Wednesday, October 9, 2013

When do you need a game system to support your play?

A short while ago I read a forum post where someone claimed the game 3:16 did not work for them. I played it a few times and thought it worked fine. I searched out an episode of the Walking Eye podcast to compare, since they often have interesting things to say about games they've played.

Interestingly enough, on the podcast there was a player who did not feel the game "clicked" for them. The question came up whether the theme of the game was satire, and if it was reinforced by the system of the game. Considering you don't count hits in that game, but kills, I think it's pretty obvious. But, there are some subtle things in there I felt like talking more about in this space.

In the game you have a flashback mechanic. Using that you can take narrative control, and define the psychology of your trooper. This is where the game enters the "hippie game" territory. But, here's the interesting part. Using the flashback you can fail and succeed on your terms, but it does not force you to adhere to the theme. In fact, it's only the last flashback that's mandated, as Hatred for Home. Basically, there is an endgame and there is a setup. The latter picture mindless carnage and the former suggests moral doubt and satire after turning military glory into genocide. What is interesting is that up until that point, you can play it however you like. There's nothing forcing you down the path of satire. Sure, there is that end, but it's fairly open to interpretation and you get to choose the seriousness of it.

Some people like to point out that even though D&D basically only has rules for combat, it's not really about combat. I'm not going to get involved in that discussion, but I want to compare that situation to 3:16. In that game you have a setup which is all about killing. Your game system only involves itself with killing, and that which some consider its core, the flashback system, does not force the issue of the theme. Just like in the case of D&D, it's more about System than system. System with a capital S is the sum of what happens around the table, not just the rules in the book. I think 3:16 is a very subtle design, in that it rather tries to give you a playground and let's you discover its social mechanics than putting it into text.

Killing bugs and going into genocidal frenzy is something that can affect you, not only your character. This is something which I've also found happens in Dogs in the Vineyard. At least for me it does. When I first played it, I started thinking about how I felt about the events my character encountered. If you let that inform your character's actions is of course up to your individual play style, but I found it both challenging and refreshing. 3:16 is a game that works the same way.

If you don't feel a bit repulsed by your trooper's mindless killing you I don't say you are playing it wrong, but if you do get that effect it sure is a memorable one!
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