Friday, 17 February 2012

Microscope in Play

Last week I recommended Microscope on the basis of downloading and reading it. Today I can recommend it on the basis of playing it. A friend and I sat down for a couple of hours and gave it a run through, and enjoyed the experience.

A caveat: there were only two of us, and though the game works with two, you really need more than that for it to run properly. But in spite of that I felt that it came together surprisingly well: initial awkwardness about what to do during a "scene" - which is basically like free-form role-playing within a certain structure - quickly faded and we got into the swing of things very easily. The history we created charts the life time of a city, from founding to dissolution, and encapsulates a Mantis God, ab-humans, anti-daylight, Big Fuck-off Pterodactyls (BFPs), and street wars between merchant guilds. We filled out bits of it in detail, skirted over others, and left huge swathes unexplored.

I wouldn't call Microscope a role playing game. I'm not even really sure I would call it a game. (Not that it particularly matters.) It's more a set of tools for structured brainstorming: a means by which you focus your creativity like a lens on different subjects at a time and make them grow. And it is quite potent stuff. Properly guided, a group of people can come up all kinds of crazy and wonderful nonsense within a surprisingly short space of time.

This is why I think the potential criticism of Microscope - that you might as well just sit round as a group and create whatever your want; why bother buying the game? - misses the point: structure, to a certain degree, is important. It stops you meandering, drowning in a sea of too much choice and freedom. Microscope gives you just the right amount of discipline, providing a framework in which group creativity can flourish.


  1. I couldn't agree with you more.

    Here is a link to the conversation I just had with Ben Robbins (Author of Microscope) for those who might be interested:

  2. I think you might have sold me on this now.

    I definitely had those thoughts upon reading about microscope. But in my experience a little structure can really help.

    That's why we like random charts after all.

  3. I did play Microscope last year, right after it was published.
    I'm completely with you, this game is fantastic.

    By the way i were in a Con, so there was no shortage of people playing and i can say that it does work even better with more people. Around four-five were the best games we've had.

    We could try a Microscope play-by-post on G+...

  4. I was the other player with noisms on Thursday, and I couldn't agree more with his observations.

    I also work as a skills trainer, and some of the stuff that I do is on creativity. Microscope totally gets it right in my opinion: totally freeform play isn't a game, you need structure, you need rules in order to have this collaboration unfold. In particular, which I didn't cotton on to at first, the idea that in Microscope you "focus" on something for a turn is great. It's not that you say, "Oh, I want to see all of the things that happened at this point," you say, "I think it would be interesting to learn more about K'Kluck-za the Mantis God!" And what follows is a series of contributions, some towards the end of the timeline, some right at the beginning, some where people are just talking about It.

    A really great evening.

  5. Thanks for sharing such great information. Buy Microscope