Transneptune Games

warm games, cold nights

Consensus and Condescension

Last night was a fruitful night for Et in Arcadia Ego. We’ve been talking a lot about feminism, sexism, privilege, and judging the past by modern standards. All of this is, of course, of immense importance to any game trying to put itself in a period of immensely inequitable gendering and even worse class divides. But the key thing that I want to talk about right now is what this brought us to, in terms of game mechanics.

We were talking about Deborah Tannen’s characterization of feminine discourse as being primarily about rapport (which she contrasts with masculine discourse’s use of report), and this in turn led to some discussion and thinking about Chris Chinn’s great recent post on rule efficiency. The salient detail from Chris’s post is this:

The most efficient rule is “I say this happens and it happens” and every other rule in play has to give us something worthwhile to be worth more work than that.

In a Tannen-style analysis, this ur-rule is very masculine, but there’s an implicit detail Chris doesn’t mention that brings in some more rapport: it’s not just “I say this happens and it happens”, it’s really “I say this happens, you all agree, and it happens”.

So what does that mean for systems in Arcadia? At its core, Arcadia is necessarily a feminine game (one of many reasons I’m not really the right person to write it!) So, I want to see if I can move away from a conflict model—one character’s will against another—and towards a consensus model—a character’s ability to influence an outcome is predicated on their engaging and participating in the sharing of experience around it.

The system we’re using is based off of trick-taking games. In its simplest form, players can follow suit to get the right to contribute to the description of the aftermath, but by following suit, they must in some substantive sense agree with the premise put forth by the person who began the trick.

We played it through tonight, and it worked. It’s doing just what I hoped, encouraging a certain kind of politeness and a certain kind of “as I’m sure you’ll agree, Mr. Hopkins” barbed comment. Because, ultimately, this is about more than feminine discourse: it’s about a society which exists “in an atmosphere of faint implications and pale delicacies”,1 where everything continues to function only by the consensus of all involved—but a consensus upheld by the fear of what lies outside society’s delicate bounds.

What does lie outside those bounds? Fairy.

  1. The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton, chapter 2. []