Symposium 2 February 2023: The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game (redux)

For this month’s symposium, I’d like to revisit LOTRTCG through the lens of our experiences playing it over the last few months. In particular, how does the experience of playing a cooperative adventure card game influence our understanding of any or all of the following:

  • the storyworld of the game
  • the thematics in the game that tie our performances to that storyworld
  • the meta-ludic activities associated with the game (deckbuilding, in particular, but also participation in communities of practice dedicated to the game or to other games or aspects of the storyworld)
  • the special kind of virtuosity demanded and fostered by the game, and its relation to other kinds of virtuosity we’ve discussed

Discussion on Discord at 8:30 Eastern/5:30 Pacific!

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Symposium: Norco, December 1, 2022

It’s hard not to put the point-and-click adventure game Norco (2022) in conversation with Kentucky Route Zero (2013). Both present their own takes on the surreal South, a location as much grounded in the poverty of the moment as it is in the slowly bankrupting of the future by glacial, often unwelcome technological forces eroding away at time and memory. Yet, perhaps, while KRZ (2013) presents a journey of grief into a mourning of light as a community rises above when they come together, the flesh of Norco (2022) is weaker still. The technology has reached too far, and escape is a matter of the best among the worst.

This month, we discuss Norco (2022). Some topics to ponder as we make our way through the swamp are:

  • It is unusual for a new point-and-click game to come out. Yet, much of the success of Norco (2022) is in delivering its slow, ponderous journey into the unknown and increasingly surreal. How much does the mechanics of clicking through a story implicate the player into the consequences of the character? With no ability to turn back, is the slow progress forward the only way, and does such a metaphor work as both mechanic and storytelling tool for this purpose?
  • Both Norco (2022) and Kentucky Route Zero (2013) consider the South as a surreal, at times beautiful, but ultimately damned place where the people struggle and hope is rare. How much does the setting play a role in Norco (2022)? Could this be told with the same affect somewhere else? Could another place have taken on the same thematic meaning as a place flooded, and which will be flooded again?
  • How much does the aesthetics of the game play into its metaphors of the wrapping of everyday life by digital technology? Information can seemingly be perfectly preserved, yet living memory is cloudy and many faces are swirls of colors or tangles of flesh. What does this say about the role of memory, both recorded and living?

We’re meeting at 8:30 pm ET / 7:30 pm CST / 5:30 pm PT for voice chat on Discord.

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Gaming Session: LotR Card Game, November 17, 2022

We’re playing the Lord of the Rings card game on Thursday. Gameplay on Dragncards, voice chat over Discord; 8:30 EST / 7:30 CST / 5:30 PST.

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Symposium: Dicey Dungeons, November 3, 2022

This month we’re going to discuss Dicey Dungeons. Its store page describes it as a “deckbuilding roguelike”; do we think that a characterization of it as a dice-based deckbuilding roguelike accurately covers what’s interesting about the game, or is there something else going on there? Or do we just want to talk about random Terry Cavanagh games?

We’re meeting at 8:30pm EDT / 7:30pm CDT / 5:30pm PDT (I had to check, but yes, we really are still in daylight savings time even though we’re entering November, the clocks won’t change until November 6); voice chat on Discord.

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Gaming Session: Lord of the Rings Card Game, November 27, 2022

We’re returning to the LotR card game this week. Depending on who’s there, we’ll either keep on going with the game with Roger and me that’s turned into a complete disaster, or the game with Roger, Steve, and me that is probably a disaster but maybe that’s slightly less clear? Or maybe we’ll start one of those over, or maybe we’ll work Dan into the mix.

Thursday at 8:30pm EDT, 7:30pm CDT, 5:30pm PDT; DragnCards / Discord.

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Symposium, October 6th – Citizen Sleeper

Somehow, Citizen Sleeper has managed to land right in the intersection of so many of our Symposium discussions, from Disco Elysium’s interrogation of the narrative capabilities of tabletop mechanics to Nier Automata’s exploration of how the body and self are damaged or even severed by cruelties of the future.

