[Quiet Year] Let's look deeper at Contempt

edited February 2013 in Play Advice
Hello!

I recently got a chance to play The Quiet Year for the first time, and found it an excellent game. The group I played with, most of whom are not regular gamers and I've known only a few weeks, are chomping at the bit to play again soon. I definitely have learned lessons from the first runthrough, which I've posted about on Google+, but there was a deeper question that has been foxing me that I wanted to bring to this sharp community.

So, contempt. Its use seems clear enough when people talk about it and when I read about it. Still, in play I wondered if I was using it right. It boils down to this question, I think: when you play the game, should you be allowing your point of view to drift into sympathy with a particular faction - the faction that most represents your point of view, how you would approach things in the community? Or are you meant to be bringing your focus back to the birds-eye view, and representing the community as a whole?

For instance, as soon as a shaman figure was introduced into our game, with the decision/presumption that they would lead an expedition, I took a token, to reflect my own resentment that a formal authority figure would automatically shepherd the big events of the community. That's uncontroversially by the book, I think. Later, I was still sensitive to the perspective of this shaman-suspicious group, and picked up more contempt when they were ignored. But later still, an event happened that seemed to me to be sure to piss off the shaman-friendly faction, and I noted that and picked up contempt immediately.

It may be that all this is fine. But then, two things:

What does the fact that my endgame contempt pile is the biggest signify about our play? Hypothetically, it could signify that there was a particular faction that felt marginalised in the game, which would be an interesting take-away that we could discuss after the game. But the way I was playing that isn't so, as I took contempt for multiple perspectives, even opposing ones. I could only remember bits here and there - there was no 'narrative of grievance' that I was building that I could return to.

What does it mean to lose Contempt tokens by doing something selfish? How can an act be selfish if you hold no position? If I was allowing my position to canalise and identifying more with the anti-shaman crew, then for sure I could narrate a selfish event benefiting the anti-shaman position to the detriment of the rest. And that would make a ton of sense if those tokens were always being drawn by anti-shaman grievance. There would be a real cycle to things: A group with a grievance tends to act out. But I was trying to stick to the birds-eye view, so feeling "like I wasn't consulted or honoured" meant that anytime I got the sense that someone wasn't consulted, and no-one else had drawn a token, I took that as my cue.

Looking at the rules, we are entreated to "represent currents of thought within the community". This makes me think that I was leaning too hard on the birds-eye-view and that I should be happy to settle into sympathy with, eg, an anti-authoritarian element of the game. Not having played from that angle, though, I'm unsure whether that's functional.

Any thoughts, anyone?

Comments

  • I felt a similar way about contempt (I mentioned it in this thread) although you've explained things a lot more clearly than I did - especially that point about how can someone be selfish if you're supposed to be acting impartial. I mean, if you're supposed to represent all opinions all the time, you'd take contempt when making a selfish act... that doesn't make sense though, surely?

    If I understand what @IceCreamEmperor said in response to my original comment, you take contempt whenever you personally feel alienated or disrespected - so yes, in a manner of speaking you represent the contempt of all factions, but on a personal level, so some factions will still affect you more than other players? It's still something I'm having trouble wrapping my head around, to be honest.
  • edited February 2013
    Faction independent reasons to take contempt might include taking contempt when your creative input isn't respected. For example, if you have a conversation about a resource and then someone hijacks that resource before you can start the project you discussed then you might take contempt. Another might be when you think someone introduces an element that you think violates the feel of the game you've been working to establish. Ultimately, as long as you're not being disruptive, it doesn't matter because, when others take contempt, they won't tell you why and you won't ask.
  • i found Contempt to be pretty incidental the one time i've played the game (which i very much enjoyed) - each of us took some, but it didn't seem to mean anything other than "i think what you just said/did/proposed is a bad idea", and in post-game discussion we struggled to find the value that it added to the game.

    it's certainly possible that we didn't conceptually grasp why we should take Contempt tokens; it is also possible, i think, that the meaning/use of the tokens is proportional to the kind of group you're playing with and the kind of community dynamics you experience in your local gaming scene, and ours just isn't the kind that leads us to the interactions Contempt is meant to model or reveal.
  • I think the key to it is in the statement that communities can't really communicate clearly or openly. So Contempt is supposed to be somewhat murky. Maybe everyone hates each other but things worked out anyway. Or maybe it didn't. It will reflect the political inclinations of the players, not the characters or the community. Pretty neat.
  • edited February 2013
    It will reflect the political inclinations of the players, not the characters or the community. Pretty neat.
    I think I need to play the game with less polite people, or people with more radically different political leanings, for Contempt to really sing.

