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Title: Realitycraft: an RPG Rulesmithing Game
Author: Samara Hayley Steele
Language: RPG Code / Development Practice
Year/s of development: 2018-2019
About: A number of analog RPGs may be thought of as code that runs on humans. The goal of this project is to create an environment in which players/users co-create analog code and run it.
Warm up (3-5 min): "Hello everyone! I would like to invite you all to play a rulesmithing game." Go around the room and give each player 2 sticky notes, 1 notecard, and distribute pencils. "First I would like you all to write a gender neutral noun on your notecard. It can be any noun, just be sure to pick one that is gender neutral." Once they have thought up and written down their gender neutral nouns, ask them to write the same noun on one of their sticky notes. Next, ask them to use their remaining sticky note to draw a room. "It can be any room. Any type of room that you might find in a building. A kitchen or a bathroom or a library or a lobby. Any type of room is okay." Give them a minute or so to draw their rooms. Now, ask them to walk around whatever space you are in, and have them place their room somewhere. Some of them might put their room on a wall. Others might put it on a the floor. Everywhere is okay. Next, ask them all to hand you their notecards. (The notecards should by now each have a gender neutral-noun written on them.) Now, ask them to place the remaining sticky note (which should have the same noun on it) on their chests. Rulesmithing (4 min): Break everyone into 2-3 groups of roughly the same size Take your Random Objects (for example, a drum, a pair of sunglasses, a pile of felt scrapes) and place them on the ground. Be sure there's about 4 strides of space between each pile. Assign each group to one of the piles. "Your job, as a group is to figure out what this thing, or pile of things, does. For example, maybe when I touch this drum, it lets me fly. Or makes me invisible. Or... you get the idea." Have them work together to figure out what their group's object (or pile) does. Be sure to give them a 1-minute warning to wrap up. Teaching Each Other the Rules (5 min): "All right. We're going to teach each other the rules we've just made." Have each group demo their rule to the rest of the group. Then, have everyone in the group try try the rule out. Make sure they each actually demonstrate that they get the rule. If they don't seem to be getting it, have the others help them. If a rule seems like it won't get properly distributed, you may choose to step in and modify it. (For example, let's say a group creates a cool rule for a single pair of sunglasses. To make sure that one person doesn't hoard them once the game starts, you can bring out the hourglass and say "A player may only wear the sunglasses for the length of time measured by this hourglass. If you are wearing the sunglasses, be sure to hold hour glass and measure your time. Once the hour glass runs out, you have to put the sunglasses and hour glass on the ground and walk away from them." Once everyone seems to have a good idea of how the rules/objects work, time to start the RPG (roleplaying game). The RPG (7-20 min): "We are going to play a short game, in which we play characters in an alternate universe. Look at the sticky note on your chest: that is your character's name. "We are in a place called "The Institution." It is a very big place. Remember that room you drew earlier? That room is part of the Institution. And your character is the leading expert about that room." "In a few minutes, we are going to get into character, and when I call your character's name, it will be their turn to guide everyone to their room and to tell them about it." "In the mean time, all the rules we have just created with these objects will be in effect. Be sure to help each other if someone has forgotten how the rules work." "Also, sometimes you'll hear me speak as a voice from the PA system. "testing, testing"" "Everyone, look down at the sticky now on your chest. That is your character's name." Time to start the game: "And now we're going to become our characters. Please get into character." Use your PA voice to start the game. "Welcome to the Instution. Today you will all be giving each other tours of your rooms." Grab a random note card from your pile ad read the name. "[Name] will be offering the first room tour." As they go, be sure they are using the rules they've created. It's okay if the tour is constantly being interrupted and derailed, as long as they are engaging with the rules they've designed. Every few minutes, depending on how much time you have, use your "PA system voice" to call upon a new person over to guide everyone to their room and give a tour. --Optional: Enter the Rule Enforcers (5-10 minutes)-- One they've gotten into a flow of using the rules, pause the game. Ask: "Who feels pretty confident that you understand how the rules work?" (show of hands) The first 2-7 hands that go up, give them a black mask. "Everyone who has a black mask on is now a Rule Enforcer. Your job is to scan the room and make sure that everyone else is following the rules properly." "Alright everyone, we are going to go back to playing. The next tour should be given by..." When it is time for the game to end, use your "PA announcer voice" to make some sort of statement. Perhaps, something darkly funny like: "It is now time for the Institution to close. You have all done very well today. Please relocate to your transport methods and vacate the premises or you will be vaporized by security. Repeat: Please relocate to your transport methods and vacate the premises or you will be vaporized by security." Debrief (5-7 min): "All right everyone! The game is officially over. I need everyone to help out with clean up!" Remind everyone we are out-of-character now. Ask everyone to help put the Random objects away and game items away. Once the space has been restored to its normal/clean form, circle up for a short debrief.
Follow-up writing prompt:
Today we created a set of social rules around a bunch of random objects. But in the "real world," objects are also used as the center pieces for a set of social rules. What's the different between the game we played today, and those social rules in the "real world"? Could we call those real world rules "a game"? Why or why not? What kinds of experiences have you had based on "real world" objects like these? Were they good experiences? Why or why not?
I have now performed “Realitycraft: an RGP Rulesmithing Game” twice, as part of mini-conferences for the UC Davis Performance Studies Department in Dec 2019, and as part of a workshop in late 2018.
My goal with this piece is to simultaneously offer a demonstration of what I call “RPG rulesmithing” or the act of creating intradiegetic objects, while also providing a demonstration of some basic tenants of the RPG medium. With this piece, I also aim to offer a material intervention into the normalization of reified economy, gender, race, and other "non-fiction" diegetic systems that, at times, find themselves congealed into material objects. Rulesmithing, and the adjacent theory of intradiegetic objects, draws upon and modifies certain theoretical investments of Judith Butler, Louis Althusser, J.K. Gibson-Graham, and Gerard Genette.
Rulesmithing, as method, aims to engender fluency in the co-creation of the mutually agreed upon conditions of narrative reality. This mode of fluency I see as liberatory as it allows a re-enchantment of materialities that had previously been subjected to enclosure. This is to say, the ultimate goal of this piece is to facilitate an environment in which participants are engaging in behaviors that might productively be compared to the craft of law, gender, race, and capital while likewise maintaining a focus upon the act of crafting, rather than allowing craft to be invisiblized.
Also, as a feature of this piece, I avoid evoking terms pertaining to specific sets of systematized asymmetrical power relations (capital, gender, race, etc) until the discussion after the piece has been performed. This is because these terms and concepts have been heavily politicized (by virtue of the very asymmetrical power relations that allows their reification to maintains veridicality) and thus may trigger feelings from lived power-relations that, if evoked, may lead participants to foreclose upon engaging with the piece before it begins.
Photographic Documentation (from Nov. 22, 2019 run):