Monday, July 2, 2012

Reading for GMs: Six Recent Reads in Brief

As I've said before, I usually read things and watch movies with an eye to how I might use that in gamemastering. That's part of the reason I've been working my way through Getting to Yes: How to Negotiate Agreement Without Giving In and What You Need to Know About Project Management. here are six other books I read recently and some thoughts, especially on how they might be useful or not to GMs. 

Tokyo Vice
Written by an American who covered the crime beat for a major Japanese newspaper for many years. It has some truly seamy stuff in it, probably of more use to GMs doing a noir or more procedural game. It can get dark at times and looks at aspects of Japanese life and criminal influence either not covered or else glamorized in other media. The material can be pretty awful and rough at times. I think it is most interesting as a consideration of the way that journalists have to act as investigators. The relationship of the police to the news reporters is complex- and worth considering in terms of how players might have to work and care for NPC contacts. There’s also the consideration of the author as a gaijin- an outsider status he never overcomes despite many years of working in the country. For GMs considering “fish out of water” details for PCs that might be useful fodder.

The Supergirls: Fashion, Feminism, Fantasy, and the History of Comic Book Heroines
This book does deliver at least part of what it suggests- with a listing history of various female superheroes from their first appearance up through the modern day. His take feels fairly comprehensive until we get closer to the modern day, at which point, with the explosion of titles in the early 90’s, he ends up picking and choosing. There’s definitely a focus on mainstream and popular characters, with few other indie or second tier characters covered (Lady Death and a few others). Madrid does tie some insights about the eras of these characters and their depictions as well as a consideration of the double standard of treatment for them. However the result is more anecdotal than analytical. I would have like to have seen some great higher level consideration of the issues and how feminist theory relates to the presentation. There’s some passing mention of most of these characters being written by men (with Gail Simone shown as an exception), but less consideration of what impact that has. Nor what impact the depiction of these heroines might have in terms of male vs. female readership. Not a great resource unless you really like superheroes and want some additional perspective.

Also, the book illustrates the need for a really good editor- the repetition of words and phrases becomes especially irritating when you listen to the audiobook version as I did.

Ready Player One
A decent novel, set in a dystopian future where everyone’s involved in a massive VR game revolving around 1980’s culture. I enjoyed it, though it was pretty light. I did like the contrast between the awful pseudo-cyberpunky world and the VR landscape- governed heavily by concerns about costs and economics. Worth reading for anyone planning on running a game with a VR element- at least to consider how these kinds of things might get played out at the table. How do you create stakes for the players in the simulation setting? How do you connect that with their real selves?

John Dies at the End
Written by one of the senior editors at Cracked.com, I enjoyed this, but not as much as I wanted to. I’d recommend it for anyone running a modern horror or supernatural game. There’s definitely the feeling that the main character may be caught in a horrible and sadistic GM’s campaign. It has Lovecraftian elements, mixed together with a serious helping of William S. Burroughs. I made my way through it, but I will admit to feeling a little fatigue as I went along. There’s a sense of flippancy and speed which means the book never feels like it has any heft. Not unlike Ready Player One above, it feels like a book for the web generation. It never fully resonates with me- it grabs me while I read it, but one I put it down, I detach from it. Still there are some great bits it would be awesome to lift or borrow for a game.

The Way Hollywood Tells It: Story and Style in Modern Movies
An interesting deconstruction of structural elements in films. I’ve talked before about how those techniques can be brought to bear ongamemastering. A chunk of the book considers the format of the studio system and the economic and business issues involved- making those less useful. The author’s at his best when he’s breaking down films and showing the multiple readings possible. If you’re a cinephile, probably worth checking out.

The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century
Meh. I was a little disappointed that the title is more metaphorical than literal. I does offer a nice “on the ground” approach to describing the landscape. For GM’s running anything close to the period it will be useful. It provides some nice details and descriptions which could easily be picked up. Pretty readable; if you can find a cheap copy, pick it up.