Friday, January 31, 2014

An Engine of Joy

This morning, I got an absolutely delightful little piece of news from Google+. Someone out there on the internet posted about World Gone Mad, and they loved it!

World Gone Mad is my zombie apocalypse hack of Apocalypse World/Dungeon World. I wrote it almost a year ago, when I was madly in love with the whole Apocalypse Engine. I wrote, from the ground up, about a dozen different playbooks that riffed on the zombie survival-horror genre. Then I wrote a bunch of custom moves covering the most prolific actions of a zombie apocalypse, like using shotguns and constructing safehouses. Delusions of grandeur filling my head, I even wrote up a miniature player's handbook and gamemaster (ahem, zombie master's) guide with some of that basic "welcome to RPGs" stuff that most of us hobbyists skip on the way to the rules for character creation. I even stole some art from the internet and splashed it in there!

I learned some very valuable lessons in the process of putting together that hack. Mainly, I learned that I am NOT interested in game design. At ALL. It's hard work. I found myself obsessing over every tiny little detail. I constantly had to stretch my mind to think outside of myself and my own little limited box of experience, because I wanted to create a true, honest-to-zombies RPG that anyone interested in could play. My head was spinning with game design philosophy questions like "is this in the spirit of the game?" "Does this mechanic integrate right with the genre?" Even basic stuff like "Will this be fun?" The entire document, I believe, ended up at about 60 pages, and I had easily three times that in discarded ideas and false starts.

And, girlfriend, don't even get me started on interacting with the community. I made the dreadful mistake of not once, but several times, posting on message boards/social media outlets my ideas. I could practically feel the doubt being poured down my throat as some people suggested "better" ideas, or pointed out problems, legitimate or imagined, with mine. At one point, somebody I hold in very, very high regard in this space even directly questioned one of my game design decisions. That practically broke my spirit to finish the game. But I limped to the finish line.

But when that random someone on the internet posted about my game with such flattering praise, I have to admit, that felt good. In that moment, I understood, for just a fracion of a second perhaps, what it must feel like when those rockstar RPG designers I admire so much hear about how their game works, and the product of their blood, sweat, and tears becomes an engine of joy for so many. That's an awesome feeling. And that was brought on by just a single person saying "we played Ed Gibbs' World Gone Mad last night." No wonder so many people are making RPGs all the time, despite the hard, thankless work involved. I had gone cold to World Gone Mad for many months now, but when I read that little status update, I spent the entire morning pouring over every page that I had written for that game and re-read it all, fixing typos and re-wording stuff that I was too lazy to fix on the last pass.

All feelings of euphoria aside, my stance hasn't changed at all. I am a "career" GM, content to spend my days running games others create, instead of creating my own. But for just a moment today, I got to see another side of the hobby, and it was pretty damn cool.

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