantasy" and "failed to grow up," which may be disturbingly true sometimes), let's talk about those role-playing games which do it. I can think of a few more titles but let's see what you might know about.

Department: 
Actual Play

Comments

Simon Pettersson's picture

Is it weird that I enjoy a game more when there's no translation into English? As a language nerd, I enjoy the feeling that not everything is accessible through the Universal Language.

Anyway, I enjoyed playing this, and I think I'll enjoy it more a second time, now that I know how it works. Not sure about the Desire mechanism, though. It feels like it's there to make sure we have something to do while keeping us in the scene, but I think something else might have been better. Or maybe exploring the desires without actually resolving them.

As for other games in the genre, there's a game I'm kicking myself for not buying at Octogônes. It's inspired by the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, about two people and their memories, and it's based on cards with evocative images that we create memories around. I almost played it, and then I almost bought it, but when I got to making my purchases, the last copy had been sold. Potentially the last copy that had been produced. I'll see if I can find the name of the game.

The football/soccer game you're thinking of might be Stoke-Birmingham 0-0, by Matthijs Holter. It's an interesting game, played in 15 minutes but feels like forever. You're actually discouraged from trying to say anything interesting. I encourage anyone to try it out. It's only 15 minutes!

Simon Pettersson's picture

The name of the memory game is Les petites choses oubliées ("the small forgotten things").

Ron Edwards's picture

Yes, that's the "hanging out in the bleachers" game I was thinking of.

One harsh question is whether these games work or are fun strictly as curiosities, i.e., they wouldn't be of any interest or fun unless we were taking a break from, or exploring the edge conditions, of "real" games with actual conflict and action. This same question applies to cinema, certainly, and decades of debate haven't resolved it there, so I doubt we can resolve it here.

There are two variables, right? One is simply the absence of fantastic or exceptionally urgent elements, so, simply naturalism. The other is the absence of plain-people conflicts in a basic arc-establishing, arc-cresting way, for a more slice-of-life or portraiture approach, at least in terms of what we're depicting most of the time.

Happy Together has a nice touch of including just a hint of plain-people conflicts, in two ways. One is that each character's Quest is not going to get resolved during play, so it's not a classic arc as a topic, but it is a defining aspect of each character, thus "present" during play, and it informs much of the player's depiction and decisions.

The other is that other players decide the outcomes of the Desires, not the initiating player.This is critical; I used to call it the Czege Principle at the Forge, that it is boring both to initiate and to resolve a given conflict. It's the source of Bounce for this game, and without it, there wouldn't be any activity worth doing. You did fulfill my character's desire to see the song played by the guy at the retreat ("I succeeded") and I did not fulfill your character's desire to smoke out with my character ("You failed").

The key is that there's no consensus process; because the initiating player and resolving player don't have to agree for either step. And there is even a correspondence between these mechanics and the classic split between roll-to-hit and roll-for-damage, because the extent of a success is a separate step handled by a separate person.

My concern about the Desires is that they seem to me to work best if they are "noticed" rather than "inserted," i.e., the way you play them is to notice when someone is doing something toward a minor or immediate goal, and then (whoever notices) to say so, and therefore the other people play accordingly, with an eye toward the variables which would signify its success or, in their absence, its failure. That's what we inadvertently did regarding my character's goal and kind of hitched over regarding your character's goal, so it was a little vague in terms of fictional presence.

Simon Pettersson's picture

Looks like I spoke too soon. The author informed me that there is an English translation available, for those who are interested: https://payhip.com/b/MN15

Simon Pettersson's picture

@Ron: Yes, there are definitely games in a contemporary, non-magical setting that are full of conflict. Another great French game, Psychodrame/Les cordes sensibles, by Frédéric Sintes, springs to mind. So that's a separate issue from the "no conflict" kind of game.

Oh, by the way, Imagine, by your fellow Norrköpingite Rickard Elimää, is also an attempt at creating a non-conflict-based RPG. And, in some ways, his murder mystery game The Murder of Mr. Crow, though that one is more about eliminating conflict between players than eliminating it from the story.

I agree that we might enjoy these games largely as a "break" from the "normal" games, though it seems to me this genre is quite popular in the French alternative RPG community (it took some willpower not to set scare quotes on all of those terms). To me, like I mentioned to you, the key is that there needs to be an element of uncertainty, of the unknown. We need to play to find out. But we don't need to play to find out what happens. We can play to find out who these people are. We can play to find out their dreams. We can play to find out their relationships, their history, anything interesting about them. I find that kind of exploration to be interesting on its own.

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