I talk about myself online a lot. I write a journal and I tweet aplenty and one of the things that is an important part of my life, which people have asked about, is Narrative Belief. I was raised in the Uniting Church and then left in my late teen years, evolving into an angry atheist by the time I was in university. Since then I’ve grown in a lot of ways, including coming back to seeing the value of the religion I had, even if I cannot convince myself to believe in its dogma. These days I try to use the ideas, practices, and tools available to me to not only make my own life more meaningful but also to help those around me engage in their own lives in ways that are meaningful to them. Narrative Belief is a key element of that, especially considering the primarily secular nature of the communities I engage with. So I thought I would put together a little primer on Narrative Belief for those who are interested.
Narrative Belief is a belief or form of belief that you engage with intentionally for the purposes of enhancing your own life with narrative despite knowing and understanding that it is not factually/logically/empirically true.
While my wife and I know that Santa Claus does not exist, we act as if he does at Christmas. While I see no reason to think that a higher power actually exists, I still pray to one in times of distress or times of comfort. My wife does not think that tarot cards can predict the future but she still draws one every morning to prepare her for her day.
This is specifically distinct from faith, which is continuing to believe that something IS true in the face of evidence against it or a lack of evidence for it.
Narrative Belief is also distinct from Nominal Belief; belief held for the purposes of identity, which a person might not consider to be literally true if pressed but of which the person considers themselves a believer regardless. Because they are primarily held for the purposes of identity or community membership nominal beliefs don’t need to be deeply questioned by the holder. In this way the function of the belief, and the understanding that the belief is not true, are implicit in Nominal Belief whereas they are explicit in Narrative Belief. Unfortunately the implicit nature of Nominal Belief also leaves it open to manipulation either intentionally or unintentionally by members of the belief community.
The explicit statement of recognising the functional purpose and the lack of truth within Narrative Belief is what makes it both useful and safe. By choosing to say, “I know this isn’t true but I’m going to treat it as if it is for now,” we open ourselves up to the benefits that those beliefs might convey to us without compromising the ways in which our rational mind is capable of protecting us and preventing us from harming others unintentionally.
We already rely on the rationality of our minds to protect us in these sorts of ways almost constantly. We use it to try to make sense of the world as it truly is, because to be unaware of threats or to assume safety where there is none often leads to harm. To this end we have shaped the rationality of our minds into tools like mathematics and the scientific method which allow us to make ever more precise judgements about the world; what is boon and what is bane. But to assume that our minds are purely rational is to fail to examine ourselves critically. Rationality itself is just one of the evolutionary products of a brain that is structured to find and match patterns. There are plenty of other irrational modes of thinking that we employ all the time in our day to day lives as well. We employ them because they take less energy than the high level processing of rationality. We personify and attribute minds to all sorts of complex systems such as the weather or technology. We see faces in random patterns of light and dark. We create stories of victory, defeat, solemnity, and celebration around yearly seasonal cycles. Our brains are shaped in ways that recognise certain kinds of patterns much more easily than others.
Over millennia the thousands of distinct cultures across the globe have worked out innumerable ways of thinking about the different parts of their lives and held on to the ones that were either useful or made their lives richer. Many of these are purely or partly rational. We don’t tend to attribute to gremlins that which we can see is the result of gravity. We don’t say it is our lack of faith that causes us to fall to the ground when we lose our footing from high up. However, the complex physical interactions that caused us to lose our footing in the first place might be opaque enough that we place blame for that onto our old buddy Lucifer. While it’s tempting to dismiss these non-rational beliefs or parts of beliefs as being inferior, we should actually look at why these ideas survive in the memetic pools of culture. Some are simply defensive; they survive by attacking other ideas and defending themselves from retribution. Those tend to be the least valuable to the Narrative Believer. However, many other irrational beliefs serve those who hold them well. They might be a helpful simple model for a complex system that doesn’t need to be fully understood. They might make the lives of those who believe them fuller, more exciting, or more pleasant. They might provide support for some of the psychological needs of the people who believe them who cannot find that support elsewhere. They may provide a powerful placebo effect that is actually effective in changing the believers for the better in some way, such as the removal of pain or anxiety. Just because these beliefs aren’t necessarily based on empirical evidence does not mean they are of no value to secular people at all, in fact, the opposite is true.
