Tuesday, April 04, 2006

A Tale of Two Hoaxes

Recently I have been fooled by two hoaxes both perpetrated by game authors.

First there was the Encounter Critical affair, wherein S. John Ross tricked me and many others into believing that Encounter Critical was an authentic artifact, a true fantasy heartbreaker from the 70's written by some far-out dudes in Racine, Wisconsin. It turns out that Ross authored the game himself as a homage to that bygone era of gaming history.

More recently I fell for the efforts of Jared A. Sorensen and John Wick to convince me that Mr. Sorensen was facing legal action from parties unknown. This phantom litigant threatened to take away Jared's right to publish his past catalog of games, his right to publish under the Momento Mori imprint, and even the right to use his own name in print. The whole episode was invented apparently to promote the release of a new edition of Lacuna, a game about which I know nothing.

I had radically different reactions to these two hoaxes. When S. John Ross stepped out from behind the curtain, I was genuinely delighted. You can read my reaction as I wrote about it the very day of unveiling at this old gameblog entry. When the deception by Sorensen and Wick was revealed, I was angry. Angry enough that I decided to wait a few days before writing about it. I wanted to take some time to try to get to terms with why I was so pissed off at those guys. But self-reflection isn't my strong suit, so I'm left to work out my take on this mess by writing about it.

Let me start with an observation: of the two situations I was far more personally invested in Encounter Critical. Sure, I had blogged about it. But I am wont to do that with any game that catches my fancy. Back on my old tripod blog I once wrote a piece about Spawn of Fashan, for pete's sake. I also started participating in the Encounter Critical yahoo group, where I posted some of the first fan material for the game. On the weekend before the Big Unveil I ran a con game of EC. You know how ordinary folks like to tell celebrities "I'm your biggest fan"? Shit, I really was that #1 fan the day before S. John Ross told me he was the real author of EC. But the day after that revelation I still was a hugeass fan of Encounter Critical. And I became an even bigger fan of Ross, if such a thing is possible. I swear I've got a big ol' man-crush on him. Every work of his I peruse just trips my trigger. (But I've also diligently avoided his stuff that doesn't interest me, like GURPS Russia. I'm not *quite* to the point of building a secret creepy stalker shrine to him in my game room.)

Contrast that with the Sorensen/Wick situation. Unlike Ross I'm not a paying customer of either of these guys. Wick I know as the brain behind games like Legend of the Five Rings, 7th Sea, and Orkworld and other games I've never read or played but clearly some people enjoy them. Ron Edwards likes Orkworld, so that says something. (What it says, I don't know.) I'm slightly more familiar with the work of Mr. Sorensen. I know he wrote octaNe and InSpectres, which received some very nice reviews I've read. And I've printed off a couple of the games from his free stuff page. I particularly like Pumpkin Town and The Code. Either way, I primarily knew these two guys as RPGnet personalities. In my mind Wick fell into the talented prima donna camp like Gareth-Michael Skarka or Justin Achilli. All three are funny and talented guys who sometimes let their egos get to them and lose their shit. Jared I kinda saw as akin to RPGnetters like Bailywolf and SteveD: crazy talented, cool, upbeat people that made me want to hang out at RPGnet more than I should. I still laugh every time I think of Sorensen's throwaway line contrasting role-playing to Raoul-playing.

So one of my all-time favorite rpg authors pulls a fast one on me and I laugh a clap. A couple of talented strangers trick me and I'm still mad. Am I just star-struck masochistic enough to let S. John walk all over me? I don't think so. I think it really comes down to the details of the two scams. I'm pretty sure that if Sorensen and Wick had authored EC I'd still like that game. I can see myself thinking "So Sorensen had a hand in EC, eh? That's great! Maybe I'll finally buy myself a copy of octaNe." Meanwhile, I'd be even more mad at S. John for pulling the 'shutting down due to legal problems' shenanigan. Why would he jerk around his fans like that? Well, he wouldn't.

Hopefully Sorensen and Wick know their audience well enough to be able to say that their unorthodox tactic would work. Maybe their fans respond well to "Holy shit I'm in trouble! - Naw, just kidding! Buy my new book, fanboy!" All I can tell you is that I'm not in that demographic. If that's how fans of Orkworld or InSpectres like to be treated I guess I can save myself the money finding out whether or not I like either of those games. And I sure as hell won't be buying Lacuna any time soon.

In the final analysis I don't think Wick and Sorensen are blackhearted villains because of the trick they pulled. They're probably still the ultracool guys I imagined them to be before this shit hit the fan. But their little stunt was the equivalent of yelling "fire!" in a crowded theatre. To claim that they didn't know a panic would ensue would be disingenuous and to claim that it was all in good fun would be moronic. Especially when everyone pushes through the doors to find the two of them outside selling "I survived the Theatre Fire" t-shirts. This hoax wasn't jolly good fun, it was mean-spirited guerilla marketing.