Archive for February 14th, 2007

Peacock Feathers

2007 Feb 14

Ashi and I were discussing Kazekami Kyoko Kills Kublai Khan and the new Game for Josh’s Girlfriend (which really needs a better title). We talked about how these games were basically, as Ashi put them, “peacock feathers.” That is, like poetry written for fair maidens in times past or the witty banter between Shakespearean lovers, one major point of the games (like many two player games, including Emily Care Boss’ Breaking the Ice) is to give both players an opportunity to demonstrate that they are articulate, creative, fun, and sexy. It’s sort of flirting ritual encapsulated in a game. Even when you’re not playing the game with someone you wouldn’t mind seducing, some of that intimacy and sexual tension is there, which is part of what makes it exciting.

As Ashi said:

    …that doesn’t make it a bad structure for a game. It actually could make it an especially good structure for a game, because there’s a lot of very familiar flagging and subtextual communication. This could be used especially well as a springboard to less familiar and obvious forms, which involve a greater degree of trust and understanding between participants.

Righto. Also, it reminds me very much of email conversations I’ve had near the beginning of relationships, where both members of a new couple put on exaggerated personae and waxed as eloquently and ridiculously as possible at each other. Along the lines of:

    Greetings from the Lord Hitherston Millancipus, I regret to inform you that the timing of tomorrow night’s meeting will be inconvenient for His Lordship. Mayhaps the Fair Lady would acquiesce to delay their gathering until the morrow, for tea?

Now, Kazekami Kyoko doesn’t really succeed fully at embracing this goal, partially due to the way I approached the subject matter. Ashi pointed out that Kublai’s wives are not characters so much as scenery. They are the faceless target of Kyoko and Kublai’s mutual lust, though Kyoko necessarily triumphs in the end. So what may first seem like a rather feminist premise (Kyoko seduces all of Kublai’s wives and kills him while tormenting him with the lurid details) is really a very masculine fantasy of being cuckolded and utterly dominated by a woman. Kyoko is also a very masculine figure, both in her persona and the way in which she treats Kublai’s wives (as scenery and tools for her revenge). There’s certainly room for this to be adjusted or just improved upon by individual players in the course of play. But there are definitely some issues there. Still the game is explicitly about seduction, which may help to bring down some of the barriers people put up to prevent intimacy from developing.

The issues surrounding the Game for Josh’s Girlfriend are rather different. I told Ashi that it was weird to write rules that are just structure for things people should already know how to do, but that I supposed I was targetting the game at people who come from a strict roleplaying background and need to relearn how to just play in a freeform way. Ashi thought that having that structure was okay, saying:

    I don’t think it reflects some gamer disease or whatever. Games automatically cancel a lot of communicative implicatures. Arguably, canceling even implicatures that aren’t normally cancelable. Though that might actually be the purview of role-playing games, exclusively. …And now, thinking of the pattern [how the game is structured in paragraphs], I wonder about how much it emerges from concerns over how and whether the other person will respond… As in, to make it clear you’re responding to everything, you explicitly reference each paragraph.

Her latter concern there might be accurate. When I write letters to people I care about, especially if I’m persuing a potential relationship with them, I tend to be overly dilligent in responding to every point of every letter they send me. I guess I assumed this was fairly common, but I may be way off the mark here. Perhaps it would be better to allow more freedom in choosing how to respond, to better reflect the multiplicity of letter writing styles out there. If the letter structure is supposed to feel natural, basing it on my own letter writing tendencies may not be the best idea.

In any case, my thoughts on this continue to develop, so comments and suggestions are welcome.