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CONSTITUTION DAY CRYPTOGRAM: CELEBRATE SEPTEMBER 17TH

Symbols permeate everything we do, from the red, amber and green lights on our roads to the WiFi symbol stuck to the coffee shop window. But our understanding of these symbols is a learned one; there is often no inherent link between the signifier and the thing it signifies, except a common but not necessary visual clue. In other words, a symbol out of context is devoid of content. And the meaning of symbols is not fixed or immune to personal, cultural or historical forces either. So where does witchcraft and alchemy come in?


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To begin with, I was gearing up to make a long-form comic about a present-day coven that would act as a vehicle to explore the survival and recovery of abused people and their associated mental health issues. As a survivor, a queer and a person who suffers from mental health issues, there is enough in there for me to identify somewhat with that history while also being so foreign to it that there is always more to learn. For example, actual witches frequently used and still use symbolism in their craft, science and medicine.

Cryptograms

These were people breaking ground based on experimentation and intuition, understanding the flow and symmetry in the world and using that to redirect things when they got out of whack. Being in open, green spaces and just spending a bit of time taking things in and giving my attention to them does great things for my brain, and its encouraged by mindfulness — slowing down enough to be present and observe.

If you have suffered trauma or live with mental health issues, you are used to being dominated by the fear of everything that is out of your control and the universe can really throw you a bone by convincing you there are some cogs in the machine still turning as intended, a few basic rules that all things must follow and a way to pretty accurately predict possible outcomes. Which brings me nicely to games. My favourite thing about buying a new game is unboxing it, looking at all the pieces and above all else reading the rules; I like to play the game too, of course, but only to see the rules come to life.

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A good rule system has the same effect on my brain as observing nature in action. I find the symmetry and the variables and the interplay between theme, aesthetics and interactivity completely spellbinding. I have had gaming sessions where just as effectively as any novel or comic or movie, the mechanics have been able to immerse me in fully-realised fantasy universes, make clear and nuanced political points or elicit strong emotive responses.

Factoring human beings and all their associated quirks and abstractions into your game mechanics is a way to instantly give ownership and investment to players and to potentially increase the replayability of the game itself to an infinite degree. People should be at the centre of the game play, rather than being the robots procedurally facilitating it.

Secondly, there should always be an element of choice for any action a player carries out; even if there is only one obvious choice in terms of achieving a given goal, the ability to wilfully sabotage that goal for no reason other than exercising the right should be built in; even if the choices given involve rolling dice and leaving the outcome in the hands of fate; even if the choices given are all stinkers and none of them appeal. Players should be given agency otherwise they cease to be players at all.


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