Question 7

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For me, there’s an awful lot of fun pieces of world building in the book, for example ubiquitous machine intelligence, orbitals, people who can change sex and synthesise drugs, the fun names of the starships. Is there anything in there you’d want to use for an RPG?

Comments

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    Keen to hear what others say - also how in a game context would you keep things in balance? What stops you just being able to ask a Mind how to solve the problem?

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    I'll continue to sing the praises of the wonderful Mindjammer RPG. It's very Culture-like, apart from the lack of Minds. There's plenty of scope for adventure there (including my Mindjammer/Thunderbirds mash-up, _Interstellar Rescue).

    There are a couple of obvious ways you can tell Culture stories. One is the approach Banks used a lot: the stories are outside the Culture, where the protagonists don't have the full resources of home. The other is to focus it on issues that the Mind's can't solve, like human relationships and self-fulfilment. You could take just about any rom-com and base it in the Culture. I recently watched Three billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri and that's a story that could take place in the Culture (a Mind could possibly solve the crime at the heart of the story, but only by crossing other ethical boundaries).

    But if you're doing purely human-interest stories, the question is how you'd make the Culture-specific, rather than in a contemporary setting.

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    I think I'd be tempted to inject a level of antagonism between the humans and the minds. That would probably make it very 'unculture' like, but I think I'd find it satisfying if there was some hidden agenda that the players somehow glommed onto and needed to solve, or at least work around.

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    @Apocryphal said:
    I think I'd be tempted to inject a level of antagonism between the humans and the minds. That would probably make it very 'unculture' like, but I think I'd find it satisfying if there was some hidden agenda that the players somehow glommed onto and needed to solve, or at least work around.

    I don't know if you've read other Culture books, but... this comes up. There are some people, and some Minds, that disagree with the Culture and what it does, and decide to leave the Culture. The Culture, being the Culture, let them go with their blessing, call them Eccentrics, nod politely at their strange ideas, and stand ready to clear up the messes they inevitably get into.

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    One thing I noticed this read is that this is the most unambiguously pro-Culture of any of the novels. In all of them the Culture is on the side of the angels, but it's still somewhat ambiguous.

    I agree fully that Mindjammer is very Culture-like. No Minds, but it does have sentients starships with avatars. And whenever I've run it there's been a player who relishes that role. The "standard" mission is like a Special Circumstances operation.
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    My games feature all the above though I have never read a Culture novel before. These things are just standard SF tropes. I think a lot of the Culture per se is boring, unrealistic, and basically inflated by rainbow unicorn farts. I think any utopia is a distopia in disguise, and the Culture is no exception. I don't want anyone thinking for me, or doing things for my own good, no matter how smart they are. I think the Culture is one good Butlerian Jihad away from being a good place to set a role-playing game. I would run a game set in the culture that would be all about the rebels.

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    @clash_bowley said:
    I don't want anyone thinking for me, or doing things for my own good, no matter how smart they are. I think the Culture is one good Butlerian Jihad away from being a good place to set a role-playing game. I would run a game set in the culture that would be all about the rebels.

    Really? That's an extreme isloationist / libertarian view, it seems. Do you not want people giving you advice, even if they're experts and you're not? Do you not want governments to implement public-health campaigns, or provide public goods like roads and pollution controls?

    There's a view that we can regard large organisations (corporations, governments) as being intelligent entities in their own right, with their own goals and behaviours, beyond what any individual in the organisation can influence. Are not the Minds then anthropomorphisms of these organisations?

    On the other hand, a game about tracking down a rogue Mind (or group of such Minds) could be interesting. If it's a more general collapse, you could end up with something like Traveller: New Era.

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    edited March 7

    @NeilNjae said:

    Really? That's an extreme isloationist / libertarian view, it seems. Do you not want people giving you advice, even if they're experts and you're not? Do you not want governments to implement public-health campaigns, or provide public goods like roads and pollution controls?

    That is not a good argument. I have some control over who makes government decisions by voting or by going elsewhere. No Human has any influence over the Minds in the Culture. Humans can do what they want because they don't matter in the least. Not taxation without representation, but life without responsibility.

    There's a view that we can regard large organisations (corporations, governments) as being intelligent entities in their own right, with their own goals and behaviours, beyond what any individual in the organisation can influence. Are not the Minds then anthropomorphisms of these organisations?

