So, this is my first RefactorCamp, actually, but it feels like my third. After the first RefactorCamp a Facebook group sprung up for the attendees to continue discussion. At some point in 2012 Venkat added me to the group, and I’ve followed many of the conversations and contributed over the past few years.
At the end of 2012, we had a John Henry vs. the steamshovel competition, where I tried to effectively summarize the topics that had generated the most discussion over the year from memory, and Kartik and Kyle did some algorithmic analyses.
Through 2013, with the periodic addition of new members, I noticed the difficult some had acclimating to the group; most commonly, through items shared that had already generated numerous discussions, and had since formed a kind of condensed conceptual background to present conversations.
In late 2013, then, I tried to start putting together a resource to onboard new members. Simply pulling most recent hot topics didn’t really seem right, especially since some of the most pivotal topics weren’t heavily discussed, simply ‘liked’ profusely in acknowledgement. I experimented with making a wiki, but it felt both too daunting and too dry; too ignorable.
Plus, there wasn’t really a linear set of dependencies in the topics and concepts; this wasn’t a matter of learning addition before multiplication, and in fact some of the ideas seemed trivial until they acquired mass next to adjacent concepts.
So I decided to make a game.
Immediately I knew I’d need to make it a trading card game, Yu-Gi-Oh, Pokemon and Magic: the Gathering being well-known examples.
Since any given game only involves a subset of the total cards, it would be less overwhelming, and since cards had to be built into decks, the cards needed to relate to one another at a conceptual or mechanical level. The fact that cards often provided supplementary rules allowed the possibility of having the cards interpret themselves in how they played in the game.
Zhan asked if I was making my own rules for it as well, but I answered that I’d be poaching the rules for Magic. Why? Primarily because I knew nothing about game development and felt like I could only innovate along one dimension at a time. I’d picked up a few Magic decks with my wife a couple years prior, and got my brother and his wife into the game as well, and so I was familiar with that rules structure, albeit far from a sophisticated player.
Besides its familiarity and readiness-at-hand, Magic also offered something which I felt was absolutely essential: difference.
These are the five colors in Magic. Over the decades, certain types of creatures or gameplay mechanics have been associated with one or another of these colors. But the important thing to me was their separation: if you were playing a blue deck, there were certain tactics in the game which were simply unavailable to you. Even more profound was the concept of each color being “allied” to its neighbors, and “enemies” with the colors opposed to it.
The following graph shows how.
I don’t know if you can read this well. But basically, each color is metaphorically associated with concepts that are then expressed in play. Red’s bias towards impulsive action is then naturally seen as in conflict with White’s insistence upon order, and Blue’s methodical strategy. White’s obsession with fairness is conflicted with Black’s willingness to do *anything* to further its ends.
The combinatorial richness of the color pie allows very different player personalities to make the game their own, and it also gave freedom to me, as the game designer, to present concepts that were in conflict.
For instance, the classic Archilochus split, the Fox and the Hedgehog. The adage reads, “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”
Or Jane Jacob’s two moralities, guardian and commerce. Notice how the guardian is about preserving the status quo; hence the strong defensive number 4 and the relatively weak offensive number 1. When it attacks it rejuvenates. Whereas the trader, first of all it can access things that are otherwise inaccessible with its flying mechanic, it’s relatively weak with a toughness of 1 but it can be a disruptive force with a power of 3.
Red and Green are technically neighboring colors, but if you’ll recall that color pie chart, they had a neighboring half they shared and one they did not. In this case, the conflict is between the implied closeness of Green/White’s natural order being maintained via the Precautionary Principle, and the self-serving amoral action with unknown consequences of the Proactionary Principle.
Magic isn’t the only game to play with this sort of expanded psychographic palette. Dungeons & Dragons’ alignment system is another good example. The Lawful/Neutral/Chaotic axis combines with the Good/neutral/Evil axis to provide, not a straitjacket for players, but more of a compass by which their character could be guided.
Jon Cogburn actually identified the x and y axes as deontological and utilitarian, respectively. Obviously, you cannot summarize someone like FDR purely by way of a D&D alignment, but it gives a compass direction by which you can orient your roleplay experience, including the degrees deviated from “true north”.
The much-critiqued MBTI, if not taken in the strong sense, is a similar sort of orientating schema. For games, the sense-making rubrics need not represent fundamental categories as long as they present what they include and, more importantly, what they don’t include.
