Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Bad writing and a personal style in game book writing

A while ago, my oldest FLGS shut down. It was sad to see them go, but at least I got a few good deals from the shutdown sale. One of the books I bought was the WoD game Hunter. I got it for a song, which was as much as I was prepared to give. Conspiracy and horror are two themes I'd like to incorporate in my gaming, and Hunter was for me an attempt to do something remotely interesting in the moribund World of Darkness. Reading it I discovered something about the medium of game books, the text, and its qualities or lack thereof.

To put it simple, I felt the text in Hunter was badly written. Being on a conspiracy/horror trip, I also re-read some of Unknown Armies, and realized how amazingly well written that game is. It made me think of the voice of the author.

For those of you who have not read UA, I can only say that this is the game that made me scared. It didn't tell me how to run a scary conspiracy-horror game, it made me cringe. Very good stuff. Now, if you like your game to be unpersonal, and just a textbook, you will hate it. It's a game where the voice of the author is very clear.

Contrast that with DragonQuest. It's very matter of fact, even dry, and with the SPI case system it feels methodical to the point of being absurd. It's very precise, but maybe not that engaging. I think this is the style that most gamers prefer, especially in the old school camp.

Hunter was, for the lack of a better way of putting it, waffling. Many things are said over and over again. It lacks some focus and feels more like it's trying to describe a feel than either trying to evoke it or help you evoke it.

So, how do you want your game?

I know that for some people the idea of a narrative voice in a game is the first step towards the kind of game where Story is king and player initiative is stifled.

On the other hand there are indie games where the designer is very clearly present in the text and at the same time it's clear that the game is yours now, and otherwise it wouldn't work.

Reading Unknown Armies I'm beginning to feel that a strong voice in a game both helps me get excited about running the game, and it helps me connect to the rules and their intent. Slipping into the first mode of heavy handed attitude is bad writing. Maybe gamers who hate, say, White Wolf games would actually like it if bad writing weren't so common.

I'd love for more games to be like Unknown Armies, creeping me out and making me dying to give that game a spin and creep out my players.

Still, I think I will try to slog through Hunter and make something out of it, because there are good ideas buried in there.
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