First Naturalisation Interview

Yesterday, I went to keep my appointment at the Legal Affairs Bureau in Kawasaki for my first interview about naturalising.

The interview took about an hour, and mostly consisted of explanations of the documents I need to prepare in order to submit my application. The whole thing was conducted in Japanese, so if your Japanese isn’t that good, I can imagine it taking a bit longer than an hour. Indeed, my case worker said that sometimes they split the document explanations over two sessions: first the documents that people need to collect from various official sources, then the documents that they need to write. I suspect that one reason for splitting it is the length of time the explanations take.

People who naturalise in Japan are expected to have reasonable competence in Japanese, although this is not formalised. However, about five minutes into the interview I was told that I didn’t need to take any tests for that, because it was obvious that my Japanese was good enough. This means that the standard can’t be that high; there are limits to how much you can tell in five minutes. (Actually, somewhat later in the interview, he asked me how long I’d been in Japan, and commented that my Japanese was good.)

In addition to the slightly wooly Japanese requirement, there are six formal requirements for naturalising by yourself. One is that you are an adult (over 20, in Japan), and mentally competent to make the decision. That one is not going to be a problem. Another is that you are not, and have not been, since the current constitution of Japan came into force, a member of an organisation dedicated to the violent overthrow of the constitution of Japan, or of a constitutionally established Japanese government, or that advocates doing so. The time limit means that Donald Keene was able to naturalise, despite being a member of the US Armed Forces during WWII, and thus being a member of a group that successfully used violence to overthrow the Japanese government. This is another condition that won’t be a problem for me. Next, you must either be stateless, or give up your current citizenship. While I would prefer not to give up UK citizenship, that’s not an option, so this is also a condition I can meet. The procedure also appears to be quite simple, if a little pricey.

Next, we get on to the more substantial requirements. I need to have had an address in Japan for three continuous years. (It would be five if my wife were not Japanese.) To prove this, I will need to submit photocopies of my passport, and make a list of all the times I have left the country in the last three years. I meet the requirement, so, again, no problem, but paperwork.

Unsurprisingly, the government also requires that you be able to support yourself, or that someone in your family be able to support you. While I can, obviously, I need quite a bit of paperwork to support it: tax returns from my business, and half a dozen certificates from various tax offices, as well as official copies of title deeds to land, and copies of my bank pass books to show how much money I have. I mentioned that I have a lot of bank accounts, because organisations keep specifying where I need to open an account to pay them or be paid, and my case worker said that I could just list the main ones. The point is to prove that you have enough money, so leaving off accounts with a small amount in is not a problem. This is not the tax office. In addition, I need to give an outline of the work I do, and, at a later stage, I may be asked to put them in touch with one or two of my long-standing students, so that they can check that the business really exists. Again, that won’t be a problem.

Finally, you need to be of good character. I’m not quite sure how you certify this; a criminal record in Japan is a serious problem, if it goes beyond a couple of speeding tickets, but I think the proof that you pay your taxes and pension contributions is also an important part of this. I haven’t, however, been asked to get a criminal record check from the UK, which is a relief, because I believe that’s quite a hassle, and slow. They do require a detailed CV, giving all your addresses in Japan and the main ones from before you arrived, and your work and educational history. I get the impression that, if you’ve spent all your time working in borderline-legal establishments since you arrived in Japan, you might have trouble with this condition. If you are married, they also want to talk to your spouse, to make sure, at the extreme, that you haven’t married into the yakuza, but also because having a good and stable family environment is strong evidence of good character.

In addition to certifying that you meet the conditions, you also need to provide the information they need to create your family register. For this, they need to know which child of your parents you are. So, you need to provide your birth certificate, your siblings’ birth certificates, and your parents’ marriage certificate (if they were married). Fortunately, if you and your siblings are all over thirty, this is easy in the UK. You can order them online. Anyone’s, if you know their date of birth. (Yes, this means that anyone accepting UK birth certificates as proof of identity is insane. The passport office does not; it uses them to prove citizenship of someone whose identity is proved by other means.) I also need to provide proof that my parents are divorced, and that’s a bit more complicated; there’s no web interface. Fortunately, my father is incredibly organised, so I know the court and case number for the divorce, which makes it really cheap. Finally, I need a signed statement from my parents that there are no other children around. That will take a bit of coordinating, but isn’t a problem. As my case worker pointed out, if you are from Brazil and have twelve siblings, it can be quite a bit of effort to get all the documents you need. (Fortunately, step siblings from your parents’ remarriages do not count; otherwise I would be collecting about a dozen birth certificates as well.) I imagine it also gets harder if your parents are dead. I suspect that they have procedures for that, however: they can cope if your parents are no longer talking to one another or to you. I also need Japanese documentation; my wife’s family register, and our residents’ register. It is OK to get the single sheet version with us all on, which will save some money, as I’ll only need to pay for one.

One document that they have asked for that is looking a bit problematic is a certificate of UK citizenship (not my passport). They said that I can get this from the embassy, but the embassy did not immediately know what I was talking about, which is not promising. If it’s not a standard thing, there is likely to be hassle involved. We will see.

