The Skotos Articles Archives: Five Great Miniseries
by Shannon Appelcline
We've been running online gaming articles at Skotos for six years now. Our first articles were pretty Skotos-specific discussions of our various gaming systems, including consent and clothing. Trials, Triumphs & Trivialities #1, First-Date Jitters was on the topic of our first release, Castle Marrach.
However by 2001 we were printing a good variety of articles on all aspects of gaming, many of them by luminaries such as Richard Bartle and Jessica Mulligan, with Raph Koster even offering a one-off. During the final days of the dot-boom era we had a near daily publication schedule.
We've dropped back a bit since then, mainly due to decreased resources. We've also learned, thanks to the columns over at RPGnet, that monthly columns are much less likely to burn out authors than weekly or biweekly offerings, and thus this column is the only one that still publishes at a faster rate. However, we're now once again in a period of expansion of the Skotos Articles Archives. This February we've added two new columns: Sam Liu's Perspectives, discussing online web design, and Sandra Power's Lessons from the Live Team.
We're still looking for more columns too, so if you're interested in volunteering to write a monthly column about online game design, development, or playing, send me mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Besides regular columns, we're also happy to run shorter mini-series or one-offs as Guest Voices.
In celebration of six years of game design articles and the resurgence of articles at Skotos I've decided to take this column to highlight five of the best article miniseries that we've run to date. They're all older pieces, written from 2000 to early 2003, purposefully selected as such since they're the ones that have been archived longest, and thus might not have been seen by many current readers.
Biting the Hand
Jessica Mulligan's Biting the Hand column was a touchstone for the industry long before we inherited it here at Skotos. In August of 2001, however, she offered up an article that still draws discussion among game designers; therein she said that she was sick of experimental performance systems, she just wanted a game. A few columns later she opened up her column to industry notable Raph Koster to offer a rebuttle. Our own Travis Casey also responded to the discussion in his column, Building Stories, Telling Games, and together the three articles form an interesting triad on the purpoe of game design.
Building Stories, Telling Games
One of our longer running series was Travis Casey's BSTG, which discussed game design, often from a mechanical point of view. Throughout early 2002 he wrote a miniseries on genres, starting with the big three, fantasy, science-fiction, and horror, These can all be found in his BSTG table of contents. Perhaps more notable, however, were his discussions of some much less frequently used potential gaming genres:
The Elements of Good Storytelling
My wife, Kimberly Appelcline, wrote one of our earliest columns for us, while she was studying Creative Writing at San Francisco State. We've long believed at Skotos that lessons can be applied to game design from different mediums of creativity, and so Kimberly laid out how stories are told. Her work was foundational, and has been the basis of many later discussions about creating story-based games. The articles also remain some of our most linked-to pages on the net.
Playing with History
Before legal studies carried him out of the gaming world, Michael Karlin was working for us on a historical RPG called Glory of the Nile. He also wrote 21 articles on the topic of creating historical games, which rose far above and beyond his Skotos Seven work. They're all quite good discussions on historical game design, and can be found in his column's table of contents.
My favorite articles, however, are his two-part discussion of anachronisms in historical games, which raise the question of when you want to be authentic, and when it's just no fun because of gender and racial inequalities and fascist governments that existed even more prominently in the past. (Of course our own Lovecraft Country has since had to face some of the same issues of when history should be white-washed, when it should be ignored, and when it shouldn't be.)
Trials, Triumphs & Trivialities
This column continues to get the most hits of any articles at Skotos if for no other reason than due to its longevity. I can only easily track hits on the articles since we start using PHP (with #132 of this column), and of those the most popular seems to be Trials, Triumphs & Trivialities #145, How to Cheat at Online Games. I'm sure most of those hits are googlers who log right back out as soon as they hit the line "I don't want this to be a kewl kidz root kit". (That article is currently the number two result if you google for "How to Cheat at Online Games", right after a gamexperts' page that's not about actual cheating either.)
However, looking back at the older series that I've written, I think there are three which are particularly substantial and interesting: my discussion of text game "building blocks", my discussion of mythic storytelling, and my discussion of strategic game design. My articles on building blocks are pretty text-game specific, but can be found in the TT&T topical index, while my strategic articles are somewhat board-game specific and can be found in the Thinking Virtually index (where it was reprinted as a cohesive whole). It's the mythtelling article series that I think remains the most topical and will be of interest to the most people, and so I've listed it as my "best" here:
We're now 500+ articles into the Skotos Articles Archives, and thus it's easy to miss some of the earlier gems. I hope you've enjoyed some of the ones that we've dug out of the vaults this time, and that you'll now be interested in browsing some of the our older columns. All of the links are available on our main game articles page.