Learning to recognise the value of certain beliefs regardless of their rationality and to be able to engage with them opens up a world of possibilities for those who choose to do so. The childish joy of receiving gifts “from Father Christmas” without having to engage in the usual politics around festive gift giving, the separating of troubles and blessings into those within and outside our own control through prayer, the mental preparation and framing of the day that comes with drawing a tarot card are all tangible benefits that I see around me from engaging in irrational beliefs within the safety of a mental sandbox. The point is that I can engage in these beliefs and reap those benefits while still consciously knowing that I can nope out if they push me in a direction that I’m not comfortable with. I’m not going to take any actions that assume that a higher being will hear and respond to my prayer, my wife isn’t going to go out and hurt someone because she thinks that’s what a tarot card says she should do, and no one is going to make stock market investment decisions based on artificial flooding of the toy market by a jolly old arctic hermit.
This has come naturally to me as a person with a long history with roleplaying games and might do too for actors or writers or anyone else who already engages with the process of thinking through someone else’s eyes. For others it may take some practice, but we are powerful empathy machines. The same mechanisms that allow us to benefit from these sorts of stories allow us to learn other stories from those around us if we’re willing to listen and try on their shoes. We don’t have to walk a mile in them, but we can take a few steps and see what it feels like.
The practice of Narrative Belief doesn’t happen in a vacuum, however. One of the important restrictions I place on myself in my practice is to respect the beliefs of the people who do understand them to be true inasmuch as they are not bringing harm to others. When I attend a church service there are certain parts of the proceedings that I do not engage with. Elements of the Christian faith and its practice are specifically centered on the importance of the integrity of the belief and membership in the community of faith. In my practice I would consider taking part in those elements to be disrespectful to those who genuinely hold these beliefs, especially those who I know and care about in that faith community.
Additionally, as a Scottish Australian woman I specifically make a point to only borrow directly from cultures that are within the broad European mixing pot of which my heritage is a part. I avoid borrowing directly from parts of other cultures because I usually don’t know enough to understand which parts of those traditions should be off limits when practising this form of belief. The times when I do engage with traditions, rituals, or beliefs from other cultures are when I am invited by members of that culture and I do so with an open intent to genuinely learn enough to understand where those lines are drawn.
Similarly, it is important to make sure you’re not misrepresenting your narrative belief as genuine belief. Lying about what you understand the truth of a belief to be is is not only disrespectful to the people who do hold those beliefs genuinely but it’s also pretty obviously stepping into the realm of charlatans and hucksters.
I think it’s important to talk about these limits and boundaries on how we practice Narrative Belief because the whole idea is one of moderation.
The entire point of the exercise of Narrative Belief for me is to enjoy enhancing my life with the spices of superstition, religion, spirituality, and tradition without allowing them to hurt me or those I engage with. I love my narrative beliefs and I’m thankful to have a way to engage with them safely and I really hope that this way of approaching things might help you to safely enrich your own life with the full depth of thousands of years of human culture. In fact, I pray that it does.
Footprints is a game I wrote for the 2017 200 word RPG challenge. It is a game whose rules require you to change the game in certain ways and then give it away to other players for them to then explore and change.
We Are Seeds is a mobile browser based augmented reality game developed for #ResistJam with Dave Reece and BlackwoolHoliday. We developed the concept in an afternoon after thinking about how we feel about fascism and resistance and how we want players to feel.
I delivered two workshops for #ResistJam, the second was Rapid Tabletop RPG Design where I went over how tabletop rpgs work and how to construct one by focusing on telling certain kinds of stories, rather than by focusing on specific mechanics.
I delivered two workshops for #ResistJam, the first was Game Design 101 where I covered the basics of game design and a quick rundown of how to implement that theory when designing a game from the ground up.
