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Soapbox: About the Industry

Let's Go Shopping?!?

by Sandy Antunes
January 2, 2002  

The question was posed to me, whether one can design a roleplaying session about shopping.

This shopping bit has an interesting side discussion, which I'll awkwardly place here at the start. This is popular turf. In fact, shopping could be seen as an important step in the journey towards the Holy Grail of Gaming. One computer gamer who does _much_ online and computer RPG playing has provided the razor "A computer game is an RPG if it allows you to go shopping".

The logic being that shopping is a way to customize and personalize the character, and escape the scripting/railroading of many non-RPGs.

When you consider how auctions have taken fire online, and how much fun window shopping and shopping-but-not-to-buy is with different substrata, it's clearly a winner of an idea. By extension, a game with a strong in-game shopping component has a greater chance to succeed with the almost-mass-market and thus falls within the scope of this column... err, I mean, and thus is a topic fully worth discussing.

So I would say shopping is easy to make fun as game and as roleplay.

Under the Brylawski school of gaming (identify decision points and consequences, and abstract everything else), shopping is not good gaming. But that approach works too hard to disassemble the pieces and not hard enough contemplating the motivation. The decisions made are not logistical, i.e. "does this match" or "do I need this", but are curiosity-based, almost childlike: "this is pretty", "this appeals to my sense", and also has appeals to one's sense of possessiveness.

Logistical shopping, I will dub (impolitely) "guy shopping". As in, "I need a new pair of pants; I go to the pants store and quickly reduce the search to the 3 most likely candidates; I try them on; 1 fits, so I buy it." That, I agree, is no fun.

Shopping as roleplay is more 'chick shopping' (I'm using the gender-based terms just because they're societal stereotypes, not to support the stereotypes themselves, so we'll call them archetypes instead).

This is "I want to go out and have fun; look, a mall!; look, neat things!; Ooh, I like this, I want to play with it and try it on; Ooh, I like this also; Ooh, this is a good deal; I'm done playing and will now go home." Note that actually purchasing something is notably missing here... its presence is, at best, merely an initial motivator to begin the shopping jaunt, but is not the reason for shopping itself.

Put into a roleplaying game, who goes shopping? Chicks? Materialists? Blink monklike isolationists? Giant electric squids? All the above? Shopping does not require a specific character type or personality. It simply requires answering "Why does he/she/it shop?" Shopping can provide resources (for the logical), cultural insight (for the intuitive), entertainment (for the non-materialists), even grist for condemnation (for the righteous).

So what "skills" are needed for shopping? I'd say that 'bargaining', for one, is not primary. Bargaining is good for buying, but not for shopping, and I believe I've made the two distinct enough here. At best, a bargain role would occur at the end of the shopping roleplay session, to wrap up the final cost (if indeed anything was bought).

"Credit rating" would be useful in so much as it would set up which sort of stores one might frequent (and perhaps, have access to, at the high end)... so it applies only as a player background aspect, really.

Important skills would be things like "spot hidden", "detect lie" (for interacting with salespeople), and, depending on the type of shopping, varied character-based details like "history" (if going antiqueing) or "artistic talent" (if looking for a bold new fashion).

Moving to the Costikyan/maguffin school, this branch of gaming involves reliance upon opposition to generation tension, usually centered around a maguffin. This can be worked into the framework of the roleplaying shopper. But first we must realize the point of shopping is not to find the maguffin, because we've already set up that shopping isn't about a specific item goal.

Which also means there's no competing force; shopping is a sensational experience, not a goal-oriented activity (which is why I would say it's the ideal roleplaying experience!) By the same token, it's not chess-like in nature, and pawns aren't required.

In fact, because rpging so often involves conflict (players versus the world), shopping is one of the few 'safe places' where characters can interact with a world in a non-threatening place. So putting it into the framework of adversarial reduces its usefulness as a roleplaying activity. Opposition is not required for roleplay, and in fact the excessive use of opposition can stifle roleplay (by shifting it entirely to a tactical/problem solving experience).

That said, the maguffin is highly useful from the GM's point of view, in that the maguffin is something the GM can use to segue the shopping experience into the campaign as a whole. The shopping can be the environmental framework into which a skilled GM introduces the maguffin and the adversarial aspects, to lead into the adventure proper.

Case in point, the adventure might concern a search for lost relics. But while in Egypt, they stop to do some shopping. Lo, in the bazaar, while shopping, one of the artifacts might fortuitously be available for sale... perhaps with other bidders, or people waiting for a quiet moment to steal it.

