Thursday, 15 July 2021

Let's Play - 4 Vignettes and a bad poem

This is an informal essay — more a collection of notes, really — which represents an attempt to jot down some thoughts I've had since listening to (and occasionally participating in) discussions on discord, anchor and twitter about general RPG "theory" (scare quotes mine).

Apologies for those, by the way. The scare quotes. I can get defensive when I see attempts to intellectualise the hobby, mostly due to my an ambiguous relationship with design theory. This isn't a boast, it's a confession: part of me is and always will be passive-aggressively anti-intellectual, while another part craves the validation of the labyrinths of Hod. Both these aspects of myself shame me, or I shame myself by outing them in public...

But look. We're here now, you're reading, I'm writing and we both may as well persevere. GNS still gets touted around and we really have to move on....


Well, there aren't really any answers here, but I hope the anecdotal vignettes that follow might provide some further thoughts and discussion.  It's also likely to be in two parts: both are inspired by childhood play, but the second part is perhaps more relevant within the context of street culture and children's folklore and I'm more likely to post it at my other blog psychocartography, as I've neglected it for nearly two years now and I think I'd like to resurrect it.

Here's some half-formed thoughts. Bon appétit.

Repetition & Refinement

On a shingle the beach the child challenges the man to a contest: they are each assigned a colour of pebble and must throw as many of their colour into an upturned cup. When the cup is full, it is emptied and the colours counted up. The winner is the one with the most of their colour in the cup.

The child likes this can game because they are good at it and succeed most of the time: the gameplay loop is repetitive, but they are gratified by the steady accumulation of points and (the widening gap in points between the child and the man)

Repetition vs. Variation

Another child joins their older sibling on a trip to the park. The children bring a set of plastic goals with them and a football. They are joined by some other children and a moderately competitive game commences

The younger child find it difficult to compete against the older stronger, faster and more skilful children. Eventually, they leave the game, sulking on the sidelines for a little bit, before becoming distracted by their own imagination.

They only re-join their older sibling when the time comes to pack away. Without any serious time constraints, this ends up turning into a kind of game  —  dictated by the younger child. Hoisting the lightweight goal aloft, the younger child yells instructions and issues edicts while the others attempt to launch the football towards the upheld goal using their hands. The game becomes increasingly complex, before collapsing beneath its own bloat: the children likewise collapsing in fits of laughter.

Let's Pretend [to present an early 90s daytime TV magazine-show presented by a husband and wife team on the brink of divorce]

For the entire duration of a one week holiday to the west country, a group of six cousins play the presenters, crew and guests on imaginary daytime TV show, Marjorie & Malcolm. The pretence is not dropped at any point, infuriating parents who are baffled as to why the children are trying to escape reality when the holiday already represents that: it's the first trip the family  has had in a very long time, why aren't you just enjoying it? 

The children will remember it as possibly the best holiday they ever had.

Both sets of parents divorce within a year.

Construction and Repetition

A parent is excited to purchase a new toy for their young child: a marble maze. It conjures hazy memories a time when they weren't much older than their child, playing in reception class at the local infant school. The box is unpacked, the parts counted, and an elaborate network of towers assembled.

The parent is disappointed. Not only do the parts seem to big and complex for their infant child to manipulate and construct, the toy itself seems rather dull. There are very limited possibilities to be had with the components within this "starter set". Part of them is way too hard on themselves for not appreciating this prior to the purchase.

Yet, to their surprise, later that day the young child is able to assemble their own, very simple marble maze: they are amused and delighted by it in spite of — or because of — its repetitious nature.

Nesia Memoria/Phantasmagoria

they are jingles
snipped passage melody
infectiously simple
oft repeated,
memories of early childhood.
Brightly coloured postcards
i whistle them because they are stuck
i whistle them all day long.
a little boy i try and remember, humming contentedly to himself.
The one they all said was a dream?
i wasn’t napping.
i was playing with my lego bricks.
building a duplo totem of babel,
arching from its ridiculous height
finally collapsing in a rubble mound of primary colours
gleaming in the light
refracting through the nicotine yellow nets.
a ghost is watching.
comes right up to me, hovering over.
until the moment i look up i think its my mother.
falling bricks pass through 
barely tangible feet
this apparition
grey dust death shroud
in an empty terrace
carpeted with dog hair.


I'll record a version of this for the podcast at some point. 

You'll be able to listen to it here (or hereabouts):

The labyrinths of Hod:


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