Paul Czege on the wild energy of the itch.io ttrpg scene, or, "My Life With Itch"

Tun Kai Poh

Explorer
Paul Czege, the designer of MY LIFE WITH MASTER has spent this year looking at the indie scene on itch.io, and the crazy wild energy on it. An important thread on Twitter. If I were his editor, I'd title it "My Life With Itch."

Have you seen people talking about the tabletop storygame and RPG scene on itchio, but then weren't impressed with any of the games? Then this thread is for you.

It's clear to you that a lot of #ttrpg games published on itchio haven't been playtested? Maybe your unconscious gamer reaction is, "I don't buy ideas."

Or maybe you're not seeing how they're even playable.

I pretty much spent this year diving into the itchio scene, perceiving its energy and trying to figure it out. I designed and published a game a month from May through September. I joined and participated in four game jams.

I've traded games and made friends with other designers.
This is the Physical Games section of itch.io today, BTW. Over FOUR THOUSAND tabletop rpg pdfs, about three-quarters created/added THIS YEAR.

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And here's the big thing I learned: the small games people are making and selling on itcho aren't products in the ways gamers are conditioned to process them.

And they're not just ideas either.

They're...incitements.

You have to shop for them in a different way than gamers have been trained to shop. And you use them in a different way.
Here's a resounding endorsement:

I'm convinced the future paradigms of RPGs are being discovered in the itchio scene. Nothing has flowed out powerfully yet, but it will.

(So now feels like the time to figure it out for yourself if that's something you're interested in. Remember the frustrations of folks who wanted to engage with the Forge scene in 2006, only to be confronted with too many years of activity to catch up on?)

The thing is, RPGs have always been incitements. Jorune aims to incite you to play with the fullness of its worldbuilding. Primetime Adventures aims to incite you with its system and procedures. D&D aims to incite with its survival challenge and advancement rewards.

But what makers of small games on itchio are doing is exploring the wider landscape of incitement.

There are games like @bjrecio's Cockamania, which aim to incite with cultural expression.
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There are games like @temporalhiccup's The Mermaid Spell, which aim to incite with procedures of ritual and affirmation:
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There's a lot more, but here's the wrap-up:

The designers of small games on itchio are yearning and striving to spark your incitement. They believe you are more than a gamer buying products that probably don't work for you.

They believe you bring your whole self and capacities to the table, and that you can trust and achieve things they imagine for you if you just believe it yourself.

To be incited you have to figure out how to believe in yourself as much as their games do. That's how to shop for games on itchio. Shop as if you believe in yourself.
 
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Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
I‘m struggling to understand what that means. What is an incitement? I have to figure out how to believe in myself?
 

pemerton

Legend
Paul Czege, the designer of MY LIFE WITH MASTER has spent this year looking at the indie scene on itch.io, and the crazy wild energy on it.
Thanks for this post - this is the first I've heard of itch.io.

I just bought and downloaded two games - The Mermaid Spell and the treasure at the end of this dungeon is an escape from this dungeon and we will never escape from this dungeon.

With the former I thought I might get something like Wuthering Heights, but misjudged. It didn't move me as it did Paul Czege ("This not-a-game is thoroughly great. It invokes a strength people need in the world in an intense, but wondrous and caring way. ") but maybe I need to come back to it in a different frame of mind.

The latter reminds me a little bit of Vincent Baker's Murderous Ghosts. I don't know if I'll get to play it any time soon, but it seems like it could be pretty interesting.
 
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pemerton

Legend
What is an incitement?
The OED gives two definitions:

1. The action of inciting or rousing to action; an urging, spurring, or setting on; instigation, stimulation.

2. That which incites or rouses to action; an inciting cause or motive; stimulus, incentive, ‘spur’.

So RPGs have always been incitement = RPGs have always been spurs to action.

The designers of small games on itchio are yearning and striving to spark your incitement = those designers are yearning and striving to spark within you an arousal to action.

I have to figure out how to believe in myself?
I think Czege's view is that a genuine arousal to action, that comes from within the aroused person, must be sincere and flow from the self even though another has sparked it. Self-doubt will hinder that flow. That's what believing in yourself means in this context.

You can see this also in his comment on The Mermaid Spell that I posted just upthread.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
The OED gives two definitions:

1. The action of inciting or rousing to action; an urging, spurring, or setting on; instigation, stimulation.

2. That which incites or rouses to action; an inciting cause or motive; stimulus, incentive, ‘spur’.

So RPGs have always been incitement = RPGs have always been spurs to action.

The designers of small games on itchio are yearning and striving to spark your incitement = those designers are yearning and striving to spark within you an arousal to action.

I think Czege's view is that a genuine arousal to action, that comes from within the aroused person, must be sincere and flow from the self even though another has sparked it. Self-doubt will hinder that flow. That's what believing in yourself means in this context.

You can see this also in his comment on The Mermaid Spell that I posted just upthread.
Sorry, but what action do RPGs incite you to do? Also, rather disappointed that the OED defines incitement by direct reference to iis root word.
 

pemerton

Legend
Sorry, but what action do RPGs incite you to do?
Well, in Czege's conception, I think it would depend upon the RPG in question.

Like someone might see poetry as, or as aspiring to, incitement in much the same sense but different poems and different poets would incite to different sorts of things.