The Boundary Walker is the weird do-everything playbook that I ask my players to use when we run Magical Realist games of DungeonWorld.
The characters become archetypes of works by Murakami and Miyazaki which are our inspirations but still have the option to take a diverse array of advanced moves later in the game.
Alayna Cole asked me to join her panel “Heroes Like Us: Queer Representation in Games” discussing representation of diverse genders and sexualities in games at PAX Aus 2016. It was an excellent panel with some really important discussion.
At the end of 2016 the world looks like an absolute mess, thank the stars the Millennials are here to fix it.
Hundreds of thinkpieces have been written on the indolence and selfishness of Millennials as a part of a longstanding tradition of the criticising “the young people” and more than enough work has been done to show the nonsense of the claims these pieces make, especially by showing that they are a part of a longstanding tradition of complaining about “the young people.”
I think the one aspect of these complaints worth examining though is the feeling of an impending sense of doom. Though this can simply be explained in part by viewing the past through nostalgia coloured glasses, there is no doubt that the young are increasingly experiencing this sense of dread as well. The world is a lot bleaker than the one we grew up in and as adults it seems like we face apocalypse from every corner, maybe because we do.
Strauss-Howe generational theory posits that American civilisation specifically or Western Civilisation overall moves in cycles like waves upon a beach. Civilisation reaches a cultural high where all strive towards common goals and unity, experiences and awakening where individuals desire freedom from the bonds of civic unity, goes through an unravelling as the threads that hold society together start to come apart, and then falls into a crisis wherein the situation becomes so dire that eventually people must stand and fight together, save the day, and build a new and better tomorrow, which starts the cycle again with a new civilisational high. Each of these is roughly matched with a generation who grows up in one period and, influenced by it, matures in the next, eventually retiring into the third. These generation archetypes are the Artists who mature in a cultural high, the Prophets who are adults during the awakening, the Nomads whose time is the unravelling, and the Hero generation who must do the hard work during a crisis.
This pattern or cycle takes just over the length of an average human lifespan so that the lessons of one stage in the cycle pass from living memory as that stage re-approaches.
According to Strauss & Howe, we exited the Unravelling stage of postmodernism and the Culture Wars around 2004/2005 which means the last ten years have been the building blocks of a crisis. The last Hero generation who had to deal with a Crisis were the G.I. Generation whose challenge was the Second World War.
With the the wars of the United States in the Middle East, the Great Recession and now the rise and election of a bigoted racist demagogue it’s pretty easy to see why the Millennial Generation is classed by the Strauss-Howe theory as the next Hero Generation. We are going to need to be.
Millennials have been criticised as lazy and obsessed with social media and frivolous novelty. What I think that actually means is that we are a generation who has grown up learning to use technology to amplify their hard work, connect with one another, and exercise radical inventiveness and ingenuity, which is exactly how we will fight the oncoming battles and rise to a new and better tomorrow.
Apologies to Strauss & Howe for butchering your carefully crafted work to try and provide a small amount of hope in a slightly dire time.
Monadnock is a game of trust and of landscape and how we relate to it. The puzzle lies in understanding your earth spirit partner, earning their trust and together navigating your way to a safe place where you can rest and sing together.
I want to take a moment to put down some thoughts I’ve had about games and violence recently. In particular I want to respond to some interesting definitions of the two by Mike Rugnetta and Chris Crawford and have a look at what kind of discussion we can have when we look at them together.
Traits are an optional rule variant for Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition that replaces inspiration. This variant places the responsibility and power of roleplaying rewards in the hands of the players freeing up mental space for the GM and encouraging players to roleplay harder.
I’m not sure if you’ll read this. I’m not sure if I want you to know I wrote it. But I want to express these feelings so here is as good a place as any.
I’ve been playing a Lara Croft game on my phone. It’s perfect in so many ways that it takes me back to my childhood. To the memories of Tomb Raider 2 and Gran Turismo.
Dad, I know that I’m not what you expected. My path is one you never could have forseen and I doubt the place I am making for myself in the world comes close to what you might have hoped. Maybe you think there are some junctions where if you’d made a different decision or done things differently I might have turned out differently. I know I do that with so many things I can’t imagine the weight of looking back on the raising of a child.