So here again, shopping is an environment and an activity around which game elements can be put. It does mean the roleplaying scenario isn't about shopping, anymore than a roleplaying session is _about_ combat, even when a firefight is the main focusing incident that occurs. The game is more than a set scene or single idiom, and it's the interweaving of different activities (not all with a linear point) that makes for a more rich session.

So the challenge is really to the GM, to realize that shopping is like tourism: it's a framework of activity that is pleasurable unto itself, that also can provide a launching point for more conventional game-like activities.

In a sample case, imagine a roleplaying session where the characters are in a strange land, and walk into a store. Is the enjoyment in finding bargains? No, it is in seeing neat things that the characters had never encountered before, trying new experiences, and interacting with a non-threatening local (the shopkeeper, in a decidedly useful unadversarial role). Into this, the GM can insert a maguffin for extra fun, but the focus remains the simple joy of shopping.

In the end, isn't roleplaying always about exploring an environment while wearing character colored glasses? Whereas gaming is about either competition (external) or solving puzzles (internal). And roleplaying gaming is therefore the mix of the two.

"Only shopping"? I think not. TQo0~^DҒt< ek&Ǿ$\۵ZFȃuwݝIŃU QYir2HR2.u3MFoعq]4#A`pP5(b& )b)ⰾp7(i<[-2gL#5[f g?*rVGf8*)s'+20ϟ̑F}KB<7wSL\gbvm9WiRބYŜvd y0'p2I_Fc2>#o A )VL[Qk?3`)<У[(*W.JH ?tXCt谙 X:@ \0w ~LqĤE-rFkYœj4q 5AQ6[AxG [>w|?( fХθY䝛$c=_qNĦoǸ>O_|&/_Mi7"宥CЧk0dӷLh;TmuCGU-!Ul{ h<\bQX.~"O2*yPcz!ŠGg

What do you think?

Go to forum!\n"; $file = "http://www.rpg.net/$subdir/list2.php?f=$num"; if (readfile($file) == 0) { echo "(0 messages so far)
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All Soapboxes

