Thursday, October 11, 2012

Q&A -- Imagination Game Basics

Trinity, a faithful follower of my blog whom I very much appreciate, left this comment on my last post:
I'd be really interested in hearing more about how you organize your games. We've tried to do similar games, but they always end up falling apart. Possibly because we have so many littler children.
 Since my reply turned out to be too long to fit in the comments (what a shock), I decided to toss it up here on this blog post. Here you go, Trinity!

It depends on what you mean by orginizing. Having littler children does tend to dampen the story aspect, as they are generally more interested in the action than the plot. But it's not impossible to let them join in, it will just fall on the older participants to carry the storyline, while the young-uns are given characters who are more secondary and who can run amok causing conflict for the main characters while not being expected to make profound story advancements on purpose.
In order to make an Imagination Game successful, storyline is essential. One must remember to play more for the story than for anything else. One does this through the characters chosen by the players to play. Conflict! Conflict is what moves a story forward. A band of friends is great, but a misfit or dysfunctional band provides far more drama to work with. Villains, hidden amongst the heroes, or stalking them, each with their own motives. Try to make as many possibilities for conflict as possible outside of the usual goodguy vs. villain interaction. Embrace challenges and imbalances within the story. Consider them not as unfair -- the other team has more people and weapons, etc. -- but as obstacles for the characters to overcome in resourceful manners. That's one of the most fun things one can do in an Imagination Game. Accept challenges, don't try to make everything an even playing field all the time. Even playing fields kill conflict.
Another thing to remember is that Imagination Games are NOT competitions. Treating them like one will almost invariably lead to dissention amongst the players (not the characters, the players). And when players bicker, the story grinds to a halt, and the game disintegrates. Just because the villains are fighting against the heroes, and even if the villains capture the 'flag' or steal the special object by no means translates into the villains 'winning'. It just means the heroes have to go after them now and get back what was taken. Unless you have purposefully set up the game so there will be a winner, due to time constraints or some such, then the only kind of winning there is is the victory that comes when the story is being driven forward, and everyone is having fun.
Here are some basic things to remember when playing an Imagination Game. We've learned these things through trial and error. Imagination Games go most smoothly when:
1) Players play for the story
2)Players are good sports about everything, including about other players not being good sports, and embrace an uneven playing field as an in-story challenge for the characters to overcome.
3)Players remember that 'winning' is when everyone has fun. Consider complaints, but players who continually whines about an aspect of the game should be referred to 1 and 2.
As a last note, I'll say that the dynamic of an Imagination Game changes depending on the ration of reality to imagination. For example, it's far easier to do combat IGs with real (read: PVC or foam) weapons because when someone gets hit, it's undeniable. However, when using more reality and less imagination, it's harder for people to play characters that are out of their skill range because they aren't, in fact, dead shots with the bow or fearless swordfighters. Also, it's much easier to remain in character when you're in costume. My advice is that, in either case, one should be realistic about the types of characters one is able to play well.
There are many little tips, tricks, and twists that we've learned over time that I could go into, but what I've related here are the basics. Timewise, two thirds of the Imagination Games we play are spontaneous, but for more complex games it helps to plan a little bit.
Hope some of this helped! Feel free to ask any more questions, because I could talk about this topic all day.
Dia duit,


  1. That greatly clarifies our problems! My siblings are almost all writers, but playing with our cousins our games are anything but story oriented.
    And now my questions: How do you plan out your games? You've said before that sometimes you plan them out around games like capture the flag, but how exactly do you do that? And how long does it usually take you to plan it out? I can see us taking an hour to plan out a game and then meeting every few minutes to discuss whether or not a certain action someone took fit in the storyline, or what happens next, or whether or not we agreed that no one could cross that boundary, or if someone got hit to hard, etc. etc, and then eventually running out of time to actually play the game. (Almost all of those have happened in real life multiple times just trying to play tag or something.)I realize that a lot of this could be eliminated by have players who are story oriented (achievable) and good sports (an elusive accomplishment), but I am wondering about the trivialities.
    Do you make set rules beforehand like, "If you're put in this square, you're not allowed to come out unless someone from your side has the keys and tags you.", or do you establish those on the fly? I don't want to be pedantic (New word for me!), but I'm wondering how you deal with those sorts of issues. I guess I'm also wondering about your tips, tricks, and twists (Yay for alliterations!).
    I realize this is getting to be a really long comment, but I don't want to also flood your comment approval inbox, so on two totally unrelated notes:
    First, where/how did you come up with the title "Barefoot Bladeweaver" because, I won't lie, I felt a little stab of jealousy when I first looked at your blog that you had come up with such an awesome name.
    Second, since you posted about doing NaNo I looked into it and I'm thinking about teaming up with my sister to do it, 'cause it looks really fun! Nerve-wracking, but fun!

  2. <>

    Wow. IG as prep for life. Who'da thunk it? :D

  3. Yay for siblings who write! My siblings write, as well. That really does help a bit.
    To your first question about planning, the key is not to do too much of it. Improvise, and be willing to allow the story to play out as it would. That's where some of the embracing conflict/unfairness comes in. What we do is this: we plan an opening scenario. Not even quite an Inciting Incident, more like the motivations of each character, and making sure at least some of those motivations and goals will be in conflict with each other.
    For example, last summer we played an Imagination Game set in Lore (a land we made up where all the fairy tales and legends live). Each of us picked a character, to begin with. St. George, one of George's friends, a messenger to King Arthur, a couple of Pheonix hunters, Morganna La Fey (me), and Vivian. With that sorted, we chose motivations, and coordinated them so they would be condusive to creating a story. St. George was delivering a special gem from the Fairy Queen to King Arthur, and the messenger was delivering a warning about an army about to march on Camelot. The Pheonix hunters were investigating the mysterious destruction of a castle, and suspected it to be the work of a rogue alchemist. My goal was to steal both the gem, and the message, in order to spite my half brother, King Arthur.
    See how those goals clash? There's no storyline plotting; it's all to do with the characters. We began the game and right away the conflict began. I devised a plot to get myself and Vivian in good graces with St. George -- who was noble to a fault -- and eventually be able to steal the gem and the message, since the messenger was travelling with George. The Pheonix hunters got mixed up in the problem because they showed up at the wrong moment, and I accused them of having injured Vivian (who was only pretending to be hurt in order to gain George's sympathies).
    All the events that played out that I've just described up there were completely unplanned. They were driven by the characters, their motivations, and their goals. No one knew what my plan was to trick George, and I didn't tell them. Had we planned the storyline out, everyone would have known what I was trying to do, and a significant ammount of fun would have been detracted from the game. The fun is in playing a character, and with everyone playing a character, a story is born.
    So, I would suggest working on your characters in the planning stage of the Imagination Game, not the storyline. Not knowing what will happen next is what keeps things interesting, and it also allows for a wider variety of options, and less debating over whether a character choice works with the storyline.

  4. My comment was getting too long, so here're the replies to the other two things you mentioned.
    Barefoot Bladeweaver just kind of came to me. I've never been one to have an excess ammount of trouble coming up with interesting title names. In this case, I took two things I really like -- walking barefoot, and blades -- and stuck them together in a figurative way. My brother continually points out to me that one can't ACTUALLY weave a blade. But like I said, it's figurative. Symbols and metaphors I also like, so really, that title just came from the essence of me, if you like. ^.^

    Awesome about NaNo! My username on the NaNo site is Penny Kearney. If you sign onto the site, be sure to give me yours!


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