In my head there’s a version of you, I guess there’s a version of everyone I know up there somewhere. But the version of you looks back at 1998 and sometimes regrets buying a Playstation. So many of our arguments as we were growing up and so many struggles even now can be put squarely in the sights of that one machine that changed my life. And I can understand that there might be regret there but I want to say this one, most important thing to you.
Thankyou, Dad, for video games. Thankyou for giving me heroes like Lara Croft and Abe. Thankyou for so many hours of fun with family and friends over so many years. Thankyou for introducing me to my medium.
I would be hard pressed to name a more cherished memory than sitting on the floor next to you, looking up, watching you play that Devil Dice demo over and over. To be having fun and enjoying something together that wasn’t mostly on your terms but rather a space in which we were having fun as equals, me and my Dad, sat around the Playstation.
I remember being enthralled by so many worlds and experiences that videogames offered me. Yes sometimes I was lost to them and that caused it’s own problems but it also inspired me. I remember reading about Net Yaroze and being amazed at the games that came on demo discs that people had made at home and I realized I wanted to do that. As an adult I genuinely believe I am on this Earth to make games. Games are my artform, they are where I am my best and brightest.
And honestly, If one day I can make a game that you can play and genuinely enjoy as much as that stupid Devil Dice demo, I think I will be the happiest person to ever have existed because I would give near anything to be able to share this thing with you again.
All the love in the world,
Headwick is the main village on our new Minecraft server and it’s a great little shared community space. I love seeing the area evolve with people making a beautiful space together.
I’m also pretty chuffed to see the Christmas Tree that’s been erected. Seasonal Joy!
A few weeks ago we started playing Minecraft again with a bunch of new people escaping the GONpocalypse. We reset the server map which meant there’s a whole new world to explore. So a few days into the new map BlackwoolHoliday, Alkarl and I set out to try and find swamp and jungle in this new world. Here’s a couple of things we found.
A LOT of ocean:
And a nice beach at the end of it.
Some gravity defying rivers:
This lovely town which we named Ponygable:
This one majestic lone tree in an otherwise desolate hills landscape:
We had a couple of miserable nights camped out in the wilderness in the rain:
And explored a lot of birch forests:
Eventually we discovered this huge timelost rainy beach guarded by the only charged creeper I’ve ever seen in the wild:
And then, as the sun cleared, we reached the southernmost tip of the continent and decided we’d had enough. We named the tip Gullivers Point before heading home:
It was a great adventure but I’ve seen enough Dark Forests, Extreme Hills, Plains, Savannah and Birch Forest to last me a lifetime.
For my birthday each year I have a tradition of playing Zoo Bingo at the Adelaide Zoo. This year I was joined by the lovely Sarah, Lloyd, Brendan, Iona, Rhiannon, Eli Green Drums, Julia Henning and BlackwoolHoliday.
We had a lovely cake provided by BlackwoolHoliday’s lovely mum, Elizabeth.
And then we went out hunting for glimpses of the creatures on our bingo cards.
Thankyou lovely friends for joining me playing silly games at the zoo!
Also thankyou to Lloyd, Chris, Kelly, Ian Barber, Damon Reece and BlackwoolHoliday for a lovely dinner at the pancake kitchen afterwards.
I had such a wonderful day and I got to spend it with people I love.
Psychic Battlesport in Cyberspace.
Psycheball was the third game I worked on for the #Threeforged design competition in 2015.
It’s a fiasco-like roleplaying game with a team based PVP bluffing mechanic at the centre of the competition elements.
I’ve got to admit I’m a bit disappointed by the shape of the third stage form of Shadows of Ares. I’ve had a look at some of Victor’s other stuff and I think the subject matter wasn’t down his alley and my super casual voice for some VERY crunchy rules definitely created a language barrier I would have tried to avoid if I’d thought about ESL participants at all. At some point the document went from being an RTF to a TXT as well which didn’t do anyone any favours. As much as I appreciate Victor Andrade’s work on making the game more accessible I think a bunch of his stuff actually diluted the super tight focus I was trying to keep on the game from the amazing fluff text I got from Chris Bennet in stage 1.
