February 27th, 2015

An excerpt from the God Game
Colin Jacks

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[We here at Mutable wanted to showcase a little bit from Jacks' lost classic on the game of game creation, the God Game---some copies may still be lurking somewhere but most of these books were destroyed during an unfortunate flooding incident in Chicago last summer. The below excerpt begins the section on the creation of role-playing games and their like. If you like what you read below, you can email us at mail@mutablesound.com to get a pdf of the full manual, so that YOU TOO can be part of our God Game focus group!]



1.‭ ‬Categories


1.0.0‭ ‬Does the ground consist of spires‭?
What is and what is not within the world that you are planning to create‭? ‬Does the ground consist of spires that reach to the tips of the atmosphere,‭ ‬or is the entire orb made up of a teaming mass of encephalocapsules‭? (‬Brain capsules.‭) ‬All of this begins with categorization.‭ ‬Create a series of types,‭ ‬beginning with animate and inanimate matter,‭ ‬or god and mortal,‭ ‬or up and down,‭ ‬and from these preliminary dichotomies you can create the great font of being,‭ ‬the million hordes and so forth.


1.0.1‭ ‬The single question of purpose
Of course,‭ ‬I should comment that categorization,‭ ‬though essential to the creation of the various things that populate your event horizon,‭ ‬is something to watch like a string of greedy mouths loitering on the periphery.‭ ‬It’s so seductive to over-segment,‭ ‬but behind all these funny categories you’re always coming up with—categories of skins and categories of skinless—categories of light and dark—categories of friends and enemies—behind all this there should always be a single focus to your game,‭ ‬a single driving narrative,‭ ‬a single unfolding question,‭ ‬a single passion that is pushing all this forward.‭ ‬It could be a singular uncertainty or an effort to embrace everything always and that’s your singular focus but some kind of something of if not purpose then simply that which could be and can be made to be through this single spontaneous act of creation,‭ ‬and this is how you win,‭ ‬but of course to win the God Game is to lose—I cannot reiterate this enough—because once you have won there is no more game and without a game why bother even writing this book‭? ‬Part of the game is to never finish making the game.


1.0.2‭ ‬Essential to creation and the fault of escapism
But categories are essential to creation.‭ ‬Although it is possible to attempt to create a world without any distinctions whatsoever,‭ ‬this would more than likely be a very short game,‭ ‬and therefore considered largely unsuccessful,‭ ‬but perfect for those who relish these sorts of failed experiments.‭
       (Though,‭ ‬also can’t tell you enough how all who play the God Game must learn to relish their many failures.‭ ‬That game you completed one afternoon that is really just the most boring board game ever but you keep bringing it out every time you have guests over,‭ ‬or a game the involves all the unclaimed pieces from other lost games you had lying about the cupboard that you have tried to explain a million times but every time you find yourself overcome by yet another bout of stuttering.‭)
       On the other hand,‭ ‬any God Gaming Enthusiast who focuses exclusively on categorization without looking also towards the that-which-is-not would to my mind be suffering from the simple fault of escapism—creating instead a husk with no meat,‭ ‬names without substance.‭ ‬Only when we begin to think of the interaction between objects and species do we begin to see the God Game revel in its glory,‭ ‬and it is within this interaction that both questions of purpose and mystery surface.‭ ‬A God Game without interaction is a static world,‭ ‬one waiting to develop,‭ ‬but always frozen in expectancy.‭ ‬In God’s own game of universe-creation,‭ ‬I imagine a giant cabinet filling with lists of things,‭ ‬actions,‭ ‬dimensions,‭ ‬emotions,‭ ‬but then all of this must be put into motion with an unfolding of force and field.‭ ‬We separate time and space into two different categories and then force is created,‭ ‬and things begin to interact with other things,‭ ‬and this is how the world was worded by the particular physics-oriented deity I think about when I think about our universe as a single giant example of the God Game.


