Jeff's World of Game Design

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We're fighting for our rights militantly

Jeff Warrender
United States
Averill Park
New York
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I watched Suffragette last weekend. As movies go, it was perfectly good. Well-cast, well-written, and good performances from the principal cast (and of course, of course, they cast Meryl Streep as Emmeline Pankhurst), a good film for 2019. But I have to admit it was weird to watch it in mid-2020 in the midst of the turmoil in America's cities, and I'm not entirely sure whether I agree with the suffragettes' methods and thus I don't know if I find the film's protagonists sympathetic or not. Yes, yes, in the end they got the vote as they should have but I'm not a consequentialist so I don't think that entirely smooths over the difficulties of the story. But more importantly I can't decide whether the film itself sees them as difficulties.

I mentioned to Dan in response to one of his reviews a game that a friend used to bring to Spielbany. I think it's been abandoned so I think it's ok to talk about it. It was a co-op, in which we are monks in an abbey making illuminated manuscripts, when suddenly we face an invasion from northmen. There are two victory conditions, completing a certain number of manuscripts or converting a certain number of northmen, but these goals mostly require separate actions. I've previously argued that most co-ops are actually "co-ords", but here was a game that was not, because to be able to win we had to get on the same page about what exactly we were trying to do: preserve our tradition or go out and convert the lost? The game's central dilemma supported its message/central idea so well, which made it really a lovely game to play, in theory at least (it was a proto, so of course had some issues).

But thinking about the Suffragettes gives me a thought that riffs off of this, for an entirely different kind of game than I think the world has seen: a co-op where the team wins by accomplishing a single shared goal, but where we have entirely different methods of contributing to that goal, that are fundamentally incompatible. Thus we can't merely coordinate our actions, we have to argue about how the things you're doing are disrupting the things I'm trying to do and vice versa.

Examples of this abound. The Suffragettes of course, but also MLK Jr/Malcolm X, or the Irish fight for liberation, or Prof. X/Magneto. One of us favors violent methods, one of us favors peaceful methods, how do we achieve our shared goal when our methods are so misaligned? If your blowing up the church reduces ecclesiastical support for our cause, how am I supposed to lean on the credibility of the church for the protest march I'm planning if they won't show up now?

I think it's a weird game where there's a shared goal, it's possible for one player to lose, but it's not a competitive game per se: i.e. you're not actively trying to make the other player lose, because they're not your opponent after all. Or are they? If they keep messing up your operations, well, they aren't exactly your ally either.

How does a game like this work? At its simplest level, the dilemma probably revolves around the two "currencies", notoriety and support. We have to do things to get attention for the cause, but ultimately we also have to build support for the cause so that it prevails in the end. So the two seats are on different sides of the argument as to where best to situate the fulcrum that balances between garnering attention and garnering support.

I am not sure whether to make a game like this explicitly historical -- in which case it's probably a card driven game a la Quartermaster General or Twilight Struggle -- or to keep it strictly in the realm of fiction a la The Resistance. The advantage of the former is that it will deliver more of a gut punch; the latter, that it will leave your gut unpunched. I'm not sure whether one wants a punch to the gut or not. I suppose it may depend on which side's methods one approves of!
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