On what we hope will be a continuing feature, here’s the first of our Friday Funnies. This one comes to us courtesy of Ed Greenwood, who is asked to contribute a game design to his peers in the library sciences…
This story is paraphrased (I can’t recall all of her exact words), but true enough, I’m afraid.
When I’m not rushing around in spandex being Elusive Grognard, a bearded and incredibly popular game designer, I have a secret identity. As, yes, a mild-mannered Canadian library clerk (I’m in semi-retirement these days). Well, mostly mild-mannered. [More…]
Now, up in Canada, we have a Summer Reading Club with stickers and maps and suchlike fun, always with a theme like pirates or space exploration. The goal is to keep young readers avidly reading when school is out. The Reading Club has become a big budget, widespread thing, but I worked on it one year, more than a decade ago, in its original and much smaller form, contributing weekly handouts in the form of simple single-sheet-of-paper board games that could be played with dice and buttons or pennies.
Some member of the American Library Association remembered this, and asked me to design a game for her little kiddies (game designers will be mightily unsurprised to learn that this work was assumed to be done for free, of course). Fine, good fun.
Good fun, that is, until she got a look at the finished game, a simple “walk around the dungeon, get treasure, and get out before the monsters find and eat you” scenario. I was quite proud of it; a spiderlike dungeon map with a circular track of central corridors the monsters could circle endlessly around, with lots of little “legs” or side-corridors leading off it. Simple, with just enough little wrinkle rules (“jumping over the monsters” and special magic-effect squares) to keep an adult from going mad with boredom if they had to play it with children for, say, half an hour or so.
My librarian wanted to “go over” my little game. So we sat down together. I looked at her face, and waited for the trouble to begin.
It did. She frowned. “I’d hoped for better from a person associated with libraries, but I’m afraid I’ve detected examples of the essential, thoughtless immaturity that seems to afflict all game designers in your . . . offering.”
“There are scary monsters in this game.”
“That’s not good. Children shouldn’t be exposed to frightening stimuli.”
Oh, like life?
“This is not life, this is imaginary. I’m surprised that as a game designer, you can’t appreciate that. There IS—and should be—a very clear line between reality and imaginary creations, you know. When they play your game, children are in YOUR care. And you’ve irresponsibly put them in an underground labyrinth.”
Yes . . . uh, so?
“Where they’re LOST.”
Uh-huh. Yep. Exploring generally requires surroundings to be unfamiliar.
“Parents will object to their children having the traumatic experience of being lost.”
But it’s a piece of paper, lady. They’ll be playing it with their friends, in the library or at home. All they have to do is look up, to know they’re not—
“The trauma still exists. It is, if anything, more reprehensible, being an artificial creation of yours. A DELIBERATE attempt to terrorize innocent children.”
You have ‘innocent children’ in your library service area? They’re darned near mythical beasts, you know, and—
“You equate children with ANIMALS?”
Ma’am, where I come from, it’s considered insulting to call a child a “vegetable.” Or equate his or her head with a rock, which covers minerals. So “animal” is—
“A disgusting value judgment on your part. And these monsters you’ve put into your game; they EAT people.”
Yep. Scary monsters usually do. That’s why they’re scary.
“So you ADMIT that they’re scary? That you deliberately designed them that way?”
Uh, yes, I do. Just as scary as my little cartoon drawing on that sheet of paper can be. ‘Scary’ makes the game more fun.
“FUN? You think traumatizing small children is fun? Are you SURE you’re a librarian?”
Ma’am, how many librarians have you actually ever met? Why, some of the librarians I worked with—never mind. I gather you’re not happy with the design of the game?
“THAT, sir, would be a ludicrous understatement. The monsters have to go. And the dungeon, unless you clearly signpost it so the children playing the game can never, ever, feel lost.”
Uh-huh. Anything else?
“Yes. These treasure chests, that anyone can take the treasure out of; you’re encouraging impressionable young children to STEAL property belonging to others, just because they find it and no one is present to stop them taking it.”
The treasure isn’t unguarded; the monsters—
“We are eliminating them, remember? And even if you put ‘Free, Please Take Me’ signs on the treasure chests, it wouldn’t be acceptable. You’re teaching children that they need to do nothing to gain wealth, that it will simply be handed to them if they are in the right place at the right time, whereas the truth is that in life we must all work Work WORK if we are to gain—“
There IS work, ma’am: fighting. Where treasure is involved, in real life, I’ve always found that there’s also fighting.
“FIGHTING? You think it’s GOOD to create a game that encourages fighting? Not that I noticed any rules for fighting in your game; is this a finished design, sir, or some flawed prototype you’re trying to DECEIVE me with?”
No, no, I prefer creativity in battle. So, no explicit fighting rules are given.
“So how, then, young man, does your feeble game design incorporate fighting?”
Like this. You roll the board up around the pennies like so, find another player within reach—I’m using you simply as a demonstration, you’ll understand—and give them a darned good whack across the face! Like this, see? Or that! How do you like it? Definitely essential, thoughtless immaturity! D’you think the kiddies’ll enjoy it as much as I’m enjoying it? Grrrr!
[Exeunt librarian, shrieking.]
I WISH this tale was fictional, I really do.
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