1.0.3‭ ‬Introduction to levels while brainstorming categories
Categorization has a variety of levels.‭ ‬For example,‭ ‬I can speak of different types of matter,‭ ‬or I can speak of different attributes any given species might have.‭ ‬I can speak of the different levels of reality,‭ ‬or I can speak of interactions within a specific tier.‭ ‬I start with basic principles,‭ ‬such as that there is no such thing as inanimate matter,‭ ‬then ask the question that then if my world has rocks,‭ ‬what is a rock,‭ ‬and how does it move‭? ‬This is how we begin to brainstorm concerning categories.‭


1.0.4‭ ‬Elasticity and species creation as example
Elasticity is an attribute I have been thinking about quite a bit recently.‭ ‬It can be applied to all matter in our world,‭ ‬and if we were to take a God Gamer and ask him or her to create a world that existed on one square inch of skin,‭ ‬this person could do wonders with elasticity,‭ ‬as microscopic organisms seem to excel in this department.‭ (‬I am thinking primarily of amoebas now.‭) ‬Humans and mammals,‭ ‬however,‭ ‬are fairly low in elasticity,‭ ‬when we think in terms of musculature and skeletal framework.‭ ‬Trees even more so.[1]‭ Example of telepathic moss and demons
Consider if you will the categorization of various tiers of reality,‭ ‬and a one world filled with demons that coexist with,‭ ‬but are completely unnoticed by,‭ ‬a highly intelligent moss that exists in another world,‭ ‬for example.‭ ‬The moss,‭ ‬let us say communicates entirely through telepathy,‭ ‬while the demons perhaps live in villages constructed on the interconnected fibers of the moss-thoughts without ever being aware that this is the stuff of which their realm consists.‭ ‬These dimensional dependencies can consume hours of an afternoon.‭ ‬What sort of food product would grow on moss-thoughts‭? ‬When demons die,‭ ‬do they evaporate‭? ‬And if so,‭ ‬might the moisture their bodies create settle as dew in the other dimension,‭ ‬or is any interaction between two dimensions an impossibility by the creator’s definition of what a dimension is,‭ ‬et cetera‭? ‬You can see how involved this can become.



2.‭ ‬Discerning levels


2.0.0‭ ‬Official introduction to levels
As with everything that has to do with the God Game,‭ ‬there are a variety of levels when examining a thing,‭ ‬the macroscopic and microscopic being the most obvious.‭ ‬We have already gone into some detail concerning these different layers to be considered when first laying out the map by which your world will be developed,‭ ‬but to hazard redundancy,‭ ‬I would like to first acknowledge that as to variety there are an infinite number of possible level-types.‭ ‬That having been said,‭ ‬I usually begin with a three-tiered system,‭ ‬these three tiers being broken into the physical,‭ ‬emotional,‭ ‬and transcendental.‭ ‬Others have utilized fantastical,‭ ‬sensual,‭ ‬and formal.‭ ‬Or spiritual,‭ ‬experiential,‭ ‬and mental.‭ ‬Or sky,‭ ‬sea,‭ ‬earth,‭ ‬fire,‭ ‬ether.‭ ‬Or me and you.


2.0.1‭ ‬Levels of transcendental variety explored
But within these systems there is usually a foundation level on which the laws or rules or story depends.‭ ‬Whether you call it transcendental,‭ ‬formal,‭ ‬mental,‭ ‬ethereal,‭ ‬or just me,‭ ‬or just you,‭ ‬there is always a starting point.‭ ‬When God speaks,‭ ‬this is the language He uses.‭ ‬It is the language of the heavens and the language of quantum mechanics.‭ ‬It is the language of light and the language of cosmogony.‭
       It is also the most removed from your players immediate experience of the game.‭ ‬That’s to say that whoever would hypothetically exist in this world you are working to design would be more concerned with the orcs on those those wargs over there than whether or not gravity is a‭ ‬thing,‭ ‬but that you as a creator must decide whether gravity will indeed be a thing before you create wargs or orcs.‭ (‬Minor aside:‭ ‬one could argue that the transcendental is the basic framework from which all others are formed—in short that it is not the most removed from immediate experience but the very stuff of immediacy,‭ ‬but as I have defined these three terms,‭ ‬the physical has to do with sensual impact,‭ ‬the emotional with social interaction,‭ ‬and the transcendental with principles of motion,‭ ‬thereby being the appropriate place to begin,‭ ‬followed by the physical,‭ ‬and then the emotional.‭) [2]‭ ‬At this level of creation we have to ask ourselves whether we will be interpreting phenomena using numerical values as a gauge or some other linguistic or pictorial means.‭ ‬You may scoff at this,‭ ‬but consider a slider—horizontal,‭ ‬vertical,‭ ‬or circular—or different shades as designating either the proximity of another warm body and its effect upon the tempo of thoughts within the character in question or weather formations in relation to ground cover.‭
       (It should be noted that herein conversation is understood as a subset of motion,‭ ‬the motion of words from front to back,‭ ‬of sentences back and forth.‭ ‬This can also be helpful when it comes to universe creation.‭ ‬In other words,‭ ‬that it is possible to create an entirely linguistic world,‭ ‬one in which we are watching one presupposition unravel to reveal a still more ingrained one,‭ ‬et cetera.‭)


