Playas in De Wallen
September 21, 2010 8:34 AM   Subscribe

Please help me devise a serious RPG about the social milieu of Amsterdam's Red Light District

I live within spitting distance of this notorious den of iniquity (I have to cross it to get to the shops) and I've been invited to participate in a small project to propose design solutions to some of its unique urban planning and social problems.

It occurred to me that role play could be an interesting way to gain some insight into the social dynamics of a concentrated localized sex industry. I have very little experience with RPG's, so I'd love some hints on good ways to build up realistic characters and scenarios, and also what sort of insights others might have gained from using role playing techniques for serious purposes.

This is not a joke. De Wallen is in crisis. It is an iconic neighborhood, drowning in its own sewer of commercial success. So please, no unnecessary glamorization of pimps and hookers. Thanks.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth to Society & Culture (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Tabletop (traditional face-to-face) or computer-based RPG?
posted by Hogshead at 8:43 AM on September 21, 2010

I don't know how familiar with RPGs you are, but GNS Theory and The Big Model are good places to start reading if you're doing this from scratch. I strongly suggest using GURPS for the system.
posted by griphus at 8:45 AM on September 21, 2010

Best answer: I think you really need to think about your intent with this RPG and your intended audience.

Is the intent to highlight the negative and promote change? That might be difficult to do with an RPG- because the individual players tend to dictate their own motives and outcome, and it might be contrary to what you want. You may not want to "unnecessarily glamorize" pimps and hookers, but someone that would be interested in the game might want to take that persona and run with it.

Is the intent to have a game with this particular setting and types of people just to make more people aware of its existence in real life? That would be doable. But then you can't worry too much about trying to get a specific moral point across.

But is your intended audience a contained group of people (such as a conference or task force) and it won't be available to a wider audience? Then you probably don't want to go the complete route of developing an RPG. That would be way to complicated and involved for what you are trying to do. If that is the case, you would be better served by writing a few simple scenarios with three to five characters and strongly direct the conversations and action. I'm picturing a five-minute (tops) role play scenerio where you can then discuss your point afterwards and how that applies to real life.
posted by Eicats at 9:12 AM on September 21, 2010

Disregarding my previous- to answer your specific questions about believable characters and scenarios, the most believable characters are those with strange/interesting quirks. For example, one character might be a hooker that does it because she loves sex, but she has a phobia of drinking cofee so if a customer shows up with a travel mug of coffee it creates a huge problem for her. Crazy things like that. And the same for scenarios--it needs to have some twist or conflict element to make it believable and intersting. But adding those believable quirks and backstory things should also give you an idea of how involved an RPG can be.
posted by Eicats at 9:20 AM on September 21, 2010

Are we talking about role playing scenarios, or role playing games? You're not thinking of rolling dice and leveling up, correct?
posted by mkultra at 9:21 AM on September 21, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the great answers so far. Just to clarify, I am not at all sure where this is going just yet. RPG is just one of the avenues I am exploring at the moment, the others being aspects of media and information design that I am very familiar with. But it seems to me that I can't get very far without some way to explore the complex social dynamics and business interests at work - hence my interest in role play, in games as well as scenarios.

It's very likely that the output won't be an RPG at all. But what appeals to me about the format is the combination of strategic choices with randomness (yes, i am thinking about rolling dice here) in building up an objective narrative which can explore multiple problems, and maybe shed some light on the different forces at work.

In terms of the morality, I have absolutely no axe to grind. I don't think anyone in this town wants to see a return to street prostitution, but De Wallen is clearly out of control at the moment, and no-one knows what to do about it.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 9:52 AM on September 21, 2010

Best answer: This isn't directly related to helping you brainstorm a good RPG, but if you're interested in using games and game design to look at a better or different world (or even to look at the world we have now), you definitely should check out Jane McGonigal (wiki) and her work. World Without Oil (faq / wiki) immediately came to mind when I read your question.
posted by Zephyrial at 2:25 PM on September 21, 2010

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