I also need some family snapshots. The only problem there is finding ones with all of us on; I think there are enough around.

Once I have collected all the information and documents, I need to fill in a bunch of forms. On most of them, I am just copying information across from the documents. I need to provide maps to my home and place of business, because they will come to visit while assessing my application. I was explicitly told that pasting in something from Google or equivalent is acceptable, which saves a lot of work. (And that they have their own maps, so they will actually look it up.) I guess the main purpose of the map is to ensure that they are going to the right place, and there are no mistakes in your address. Talking of addresses, Japanese addresses have to be given in the full, formal form, rather than in the abbreviated form normally used. I’m not sure I know those for all my previous addresses; I’ll have to check.

The main forms that are not just copies are my statement of reason for wanting to naturalise and the actual application form. The statement of why I want to naturalise has to be written by me, by hand, in Japanese. I imagine that this is quite tough for some people. Apart from the risk of it being almost completely illegible, I don’t think I’ll have any trouble, however. The application form should include the name that I will take after naturalisation. At the moment, I’m planning to take a kanji version of David Chart, but as Mayuki reacted to the idea of a kanji surname with horror, there may be some negotiation required there.

Almost everything needs two copies, an original and a copy, but for things like my passport they just take copies. The case worker verifies that the copies are accurate, and then stamps them.

All the copies I submit need to be on A4, and everything that is not in Japanese needs a Japanese translation. Fortunately, it is no problem if I do the translations myself. That was another thing I was a bit worried about; as the case worker said, there are translation services, but they are expensive.

My impression so far is much the same as my impression of Japanese immigration. You have to provide documentation, but they are not looking to make your life difficult. Certainly, the first meeting left me with the impression that I will probably be accepted. According to the case worker, it normally takes between six months and a year from the date of application for a decision, and historically somewhere around 98% of applicants are successful.

I will actually apply after the case worker has confirmed that all my documents are in order. Since, in order to apply, I need my tax return, and various certificates of tax payment, for the previous year, I don’t think I’ll be able to apply before mid-February, when I will get this year’s tax return. (I need it stamped to say I submitted it, obviously.) I can’t see that I will be able to gather all the documents I need before the end of this year, so last year’s return, which I do have, will be too old. So, that’s my goal: I am hoping to actually apply towards the end of February. Here’s hoping that the document collection goes smoothly.

Applying to Naturalise

Today, I started the process of applying to naturalise as a Japanese citizen.

Well, to be strictly accurate I called the local Legal Affairs Bureau to make an appointment to start the process of applying to naturalise as a Japanese citizen. There’s a good site about the process in general at Turning Japanese, and my personal experience suggests that the first step on their list — phone the office to make an appointment — is accurate.

I was asked quite a lot of questions on the phone, presumably to make sure that the first interview goes as smoothly as possible.

First, I was asked where I live. This is important, because each office has responsibility for a certain area, and you can only go to the office that handles your area. Fortunately, I had called the right office, so the conversation could continue for a bit longer.

The next question was about my current citizenship, my place of birth, and my parents’ citizenship. I guess that this is because the process is a bit different depending on your current citizenship, and almost certainly significantly more complex if you have multiple citizenships already. To the best of my knowledge, things are only different on the Japanese side if you have Korean nationality but are a Special Permanent Resident, but I believe that the procedure for renouncing your other citizenship differs quite a bit depending on which country it is, and that has an impact on the application process. Obviously, if you have two citizenships, that makes things even more complex.

Then they asked how old I was, and when I arrived in Japan. Then they wanted to know whether I had ever overstayed my visa. I haven’t, which is a good job, because that’s pretty close to an automatic disqualification, as I understand it. As I’ve said before, the Japanese immigration system seems to be relatively tolerant and flexible on a lot of things, but not on overstaying your visa. Once we had established that, they asked me what my first visa status was, and how it had changed after that, and then when I obtained permanent residence. Permanent residence is not a necessary condition for applying for Japanese citizenship, but I don’t suppose it hurts.

Since I’ve been on a spousal visa, the next questions were about my family: whether I was still married to a Japanese person, whether I had ever been married before, whether I had children, and whether we were living as a nuclear family. I think it was at this point that they asked whether I had any criminal record.

Finally, there were questions about my job and whether Yuriko was working. I told them I was a self-employed English teacher.

“Ah, so you run an English Conversation School.”

“Something like that…”

I suspect they’ll ask for contact information for students at some point later in the process, to make sure I’m really working, but one student has already said he’s willing to do that sort of thing, so it won’t be a problem. This question is because you are required to show an ability to support yourself in Japan.

Then I was put on hold for a few seconds, and told that the next open appointment slot was in early December. It was a time I could make without much trouble, so I accepted it.

At this point, they asked for my name and contact phone number.

Finally, I was told what to take to the first meeting. I need my Residence Card, a copy of Yuriko’s family record if we have one around, and all my passports. I’m going to have to see whether I can find the old ones. I’m not sure I have all of them any more.

At the first meeting, I will apparently get a long list of the documents I need to gather, which, it seems, typically takes weeks, if not months.