  • See What Sticks by Sandy Antunes, 06jan06
  • Simple Gifts for Pre-Gamers by Sandy Antunes, 09dec05
  • Col vs Blog by Sandy Antunes, 04nov05
  • Running a First RPG for Kids by Sandy Antunes, 07oct05
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  • Just-in-Time Pre-order Hell by Sandy Antunes, 01jul05
  • Cassandra's Industry Report by Sandy Antunes, 03jun05
  • Fiction or Non-Fiction by Sandy Antunes, 05may05
  • I am not a Storyteller by Sandy Antunes, 08apr05
  • A Better Job by Sandy Antunes, 01apr05
  • Advice For Working Writers by Sandy Antunes, 04mar05
  • Startup Fever by Sandy Antunes, 04feb05
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  • Being a Pro Writer by Sandy Antunes, 10dec04
  • Viral Marketing Invitational by Sandy Antunes, 05nov04
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  • A Decade of Distilled Advice by Sandy Antunes, 03sep04
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  • 10 Hurdles to Selling Your Game by Sandy Antunes, 11jun04
  • Let's Team Up! by Sandy Antunes, 07may04
  • Beyond Role and Pla(t)y(pus) by Sandy Antunes, 08apr04
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  • Mad Scientists and the Kilgallon Paradox by Sandy Antunes, 09jan04
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  • Murphy's Law for Adventure Writers by Sandy Antunes, 07nov03
  • Eigentesting by Sandy Antunes, 09oct03
  • Atomic by Sandy Antunes, 05sep03
  • Is Writing a Commodity? by Sandy Antunes, 06aug03
  • Designing Amidst the Tides of Gaming History by Sandy Antunes, 08jul03
  • Buy This Book by Sandy Antunes, 05jun03
  • Hobbies by Sandy Antunes, 08may03
  • The Websites That Wouldn't Die by Sandy Antunes, 10apr03
  • The Path to Atrocities by Sandy Antunes, 06mar03
  • Cattle Mutilation: The Game Design by Sandy Antunes, 06feb03
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  • How To Be An Industry Poser, Part 1 by Sandy Antunes, 05dec02
  • all i game with, i learned from kids books by Sandy Antunes, 19nov02
  • TCG: The Total Cost of Gaming by Sandy Antunes, 10oct02
  • Game Publishing & The Law by Sandy Antunes, 06sep02
  • Standing on the Shoulders of Giants by Sandy Antunes, 01aug02
  • Buying Time by Sandy Antunes, 04jul02
  • April 10, 2002 13 New FAQs
  • March 1, 2002 Give Me A Closet
  • January 2, 2002 Let's Go Shopping?!?
  • December 13, 2001 Conflict, Ethics, Winning, and Money
  • November 13, 2001 Secret RPGnet Operations Document Leaked!
  • October 16, 2001 Leadership and D&D
  • September 4, 2001 Leading Industry Site Reports Secret: Sex Sells!
  • August 7, 2001 Any, Anyone Can Be an Internet Success-- Why Aren't You?
  • July 3, 2001 Fine Print, Part U
  • June 5, 2001 Fine Print, Part I
  • May 8, 2001 Pushing Limits
  • May 4, 2001 RPGnet State of the Union special feature
  • April 6, 2001 The Other Magic: Niche Hobbies and Other Markets
  • May 9, 2000 Running a Business as an Old Style D&D Party
  • April 14, 2000 First to Market
  • March 20, 2000 Labor Pains
  • February 15, 2000 One Trick Pony
  • January 6, 2000 Creativity is Bad, Hard to Sell, and Great for Business
  • December 14, 1999 Oranges versus Bananas: Entertainment Costs
  • November 2, 1999 Why Editors Lie
  • October 5, 1999 How to publish a quality game, accept criticism gracefully, and lead a happy life: Pick Any Two
  • September 7, 1999 It Takes a Village (to publish an RPG)
  • August 3, 1999 All Gamer Money Isn't Equal
  • July 6, 1999 Tides of Cash Flow
  • June 1, 1999 Ad-itudes
  • May 4, 1999 Who, What, Give me a Guiness
  • April 6, 1999 The GAMA Trade Show '99
  • March 2, 1999 Roleplaying would have saved Millions
  • February 2, 1999 Games That Won't Suck
  • January 5, 1999 Dangerous Games
  • December 1, 1998 Making Gamers the Old Fashioned Way
  • November 3, 1998 The $1K Company
  • October 1, 1998 So You Want to Start Your Own Company...
  • September 1, 1998 Holy Grails and Marching Morons
  • August 4, 1998 Gamers Must Die!
  • July 7, 1998 Profit versus Prophet
  • June 2, 1998 Acquire! Acquire!
  • May 5, 1998 Power
  • April 21, 1998 The GAMA Trade Show Report, Part 2 (eventually)
  • April 7, 1998 Schroedinger Games, or, the GAMA Report
  • March 3, 1998 Culling the Herd
  • February 3, 1998 Horatio Hornblower's RPG Company
  • January 6, 1998 Double Feature (Us and Them/A Clash of Images)
  • December 2, 1997 "How to Scam Games for Free"
  • November 4, 1997 "Women in Gaming?"
  • October 2, 1997 "Fear of a Gaming Planet" (Welcome to the RPG ghetto?)
  • September 2, 1997 "Rush" (fame and adoration in lieu of pay)
  • August 2, 1997 "For the Money" (convention mating rituals)
  • July 2, 1997 "Good Deeds" (the dearth of evil game companies)
  • June 2, 1997 "Dirty Laundry" (copyright and slander on the net)
  • May 2, 1997 "Communications Breakdown" (company and player schisms)
  • April 2, 1997 "The Quick and the Dead" (dying companies versus new ideas)
  • March 2, 1997 "It's All in the Timing" (on hype and late deliveries, and on genres)
  • February 2, 1997 "Insiders and Outsiders" (who's who and who uses the web)
  • January 2, 1997 "Fits and Starts" (web presences, print runs, live roleplaying)
  • December 2, 1996 "Procastination Season is Over" (delays and new products)
  • November 1, 1996 "Best of Times, Worst of Times" (on rumors, survival, and larps)
  • October 1, 1996 "Post-Con fallout and not that many new games"
  • September 1, 1996 "Our launch, news from GenCon, demos, new LARPS"
  • Our reason for existence

    Other columns at RPGnet

    TQo0~^DҒt< ek&Ǿ$\۵ZFȃuwݝIŃU QYir2HR2.u3MFoعq]4#A`pP5(b& )b)ⰾp7(i<[-2gL#5[f g?*rVGf8*)s'+20ϟ̑F}KB<7wSL\gbvm9WiRބYŜvd y0'p2I_Fc2>#o A )VL[Qk?3`)<У[(*W.JH ?tXCt谙 X:@ \0w ~LqĤE-rFkYœj4q 5AQ6[AxG [>w|?( fХθY䝛$c=_qNĦoǸ>O_|&/_Mi7"宥CЧk0dӷLh;TmuCGU-!Ul{ h<\bQX.~"O2*yPcz!ŠGg