Election Year

Or: My self-centred musings on the Exodus II game and my reaction to reward systems. You can easily skip this entry if you’re not into RPGs. Or

Did I mention that in the season finale of ‘s Exodus II game, my character Supriya Sumitran pounced on a proposed referendum on the departure question (“Should the Exodus II stay in-system or launch its interstellar journey as planned?”) to ram in some democratization. We’re currently led by the Reformed Catholic Church with a pope and a council of three cardinals, but Pope Optimus I is in a coma after his shuttle was damaged in a terrorist attack. It should make for some interesting waves in the story, enough that we’re now talking about having a two-parter mini-series this summer, or something like that. Possibly an on-line games on Skype later, who knows.

I’m very interested in the overall Exodus II story in general and the election plot in particular. I was very pleased with having pushed the story in a new direction. I’m also pleased that other people are responding well and that the game will (hopefully) continue past this episode. The shared story is really a lot of fun; everyone is GM a little bit. It has drawbacks too; we have one guy from the club who’d like to join but seems unwilling or unable to listen to what we’re telling him about the direction of the game. The characters he keeps proposing are hard to take seriously, I think he may be envisioning a more comical or cartoony sci-fi setting. I think it’s likely we’ll stick to the current group.

Johnzo’s very interested about finding or creating game mechanics to support the election process, mimic the ebb and flow of public opinion, that sort of thing. Me, I’m excited about the story action but “Meh” about mechanics. I know it’s gospel in some of the newer game design circles that mechanics have to actively support whatever the heck you’re trying to do in-game, but I really don’t care much for them. It’s curious, because I certainly do think that “system matters” and I’m pretty picky about systems I enjoy these days, but I really don’t care for having dedicated subsystems, little bits of rolls and rules and chips to track a vast process. Nevertheless, if they’re reasonably “ignorable”, it’s OK with me to have them if it makes the game more enjoyable for other people.

Come to think of it, I wonder if I have a certain averse reaction to carrot-and-stick systems. Earlier this week on our game club list I was debriefing on the latest episode and at the end, commenting:

And now, I will confess one personal bit of disappointment. I was a little downcast that I wasn’t generating hero points even when I was trying to bite into the story. Perhaps I held back too much because I was taking too much time writing notes. Perhaps I’m just not integrating the premise of the reward system into the way I play. Or perhaps I’m not as creative as the other players, since we really have a sterling group (somebody has to be the class dunce!) :-\

In the game, we experimented with different ways of allocating Hero Points. First, we got them for creating complications, but one side effect was that everybody was rewarded for becoming “part of the problem”, not the solution. So we also gave them for receiving/not vetoing a complication; then for bringing in some hanging plot threads or issues that were languishing (the list changed as the story advanced.) I received very, very few HPs in the entire game. Thinking back today and following up on the post I quote above, I’m wondering if I’m not un-inspired by blatant reward mechanics of the If-you-do-this-then-you-receive-this-benefit kind. I love character growth and advancement, but I have an aversion to Pavlovian reward systems.

For example, at work I love doing good work and receiving recognition for it, but incentive plans where if you do achieve X you receive Y dollars raise my hackles. And way back in high school and junior college, even though I spent my time reading everything I could get my hands on, it seemed the surest way to stop me mid-book was to give me the very same book as a reading assignment. I just hate playing the dancing monkey on command.

So I think that having to respond to directive push-pull reward systems cuts the blood circulation to my brain. It’s like the inspiration switch is turned off. Similarly, some people thrive on resource management games; they leave me cold.

Am I going anywhere with this? Not really, hence the cut to spare LJ friends. It was just a sudden realization about the way my brain works (or doesn’t), and why I had the results I was musing on a few days ago. :-\

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