2.0.2‭ ‬Various manner in which levels can be expressed
However,‭ ‬though color et cetera can and is used in the creation of level schematics,‭ ‬mathematics is the preferred choice,‭ ‬with other options perhaps devices meant to assist in giving a sense of various phenomena,‭ ‬but that having been said,‭ ‬there is no reason why you couldn’t have a string of nouns,‭ ‬each designating a distinct physiological condition,‭ ‬such as fatigue,‭ ‬sunshine,‭ ‬and salamander.‭ ‬You could then say that when an existent’s elasticity was in a state of salamander it would have such and such attributes,‭ ‬sunshine another,‭ ‬and fatigue a third.‭ ‬You get the idea.‭ ‬This is your world and you need to make it as such.‭


2.0.3‭ ‬Other types of fundamental levels explored
Of the other manner of interpreting levels expressed at the beginning of this section,‭ ‬there are certain peculiarities inherent in each of the other systems I mentioned,‭ ‬I wanted to put down here,‭ ‬specifically as to their level structures and how they organize the foundational or law-defining levels.‭ ‬For example,‭ ‬two of these three-tiered systems have two or more potential foundational levels.‭
       The level-system fantastical,‭ ‬sensual,‭ ‬formal offers up different means to interpret experience,‭ ‬each of which is equally legitimate.‭ ‬The fantastical being internal—but in the particular game I am thinking of,‭ ‬all fantastical experience is intertwined,‭ ‬that when players in this game look inward they are actually looking into an actual imaginal realm that ties the minds of all creatures in this world together.‭ ‬Sensual would then be the experience of physical reality,‭ ‬and formal being the closest to a true foundational level,‭ ‬but the interesting thing about this world is that the rules of the formal level must be valid both for the sensual and fantastical.
       ‬Spiritual,‭ ‬experiential,‭ ‬and mental is similar to the level-system just mentioned in that again different parallel law-systems are being presented,‭ ‬but in this case,‭ ‬each is completely distinct.‭ ‬There are spiritual laws that have to do with the functioning of the spirit,‭ ‬experiential laws,‭ ‬which have to do with the functioning of the body,‭ ‬and mental laws which have to do with the functioning of the mind.‭
       In the next level-system,‭ ‬laws are broken up based on type of element,‭ ‬sky,‭ ‬sea,‭ ‬earth,‭ ‬and fire being one example,‭ ‬with ether thrown in to explain the machinations of gods,‭ ‬and with the final level-system,‭ ‬the author attempted to create a world in which all laws are based on the dichotomy of me and you,‭ ‬thinking in terms of what is true for me and what is true for you,‭ ‬and trying to create a nuanced universe that is also something like an extended love poem.‭ ‬These are just some examples of the possible level-systems that can be posited and developed.‭


2.1.0‭ ‬Emotional levels and levels in general
As to emotional levels,‭ ‬when delving into social interaction we often find ourselves penned in by our own assumptions concerning intelligent species and how they interact.‭ ‬Sometimes the alternative level systems mentioned above can be helpful in this,‭ ‬but regardless how you do it,‭ ‬you nee to always work to understand these levels in a warmer light,‭ ‬to become more estranged and poetic as regards the emotions of your ten thousand created things.‭ ‬But don’t rely on the other examples given either.‭ ‬The more you branch out from the guidelines I am giving you,‭ ‬the more unique and idiosyncratic your world can become.‭ ‬You are dealing with the very string of being and when dealing with the very string of being you make distinctions along said string that to another may appear completely arbitrary but to you may be perfectly well-reasoned and logical.‭
       In a world devoid of inanimate things,‭ ‬perhaps the various levels with which you’d be working would be the conceptual,‭ ‬vegetative,‭ ‬insectival,‭ ‬and tribal.‭ ‬Perhaps in your world there is no such thing as thought,‭ ‬but rather that what we would call words you would call leaves,‭ ‬there then being no difference between philosophy and agriculture.‭ ‬The distinctions of levels as set down by yours truly is a helpful and simple way to begin,‭ ‬but by no means all-encompassing.
       Another way to put this is that I tend to think of levels from the perspective of a rationalist,‭ ‬but when dealing with the social component of your game is specifically when you most want to be creative with your level-development.‭ ‬Perhaps creating a series of sublevels that all have to do with social interaction and its many various functions across the larger map of cultures make up your world.‭
       And furthermore that levels tend to overlap,‭ ‬as in when you bed a barmaid,‭ ‬this being certainly both sensual impact and emotional interaction.‭ ‬That in fact what you will find is that any distinction you create is artificial,‭ ‬each thing in the larger architecture of being as much part of something else as itself,‭ ‬it being for this reason specifically that levels cannot ever be presented as absolute.‭ ‬All this will be dealt with later in Rule V.‭ ‬Field.


