I brought three games to METATOPIA, and played two. Let's talk about those.
I Played... You're a Fucking Butterfly
After my New Metatopia Attendees panel, quite a few of us made our way to join a game-in-progress, making You're a Fucking Butterfly the first game I played at METATOPIA. There I met the masterful Tim Hutchins, who is awesome, and got to play his game about badass butterflies throwing shade at eachother and hanging out with very complimentary flowers. This was a delightfully hilarious game to play, and I found the whole setup and game to be incredibly clever. It was at once both a freeform LARP as well as a social deduction game to find your butt-kickin' butterfly mate.
What I Learned:
- Tim Hutchins is awesome. Tim and I crossed paths several times during the convention and I totally dig his stuff.
- Workshops. Maaaaan, workshops. I really like workshops as part of any games that has LARP components, and Tim really knows his stuff when putting these together. Seeing the substantial number of workshops before play gave me a lot to think about for Gather and Uncanny Valley.
I Played... The Line
The only game I actually signed up for was Jason Morningstar's The Line. I originally fell in love with The Line because I saw it as the LARP version of Papers, Please which is one of my favorite digital indie games. Jason did something brilliantly interesting at METATOPIA, in that the first full hour of our game he spent talking about the design of the game and what was incorporated with the game from a mechanical standpoint. He was very well-spoken about what the game was trying to do and the true themes of the game that he was trying to get across. While I initially saw themes indicative of Papers, Please, The Line had much more impactful source material - the Syrian refugee crisis.
In the game, the bulk of the player base were applying for asylum off-world as their world was crumbling into dangerous chaos. Jason and a friend of his played immigration officers processing our paperwork and choosing who could leave, and who had to stay behind - unable to try again for a full year.
It was a pressure cooker LARP full of tension, and the mechanics behind Jason's game amplified this really well.
What I Learned:
- Jason Morningstar is awesome. He writes incredibly games and is super friendly. I'm glad I got to meet him!
- Hands down the most valuable thing I learned from Jason was how to give a game introduction. It seems like a small thing, but knowing how to preface your game, especially at a convention like METATOPIA I learned was really important. Things like talking about the themes in the game, laying out safety right at the beginning, and laying out exactly what you're looking for in regards to feedback. Hearing Jason give his intro to The Line is something that I found myself mimicking all weekend and that wound up being very effective.
I Ran... Uncanny Valley
Uncanny Valley, for those of you who have checked out the external playtest document is a... tricky game. It deals with some heavy themes and problematic content. I ran three separate games of Uncanny Valley because I felt it needed the most exposure, and this game went through some MASSIVE changes as a result.
- One of the most significant changes in the game was to the character Cam. Cam was a relatively minor character initially and over the course of the playtests I found myself wanting Cam to have a more active role more and more. So, the character of Cam was subject to massive changes in scope and design.
- The largest change in the game was the incorperation of a physical police report. One thing that I have found over and over is that to get emotions high in any game, allowing there to be some sort of physical object to attach those emotions to is incredibly important. Introducing an actual physical report that needed to be signed by all parties in order for the game to end was suggested by my very first playtest group. Suddenly, the entire game was this report, and it gave the game the foundation I didn't even know it needed.
I Ran... To Serve Her Wintry Hunger
I ran To Serve twice. This game has seen the most playtests, and I was probably the most confident and happy with it. I chose To Serve as my high-test game, though I only wound up having a single designer in the session.
The hi-test was an emotionally tough run of the game. There were a TON of questions that created play-stoppage, and we uncovered a lot of problems with the poetry of the game that made it hard to understand or to play. It was emotionally draining, but again, a positive experience overall.
- The largest change made for To Serve was how questions were written. While it's a beautiful game to read, the way questions were formatted often took very different forms, with some open-ended questions, some leading questions, and some multiple choice questions. I am going to revisit this game heavily with edits to the questions to both make this more clear and to limit the possibility of players over-reaching with narrative and potentially screwing up the flow of the story.
I Ran... Gather
Or what will potentially be called "The Speak of Gathers" sometime in the future. Gather was a very interesting experience for me because it was the most divisive of the playtests I ran. Discussion about ways to improve the game got headed very quickly (I even needed to use the X-card on FEEDBACK, but I was very happy to have the tool present so I could do so) and between the two groups I ran the game for, the first had a ton of amazing and critical feedback, while the second had virtually nothing critical to say and all loved the game passionately exactly as it was. It was definitely an interesting experience, and I imagine that I will wind up making several changes to the game before it goes any further, but I was so thrilled by the passionate reactions to Gather that this will almost certainly be my main project going forward. I think it's scope is much larger than the micro-game I'd originally intended, and that this is a game that needs to be made.
- I see several changes coming for Gather. Will they be permanent changes? That I'm not sure of, and I believe other playtesting will be required. However one change I know that will be happening is a changing of language. While I knew some of the language might be problematic, my playtesters helped me settle this in my head. Going forward, this will not be a game about a Gather of Tribes, but instead about a Speak of Gathers. I really enjoy Gather as a term for a grouping of people because it allows for an incredible amount of flexibility in what form exactly you take.
- I will be incorporating more setting material at the beginning, including the laws of the Gather, and incredibly basic framework. This will keep things from going too far off the rails.
- I will incorporate a mini practice-workshop at the beginning for the process of the game to be more clear.
- There will absolutely be a playset for this game about nests of mice meeting, and it will be called the Squeak of Mischiefs and it will be amazing.
The Big Change: Accessibility
One of the biggest themes of METATOPIA for me this year, and my biggest lesson, was accessibility. While I have been taking to heart lessons about diversity and inclusion, something I intend to make big changes about going forward, I had some great conversations this weekend and afterwards about accessibility in gaming.
Kate Bullock (pretty awesome designer and person who's Patreon you should go support) and I had a good conversation about accessibility after the convention, and one of my biggest takeaways is this: my games will almost always have accessibility issues. It is the sad fact of any game, especially those in the indie sphere who have the freedom to try experimental and out-there ideas. Anytime you move deeper into the unique and experimental and weird, you're going to make games that have these issues, and exponentially so. And here I am making wacky and weird games, so how do I make this work?
Going forward, my primary goal is to not let accessibility be forgotten. I recognize that games, especially mine, are often made to do very specific things, approach very specific topics, evoke very specific emotions, and may require inaccessible means to do so. This is unfortunate, but what is truly a tragic loss here is when these issues aren't even addressed, are glossed over, or are forgotten. In every single one of my games going forward I want to address accessibility. My intent is to create a living page on my website for every game I make to address accessibility issues and provide workarounds. I also intend to hire accessibility consultants to help me work out potential accessibility pitfalls I may not be aware of to ensure that these are addressed as much as possible prior to the game being released to ensure that we have as many robust solutions to these issues on the game's accessibility page as we can.
I know this doesn't fix the problem, and I know that this is a big leap from making games that are accessible to everyone, but I hope that this can be a significant step toward having accessibility solutions for the games I make and trying to address these issues as best I can so that gamers who do struggle or tackle hurdles on a daily basis will find support for my games and suggestions for possible entryways to get into the stuff I'm making.
Anyways, thanks for reading my METATOPIA roundup. This convention was wild and I was deeply happy to be involved. This will be a convention I'll be attending every year, that's for certain. Hopefully I'll see you at the next one!