Choose Your Success

A lot of roleplaying games take the possibility of failure to be a necessary element of the fun. If you know that your characters will survive, where is the tension, the anticipation? That is the argument, but it has always had an attendant problem. If a character dies permanently, that player has nothing to do in the game until she creates a new character. Thus, permanent character death is always a difficult issue, and providing possible failures in which all the characters survive is not easy.

In Kannagara, personae are very unlikely to die, because the game isn’t about those sorts of stories. However, I have been working on the basis that the personae must be able to fail. I’m now less sure about this, and I think I might change it. The change comes from thinking about my experience of line editing Ars Magica.

In Ars Magica, magi are extremely powerful wizards, even when they have just completed their training. It is hard to create opposition with a realistic chance of defeating them, whether in combat or in scheming. Magi are not just powerful, they are flexible, and they can be subtle as well as direct. This means that, in an Ars Magica scenario, the question is not usually whether the magi will be successful. Rather, it is how they will succeed. Different approaches have different consequences, and take the saga in different directions.

Structurally, this has an important benefit for the game. It means that there are almost no choices, other than the players going on strike, that bring the game to a halt. The story always continues, and not always in ways that the players would have predicted.

How would this work in Kannagara? I haven’t worked out the details yet, but I don’t think I would reduce it to simply choosing the outcome you like best. Rather, there will be a basic success, which the personae can achieve without making any effort. This would come with problems for the future, such as strained relationships or missing items. Personae would be able to remove problems and add additional benefits, by using the abilities that they have. A certain group of personae might be unable to remove a particular problem, because none of them have the necessary abilities, but that is not a problem for the game. It just means that a future story will be about the personae dealing with that problem.

Since Kannagara has no GM, the players will also be describing the situations and the problems. The problems that come with a solution make good complications; something the personae do creates the possibility of an ongoing problem, and unless they resolve it, that problem is a lasting legacy of their actions. Nevertheless, the existence of a continuing issue in no way alters the fact that the personae have succeeded in resolving the primary problem.

This structure does mean that it matters what the primary problem of a scenario is. The primary problem has to be solved, while secondary problems might remain to cause the personae trouble in the future. This may be a feature, rather than a bug, in that it may make the game easier to play if every scenario defines a central problem, and each scenario ends when its problem has been solved. In the current introductory scenario, for example, the central problem would be “we are in a kamikakushi”, and the problem is solved when the personae get out.

As I continue to develop Kannagara, I will be looking at making success assured, but its consequences variable.

Inclusivity in Roleplaying Games

Recently (over the last year or so) there has been a lot of talk in gaming of the need to make products more inclusive, to provide options who are not straight white cis-men. This campaign seems to have started in computer gaming, where my limited experience suggests that it is really needed, but it has also spread to tabletop gaming.

Is this really a problem that tabletop gaming needs to address now? To be absolutely clear, I am talking about the inclusion of a variety of characters in products, not the diversity of authors or players. In addition, I think that diversity of characters is a good thing, and important. My question is over whether this is something that tabletop RPGs need to address now.

I’ll readily grant that it was a problem 30 years ago. The only non-white Companion of the Lance is metallic copper. However, even 25 years ago, companies were starting to address it. Early Forgotten Realms novels include a black protagonist in a series of novels in which racism is a recurring theme, and female protagonists. In the early nineties, White Wolf put a black man on the cover of Mage:the Ascension. He was the only character on the cover, and the iconic symbol of the whole game. In 1998, Fading Suns included non-binary-gender characters as an important option for a race that was primarily binary (the Ur-Obun). In 2000, D&D 3.0 had iconic characters who were deliberately designed to be diverse in terms of race and gender. Steve Kenson put an openly gay superhero in Freedom City in 2003, and in 2005 Blue Rose presented a fantasy society in which homosexual and polyamorous marriage were both normal. Games set in Japan go back to the earliest days of the hobby, and Nyambe, in a fantasy version of sub-Saharan Africa, was released in 2002. Disabilities have been standard character options in all games that have an Advantange/Disadvantage system since those systems were invented. Today, D&D 5e explicitly raises race, non-binary-gender, and multiple sexualities as choices you should think about in the free introductory set.

In short, I think the “inclusivity problem” was solved in roleplaying ten years ago. “Inclusivity” is the default position for tabletop gaming, and has been for a long time. Of course tabletop games should continue to be inclusive, but this isn’t something that needs campaigning for. There may turn out to be some groups who have not been included, and people will want to see more inclusion of particular groups, but the battle for inclusivity in general was won years ago.

There is a different problem, which is sometimes confused with the need for inclusivity. This is that the portrayal of some cultures in roleplaying games is not particularly good. To take an example I’m familiar with, Shadowrun 4e illustrated Shinto with a picture of a BDSM prostitute in Street Magic, and the Shinto pantheon in Scion 1e is really, really badly researched. (Although you can, at least, tell that they did a bit of research.)