2.1.1‭ ‬Actions without thought
That having been said,‭ ‬sometimes it is good to act without thought,‭ ‬and in decisions such as this,‭ ‬that is the key to success.‭ ‬Do not become overwhelmed by possibilities‭! ‬Feel where you are going and allow yourself to give in to its imaginary potential.‭ ‬To truly create a unique world we each need to bring our internal fantasies out with a bold commitment.‭ ‬But what is more,‭ ‬when creating levels of the specific rather than the general variety,‭ ‬such as within species or various types of matter,‭ ‬a bias to define using a specific aspect of the larger level-hierarchy should be avoided.‭ ‬In this way a particle can also be an angel or a sigh.‭ ‬Which would be considered the emotional,‭ ‬which the transcendental,‭ ‬and which the physical is for you to decide.


2.1.2‭ ‬Important to remain consistent
It is,‭ ‬however,‭ ‬important to maintain consistent levels when designing a game.‭ ‬Once you have decided how you are going to divide up the world,‭ ‬and how you are going to make distinctions between strong and weak,‭ ‬or growth and decay,‭ ‬you must hold your ground.‭ ‬If you were to divide a world into a variety of dimensions,‭ ‬each of which governed by a different set of rules,‭ ‬that the beings who people these different dimensions and their bodies follow different sets of attributes as a result of the wildly different environments of these different dimensions—from psychoplasmetical in one to aerial and then neurological or material in another—then that’s one thing—or you could be consistently inconsistent,‭ ‬wherein you have made a world where at any given moment your level of endurance could be defined as‭ ‬12,‭ ‬or Green,‭ ‬or Rotund.‭ ‬But when two beings interact who have completely different types of level sets it is like two shades playing at existence.‭ ‬They cannot interact because they can have no effect upon each other,‭ ‬literally because their bodies speak different languages.‭ ‬Consequences such as this should be taken into consideration right from the start or you may find yourself making drastic modifications at a later stage,‭ ‬involving serious revision right back to the core ideas of your universe.


2.1.3‭ ‬Think in terms of greater expanse
It is also important to think in terms of expanse when designing a game—whether it is for a single module or for an extended story,‭ ‬i.e.‭ ‬short-term or long-terms use.‭ ‬This is something I haven’t touched on yet,‭ ‬but one of the many manner a person can go about playing the God Game is to create a playable role-playing game.‭ ‬Ostensibly this is always the purpose of god games of this type,‭ ‬to create something that could be playable in its own right—though of course never to complete it.‭ ‬The play is always secondary to the creation itself,‭ ‬the goal being to explore purpose and mystery,‭ ‬to delve into fantastical possibility with the further view of touching the untouchable.‭


2.1.4‭ ‬Sometimes leads to confusion
Very frequently those who are creating this world will play out various scenarios in an effort‭ (‬at the very least‭) ‬to see the ramifications of their hypotheses concerning lifeform interaction,‭ ‬or sometimes even tying modules into the act of creation itself to such an extent that there may be a blurring between game creation and the playing of the game.‭ ‬But a true God Gamer will become so immersed in the act of creation that the everyday world comes to take on a lighter texture and the shadows in her mind begin to shimmer and quake with an almost conscious menace,‭ ‬for just as distinctions within the world are of necessity artificial,‭ ‬so too is this true as regards any distinction between fantastical realms currently under development and the one I wake to every day with a splitting headache I simply can’t shake.‭ ‬For more on this,‭ ‬I suggest the reader read‭ ‬Mundus Imaginalis,‭ ‬by Henry Corbin,‭ ‬wherein he puts forth a very cogent theory for the literal reality of what he calls the imaginal—as in very much NOT imaginary.


