Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Five or So Questions with Jão Pedro on Love Gift Cards

You can check out Jão's Patreon here: 

Tell me a little about your Game Chef winning game, Love Gift Card. What excites you about it?
First and foremost, It's been peoples' reaction to it! The game's premise is a little far-fetched, and to me it really was a game design exercise, just as the competition calls for. I didn't think it would score, but people get excited with the idea, even folks outside hobby circles! So there's that, and I'm still a little baffled.
But what's really nice is that people get the game's goal: to expand autonomously driven by the human desire to do good, and to foment that very desire by doing so. It's a cycle they seem to recognize as something which could be, as something viable. That people can so easily correlate the game's mechanism to what goes on in real life, even when the game isn't really playable yet, makes me really proud of it.

I'm interested in bleed in RPGs, when boundaries between players and character worlds get blurred. I think that's when this games acquire the potential to produce the same kind of reaction as good art does: touching emotional layers, offering new perspectives about the world we live in. The Love Gift Card Game is an attempt to to get people, specially geeks like myself, wondering about their roles in real life, and their real-life behaviour and real-life communities. That sort of thing, I think, should be what game designers should be dealing with.

What were your inspirations for the game?
The whole idea derived from the contest's theme, There is no book. I was talking to Encho (last year's Game Chef World champion) about it, we were both trying to stretch it to "there are no game instructions" and figuring out how could a game like this be, and I said it would be cool if people had little pieces of the game that only made sense when they met and put them together. It would be a decentralized game, forever ongoing, and I thought it would be even cooler if carrying around little "pieces" of the game were some fashionable thing, so the game could expand carried out by this fad and "happen" in the events of two carriers bumping to each other. I thought this went well to the ingredients Absorb and Wild. Then I reminded of this annoying thing called The Game, a one-rule game that you "play" only by knowing it exists and you "lose" every time you remember it (by the way, I just lost it!). The only element of this game is a meme, that propagates by itself. It doesn't even need players to decide to play it! And I just recently played a larp called White Death, which impressed me by how deep a game could get using just a set of simple instructions for the players to perform, so I figured what I needed was some simple trigger-action combination people could apply to their everyday lives.

That's when I got to the "hug game" idea. I don't know, there's a cant here to describe friendly social events as love-something, like "new year's eve party of love", or "RPG tuesdays of love", so I decided to do a proper "game of love". To me, it sounded like something that could be relevant as a message to the real world, and I liked it. So I probed our local Indie RPG facebook group with a mockup card, got some positive feedback, and here we are!

Tell me a little bit about the mechanics. What makes the game work?
Actually I don't really know if it will work! It depends on how people face the instructions. I suppose that if people receiving cards find it too silly, it won't work at all. It really depends a lot on the social structure in which it is seeded.

But the idea is this: you get a card (buy it or receive it from someone else) and it presents you with a slightly socially-awkward challenge, but that is really a good deed you're tasked to do. And it also informs you that if you can accomplish that you kinda become part of some secret group, which members you could recognize by their actions, and that you should pass along the card, helping the "game" to expand. It's an appeal for you to take part in a sort of benign wave, to willingly become a link in a chain reaction designed to make the world a better place. Hell, if it doesn't make people scratch the itch, then humanity is indeed doomed! :-)
Technically, it should work as a challenge type of game. But, as I said, It was designed as an theoretical exercise of game design. I'm expecting critics if it even qualifies as a game at all! God knows what could happen if it is materialized.

Art-wise, though, I expect it to instigate reflections on relationships (or the absence of them). If this occurs, even if it doesn't function as a real game, I'll be satisfied.

Talk a little about bleed. What do you think is so interesting about it?
We tend to see games as entertainment solely, as something you do to escape from a harsh reality. That's a very narrow perspective. Games can be a media as fruitful as any other, they can be as powerful as the cinema or literature, or even more, since it engages you on another level. Dungeons & Dragons can be about cooperation. Horror RPGs can be tools to explore the human condition. Why not? The other day I learned Monopoly was originally designed to warn people about the trouble with abuses of private property, and if you think this through, its a hell of a demonstration! When we, humans, need to cope with unsettling issues we play: we create music, pictures, tales. Games are just another way of playing out this issues, and we should use them. So I'm all for the nordic school of larp: do touch, seek the points of convergence between fiction and reality, and use the opportunity to learn about yourself and others.

I talked about White Death previously. I'm new to larping so I might be overreacting, but that game touched me deeply. The game itself is very simple, but the music, the constraints... it forces you to contemplate your helpless imperfection as a human being, the caos that emerges inevitably from human interaction, and death. It printed really strong images in my brain. It made me cry. How could this be just a game?

What's up next for you now that you've won the contest?
On The Love Gift Card Game front, I'm talking publishing it with Kobold's. I don't know yet how this will play out, since the game follows no known business model, but we're studying the best way to bring the idea to life.

Also, I've got a bunch of unfinished projects, including another game which was finalist in a contest and is (was?) due to publication, the Massa Critica RPG, and I just couldn't make time to work on them. So I'm taking this Game Chef prize as an incentive and finally setting up a page on Patreon to concentrate some effort on those projects (I'll send you the final link shortly so you can include it here, ok?). Who knows? Maybe I can squeeze out some more good ideas!