March 4, 2005

Tabletop “Playable Fictions”

by Noah Wardrip-Fruin · , 1:34 pm

I’m in the process of curating a show for ACMI, the Australian Center for the Moving Image. The show’s title will be “Playable Fictions” and it strikes me that the GTxA audience would be a great one to ask for feedback on my in-process plans. I’d be happy to hear — via comments or trackbacks — suggestions for particular pieces, categories of work, or exhibition strategies.

ACMI is a relatively new and large museum in Melbourne which, in addition to traditional exhibition spaces, includes theatres, screening rooms, and production facilities. They were one of the partners for DAC 2003, and since that time they’ve opened a number of additional spaces, which will soon include an area designed for the display of games and other software (where my show will be focused). So far they seem very open to ideas, such as having a DVD in the catalog (for accommodating software and digital video), as well as including some work that goes beyond the borders of the exhibition space.

So far I’ve been framing my thinking in terms of how pieces will be displayed. Rather than post all at once about the show, I’m planning to make a few posts, each discussing different types of display. For this post I want to focus on work that could be displayed on a tabletop, or in a case. It would be great to have copies of these that people could actually read and play during the exhibition, and perhaps we might schedule play sessions.

Types of pieces:
– Early tabletop RPG (e.g., early edition of Dungeons and Dragons)
– Relatively current RPG(s) on the “story” rather than “mechanics” end (e.g., My Life with Master or Amber Diceless)
– CCG(s) with fiction connection (e.g., Call of Cthulhu or Illuminati New World Order)
– Tabletop board game(s) (e.g., Talisman)
– Page/card rearrangeable fictions (e.g., Composition #1 or Life in the Garden)
– Gamebook fictions (e.g., an early Choose Your Own Adventure or an entry for grown-ups like DiChiara’s Hard-Boiled)
– Scripts for recombinant theatre (e.g., experimental like the Oulipo’s “theatre tree” or mainstream like “Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding” — or is TnTW more LARP-like?)
– LARP game resources and/or documentation (e.g., mainstream like How to Host a Murder or subculture like Vampire: The Masquerade — or material on storytelling in the Society for Creative Anachronism)

So, what am I leaving out? What specific pieces must be included? What’s the best way to exhibit pieces?

Also, does anyone know of other examples of people blogging the curatorial process? A quick web search didn’t turn up any hits, which surprised me. Perhaps I’m not forming the query appropriately?

8 Responses to “Tabletop “Playable Fictions””

  1. Matt K. Says:


    If you want to include a simulation game I’d recommend Avalon Hill’s classic best seller Squad Leader:

    The second-person YOU ARE THE SQUAD LEADER copy has obvious affinities with CYOA, IF, etc.

  2. Erik Says:

    I am sure they would be interested in an external review of escape from woomera and their own selectpark projects.
    In google try “Art gallery curator blog” or “art gallery blog” you should find a few interesting links there. even inserting ‘game’ or ‘process’ seems to work

    thanks for the request, I found links quite useful to me!

  3. Rodolfo S Filho Says:

    I think you should include copies of Cortazar’s Hopscotch and the Heroclix game.

    Hopscothc is not exactly a game, but it’s kind of connected to them and the Oulipo.

    Heroclix is a game with comic book superheroes miniatures.

  4. Pat H. Says:

    I second the Squad Leader suggestion. It’s one of the most simulationist of all tabletop games.

    White Wolf has made a point of focusing on the storytelling aspects of RPGs, even to the point of calling their system the “Storyteller system.” So any of their RPGs would probably be appropriate; the Vampire: The Masquerade RPG is certainly the most well-known of these.

    I’d also recommend Atlas Games’ Once Upon a Time card game, where players use cards representing fairy tale elements (e.g. “Enchanted Forest,” “Talking animal,” “Person in disguise”) to tell a collaborative fairy tale. Game rules encourage plausible storytelling.

    There are also some hybrids, like Chaosium’s solo adventures Alone Against the Wendigo or Pagan Publishing’s Alone on Halloween, both for the Call of Cthulhu RPG system. These are basically Choose Your Own Adventure-style gamebooks, but with substantially more entries, and require the COC rules to play. You roll up a character as you would if you were to play in a COC game, but then go through the book making CYOA-type choices (e.g. “If you open the door, turn to entry #666”). Combat and other game mechanic-specific stuff is resolved with the COC rules.

    For CCGs, Magic: The Gathering is the 800-lb gorilla. Plus it invented the category, permanently changing the hobby industry. Not much of a storytelling element, though. For what it’s worth, the Call of Cthulhu CCG has players competing for story cards.

  5. noah Says:

    Thanks – these are great suggestions. Squad Leader’s a game I’ve never played (growing up Quaker limits the number of battlefield simulation play experiences one has, I find) but I’ll definitely look into it.

    Pat, I particularly appreciate your input. I think I’ll be bugging you for more.

  6. Jill Says:

    Oh, but Erik, Escape From Woomera is hardly fiction, is it? That would indeed be opening a can of worms. (For those who aren’t up to date on Aussie new media: a very brief summary: Australia’s immigration policies are often inhuman and include desert camps for detainees such as one at Woomera. A political video game called Escape from Woomera was given public funding but on discovering that the Arts Council had funded a game critical of immigration policy the government went ballistic. I can’t remember just what happened, but some say that new media funding was drastically cut as a direct result of this.

    Are you thinking of including any references to the Australian scene, Noah? Probably not necessary: presumably they’ve asked you because they want an international perspective rather than an Australian one, and apart from Escape from Woomera and soem of those CD-rom things I mention in my thesis and can barely find even online these days I don’t know of obvious Australian stuff. Which doesn’t mean there is none.

  7. noah Says:

    Jill, there was no specific request to include Australian or Asian content, but some things certainly come to mind. For example, who can think of Melbourne in this context without remembering the text-and-graphics adventure (of the sort pioneered by Mystery House) The Hobbit from publisher Melbourne House?

  8. noah Says:

    And, of course, Faidutti and Laget’s Mystery of the Abbey is probably worth discussing here…

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