First, I want to stress that this really is a completely different problem. This problem only arises because tabletop roleplaying games assume that you have to be inclusive. If Scion had only included white European pantheons, they would not have had a badly research Shinto pantheon to get bothered about in the first place.

Second, this is a real problem. It is also a really difficult problem, because researching something well enough to present it sensitively and in a way that is suitable for gaming takes a very long time. To get to that point for Shinto required learning Japanese, living in Japan, and spending about five years studying Shinto, including taking classes at the largest Shinto university (in Japanese). I can do the same for medieval western Europe, and that took several years with borrowing privileges at Cambridge University Library.

If you take the research requirement seriously, then a single author cannot write a diverse and inclusive book. A single human being cannot know enough about enough cultures to do it. A team of half a dozen authors is going to be really pushed to do it, particularly if they all have to be native speakers of English, familiar with the game, and willing to write for what tabletop roleplaying pays.

Now, I think that the research requirement should be taken seriously. If you are purporting to write about a real culture, you should know that culture very well. For a contemporary culture, you really need to have lived in it while fluent in the local language. For a historical culture, you need at least a couple of years of reading around it, including primary literature. For a prehistoric culture, you get to make a whole bunch of stuff up, because we just don’t know enough to be accurate in the first place, but you need to be very familiar with what we do know.

On the other hand, if you are writing a fantasy culture inspired by a real culture, you should be granted a lot more leeway. Rokugan is not Japan. It should be exotic, in a way that a portrayal of real Japan should not. The Southlands does not have to be an accurate portrayal of North Africa and the Levant, and indeed it should not be. I think fantasy games (including far-future science fiction games) should be allowed to pick elements from non-Western cultures and use them to make fictional cultures that acknowledge the existence of people and cultures that are not straight white cis-male, without being required to accurately reflect the cultures they are borrowing from. I think this is the only way to make broadly inclusive games and settings feasible in tabletop gaming.

I also think that there is an important role for a diverse range of games that are not individually diverse, where the authors know enough about one culture to present it accurately and sensitively.

I don’t expect many people, certainly not many people who produce tabletop roleplaying games, to disagree with what I’ve written here. That’s because I believe that virtually everyone in this business agrees that inclusivity and research are necessary, and regrets the times when they mess up one or the other.

White Without Privilege

This morning, I went to the jinja near my office to pay my respects to the kami. There happened to be a Japanese woman paying her respects at the same time, and as I stepped back to leave, she turned towards me and murmured (in Japanese) “Wonderful!”.

I assume that she was referring to the way I had followed the correct etiquette. It is, after all, extremely unlikely that she was referring to my appearance. On the other hand, would she have felt the need to say anything had I not appeared white? I rather doubt it.

That doubt is the defining experience of not having white privilege.

“White Privilege” is a term used to describe the unearned entitlement of white people. It seems to have been coined by Peggy McIntosh in a paper entitled “White Privilege and Male Privilege” in 1988, and an excerpt from that paper, called “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” is widely available online. This idea has recently become popular in the phrase “check your privilege”.

White people in the UK clearly have white privilege; white people in Japan do not. First, I want to defend the second half of that assertion. Then I want to discuss some of the implications I have drawn from my personal experience of having white privilege, and then not having it.

McIntosh’s article gives a convenient list of 50 privileges that come with being white. Many of them are not available to white people in Japan. For example, the first one is “I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.”, which is impossible for white people here. Similarly, number 6 is “I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.” Er, no. Or 21: “I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.” I’ve been explicitly asked to do that; it is part of the job description of the Kawasaki City Representative Assembly for Foreign Residents. Or 38: “I can think over many options, social, political, imaginative or professional, without asking whether a person of my race would be accepted or allowed to do what I want to do.” No. And, of course, number 50: “I will feel welcomed and “normal” in the usual walks of public life, institutional and social.” Welcome, possibly. Normal, definitely not.

More generally, “white privilege” is often described as the privilege of having your race not matter. People do not see your race, they just see a person. That is emphatically not the case in Japan; I am a white person first, and whatever else I may be after people have got to know me a bit.

Unless everyone describing “white privilege” online has the concept completely wrong (and they don’t), I lost my white privilege when I came to Japan.

What lessons do I draw from this experience?

First, it is very hard to notice white privilege if you have it, because there is nothing to notice. That is the point. Your race just doesn’t come up.

Second, all white people in the USA have white privilege. It doesn’t matter how poor you are, or how much you suffer discrimination in other ways, your white skin still means that you have white privilege.

Consider President Obama. He clearly has vastly more privilege than the overwhelming majority of white US residents. He is the president. But they have white privilege and he doesn’t. No-one asked whether people were opposed to Dubya because of his race; people do ask that about Obama. (It is worth noting that, if I became prime minister of Japan, people would wonder about the influence of my race. See also point 38, above.) “White privilege” may not have been the best name for the issue, because the connotations of “privilege” are a bit more positive than what it actually gets you.

Third, however, white privilege really is a benefit. It is wearing and stressful to stand out all the time, to constantly be wondering whether people are judging you on your race, to constantly have to wonder whether your race will cause a problem.

