In This Life

“I’m tired of characters who are just shallow stereotypes…”

We had just finished a delightful session of In This World and were basking in the afterglow. Talk turned to different stripes of gaming, from story games to D&D. Which is when Ace said how tired they were of one-dimensional characters. Characters that were just cardboard cutouts or well-trodden stereotypes instead of digging into what made them who they were. We all agreed that this was indeed a pox upon the house of gaming.

And then Joe said: I wonder if you could use In This World to make more interesting characters?

Naturally I looked at him like he had two heads. Make characters? What? C’mon, this is a *world* building game. It’s right in the title!

But we talked about it and I had to admit, it made sense. Not only did it make sense, it seemed like a surprisingly good fit. My innate game design caution made me want to retreat to my thought-cave and carefully weigh the changes that would be necessary, so I could be sure it would work.

Or, shouted Joe and Ace, we could try it RIGHT NOW.

So yeah, we had just finished one game of In This World, and we turned around and jumped in and started another, hacking together the rules for In This Life…

What Makes A Jock A Jock?

In This World takes a concept and then imagines a world where that idea is different.

But to make interesting people, we didn’t want to change the stereotypes, we wanted to explore how individual people might not fit the stereotypes we expect or project on to them.

So we start with a category of person we want to explore — in our first game it was “jocks” — and then the statements are the things that people expect to be true of that stereotype. For example:

Winning matters
Sports are life
Team is your family
Coach knows best
Play hard, party hard
Studying is for nerds

Classic jock stereotypes, right? And then instead of worlds, you make individual people. A person who doesn’t fit one of the stereotypes we just outlined. Coach knows best, but this jock doesn’t trust their coach. Studying is for nerds, but this jock cares about getting good grades. Winning matters, but this jock doesn’t take it all that seriously. They just enjoy the game.

And then dig deeper, following the same procedure as normal In This World to see how these breaks from expectations affect this person’s life and those around them. You see what happens when someone doesn’t fall into that neat little box.

The result was — just as we hoped — complicated and interesting people. And maybe more importantly, sympathetic people. Each character we created, we cared about, even when they messed up, confronting our own preconceptions about those stereotypes in the process. We would have happily kept playing any of those stories to see what happened next.

It also feels different from normal In This World because you’re inherently exploring a tension that arises from being different, from not fitting in. It’s gripping story soil.

Just Scratching the Surface

The funny thing is that even though I didn’t tell playtesters any of this, *multiple* groups independently came up with the same idea. Not all in exactly the way I described here, but some variation on the concept of characters instead of worlds.

“In This Life” is going in the book as an alternate way to play, because it is just too good not to include. I have… a few other ideas in mind as well, but we’ll see if they’re good enough to make the cut. I’ve said before that In This World says it’s a game where you make worlds, but it’s really a tool to examine assumptions. I think there may be a whole host of ways or places we could use this method that we haven’t even thought of yet.

We’re just scratching the surface.

    Ben Robbins | June 17th, 2023 | , | show comments