Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Confessions of a MegaGame Control - Knowing when to say no

This is part of a series of reflective posts I am writing about my experience as a Game Control in a Megagame*.

Knowing when to say no

This incident demonstrates the problems that can arise when a Game Control is making ad-hoc decisions and loses sight of the the larger picture. 

It is also an illustration of how Game Control will err on the side of caution especially when a player's actions will kill, kidnap or disable another player's character directly. Unless of course it is all part of the plan. I know this because I was once subjected to an attempted poisoning and then later successfully assassinated in a megagame, and this was well within the game designer's expectations.

Survivalists and the Feds

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Three of the Survivalist Militia Players.
They don't get on very well. A bunch a freedom or death, gun totting, whiskey swigging backwoods country hicks don't like the Feds. They are to blame for most of the things wrong in the world today and they have a very long proclomation on the web that says so and lists all their grievances.

I had become the de facto control for the survivalist team who were very adept at creating schemes outside the usual game processes.

The plan

Juan, was the leader of the Well Ordered Militia (WOM). He told me that he had been in email and phone conversation with the player playing the Secretary of State. These conversations had been initiated after Juan had managed to attract his attention after he had released his Wanna B3 ransomware virus that nearly took down the nation's banks.

Juan's plan was to get the Secretary of State into a room with one of his men and explode a suicide bomb.

So several alarm bells should be ringing for any experienced Controls.
  1. A player attempting to kill another player - and not really part of the overall story arc of the game designer.
  2. A member of the Well Ordered Militia was willing - according to Juan - to be a suicide bomber.
  3. It would mean organising the movement of two players across many maps to actually meet.
  4. There would be a stand-off which are generally very hard to control and adjudicate.
  5. If successful his little group would probably be squished by the Feds. Thus diverting their resources from the main game effort, counter to the game story arc.
  6. Did his group have the knowledge to setup a suicide vest.

How to deal with difficult, game changing actions

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Madame President and her Cabinet
My attitude is never to say "no, it's impossible". And also rarely say "yes, that's easy, just do it." As Control I want the players to have a good gaming experience. In fact that is the most important reason we work as Control: our priority is the gaming experience of the players. 

My first reaction was to ask why he was going to do this. Juan pointed to his brief which did actually say he was to do all things he could to attack or disrupt the Feds. So it was part of the main story arc.

I then asked how he knew he had a "volunteer" to do the suicide mission. He admitted he had no card or reason, just a hunch one would volunteer. I would not accept this. One real world thing I notice is that right-wing militias seldom select suicide as an operational tactic. I wanted a special event card to allow this - a game rule - to prove he had a volunteer. Juan didn't so he went away for a bit to think about this.

His next plan was that he was going to do it himself. OK! I am not worried about a player exercising agency over their characters. Though I was worried by this radical exercise of player agency.

So then I started pick at the details of making the vest, organising the meeting etc. And eventually I think Juan realised that the suicide thing was not going to work. The Feds would have too much security, his skill base was not sufficient to hack together a suicide vest etc. So Juan then moved to kidnapping instead, a more likely proposition, though still a very difficult one. Juan hammered out his plan. 

At this point I decided I needed to talk to more people.

Talking to others about wizard wheezes is a good thing.

No automatic alt text available.A big part of megagames is ensuring there is good information flow. This is not just the players. In fact the players information flow and blockages are usually well chartered by the designer and mechanisms are in place to enable or disable the flow of game information. The problem is that Control has to flow crucial information between Control. Sometimes this fails - see my post on my failure as a logistics control in a megagame. Controls have to think carefully about ad-hoc decisions. They sometimes affect other parts of the game remote from themselves and sometimes they need to let other Control know something out of the ordinary is going to happen. The Press and Media players often assist this game flow, but they cannot be relied on and of course Control actually knows what really happened. 

So the first person I wanted to talk to was the player playing the Secretary of Defence. It just wanted to confirm he knew about this militia leader and if he knew of a proposed meeting. I spoke to him and checked this.

I couldn't find the Federal Team Control, so I went back to Juan. Luckily I noticed Jim walking past. So I asked if he could hear out this scheme. At this point, I would have probably asked any other Political Control, or Game Control nearby to hear out this plan. I was worried about.

Jim heard out the plan and quickly stopped it. Jim said no it would be unfair for any State based player in the London game to physically meet up with a Federal player. The Federal team players were kept in a separate room in London and were only supposed to interact via email or phone with the 12 other megagames around the world. Just because Juan was in London would be unjust to the other remote games and their players.

At this point I realised I had forgotten about the wider picture. I had gotten so much into the details of the plan that I lost track of the primary concern of the overall game. 

You learn from your mistakes

I put this example up here as a lesson. If in doubt, prioritise the requirements of the larger game over the concerns of one player. Do it tactfully, but do it and be prepared to explain why.

In my defence I think I was distracted by the many difficult things in this plan. I was very sure it was going to fail, and only clever thinking and a big dollop of luck would successfully implment the plan. So I got involved in the detail in an attempt to dissuade the player. Maybe I should have said "it's not very likely to succeed for these reasons" earlier.


*Urban Nightmare: State of Chaos 

I recently was a Control in a Wide Area Megagame. I would suggest that those who do not know what a Megagame is visit this site - What is a Megagame?

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