  • The 'you' who is alienated or disrespected in the statement I made is not the player, it is whatever group of persons, ideals, impulses, etc. that the player has decided to care about for that game. That you do not need to name a specific person or choose a specific group or stance is not a problem -- your personal experience/opinions as a player will inevitably make some things stand out or not. But you also can choose specific things to pay attention to, or imagine/manifest specific currents that you see in the community, and if you do then you'll take Contempt based on that alignment.

    I mean it is possible that you really will perceive all possible sources of alienation and disrespect equally -- but I suggest that the pro- and anti-shaman groups, for example, were probably only some tiny subset of the community. That the player sees them as two contradictory groups, and sometimes aligns with one and sometimes with another, is not mandated by the game or the situation.

    I think the game benefits from aligning yourself strongly but loosely with the currents you perceive, and using those to guide all your actions (including taking Contempt) -- taking Contempt for both 'sides' of a power struggle could still make sense, if every time you are doing that your identification is switching back and forth, i.e. you are changing your mind in the moment because you are presented with a sudden feeling of identification/recognition. But I think if you are just cerebrally analyzing the situation and are like 'well I think group A is totally right, but I can see how maybe group B would feel shitty, so I'm gonna take a contempt on their behalf' -- that's going to be less rewarding. Or at least, it's not the sort of play I advocate for. It still works just fine.

    The summary is, Contempt should feel personal, because you are personally aligned with different things in the community -- not because it is actually about player-to-player interaction at the table. One of the best ways to make principled Contempt-based decisions is to invest personally in what you imagine to be the case about the community. It's not necessary to define what that is, or conceive of it exclusively as a faction or a person at all times -- part of what's so great about the game is that it lets you move around inside the community freely, seeing whatever impulses or social dynamics are the most interesting to you at the time. But I think ideally there should be a loose narrative thread that links all your decisions -- it just doesn't have to be consistent, concrete, or externalized in the fiction in any way other than as a conglomeration of the actions you have taken.

  • I think I need to play the game with less polite people, or people with more radically different political leanings, for Contempt to really sing.
    I would also suggest that the more you play the game, the more likely you are to introduce situations that don't actually align directly with the political leanings of the players -- and the more likely people are to purposefully take on political stances that are at odds with their own preferences. Experimentation with the form of the game (weirder settings, extreme combinations of abundances/shortages) will lead to a less straightforward process of political/social/personal identification as well.

    At some point it's going to stop being obvious what you-the-player would actually care about in the situation at hand, and even players with identical political leanings are going to start reaching different conclusions about the way forward.

  • I want to thank everyone for your contributions to this thread, which has been really helpful. Ice Cream Emperor, I want to single you out personally because this really chimes with me and makes things massively clear. We commenced a new game a few days ago, and it happened that we discussed together and tentatively reached a consensus that was pretty similar - make it personal, react when you feel triggered by a 'this is wrong!' feeling but by channeling your sympathies about the community. It's great to see this spelled out so clearly.
    I think the game benefits from aligning yourself strongly but loosely with the currents you perceive, and using those to guide all your actions (including taking Contempt) -- taking Contempt for both 'sides' of a power struggle could still make sense, if every time you are doing that your identification is switching back and forth, i.e. you are changing your mind in the moment because you are presented with a sudden feeling of identification/recognition. But I think if you are just cerebrally analyzing the situation and are like 'well I think group A is totally right, but I can see how maybe group B would feel shitty, so I'm gonna take a contempt on their behalf' -- that's going to be less rewarding. Or at least, it's not the sort of play I advocate for. It still works just fine.
    This, most especially.

    Thanks guys. This game is so good. It's really useful to pay attention to these subtleties that help it play even better.


  • Glad to be of service! It's definitely a game that rewards thoughtful, experimental play, over multiple sessions -- and I don't just mean being thoughtful about the fiction, but also reflective about how you are playing/approaching the game. There are so many different things you can do with it, it really helps to be conscious of your choices and to consciously push yourself to take slightly different approaches every time you play.
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