That is even true when you do not really face any racism. I don’t think that there is a significant amount of racism directed against white people in Japan. I’ve encountered almost no personal racism, and there are too few white people for systemic racism to be anything more than an unintended side effect of other policies. Nevertheless, the lack of “yellow privilege” is a problem.

There are two points arising from this.

First, I think the loss of white privilege is what makes some white residents of Japan think that there is a lot of racism directed against white people here. It’s uncomfortable, and it involves things that are called racism back home in the USA.

Second, I don’t think it is racism even in the USA. It is entirely understandable that people of colour would think that it was, because it is impossible, in their experience, to separate it from the racism that they do experience. However, the issues are separable, and white people in Japan get the loss of white privilege without the racism. I think the people who see this as racism are mistaken, albeit for understandable reasons.

That has a couple of practical consequences.

Me and my family, all in kimonos, at a jinja.

And if I really want to stand out…

I think that members of minorities need to suck this up and deal with it. If you are a visible minority, you will stand out, you won’t find members of your race around all the time, and people will take actions and ask questions based on your race. That isn’t racist. It’s just a fact of your situation. If you can’t cope with it, move somewhere where you are not a visible minority. If you decide that moving is harder than dealing with it, that is an important discovery. Thinking of it as racism is a mistake, because it just increases your hostility to the society you live in, for no good reason.

What’s more, I don’t think it can be changed. I am never going to fade into the background into Japan. It doesn’t matter how accepting of white people the Japanese are, or how much they treat me just like a Japanese person. I will always look different, and thus be memorable, and inspire questions and comments that would not be inspired by someone who looked “normal”.

The other side of the coin is that it is stressful, and it is pleasant to deal with people who don’t seem to take your race to be a defining issue, and don’t say anything to draw attention to it.

So, if you’re a white American, you’re quite right that it isn’t racist to ask someone where they came from, or how they got into needlepoint, or gaming, or whatever. On the other hand, if one of the reasons you are interested is because you don’t see many non-white people in that context, it is considerate to not ask, at least not at first. If you’ve been sharing a hobby with someone for a while, it’s natural to swap stories of how you got into it. It’s not a natural question the first time you meet, for someone you’d expect to be in the hobby. (It is notable that the only white Shinto priest in Japan says that he got into Shinto because he thought the shoes were cool. To me, that sounds like the response of someone who has been asked that question too many times.)

It’s important to remember the difference in perspective. There are very few white people with a deep interest in and knowledge of Shinto. A Shinto priest could easily go his entire life without meeting one, so of course I’m interesting, and priests I meet tend to be curious about why I’m involved in Shinto. On the other hand, I am always a white person with a deep interest in and knowledge of Shinto when I meet a Shinto priest, so I get it almost every time. It’s like making a joke about someone’s name — even if it is funny, they have heard it lots of times already. (Unless they only changed their name a few minutes earlier and have been in your company ever since, so you know you’re the first person to do it.)

Let’s summarise.

  • White privilege is a real thing, and not having it is a genuine source of stress and discomfort.
  • White people do not necessarily have white privilege; it depends on their society.
  • If some white people have white privilege in a particular society, they all do.
  • The discomfort resulting from not having white privilege is not the result of racism.
  • Nevertheless, a lot of groups do suffer both racism and the lack of white privilege.
  • White people in Japan do not have white privilege, but neither do they suffer from racism.
  • It is not racist to do the things that cause stress and discomfort to people without white privilege.
  • It is, however, considerate to avoid doing them.

Creative Commons Licence
White Without Privilege (excluding the photograph) by David Chart is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. I have, by request, reformatted the essay as a PDF file, containing only the CC licensed material. The Creative Commons License allows you to copy and distribute the essay for any purpose, as long as you do not alter it. That means that you are clearly allowed to distribute copies to students in a university setting, which is what I was asked for.

Evidence, For and Against

This week, I did make some more progress on theories and evidence; I now have specific content for what happens in the draft scenario, and half of it is written up. I can see that this mechanic will be good discipline for people writing for the game.

In Kannagara, theories will define the world. The default assumption will be that the personae come up with true theories, but there will be rules for having the personae get the wrong end of the stick. (If I can manage it, there will also be rules for leaving things open, but I think that might prove to be impossible to run.) When the personae are wrong, the players define the world negatively, and most likely also determine which theory is true. Most setting fluff will, therefore, be in the form of theories that the personae could form.

The mechanics for theories involve gathering evidence, and then creating the theory. The evidence consists of specific, concrete things that the personae observe, and they should generally gather quite a bit before they come up with a theory. This means that an important part of the write-up of any theory is the evidence that the personae have for it.

This is good discipline because it enforces “show, don’t tell”. In Kannagara, you cannot just write that somewhere looks haunted. You have to give the specific observable facts that make the personae think that it is haunted. Further, it means that, for any theory, you have to give some thought to how the personae could figure it out. There are rules for making the jump from evidence to theory, so you do not need to fill in every step, but you have to have at least an outline of the steps. This is something that is often overlooked in roleplaying writing; the author knows the secret, and so just considers what happens when the players discover it, rather than concentrating on how they discover it.

