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Thu, Feb. 15th, 2007, 02:20 pm
Creative Act, 2/15

This week’s theme, “game genre mash-ups,” was suggested by Bryn. Since I’ve seen relatively few games based on literature, I’m counting today’s as a mash-up between gameplay and Borges. Enjoy!

The Lottery of Babylon

This game is based on the Borges story “The Lottery of Babylon.”

The themes of the game are:
- the encounter with chance
- the meaning of ordinary things
- the chaotic interlocking of goals to produce meaning
- the hidden motivations of people around you

The game aims to produce a feeling of paranoia and luxurious surrender to fate.

The game is set, unsurprisingly, in Babylon: a city of priests and scorpions, logicians and smoke. Modern technology is unheard of, but the astrologers build bronze towers that reach toward the heavens and tattoo the shapes of lunar eclipses on their palms. All citizens of the city know of the Company, the vast organization responsible for administering the Lottery, which quietly orders and arranges the fabric of their lives.

This game is mission-based. The player receives a mission, sometimes of traditional game-genre types and sometimes of apparently trivial nature. For example, the player might be called upon to assassinate another character (traditional) or to place a blue feather in the market square (trivial). Completing the mission earns the player rewards, but these rewards are deliberately disentangled from the difficulty of the mission. Similarly, failure to complete a mission earns punishment for the player, but the player cannot know how much. Indications such as the flight of birds, the scatter of pebbles, or the last breaths of a dying man may help the player to decide how much effort to expend on a particular mission, and how much risk is worthwhile.

At any point, an agent of the Company may contact the player to replace their mission with a new one. The player must be vigilant during play to avoid the Company agents if they are close to completing a mission. However, they can use this strategically to change missions they are not certain they can complete. Seeking out drunks, speaking statues, or mad children allows the player to change missions at will.

As a multi-player game, a core mechanic would be predicting the missions of other players and interfering with them, while changing one’s own missions in unpredictable ways. Playing the game in an apparently strategic manner should allow other players to easily circumvent or oppose you. To win, one must surrender to the will of the Company, or, perhaps, to chance, if the two are even distinct.

The game is won not by the accumulation of personal power (in other words, one’s ability to enact one’s will upon the world) but rather by the difference between the extremes to which a player has risen or sunk. A player who becomes a prince cannot win by being a prince, but only by also serving as a slave.

Whether this game is an alternate reality game, real or virtual, depends first and foremost upon whether one believes that the Company yet enacts its will on our lives and their infinite games of chance.