My one goal in stage 2 was to take the level of granularity that games like D&D reserve for combat and apply it to the kind of jury-rigging problem solving that stories like The Martian explore. I feel like I probably achieved that and I was hoping that by using an Apocalypse World style core dice mechanic someone else could fill in the holes we found during our playtest (lack of rules for investigation or persuasion etc).
I do suggest people check out the Stage 2 version because I think the RTF and limited scope are actually pretty solid and if people want to work on it with me we can probably build it out into something cool. Though there are a couple of other spacejockey games in threeforged that get the job done more neatly.
So the #threeforged voting is over, congratulations to Joshua, Shreyas and Grant for Field Work (details at http://halfmeme.com/threeforged_winner_and_everything.html). Now that the veil of anonymity is lifted I can take some time to talk about the games I worked on, the first of which has to be Platonic Mastery. Not only was it my stage one game but it’s also the one that needs the most discussion.
Download here: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/16294442/%23Threeforged%202015/15107s3.rtf
Firstly, @lumpleygames, I totally knew you were one of the collaborators for this. Your voice is so loud in the text, it’s ridiculous.
Secondly, I was absolutely blown away with the third round product of this little thing. When I started threeforged I dredged through my mind for vague recollections of abandoned RPG ideas and recalled a fancy I’d had about doing an ATLA themed game using the elements to dice mapping from the Timaeus Dialogue. If I were following the advice going around a bit more I would have been a bit looser than what I ended up throwing together but after days of agonizing over the dice mechanics I ended up with a playable round one game. We playtested it and the dice mechanic worked. I submitted it and put it out of my mind as I continued work on the other games.
When all the stage 3 games were released for voting I opened up Platonic Mastery and I think I cried a little while reading it. I was so unsure about the original piece I had submitted and to see it all grown up, transformed in ways that were totally beyond what I could have imagined and so evocatively written, I was blown away. So I definitely need to say, thankyou so much to Vincent and Mark for giving me that.
Thirdly, My only disappointment was that one line got removed from my original text and had nothing to replace it. This rule is super awkwardly worded but losing it makes the dice mechanic fall apart and it’s one of the first things we’ll need to address if we put further work into the game:
You may roll as many of your live dice as you wish but you may never use all of your live dice of any single kind on a roll unless they are of the same element as the action being performed.
It’s a pity because there were a couple of reviews that pointed out the flaws in the mechanic raised by not having this limitation.
Fourthly, It wasn’t until some of the voting period reviews raised the issue that I really noticed the social justice implications of the current state of the game. The problems were obviously not intentional on the parts of any of the creators but I think privilege gives you blind spots. Reading the text I was just impressed that the player characters were addressing social justice at all. As a transwoman seeing trans characters not being an outright joke or villain is the bar that media has to meet for me at the moment. I think getting the tone right here is going to be the trickiest part of fixing this game and it might actually be the hill too steep to climb but I desperately want to see a game that both retains the amazing evocative world we see in the republic and still allows for empowerment of the oppressed within it. I think it will probably need a lot of community discussion to get that right. I’m so fucking glad that the anonymity period is over now and I can talk about this stuff directly because hiding my thoughts in a review and not being able to join in other comment threads was a seriously hard time for me.
I’m really looking forward to working on this further because it’s already so far along and so engaging.
I am filled with fear.
I am made of it, burn with it, shake with it.
I stand on a rock in the sky as all of the heavens turn around me.
Space and time rush away sending light back to taunt me
with it’s discovery
with it’s creation.
And I am mortal.
A billion moments to spend,
Every single one of them an opportunity grasped or fumbled
and we are prone to fumbling.
Every breath I spend in boredom, in distraction, or locked within myself;
every heartbeat in which I am not creative, loving, peaceful, and enlightened;
is another coin from my precious fortune
frittered away on less than I could be.