Thursday, August 29, 2013

Golden Age Draft: About Alchemical Gaming

I wrote a bit more of the draft for the Golden Age RPG just now. Please feel free to critique it. This section will likely be right after the About This Book section from the last post.

Alchemical Gaming is the term we like to use for the practice of using a game character to produce changes in yourself (or, potentially, the rest of the real world if you're ambitious). We call it "alchemical" after the Jungian understanding of medieval alchemy, which uses the metaphor of turning lead into gold to refer to the perfection of the self. The influential occult philosopher Eliphas Levi referred to this goal as the Great Work. The even more influential psychologist Abraham Maslow called it self-actualization.

Most recently, Jane McGonigal's principles of game design in her book Reality is Broken outline why most people are more likely to make life changes for the sake of a game than because it will improve their real life. In her words, games are meaningful work that we choose, which is exactly what gives them their power to help us. Her game SuperBetter is only the most obvious of many projects built around helping people to use games to change both themselves and the world. She prefers to call this type of game an "alternate reality game", but it seems to us that not all alternate reality games really qualify. Many are only about immersively experiencing a different world for its own sake. Hence, we suggest "alchemical game" as a more accurate term for games that try to help the player to evolve.

Usually alchemical gaming means learning a new skill or new information, expressing feelings or confronting fears you don't feel comfortable facing in your everyday life, or trying out a new way of acting in a safe environment where failure doesn't mean as much as it usually does. When you get really good at alchemical gaming, it can let you do all three of these at once, but take it slow at first by basing your character on only one real-world goal. A game character is always a vehicle for your fun, and always based on your interests and preferences. Using it to work on a real-world goal is only a very small leap from there.

One of the authors of this book, Jason, has been working on a draft for a book all about alchemical gaming for a few years now. When he got the idea for this game, he realized that the best way to finish that old project would be to design a game system to be alchemical from the ground up. That's one of the main reasons this game includes so much real-world history, mythology and religion - learning about those things is the first alchemical fringe benefit of playing the game in the first place. From time to time, you'll see sidebars in this book labeled "Alchemical Tips". These are optional strategies you can use if you're choosing to use your character alchemically. For more detailed information on how it works, refer to pages XX-YY in the Character Creation section of this book.

One final caveat: Although it shares some ideas in common with psychodrama, alchemical gaming is neither therapy nor a replacement for therapy. This game is designed for responsible, mature adults, and that goes triple for the alchemical techniques. Nothing can be quite as disturbing as confronting a fear you aren't yet ready to deal with. Know your limits.

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