Yesterday I participated in a megagame for the first time. I do a lot of gaming; I’m a committee member of the Roleplaying Society here at UoD, have been a Magic player for years, play board games with a group of friends back home, and have on occasion participated in live action roleplaying games (LARPs). I enjoy the challenge of strategy games and the imagination involved in roleplay, but my participation in gaming has not only bought me many hours of fun in my free time but also strengthened ties with friends back home, and helped me build new relationships here at university. However, most of the time I play in groups of four to eight which are highly cohesive once formed, while yesterday I played in a game involving thirty two players, plus gamesmasters / referees.
Megagaming essentially falls somewhere between a board game and a LARP. There are all the trappings of a board game: the strict definitions of what a player can do on his or her turn, turn order, rounds, tokens, and maps or boards – but each player takes on a role which not only defines what kind of actions they can take in a turn but also provides opportunities for the in-character acting of tabletop and live action roleplaying games. In this game, Galactic Throne (based on the board game Twilight Imperium), each team had four roles – President, Admiral, Diplomat and Explorer – each following different rules and having different actions available to them on their turn; for instance, Admirals met once a turn around a war table to move their forces around the map and resolve any conflicts, while Diplomats met in a separate room to discuss issues emerging from the action elsewhere and propose and vote upon resolutions to these issues. Over the course of ten hours of gameplay, a team playing reporters tweeted a commentary of the diplomatic council’s proceedings and provided single page newspapers after every round which were delivered to each team’s table.
As the written plot points developed – the appearance of the mysterious spheres, the warping of space-time, the ships’ AI apparently gaining sentience – other stories developed as a result of unscripted player interactions and unpredictable council decisions and the reporters responded to that by speaking to presidents and diplomats about their actions. Alliances were made, broken, and betrayed. A faction suffered trade sanctions after evidence emerged that they were supporting a terrorist organisations, which were later lifted as it was proven that they were set up by a rival faction who were the true backers of the terrorists. Once free of suspicion, the exonerated faction began supporting the terrorists while the original backers were punished. As a diplomat, I can report that the tension in the council was very real even though all of us were simply acting and the Galactic Council chamber itself was a reading room in a local church hall. For me the most serious moment was when we were discussing what we should do about the AI which was now spreading from fighter ship to fighter ship. Bribes were even paid to the reporters not to write anything until a resolution had been drafted and voted upon.
While social interaction is involved in all games where there are co-located players, communication is integral to the experience of playing a megagame; whether in the context of formulating tactics within your own team, or in negotiating with members of other teams to advance your team’s agenda, or in contributing to the ever evolving storyline, you are engaging with other players almost constantly. Furthermore, while a traditional board game allows each player to directly observe each other player at all times, a megagame does not, so what one team member witnesses in one area must be effectively related by them to the rest of their team to help inform their individual strategies. Following the conclusion of the game, a debriefing is held which resolves any outstanding issues, clarifies any plot points which have been misunderstood or which were too vague for players to pick up on, and allow all participants to share stories of their experiences. This results in a very positive atmosphere, and a sense of community. While a team was awarded the throne at the end, the game itself was not about achieving an objective and winning, it was about sharing – and creating – a fictional reality which will be remembered by all those who were involved. While the level of social interaction in my game is unlikely to be quite so deep, I aspire to encourage a sense of belonging within a play group, albeit a much smaller one.
On a personal note, post-debriefing I headed to the pub with the rest of team Imperia – three guys from Edinburgh I had never met before. While talking to one of them about my dissertation, I discovered that he had been a writer on Fallen London, one of the games I have been looking at in my research, and he gave me his email address, saying he would be happy to answer any questions I may have.
Photos by Anna.Photos