If course, in Kannagara the author does not decide which theory is true. The players do that, in play. It would be bad practice to assume that the players will always reach a consensus on what the truth should be, so the rules need to make a decision.

This comes in two stages. First, the players can choose which evidence they discover, and each player can choose to discover evidence favourable to her own theory, and problematic for the other theory. If the players do not agree about the best theory, this will lead to ambiguous and confusing evidence, which is a good thing; real life is like that sometimes, and if the evidence found in the game were always clear and unambiguous, it would impair suspension of disbelief.

The next stage is the creation of theories. Each theory needs enough evidence to support it; there is a minimum amount of support a theory must have. However, the persona creating the theory also needs to incorporate the evidence against the theory. Incorporating this evidence means that the theory contains elements to explain it away. This does not support the theory, but if the persona does not incorporate that evidence, it weakens her theory. The amount of evidence a persona can incorporate depends on her knowledge of the field, so a more skilled persona can deal with a lot of negative evidence while still creating a strong theory.

The truth, then, is the strongest theory of those that have the minimum level of support. The evidence has an influence on that, but a very good theoretician could overcome a lot of negative evidence, as long as she had at least some positive evidence for her position.

Sometimes, of course, theories are wrong. Getting the theory wrong will be a form of complication, but complications are shaping up to be an important part of the game that need their own post.

A Bit About Theories

Things have been held up a bit by the need to work on other projects, but this week I’ve been able to make some more progress.

Today, I’ve been working on discovery. I’m now thinking of Kannagara as a roleplaying game of discovery, creation, and growth, so this is one of the three fundamental pillars of the game. As with the other parts of the game, the mechanics are likely to change from the first playtest draft, but the basic concept is the same. However, I am making changes even within the basic concept.

Because there is no gamemaster, and because all the players can read the whole of any scenario before they start playing, it is essential that the details of the background be determined in play. It must be impossible for the players to have their personae go straight to the answer, and the best way to make that impossible is to have them determine the answer in play.

This will work the same way as before: the personae will gather evidence, and then build theories on the basis of the evidence. Evidence that they do not choose to gather may not even exist. Some evidence could support more than one theory, although it might be better for one theory than for another. Other evidence might be strong evidence against one theory, without really supporting any rivals. The players would know in advance which evidence supports which theory, so they could choose to have their personae gather evidence that supports the theory they would like to be true.

If different players want different theories to be true, then they can discover different evidence. This will naturally simulate the reality that evidence is rarely clear and unambiguous. Evidence that clearly rules out a possible theory will be hard to discover, so that most players won’t want to do that. Each player can then try to support her favoured theory with the evidence. The theory that has the best support is the truth.

Within a scenario, this is relatively easy to do, although there are still a lot of details to work out. However, I would like this to work more generally. I would like to be able to provide theories and evidence in the supplements for Kannagara, so that players can choose evidence and theories from a supplement and put them together to build their own settings, rather than following a scenario. Of course, players can also create their own theories and evidence, but it looks like that will be a lot of work. If theories are modular, and can be put together in different ways, that will make things a lot easier for players. It will make things harder for me, but since I’m hoping to be paid for this, that’s not a bad thing. It means that players should be able to feel that they are getting value for money.

For the new playtest scenario, I am working on having at least two possible theories for personae to discover at an early stage, both to make the basic structure clear, and to give the players real choices. I have not quite got that fully worked out, however. I hope to be able to get the details sorted out next week.

Concrete Revisions

This week, I’ve started work on the new draft of the playtest scenario. Although the basic story is still the same, it’s going to be quite different in detail. For one thing, I’m over 3,000 words and I still haven’t got to the place where the previous version started. This is only to be expected, of course. One of the biggest criticisms of the last version was that it introduced too many ideas too quickly, and that people were expected to play personae before they knew anything about them. So this time, I’m taking things much more slowly, and introducing rule and background elements as close to one at a time as is possible. Obviously, because the whole system fits together, there are limits to how far I can do that, and some things do refer ahead.

One thing I’m noticing as I design this is how many conceptual parallels I can see with recent games. There are a things that resemble Conditions and Tilts from The God Machine Chronicle for the new World of Darkness, and things that resemble Aspects from Fate Core. I have things that are conceptually similar to moves from Apocalypse World or Dungeon World. I’m using cards and tokens to help with record keeping. There is no gamemaster.

This isn’t really surprising, as we are all working in the same environment, on the same problems. People should be expected to come up with similar solutions, particularly when they’ve read the other solutions and have them available. Of course, there are differences from all the previous versions, and they fit together to do something very different, but there’s clear continuity with recent game design trends.

Today’s breakthrough was part of persona creation. The mechanic lets the players define the persona’s personality, and gives clear mechanical consequences for it.

Each personality trait comes with four mechanical bits. One is an action that lets that persona gain musubi. Another is an action that other personae can do with that persona to gain musubi. The third defines a set of actions within which the persona can spend musubi on her own actions. (So, basically an Aspect from Fate.) The last one is a complication that can apply just to that persona. Three of them encourage that player to play along with the personality. One encourages other players to reinforce it. I’m looking forward to seeing how it works out.

