Green Lantern Boot Camp Game: Playtesting and Categorisation

31 August 2011 | 0 comments

Green Lantern is one of the most creative superheroes – he can solve problems with any object he can think of. The process of playtesting a game where an angry swan (it’ll break your arm!) can meet a steel chair (classic WWE weapon) was a lot of fun and inspired this from Holly.

One of the things I like most about playtesting is the detritus that accumulates around it: the piles of index cards with SLEEPY PANDA or HAND GRENADE written on them, the pirate-coin hoards bought for a pound from party shops, the silly hats, the stickers, multi-coloured pens, the tiny model dinosaurs, the always-bewildering-in-retrospect score charts.

And one of the other things I like about playtesting is the mental equivalent of these piles of tiny objects – the little odd things that you didn’t expect to think about, but which turn out to be vital. With Green Lantern Boot Camp, it was categorisation.

When I started work on the game, a lot of the important design decisions had already been made – for example, the decision that players would have a limited array of “constructs” which they could summon, and that these constructs would be divided into five categories. What those categories are, though: who knew? But they had to contain everything a Green Lantern might want to send into battle, divided up into five different types of thing, five discrete chunks of the world.

Twenty Questions divides the world into three categories: animal, vegetable or mineral? The Australian Aboriginal language Dyirbal famously has four, according to Lakoff:

  • Men, most non-human animals
  • Women, fire, water, birds and monnotremes
  • Edible fruit and vegetables
  • Everything else

John Wilkin’s seventeenth-century invented language has forty categories, and Jorge Luis Borges uses these forty as a jumping-off point to imagine his own unlikely system, in which everything in the world boils down to fourteen categories including “belonging to the emperor”, “embalmed”, “piglets” and “from a distance look like flies”.

It’s a lot of fun, this divvying-up of concepts into types of meaning; De Bono uses it as the basis for a charming game in which players divide eight random nouns into two meaningful categories (you can give it a go in Kevan Davis’s implementation here). And part of the reason it’s so much fun is because of what it reveals about the world of the person doing the dividing.

So if I were divvying up the whole world into five categories for my own purposes, they might look like “sentient things” (real people, IM windows, blackbirds), “consumable input” (chocolate, books, the moon), “things that have to do with moving about” (the sea, dresses, staircases), “systems” (ideas, rulesets, recipes) and “things I don’t care about much”. That’s fine for my experience of the world; but it wouldn’t be very useful if I were a Green Lantern training to manifest giant green constructs and send them into battle.

The categories we ended up with for the Green Lantern Boot Camp were “animals”, “weapons”, “blunt objects”, “sharp objects” and “natural forces”. And what these suggest is, perhaps, that the Green Lantern’s world is rather a grim one. If I suddenly had the power to summon enormous green constructs of anything I liked, I expect I’d use the power for things like really delicious food, flying office chairs, enormous balloons, friendly dodos. But for the Green Lantern, it’s all about the type of damage that something can do in battle.

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