2.1.5‭ ‬Volatile worlds,‭ ‬example given
But this is largely a digression.‭ ‬I would like to make one further digression,‭ ‬however,‭ ‬to state that volatile worlds are amusing to attempt to maintain.‭ ‬For example,‭ ‬a world whose matter consists of miniature gods each attempting to overthrow the rest.‭ ‬In this world different types of matter manipulators could be themselves led into combat with each other for the sake of their respective cost component—of the natural resources which are currently wiping themselves out in a fiery subatomic battle.‭ ‬The matter manipulators could then follow a pre-set attribute series such as the strength series:‭ ‬contortion,‭ ‬stasis,‭ ‬speed,‭ ‬and strength for the three-tiered transcendental,‭ ‬emotional,‭ ‬and physical aspects of the player.‭ ‬For example a character could have a transcendental stasis of‭ ‬10‭ (‬20‭ ‬being the highest‭) ‬and a physical speed of‭ ‬20.‭ ‬Wisdom as an attribute,‭ ‬should be avoided,‭ ‬as the only manner through which wisdom can be expressed is through the wisdom of the player,‭ ‬not through a quantitative posture.


2.1.6‭ ‬The tangled threads we weave
When building a world from scratch you will often find yourself hemmed in by these circumlocutions,‭ ‬that is to say,‭ ‬frothing at the mouth and longing for an end to it all,‭ ‬but to stay true to your course,‭ ‬to move through a field of theoretical threads and thereby find the single solution was there all along,‭ ‬what needs be done is to touch down in a variety of ways,‭ ‬not just the simple and straightforward,‭ ‬but round-about and tangled.‭ ‬It is in this manner that I have proceeded,‭ ‬because I never made it past that initial irksome moment wherein my vision was splattered with so much excessive baggage it got me hollering at the television set.‭ ‬I was legitimately out of my gourde at that time and I can still clearly see the remains of my TV dinner sliding down the convex bubble of the television glass.‭
       As we continue on this journey,‭ ‬I will be repeatedly asking you why.‭ ‬Why you‭? ‬Why now‭? ‬Why do you want to do this at all‭? ‬It always comes back to this.‭
       I can tell you why I‭ ‬believe you do it,‭ ‬but you may disagree.‭ ‬Most everyone I have spoken with has told me that why they go god gaming is‭ ‬to discover a means to view the internal horizon and by so doing to hone this aforementioned splattered vision.‭ ‬This does not mean that it’ll be a straight and narrow path,‭ ‬but rather its opposite,‭ ‬with many left turns and hurried sidenotes cluttering the way.‭ ‬Because the path twists round and through all the manifold pieces make up who we are and where we’re all coming from.‭ ‬It’s equal parts reason and revelation,‭ ‬psychology and endocrinology,‭ ‬self-help and drug abuse.

1. ‬I would like to make a brief comment concerning elasticity and attributes in general.‭ ‬Every attribute is applicable to different types in its fashion.‭ ‬A person is elastic in ways that amoebas are not—for example,‭ ‬dare I say,‭ ‬conceptually,‭ ‬i.e.‭ ‬manipulation of tools—and likewise with trees.‭ (‬Think of redwoods and the manner in which their root systems interlace such that it is impossible to discern where one redwood ends and another begins,‭ ‬i.e.‭ ‬elastic in terms of the beginning of one tree and the ending of another such that the sense of selfhood when it comes to these trees is literally and in an intra-speciate way indistinct,‭ ‬while with the human elasticity mentioned before,‭ ‬there is a similar indistinctness as relates to self and other,‭ ‬but this indistinctness itself is much less precise in the case of homo sapiens.‭) ‬It is precisely this how-you-define-elasticity which opens a whole other very key problem,‭ ‬the problem of rigid or open-ended definitions.‭ ‬To say that all things are elastic depending upon circumstance and definition of the ability,‭ ‬is to make the attribute null and void,‭ ‬but also to be describing phenomena in a more accurate‭ (‬albeit relativistic‭) ‬fashion.‭ ‬This will be explored in a later chapter when we talk about field versus rule.


2. I am going to continue to utilize levels as I understand them,‭ ‬while also attempting at some point to go over some of the other alternate forms level-design can take.