Incidentally, in keeping with the general philosophy of Kannagara, all of the personality traits given as options are positive.

I think that the same mechanical structure should work for a lot of background traits, but background traits will also pull in abilities. Most likely, there will be minimum ability requirements to have a certain level of background. Since I haven’t written the part of the scenario that introduces abilities yet, I haven’t introduced this part of the background. Furthermore, since at least some of the possible backgrounds will be closely connected to Shinto, I need to introduce a lot more setting information before I can do that. Right now, however, things are progressing very well.

Fundamental Revisions

Today, I’ve made a start on the revisions to Kannagara based on the results of the first playtest. I’m looking at making quite a fundamental revision: I’m working on dropping the dice mechanic.

This is a bit painful, because I really like that dice mechanic. I think the probability distributions it gives have some very nice properties, and I think it would work very well for some games. However, I’m not convinced that it works well for Kannagara. I think it might create complexity in the wrong place. I’m not opposed to complexity in games, obviously, but it is important to make sure that the complexity is in the right place, supporting the mood and themes of the game rather than undermining them.

The only way to test this is to try putting the mechanics together without the dice mechanic. Fortunately, there was quite a lot of other mechanical structure in the first version of Kannagara, and I think I can keep nearly all of it. Gathering evidence, building theories based on the evidence, and creating things out of elements can all stay, as can different abilities. As I mentioned in my last post, I’m also looking at making heavy use of cards, and putting the various elements onto cards, so that players do not have to remember everything.

There was one big element that the dice mechanic brought to the game. That was the element of the unexpected. In my experience, this is an important part of the fun of roleplaying, and in a game with no GM the only way to introduce it is through randomisers. To retain this, I will still be using dice, but in a different way.

Whenever a persona gains kegare in the game, the player must roll a number of dice equal to the persona’s total kegare. If at least two of dice come up ‘1’, a complication arises. (Obviously, this means that a persona’s first point of kegare is safe.) Possible complications will be defined by the scenario, and by features of the persona. I think that a player will always be able to freely introduce a personal complication, but global complications will be a bit more involved. I think that they will come in ranks, and only a limited number will be available. The player can choose freely from the lowest available rank, but must have the agreement of all other players to choose from a higher rank. This is because the highest ranked complication will, in many cases, be the failure condition for the scenario. Choosing that early on would be what I believe is technically known as a “dick move”, but in my experience it is better for game rules to make it clear that you can’t do that. Of course, if that is the lowest available rank, then the player has to make the scenario fail, but that is a possible source of tension, and should only happen after a considerable amount of playing time.

As before, kegare will also increase the difficulty of matsuri, and I think it will have one further effect. I think that some actions will only be available to personae with less than a certain amount of kegare.

While working on this, I thought of a way to incorporate one of the more problematic traditional beliefs of Shinto, the belief that menstruation causes kegare. Players of female personae may declare that the persona is menstruating, and move any or all of the persona’s kegare onto the menstruation. That kegare then applies to matsuri, but to nothing else. It does not count against the limit for taking actions, nor does it provide dice to roll to see whether a complication arises. It does not count for harae, either; it cannot be removed by harae, and does not need to be for a harae to be effective in removing other kegare. The persona is effectively excluded from participating in matsuri, but can do things that create a lot of kegare without worrying. In longer scenarios, the condition goes away in a few days, like it does, and takes all its kegare with it. In sagas with strict timekeeping, the player then has to wait at least a couple of weeks of game time before using it again.

This may, in fact, be too good, in that it might mean that an all-female group would always succeed, but given the centrality of matsuri to the game I think it might be balanced. It is something for playtest, but possibly not the first playtest.

The other problem that came up in playtest, that of too much information too early, is very important. I’m addressing that by reorganising the scenario, but I’ve only just started on that, so I’ll go into detail next time, after a little more progress.

Persistence Ain’t All That

This post may come across as something of a rant, and possibly also as a humble brag. I have to concede that I’m ranting a bit, but I would like to emphasise that there is nothing humble about the bragging parts, and that I am entirely serious about the humble parts.

This rant was inspired by my misreading* of a guest post on Chuck Wendig’s blog by a (different) successful author. In it, she repeats the claim that persistence is essential, even the only essential thing, and illustrates it with her life story. It is true that persistence appears to have led her to success. There are a number of other famous examples of this available.

The overwhelming level of sample bias here robs the evidence of all meaning. What about all the persistent people who haven’t succeeded? Nobody listens to their stories, because they are nobodies. Why would you take life lessons from someone who has failed? Well, because if you only listen to people who have succeeded, you get a seriously distorted picture.

So, in full awareness that essentially no-one is going to read this, because I’m not famous enough, I’m going to tell the echoing ether that persistence isn’t enough, and isn’t even necessary.

Let’s take “not enough” first. I write and develop roleplaying games. I need to say that because hardly anybody has heard of me. I’ve been doing it professionally for 20 years; longer than Chris Pramas at Green Ronin, and a lot more people have heard of him. He even has a Wikipedia page.