I also think we would need to consider that Czege almost certainly regards action as encompassing the exercise and manifestation of creativity. I don't think he's working with a classical empiricist conception of the mind as all ideas and impressions! He's closer to an idealist/romantic conception of creativity as expressing and constituting the self.
 

pemerton

Legend
I also found this on the twitter thread linked by the OP:

22/ Is it clear what I mean by incitement? Games that are products in the way gamers are used to are fun ways to use your energy. The best small games, if you know how to use them, create energy. Incitement is a game creating energy.

I think that's pretty consistent with what I posted upthread - the arousal to action comes from within, a sort of self-actualisation.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Well, in Czege's conception, I think it would depend upon the RPG in question.

Like someone might see poetry as, or as aspiring to, incitement in much the same sense but different poems and different poets would incite to different sorts of things.

I also think we would need to consider that Czege almost certainly regards action as encompassing the exercise and manifestation of creativity. I don't think he's working with a classical empiricist conception of the mind as all ideas and impressions! He's closer to an idealist/romantic conception of creativity as expressing and constituting the self.
I had asked you what you thought, as I would never expect you to imagine what someone else might think.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I also found this on the twitter thread linked by the OP:


22/ Is it clear what I mean by incitement? Games that are products in the way gamers are used to are fun ways to use your energy. The best small games, if you know how to use them, create energy. Incitement is a game creating energy.

I think that's pretty consistent with what I posted upthread - the arousal to action comes from within, a sort of self-actualisation.
Rouse and arousal are different things. Also, if the rousing to action comes from within, hiw does that work with the games being a call to action?

Incitement is a bad choice, here. Especially given the connotation of the word.
 

pemerton

Legend
What can I say? It caused me no confusion at all. If someone described a poem or an essay or a piece of music or whatever as an incitement, I would know what they meant. Czege is using the word in the same sort of way. It seems a fairly standard piece of terminology for a certain sort of anti- or at least non-rationalist criticism.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
The OED gives two definitions:

1. The action of inciting or rousing to action; an urging, spurring, or setting on; instigation, stimulation.

2. That which incites or rouses to action; an inciting cause or motive; stimulus, incentive, ‘spur’.

So RPGs have always been incitement = RPGs have always been spurs to action.

The designers of small games on itchio are yearning and striving to spark your incitement = those designers are yearning and striving to spark within you an arousal to action.

I think Czege's view is that a genuine arousal to action, that comes from within the aroused person, must be sincere and flow from the self even though another has sparked it. Self-doubt will hinder that flow. That's what believing in yourself means in this context.

You can see this also in his comment on The Mermaid Spell that I posted just upthread.
I’ve no idea what that means, either. Could you translate for an idiot who doesn’t speak art?
 

pemerton

Legend
I’ve no idea what that means, either. Could you translate for an idiot who doesn’t speak art?
Taking you at your word (if you're taking the p*ss I'm sorryfor being po-faced, but I didn't pick it up . . .):

Elevator music is meant to make you feel calm and undisturbed. It's meant to be familiar, and to evoke the familiar. Now think of some music that's the opposite of that (say, Stravinsky's Firebird, or to use a more rock/pop example say Pink Floyd's Saucerful of Secrets) - that would count as an incitement in the musical context. It's meant to provoke a response from you that (i) you wouldn't expect or anticipate, but that (ii) comes from in you - the music is the prompt to a response but not the response itself.

The same contrast in visual art might be a "chocolate box" illustration compared to The Raft of the Medusa.

(Of course over time things that were once incitements become assimilated and part of the familiar. Eg most of the impressionists' work. Much of Wagner. I hope my examples are sufficiently non-assimilated to do their work!)

Czege is saying that these RPGs are incitements like that. They won't make you feel comfortable or safe in any straightforward sense. They'll make you have to confront yourself - what do I like? what do I think about this? what do I want out of this? - and to get them to work - that is, to play them - you'll have to answer those questions and engage with the games by bringing your creative self to bear in ways you didn't expect. It's the stuff in the previous sentence that is the believing in yourself, and that Czege is contrasting with (what he sees as) typical RPGer consumption.

I don't know how well you know Czege's RPGs. I've never payed My Life With Master, but know it by reputation. I've read Nicotine Girls and been influenced by it although I can't imagine playing it. And I've read The World, the Flesh and the Devil but again have not played it. These games are all attempts to break away from "mainstream" or "traditional" RPGing - for instance, My Life With Master and Nicotine Girls are distinctive for having a thematic/story trajectory built into them.

So it's not surprising to me to see him enthusing about these RPGs, nor to see him doing it in the way that he is. I think he's pretty self-consciously in the avant-garde of RPGing, in the full sense of that term: ie not just at the forefront in terms of technical design, but at the forefront also in terms of the cultural experience and cultural values that RPGing can be associated with.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Taking you at your word (if you're taking the p*ss I'm sorryfor being po-faced, but I didn't pick it up . . .):
Not at all. The entire post was just word salad to me! I reread it a bunch of times. I guess I'm not the target audience.

I don't know how well you know Czege's RPGs.
First I've heard of them! :)
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I’ve no idea what that means, either. Could you translate for an idiot who doesn’t speak art?
I dunno if it is about speaking art. It looks more about... being a bit pretentious. I mean, "the future paradigms of RPGs are being discovered on itchio" is a pretty lofty, self-important statement.
 

pemerton

Legend
I dunno if it is about speaking art. It looks more about... being a bit pretentious. I mean, "the future paradigms of RPGs are being discovered on itchio" is a pretty lofty, self-important statement.
It might be true, it might be false - but since when has it become illegitimate or improper for an important creative figure in a field to exprss an opinion about where the future of that field is to be found?
 

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