So with that said, I’m going to run through a few of the cards in the set, and talk briefly about how they use titles, images, quotes, colors, game mechanics and card types to draw the edges of a network graph representing the memes that have jostled around at past RefactorCamps, on ribbonfarm, and in conversations with many of the people in this room.
The first category of cards represent in a fairly literal, straightforward fashion their subject. Stuxnet “degrades” the mana-producing ability of the land you target, much as the Stuxnet virus degraded the uranium enrichment process in Iran. The Baphoment card, much like the Satanic Temple group on which it is based, is benign by default (power zero), but will cause an enemy’s attack to blow back. The Satanic Temple, you may recall, created a coloring book for distribution in Florida schools, in a bid for equal opportunity with the Christian literature that had been distributed.
Basic Income was tough to get right, in terms of rules text that wasn’t too wordy or horribly broken, but the core concept was always “provide a benefit indiscriminately to all creatures, but lose the benefit when your creatures outstrip your land base, a proxy for the tax base.
More subtly, the Streisand Effect’s image is of the Church of Scientology, rather than Barbara Streisand; as much as possible I wanted to provide multiple, independent examples of the same concept, so that people who were unfamiliar could, with a little effort, triangulate and get the idea.
Fingerspitzengefuhl, a term familiar to the Boydians here, is traditionally used in a military context. But the bizarre sci-fi retro film The FP, with it’s gang battles in the form of Dance Dance Revolution competitions, seemed to be an appropriate visual metaphor for a concept that is otherwise very resistant to static depiction.
Finally, Louis C.K.’s sketch about “my believes” was given a poignant example in the parodic rejoinder to the first Charlie Hebdo issue after the tragedy; Dieudonne, a notoriously anti-Semitic French comedian, was arrested for Facebook posts that the French government saw as “condoning terrorism”.
In some cases, a color was chosen for a card specifically because it would broaden one’s understanding of its plurivalence. White saw the most action with this, as its emphasis on order can lead easily to authoritarianism or to a kind of transcendental rationality. Jihadi Middle Manager was also made white, as it represents the familiar bureaucratic roles present even in the most violent organizations.
Clueless is the final expression of intelligence that has closed in on itself, and is resistant to correction. And Raven, or Tricksters in mythology more generally, tend to be agents of chaos, instigating events and prodding systems out of equilibrium.
As much as possible, I aimed for multi-dimensional metaphors. To the non-programmer, a “race condition” may still be an obscure concept after seeing this card, but the association between the term and the idea of “things happening out-of-order and causing problems” should hopefully be made.
I pushed the words “SQL Injection” to the creature type line on the middle card instead of making it a noncreature card, largely because I was struggling to come up with enough creature cards in the set; the xkcd is infamous, but for a nontechnical audience, MichaelGG’s courtroom analogy is much clearer.
And when looking for an excuse to use the Cascade mechanic, I decided to point out the Google easter egg and hype Carlos Buenos’ excellent book, Lauren Ipsum.
Pairing colors is tricky, as you want the concept of the card to somehow intersect with one of the themes from each color. So, Cyborgism is about augmenting the natural with the artificial; Intermittent Reinforcement represents gain but with a much greater risk of persistent, small loss. And Anonymous spawns copies of itself which have to attack whether doing so is in their best interest or not.
Lands were used as anchoring devices, representing the metaphor-space of the associated color pairs.
For instance, blue/black speaks of knowledge and power. The nature of that knowledge, or how that power is utilized, however, may vary.
White and black seem the perfect combination for all your dystopian fantasies.
Green is associated with both natural ecosystems and economic growth, so you see both here, as well as feats of engineering whose effects are outsized in both domains.
To ground each color, I used the basic land images to give four “dimensions” of how I would be utilizing the color. Control, exploitation, extraction, short-term gain, externalities are all common threads here with black.
White: Gametalk - white is often known for lots of small creatures who coordinate. Solidarity. Posturetalk: The advantage that accrues to the less-developed person is equivalent to direct damage (red). Powertalk: Powertalk is about information advantage. Hence, scry + draw (blue). Babytalk: More of a stretch. Destroying ‘artifacts/enchantments’ is about doing away with artifice, simplifying things. (green). Straighttalk: No bullshit, straight up destruction of the weak by the powerful.