We will cast our dice on Thursday at 8:30 EDT / 7:30 CDT / 5:30 PDT, with voice chat over Discord. Survivors welcome.

Supplemental Reading:
Citizen Sleeper Is a Game About Finding Home in a World That Hates You [Renata Price, Waypoint]
You Wouldn’t Download a Body [Kaile Hultner, No Escape]
The Melancholy Realism of Citizen Sleeper [Cameron Kunzelman, Paste]
Conversation in the Ruins of Interplanetary Capitalism [Ruth Cassidy w/Gareth Damian Martin, Unwinnable]

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Gaming Session: Lord of the Rings Card Game, September 22, 2022

We’ll be playing more Lord of the Rings this Thursday; 8:30pm EDT / 7:30pm CDT / 5:30pm PDT, Discord plus Dragncards.

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Symposium 1 September: Marvel Continuity

When Chris Claremont gave us Giant-Size XMen #1, did he — whether literally or metaphorically speaking — change the game of Marvel continuity, repurposing the moribund Uncanny X-Men to tell a new kind of story? Or did the game actually change when Adam Warlock, erstwhile messiah, became the atrocity-loving Magus in Jim Starlin’s Strange Tales #178? Or had the game always already been different, each new creator adjusting the rules not only of their own book but of the entire storyworld?

The rules of Marvel continuity — or of any continuity, really — would seem to exist merely in order to be bent into unrecognizable shapes. There’s a fascination for me in this playful practice, this largely unacknowledged-as-such emergent storytelling game. Unlike the systems of oral poetics that serve as my touchstone for such narrative practices, Marvel continuity possesses a complete a record of the choices made by previous players — Lee, Kirby, Ditko, to name some prominent and fitting examples we might set beside Claremont and Starlin.

To put it another way, what I want to concentrate on this Thursday is how retcons work in a flexible possibility space like Marvel continuity that’s nonetheless bounded to a certain important degree by everything that’s gone before. What can comics retcons tell us about how the games we usually discuss build their own emergent narratives?

Or, really, let’s just talk about our favorite retcons and why we love them and what that says about how we play now.

Join the conversation on Discord at 8:30 Eastern!

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Gaming Session: LotR Card Game, August 18, 2022

We’re playing the LotR card game again this week; voice chat over Discord, game on Dragncards, 8:30pm EDT, 7:30pm CDT, 5:30pm PDT.

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Symposium: Tunic, August 4, 2022

Tunic (2022)

Tunic (2022) revels in nostalgia. Playing the game, it is hard not to see echoes of the past from previous titles like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (1991) and Dark Souls (2011). It is a game purposely trying to recreate an experience from a pre-Internet time in gaming where the only information a player had was an instruction manual and whatever could be gleamed from talking to others about what they too had seen. Featuring an in-game system where the player learns more about what the character is capable of from pages in a booklet positioned in a liminal space between diegetic (the character discovers pages in-world) and non-diegetic (the player learns how to better navigate spaces from the representation of physical marks in the digital booklet), Tunic (2022) plays with how paratexts (“feelies”) interact with games. The text of the game is a paratext onto itself, layering more explicit instructions on top of in-game, implicit discovery by the player.

While there is much to talk about around how the game faithfully (or not) pulls tropes from previous The Legend of Zelda titles in its use of swords, shields, and in-game combat, my interest is in its approach to pedagogy. How well does the game teach? What did you learn through experimentation, and what did you learn from reading the in-game booklet? How did the two interact for you? Did you learn the “golden cross” from the game or from the booklet?

Some additional questions to consider:

  • Did you use the accessibility system to make combat easier? (I certainly did!)
  • Did you learn any of the advanced secrets with the golden cross?
  • How did you feel about the different layers of story: as presented in the booklet, as revealed by the game (the source of the “pillars,” for example), and the ongoing journey of the confrontation between parent and child figures?

The usual time and place: 8:30pm EDT / 7:30pm CDT / 5:30pm PDT, voice chat on Discord.

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