    These corporations and governments are controlled by people, even if not by single individuals.

    On the other hand, a game about tracking down a rogue Mind (or group of such Minds) could be interesting. If it's a more general collapse, you could end up with something like Traveller: New Era.

    Just to emphasize, I do not fear the Minds. I fear for the effect on Humans. I do not think it will be pretty. Bodies have a habit of repurposing things which are not used and exercised.

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    I played an Atomic Robo game via play-by-post a few years ago where I played someone with glandular enhancements to give the PC different boosts. It wasn’t in a setting like that of the Culture, though.

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    @clash_bowley said:
    Not taxation without representation, but life without responsibility.

    Yes, this is similar to my critique of the Culture, and I didn’t think I was making a libertarian argument, either. People aren’t involved in their own governance in the Culture. If people were actually involved in the communal activity you’ve described, @NeilNjae , I wouldn’t have this problem with the Culture, but they’re not.

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    How are children raised in The Culture?

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    @Apocryphal said:
    How are children raised in The Culture?

    Good question. We only see children from afar as one of Gurgeh’s friends changes sex in order to give birth to a child. Is that right? It’s been awhile since I read this.

    I loved this book. I loved the philosophy it allowed me to think about. I read _Consider Phlebas_furst, immediately before reading our selection, and I think this one is far superior to the first.

    I also thought about two stories by Piers Anthony. The first is The Blue Adept or, if not, one of the other books in that series. As I look at this series online, I see it had several more books, long after I outgrew Anthony. Anyway, in this Adept book, whichever one it was, the protagonist has to defeat an opponent through a series of games. I don’t recall anything about the plot or any of the games except one in which the protagonist wins the tournament by playing a musical instrument soulfully even though his competitor plays more technically correct.

    The second Piers Anthony story was a short story, whose title I don’t recall, about a galactic power that encounters a planet with what they perceive to be a tribal and barbaric culture. The planet’s governing council consists of people who have endured disfiguring torture that proves their worthiness to govern. They won’t speak with any of the galactic diplomats because they haven’t shown their worthiness. Instead, they torture the diplomats to death. The galactic power sends their very best diplomacy, who is determined to endure the torture so that he can demonstrate his worthiness to engage in diplomacy with the planet. SPOILER!! So this diplomat endures all the torture that the planet’s council members have endured. By the time he has finished the prescribed torture, which is truly horrific and which destroys half his body, he has come to believe that only those who have gone through this torture is worthy of engaging in diplomacy with the planet. He takes his place on the council, having been completely transformed into one of them, body and mind. END SPOILER. I thought about this story a lot while reading about Gurgeh playing Azad. At the end, he hadn’t converted into an Azadian, though, and overturns Azad itself.

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    @WildCard said:

    @Apocryphal said:
    How are children raised in The Culture?

    Good question. We only see children from afar as one of Gurgeh’s friends changes sex in order to give birth to a child. Is that right? It’s been awhile since I read this.

    Like you, I cannot remember children being tackled in any depth in any Culture novel. It seems very much a place for adults, and independently-minded ones at that.

    @WildCard said:
    I also thought about two stories by Piers Anthony. The first is The Blue Adept or, if not, one of the other books in that series. As I look at this series online, I see it had several more books, long after I outgrew Anthony. Anyway, in this Adept book, whichever one it was, the protagonist has to defeat an opponent through a series of games. I don’t recall anything about the plot or any of the games except one in which the protagonist wins the tournament by playing a musical instrument soulfully even though his competitor plays more technically correct.

    Funnily enough I read The Blue Adept last year as well, partly to see if I still liked Piers Anthony's writing (I didn't, not nearly as much as when I encountered him years ago). The only book of his I would now like to reread is Macroscope, which I thought back then was a great story, and which also introduced me to Sidney Lanier, a poet who I still like - Macroscope is built around The Marshes of Glynn. Some of Lanier's prosody reminds me of Wordsworth, though Lanier is more overtly musical in his writing.

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    Very interesting discussion. Glad you liked this book. My second favorite Culture book is a tie between: Surface and Hydrogen Sonata.

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    @MARCC said:
    Very interesting discussion. Glad you liked this book. My second favorite Culture book is a tie between: Surface and Hydrogen Sonata.

    I’ve only read the first two, but I will definitely read the rest of them.

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