I’ve not had a rejection letter for roleplaying games since I returned to them after deciding that they were not Satanic, around the age of 18. So, that thing about everyone having to collect piles of rejection letters? Not true. I’ve won an Origins Award and a gold ENnie award, helped out by the name recognition of Jonathan Tweet and Mark Rein•Hagen, but for a product, Ars Magica Fifth Edition, that was essentially my work. The previous four editions, which were not my work, did not win. I’ve been developing Ars Magica for longer than anyone else, and I’m getting close to having done it for longer than everyone else who has had the job put together. John Nephew has not fired me. He’s even given me pay rises and bonuses from time to time.

I do not suck, at least not as a roleplaying game author and developer. Because I am not depressed, I know that I do not suck. I do not suck, and I have kept this up for 20 years. Talent and persistence, getting published, I must have succeeded, right?

Wrong. Obviously, I don’t make a decent amount of money from roleplaying. Nobody makes a decent amount of money from roleplaying (except Robin Laws). But further than that, I have almost no name recognition. I’m working on a new roleplaying game, Kannagara, but does the fact that I am working on a new roleplaying game create any buzz anywhere? No. Now, we aren’t talking about fame. While people in the industry will recognise the names I’ve been dropping, I suspect that only the most dedicated roleplaying fans would do so in general. That’s the level I’m aiming at, and haven’t reached.

So yeah, persistence doesn’t always work.

I’ve also written a novel, and tried the online crowdfunding model. That was Tamao. That didn’t work, either. People I didn’t know did send me money. One guy even sent me $25 a couple of years after I’d finished, when it was obvious he wasn’t going to get any more story out of it. So, it doesn’t suck. Strangers don’t send you money because you wrote something that sucked. And I finished it. Wrote the whole thing in a year. That’s persistence.

No success yet.

Then there’s my blog. Not this one. I’m not so brazen as to claim persistence here, but my Japanese one. Every day, for nearly eight years. Recently, at least 1,000 characters (roughly 500 words equivalent) every day. Frequent and regular updates with new material, sustained over a long period of time. That’s how you make a successful blog, right? I’m averaging about 100 views per day, and no comments. That’s not a successful blog.

But I’ve not given up. I still do it every day. It has been great Japanese practice. Lots of persistence here.

No success, though.

On the other hand, let’s consider an area where I wasn’t persistent. Philosophy. I got a PhD in philosophy from Cambridge 15 years ago. So, yes, I was persistent enough to finish a dissertation. I then spent five years trying to get a job in philosophy. Failed.

So I chucked it in and came to Japan.

A couple of years ago, I was offered a job, which I’m still doing, based on having that PhD. The content of my work has steadily got closer to the content of my dissertation, to the point that, this year, I will be directly applying my PhD to my work, in the private sector. The job doesn’t currently pay brilliantly (start up), but it pays a lot more than minimum wage. And a lot more than roleplaying games, novels, or blogs — at least for me.

This means that the area where I wasn’t persistent, the area that I abandoned pretty much completely for eight years, is the area where I currently seem to have the most success. It has at least as much promise for future success as any of the others as well.

Persistence: not needed, and not enough. Rather overrated, all round.

When you are struggling with something you want to do, but are not succeeding at, the big question can be framed as “Which story am I starring in?”. Are you starring in a story of someone who holds on to their dream, struggles through the difficult years of no recognition and piles of rejection slips, before finally succeeding? Or are you starring in a story of someone who wastes his life producing things that no-one wants to read, dying with piles of manuscripts that do not become interesting even posthumously?

Obviously, if you’re in the first story, you should not give up. Keep pushing! Keep writing! Persistence!

If you’re in the second story, you should quit now. Do something more productive with your life. Everyone has something to offer to the world. In your case, this isn’t it. Abandon the illusion that is holding you back, and find your calling!

So, which story are you in? It’s really, really hard to tell. In fact, I suspect it’s impossible to tell. That makes it unfortunate that the two stories recommend diametrically opposed courses of action.

This is why living a good life is hard. The decisions are not easy. There are no universal prescriptions that will always lead you to the right decision. Sometimes, you should give up. Sometimes, giving up will actually lead to success in the area where you gave up. And sometimes you shouldn’t. Sometimes you should be persistent.

Sometimes you should do what you love. Sometimes you should recognise reality and do what is necessary to live. Sometimes your family should come first, and sometimes you should prioritise work for a while to make sure that your family has a home and food. Sometimes you should stand up for what you believe, and sometimes you should keep your head down and wait for the persecution to pass.

There are no easy answers, and most people never get to know whether they made the right decisions. So, if you are a struggling writer, you have to decide for yourself whether you should give up. I’m not going to recommend either option. Giving up worked for me; persisting worked for other people.

I’m afraid you have to run your own life.

* The original post was by Kameron Hurley, and it turns out that her point was that she had redefined “success” in terms of persisting, so that the lack of other kinds of success wouldn’t put her off. Since that is what I have done for my Japanese blog, I think it’s perfectly reasonable. The post above still stands, however. Back