I went to my favorite bookstore this weekend, looking for something to cheer me up. It was Prospero’s in Kansas City, which I’ve written up here on Grailrunner before. It’s funny, when I’m looking for something to read, it’s really a feeling I’m searching for. I like to explore new worlds, to find out what’s around the next turn in the road. I love to come back from an adventure with stories to tell. It’s how I’m wired, and that bleeds into the sorts of books I was hoping to find.
It struck me in those quiet, cluttered aisles with the sound of drizzling rain outside that there’s something fundamental here about readers and writers that’s worth talking about. It relates to an important question about what sorts of books or games we buy and which ones we don’t, and most importantly, what fed those decisions?
Here’s what I bought. Let’s talk about why.
I was there maybe an hour, and scanned a lot of old science fiction and fantasy paperbacks. Anything that looked like a Lord Of The Rings knockoff or with complicated blurbs on the back covers that looked like huge investments in mindshare, I passed right over. Seriously, if even the summary names three alien races and struggles to focus in on what makes the book different or interesting, I couldn’t be bothered. Too much going on in my life to devote the limited reading hours to something that won’t leave me pondering or inspired or with a piece of juicy recommendation for someone.
But these three made it though. I was happy to find them. And I don’t really even like Crowley. Why these?
Hold that thought. Have you heard of Bartle’s player types? It’s this:
Dr. Richard Bartle identified four main types of personalities relating to how we approach playing games. He fleshed this out in a 1996 paper called Hearts, clubs, diamonds, spades: Players who suit MUDs, then more fully in a book called Designing Virtual Worlds. There’s a simple quiz you can try to determine your own player type, though you likely already know after reading the summaries above.
I’m an Explorer. Big time. Here’s what the quiz result told me:
Explorers delight in having the game expose its internal machinations to them. They try progressively esoteric actions in wild, out-of-the-way places, looking for interesting features (ie. bugs) and figuring out how things work. Scoring points may be necessary to enter some next phase of exploration, but it’s tedious, and anyone with half a brain can do it. Killing is quicker, and might be a constructive exercise in its own right, but it causes too much hassle in the long run if the deceased return to seek retribution. Socializing can be informative as a source of new ideas to try out, but most of what people say is irrelevant or old hat. The real fun comes only from discovery, and making the most complete set of maps in existence.
Recently, I went deep into a Google and Reddit search looking for the tabletop game with the best, most innovative exploration mechanics. I didn’t think about why I was looking for that, I was just enamored with the idea of an adventure in a box with worlds to explore. (The consensus was Free League’s Forbidden Lands, by the way, if you want to know what came from that.) I’m also testing out Shawn Tomkin’s new Starforged solo RPG rules for the same reason.
Why? Because I like not knowing what’s out there and venturing beyond the safe spaces to find out.
So it stands to reason that if I enjoy those sorts of experiences, then a book that proposes an exploration would intrigue me. Titles that mention fantasy cities or intriguing space stations or derelicts, those that mentioned gateways or mysterious towers, or portals to other worlds…those wound up in my hands for consideration.
Great Work Of Time
John Crowley wrote a masterwork called Little, Big. You should read it, though it’s a bit hard to follow in my opinion. I got so irritated with his Aegypt that I sold it back (and I never do that!). Incomprehensible book, at least to me. Yet I picked this Great Work Of Time up twice before deciding to buy it – because it pitches ‘an ingenious time travel tale’ through ‘the wide-eyed and wondrous possibilities of the present to a strange and haunting future of magi and angels’. My point is I bought it because it promises me an exploration of time like Michael Moorcock’s A Nomad Of The Time Streams. I’m an explorer, and this promised me something to grant me that feeling of awe seeing new things.
Aldair, Master Of Ships
Honestly, this book sold itself with the cover and title alone. Here’s the line on the back that really sealed the deal though: “For Aldair has been forced into the role of a future Magellan, who must travel down the coasts of unmapped continents, facing monsters, winged wizards and great dangers, to find a knowledge older than the history of his entire race.” As I experienced the marketing for this 1977 book of which I was blissfully unaware beforehand, I imagined scenes of wonder and adventure on a sailing ship, with strange coastlines up ahead, and this Aldair person (whoever he was) squinting his eyes in the sea wind at something on the horizon…
The Stainless Steel Rat Wants You!
I’ve tried reading these Stainless Steel Rat books before and felt the whole thing was too dated and silly. It’s a con man going on space adventures, apparently. I generally don’t like heist stories or conmen characters who cheat and lie. My preference for a protagonist is somebody decent, imperfect, scared in the face of terrible things, but doing what they need to do anyway. So why pick up this one? Truthfully, what sealed the deal for me was the cover art’s slick spaceship and a blurb on the back with comparisons to James Bond and Flash Gordon. I was intrigued with the idea of a recurring adventurer character with his own spaceship touring the wonders of the galaxy, free of bureaucracy and politics and financial burdens. Pure escapist adventure on a spaceship. If this one was selling that, then I’d try again.
So that’s what I wanted to talk about today. If you’re writing or designing games or art, it’s worth giving this a thought. There are a lot more Socializers out there than the other types, but maybe your creations can offer something for all four types. At least recognize your own type, and make sure you leverage that to the fullest in whatever you create.
Gotta go now. It’s sunny outside, and I’m taking the kayak to a different part of the lake under a little footbridge to a cove I’ve not been into before. Who knows what sorts of things I’ll find over there…
Till next time,