Sunday, June 12, 2005


At one point I'd been toasting ideas about the Game Chef's competition, and got onto the historical angle and started futzing. I never could tie in another element, and I was so freakishly over-busy with projects that pay me that evil money that I couldn't focus on it. I did, however, come up with this short sketch of an idea that I may develop into something useful at some point.


An RPG set around one of the wildcat strikes of the late 1800/early 1900s that emphasizes the hard choices made – safety vs power, family vs self, and so on. There is inherent conflict in any strike situation, and doubly so in those early strikes, so there is lots of rich thematic material to be mined. For the miners there is the issue of risking everything in order to get an incremental gain, for the owners the issues of money vs responsibility (especially in cases like the Pullman strike where the owners had shown themselves to have concern for their workers and to be somewhat socially progressive for people of their class and time). For the government there is the ever-present violence and repression against freedom and protecting the people, and for the community as a whole there is the whole host of issues around developing economies, clashing ideologies, and hegemonic domination.

PCs could be set up to be on opposite sides, one of them working for the union, one of them representing the wildcat strikers (this can be divided – one representing the locals, another representing the general cause of unions probably with socialist/communist/anarchist leanings), another representing the corporation, another the families of the community, another the government (and/or the army), a newspaper, and so forth. Then each would have to have a lot of mechanical pressure to not just "be nice and get along" – something to push and spur the conflict.

The Army guy knows that if he can push the situation to violence and the resolve it well, he can get a promotion to general – which will never happen if there isn’t a confrontation. It may well be his last chance to make the big leap.

The newspaper guy knows that no one wants to read stories of peace, they want the mud and blood and bomb throwing anarchists facing off against tight fisted corporate fat-cats. He has no interest in the truth, but a lot of interest in getting a story that will get him out of the basement and into the lead reporter seat.

What about a system where you get points for hitting goals, and at the end (if you’re alive) the number of points you have determines what you get? So if the army guy has lots of points he becomes a general with a job in Washington, if he gets middle he becomes a general but in a nasty place, if he gets low he gets nothing, if he gets really low he gets court-martialed and shot. The union guys can get things even if they don’t get it for themselves (being dead or in jail or having not made the company back down) – the points they get determine how their families are treated and how they push forward the cause of unions elsewhere.

Set up a circle of characters so that the sides get played out. Like if there are two then you have to have the wildcat and the corp. At three add the community, at four add the army, at five add the newspaper, at six add the anarchist, and so on. This could be more flexible, but should be set up so there is always conflict.

There should also be a "turn taking" mechanism that allows the players equal chances to gain points. That way everyone has a chance to either get points or block others from getting points. It should also encourage replay in the "what if the army wasn’t in this one" mode. For example, you should get two different games if you have the corp, the strikers and the community than if you have the corp, the strikers, and the army.


The Pullman strike is probably one of the best models, as the issues of both sides can be clearly seen and defended. The massacres (such as Ludlow) are more weighted, and so can be used for fodder but probably not for the main conflict.

The Pullman Strike
The Homestead Strike
The Ludlow Massacre


Blogger Matt Wilson said...

Any time a game puts a choice in front of me and I have to think, 'is this worth it?' that game officially achieves kickass status. The non-anthropomorphized hair on my arms stands straight up.

So here's your certificate of mattthinksthiskicksassocity.

It's also good for $0.30 off a regular-size Blizzard at DQ.

12:13 PM  
Blogger Vasco Brown said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

3:17 AM  
Blogger Vasco Brown said...

It's interesting that you bring up this subject, as I've been working on a similar game in which the strike and the struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeois is one of the key themes. The many ideas you touch upon in your article have definitely have given me a lot to think about as I continue to work on it.

You can check out an early design doc on my blog, and I'll be adding additional info in the comming weeks.

3:21 AM  

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