Remember all those interviews a couple of months ago! This was another in the same time-batch, and believe me, especially since the Thirteenth Floor interview from the previous year was released then as well, I was getting very boggled about who asked what and what I’d said in each. With any luck, you can forgive any redundancy you’ll find in this one and enjoy whatever I managed to utter that’s specific to it.
The specific outlet is the YouTube channel Pizza Games. You can also find interviews there with Vincent Baker and Paul Czege. The interviewer is Paolo Fosso, whom I recognized from his work in music and film, and he focused on “industry” in a way I thought was very constructive, and hard to do.
We talked a lot about role-playing business and commerce in Sweden. I’m not ready to call myself entirely informed about every historical detail or economic determinant, but I know enough to be sure about the things I’m talking about there. It’s founded on the mating between exactly what games served as the cultural starting points in the early 1980s + the activity-centered nature of the book/hobby commerce, and then the support for small business startups. Their edit for the interview cut out some of this, but they also gave me permission to do my own cut, which I’ll do for this topic and put into the comments when I get the chance.
He was also interested in political content as in Spione and Shahida and asked a very optimistic question, but my response – far less optimistic – returned to the nature of industry “success” as scuttling the goals of publishing these games, or anything similar to them. I contrasted the 1970s unconstructed but nevertheless highly integrated context of fantasy, horror, science fiction, music, pop art, and contemporary politics, in which role-playing as we know it was born, with the multi-media campaigns we know today, in which a “fan” is defined and self-defined as a loyal customer, and in which the contemporary political content intrinsic to any publication is muzzled and dumbed-down to the point of idiocy.
So the great barrage of early 2022 interviewing is now complete! I hope you enjoy it.
4 responses to “Pizza Games interview: what and why in Sweden”
Spione: A Diagnostic Tool
I've been thinking about Spione a lot lately because I think it can serve as a diagnostic game similar to The Pool. If The Pool reveals to us things about how we play, I think Spione reveals to us things about why we play.
Here are some things I've seen people's brains grind to a halt on while playing Spione. I think each speaks to a different set of values of what one thinks is important.
"When do we get to roleplay?" is a question I frequently hear when I've played Spione. It is clear that rhe person is defining roleplay as "improvised real-time exchange of in-character dialogue". Charitably the person is just confused about how dialogue works in the game. Cynically, I can sometimes tell the person is used to drawing people in with their performance and using it as a manipulation tool to get what they want and are flailing because that tool has been thwarted.
Since the spy genre is somewhat mystery adjacent, the lack of an object truth to discover, puzzle to solve, or clever reveal to build toward, really destabilizes some people. They just don't know what to DO with their maneuver turns. Some people TRY (and fail) to become the "truth" controller.
As Ron points out in the interview the lack of fantasy elements literally (the CIA but it's run by Vampires!) or, somewhat more subtly, culturally (it's not a Hollywood spy film, either) means that we're doing Cold War narrative, FOR REAL. I break out those little summaries of each of the agencies for a given era and what The Cold is for each one and suddenly the game feels like "a big ask" to dig in, engage and care.
Relatedly, the game design is neither an economy of rewards, nor a trope button controller and this leads to people having trouble connecting the design with its subject matter. The game does not "make" spy fiction happen. Which again leads to people unsure what to do.
To be clear: I don't perceive any of these as problems but it's amusing to watch people kind of seize up and break down along these lines. To that end, I've been recommending the game to a lot of people as something you should play at least once because even if you don't like it, it will challenge literally everything you think you know about games.
Thinking about this topic,
Thinking about this topic, for my part, is how to say anything without whining and bitching.
Going back 18 years, my plan for Spione was to ignore the hobby entirely, and approach the non-hobby culture through appropriate venues. It is still traumatic to recall how close I came to doing so in Berlin, 2005-2006.
Accordingly, I wrote the text completely without regard to role-playing subculture's familiar language. For example, I knew through experience that, outside the hobby or gaming at large, the word "story" carries no negative or specific meaning, and indeed that its most casual understanding was compatible with play, without clarification or discussion. By contrast, but toward the same point, terms like "player-character" or "scenario" include features that are important to the game but also features that are unnecessary and interfering for the game, so I don't use those terms or try to apply them in any way that the hobby culture recognizes.
Unfortunately, or rather, historically since I don't think it's unfortunate, the way events played out means that I am continually confronted with having to explain to role-players what this thing is, when the whole point was not to have to do that. I knew even before I tried that it would often be fruitless, e.g., nothing will convince most role-players that principals aren't player-characters, but only potentially so and certainly without any need to make them so, and that you are supposed to role-play more rather than less, as anyone you speak for qualifies as a player-character. Despite a few enjoyable instances, I knew that the best thing for (most) role-players and for my sanity is to keep them away from the game as much as possible.
I successfully designed a book and game that inspires and instructs non-hobby people to play easily, and to experience a very great deal of what the activity offers. Events have led to it being known or attempted only within the hobby, therefore gaining the reputation of being so difficult as to be a failed or unreasonable design.
Therefore, for me, responding about others' in-hobby attempts at Spione isn't a good idea. I do appreciate your support for the game, but I absolutely cannot give the same kind of "you played it, thumbs-up" response that any other title of mine besides Shahida would absolutely get. Even saying why not borders on ingratitude, or even vaguely so, e.g., that is very nice, now please see what you can do with it with someone (anyone!) else.
I should have listed the
I should have listed the principles aren't PCs thing in my inital list.
I do remember you making remarks about designing something that abandoned the hobby entirely and that Spione wasn't "for" gamers. But that's why I like showing it to gamers. "Here, think about this. I sure do."
That said, I really would like to play Spione sometime with a more "hobby-free" group. I think that would be even more enlightening to me, personally.
The full Sweden excerpt
This is the part I'd wanted to share fully, twenty minutes concerning my entirely only-one-person take on role-playing and publishing here in Sweden. (One political reference is no longer the case; remember, this interview was held in March.)