ars ludi

if you asked Ben's brain about gaming, this is what it would say

Microscope After School

I met Dylan at PAX. He asked me about using Microscope with kids and I made him promise to tell me how it went. Good to his word, Dylan gave me a full report and then kindly agreed to let me share it:

I work as a Programmer and sometimes assistant at a after school child care facility that runs throughout my town at almost every elementary school. In my position I am in charge of making sure that kids go home safe first and foremost but also that for the 4 hours that they are there, that they enjoy their time. Some of the kids I work with come to the program 5 days a week and you can imagine that coming up with something new every single day is hard which is where a game like microscope came in handy.

There are many kids from different backgrounds and situations that I can not disclose but let’s just say there are some pretty crazy things I deal with on a weekly basis.

I work with a ton of kids everyday and coming up with something new all of the time can be a very challenging thing to do. I ended up purchasing your game as it seemed the best option to introduce kids into a creative story atmosphere…

I have played the game quite a few times with kids at several different school with kids ranging from ages 5-12. However, most kids are ages 6-9. During the beginning of the game newcomers first have a hard time understanding what I means to be “vague” in their descriptions of events which occur. Most kids want to delve in right away and say “The aliens come down blow up everything then make a space station and then Minecraft creepers come in and Pokemon and then…..and then….and then” you get the picture. Once they get past that phase and they understand how the game flows they get really into it. It is a great game to have a structure to their imagination so that they have something to ground it to.

At one school a group of us try to play once a week and we continue the same story and just let it see where it goes; right now we are on chapter 5. Kids have created drawings of the characters which they have created and have a sense of entitlement on that which is theirs in the game. We changed a couple things so as to avoid conflict. All of these kids come from the same school and not all of them are friends, sadly some are mortal enemies :C. We made so that players can not get rid of other players characters so that no fights happen. Only the person who created a character can get rid of them or if they say others can then it is okay.

The verdict?

[I] can honestly say that microscope is a positive tool that I will use not only for fun but for education as well as a tool to be able to ground kids to their world when they might be upset.

The Adventures of Meteor Man

The RPG Gamer Dad podcast talks with James Torrance about Microscope:

RPG Gamer Dad: The Astounding Adventures of Meteor Man

And yes, the eponymous Meteor Man segment right before the Microscope part has nothing to do with Microscope, but it’s awesome so you should give it a listen.

“I asked the other 13 yr old what he liked best? Freedom.”

If you guessed that I simply could not get enough tales of kids playing Microscope, you would be right. Here are Ryan and his friend Duncan rocking the Anipocalypse while Ryan’s sister schemes and watches…

anipocalypse-table

Having trouble visualizing Aquacology, the underwater city-state that the dolphins ultimately wipe out? No problem. Ryan has you covered:

anipocalypse-city

And yes, those kids played three sessions of Microscope and then capped it with a Kingdom game to explore part of that same world. All you one-session Microscopers, hang your head in shame…

Kudos to Black Moon Games in Lebanon, NH for giving kids a place to be awesome. And of course a huge thanks to Justin Berman for bringing a new generation of gamers into the world.

The Coaster Double-Dares You

A long, long time ago when I was taking Psych courses, I got the idea drilled into me that subjects must voluntarily and willingly take part in your studies. You must get consent. Which, as an experimental psychologist, is a bummer, because you can learn all sorts of exciting things if you pounce on people at unawares and subject them to your intricate and nefarious mind games. But despite how productive it is, it’s totally unethical, because maybe they just wanted to go to the grocery store and buy some milk, not be lured into your staged mugging to test “bystander intervention” and “diffusion of responsibility”.

I play games with strangers all the time. Lots and lots of strangers. Playing with people you don’t know adds a whole realm of issues, even more so in games where the personal stakes are higher, like story games that ask you to contribute creatively and cooperate (compared to something like Chess where the players don’t even have to speak or look at each other).

Now imagine playing a game with strangers, except the strangers don’t know they are playing. That’s the idea behind SpeakEasy, a new pub game now on Kickstarter.

Fascinating? Disturbing? Risky? Unethical? Maybe all of the above? Could be. But that doesn’t mean it’s not an interesting design space to explore. And the people I’ve seen play it have definitely had fun. Take a look and decide for yourself:

Full disclosure: I’m a friend of Jerome, one of the creators of the game. You may recognize him from our Salem Fiasco game or hosting meetups at Story Games Seattle.

Fleeing From Goblins, West Marches-style

In Ben’s original West Marches campaign, he arranged the adventure-filled regions of his wilderness in order of challenge, more or less. The further you were from town, the more likely you were to be in an extremely dangerous place…

Ben tells an anecdote about his players fleeing from goblins for days, ultimately having to run so far they fled into a vermin-filled swamp. He also talks about the barrow wights in the otherwise pleasant Wil Wood – dangerous, but easily avoided, an in fact not that easy to find.

These got me thinking about non-mechanical difficulty levels for monstrous threats in general.

Some very cool ideas from Michael Prescott about determining a monster’s challenge by its behaviors, like how much they’ll pursue, how organized they are, etc. I think it has a ton of potential. Check it out.

“Bring me the finest gamers in town! Bring them on a platter!”

Meaty, behind-the-scenes documentary examining how our dark and epic Salem Fiasco game was translated into a movie, The Devil Walks in Salem:

[ direct link ]

Tons of fantastic moments with Caroline Hobbs, Jerome Virnich and Pat Kemp talking about our session and story games in general. Some great examination of the wheels-within-wheels that make a game go. Oh, and I talk a bunch too.

Thanks to Elke Hautala for putting the documentary together and Peter Adkison, the man with the plan, for making the whole Salem project happen!