[Witch Quest] A neglected genre: 'Everyday magic'

edited February 2010 in Story Games
In the Things to Watch thread, Neko Ewan announced the completion of his translation of Witch Quest, a 1991 Japanese game in which players pair up to play young witches and their cat familiars à la Kiki's Delivery Service. Ewan then lunches into a fascinating discourse via this podcast on the nature of the perceived genre of Witch Quest and it's sister-game Yuuyake Koyake: 'Everyday magic.'

Everyday magic, as I understand it, places emotional well-being at the centre of the narrative with a strong emphasis on the magical/mystic and non-violent solutions. It is, essentially, 'heartwarming'; the actions undertaken by the characters are aimed towards the generation of both personal and communal happiness. Childhood innocence and bucolic/nostaligic ruralism also seem to be central precepts. My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's and other Studio Ghibli films are an easy (but not always fitting) comparison.

The core of gameplay in the everyday magic genre, or at least in Witch Quest, focuses on solving problems based on emotional issues. You're a band of 13-year-old witches sent by the Head Witch to settle some unhappiness out in the world using your collective magic. There's no moral, just or reward imperative for action, simply the resolution of emotive challenges; a boy is unhappy, you should attempt to make him happy. There seems to be an investigative element to Witch Quest in that you are to root-out the source of unhappiness (in the example with the boy in transpires that his father's smile was taken by a greedy witch and you have to settle the issue).

What do you think of the genre (Neko Ewen, you must tell me if I've got this wrong at all!), could it be widely applicable in gaming?
Could this idealized, 'heartwarming' but perhaps saccharine genre appeal to you, O hardened dungeon-crawler?
Is an emphasis on non-violence (I will point out that Witch Quest does have magical-combat rules) an alternative to direct, perhaps more exhilarating, violent action?
Is the sentiment of the genre limited only to the Japanese/anime mind-set?

-Mike.

Comments

  • Hey, thanks for this, I don't really watch the Things to Watch threads. I'm very interested in this material.
  • I don't think that "everyday magic" is strictly a Japanese/anime thing, but I do think it runs against the grain much of what RPGs have historically been about. Even story games that don't involve combat at all still typically have a strong central conflict of some kind, where in a game like Yuuyake Koyake you're more confronting a "wrinkle" that could well resolve itself eventually (but not as well or as quickly as it would with the PCs' intervention). Witch Quest is an older game and plays a bit more like a normal RPG minus most of the combat (from the scenarios, it seems you explore, investigate, and use magic to solve problems) even if the ultimate goal is very similar. YK is not inaccessible to Westerners, but I think that it draws on some Japanese cultural assumptions in terms of the emphasis on an overall group and on cooperation. The preferred solution is always the one where *everyone* involved winds up happy. It's not enough to make the bullying stop; you should redeem the bully too.

    For my part I'm hoping that the genre can have legs outside of Japan, and I'm about ready to start playtesting a game called Adventures of the Space Patrol, which uses a super-light version of FATE for a premise kind of like Yuuyake Koyake and Witch Quest (special characters help ordinary people solve problems) but with a Western "retro-cute sci-fi" setting with silver jumpsuits and flying saucers.

    Also, with Raspberry Heaven and Clover, Ben Lehman and I are both doing other heartwarming games, but with a manga-inspired slice-of-life thing. I doubt that non-violent heartwarming RPGs will become big, but I do think they could have a definite niche. Such games present a different kind of fun from your typical RPG. They can make a wonderful change of pace for experienced gamers, and they can appeal to non-gamers who find the typical violence off-putting.

    (Also also, "Neko Ewen" is my goofy internet handle. Call me Ewen, which is pronounced like "Aaron" for reasons my parents have never adequately explained to me.)
  • I think you're all thinking of Fluffy Bunny.
  • Teens in the West have a problem with this genre, and seem to prefer Extreme Grimdark Warriors in Armor Made Entirely of Black Chains.
    Adults in Japan seem to be far more nostalgia-minded, which is why there are a number of successful Heartwarming ("Honobono") games, both on tabletop and on the console.

    We probably wouldn't have seen that many, or maybe *any*, Heartwarming tabletop RPGs like Yuuyake Koyake, or Ryuutama (Dragon's Egg), or some light-hearted supplements for Sword World, if that genre weren't already firmly established in manga and console games.

    Console RPGs that embrace this "Honobono" genre include

    Harvest Moon series
    Popolocrois series
    Animal Crossing series
    Izuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja series
    the new "Fragile" game coming soon for the Wii (imagine a "heartwarming" version of Fallout 3, that's exactly what it is)

    In short, there's clearly a genre for it, and it even clearly makes money. Whether it would be successful in the West or not is another story: More violent/bloody/"realistic" games get more face-time in these parts.

    Personally, while Ryuutama isn't on the top of my to-translate list, I'm very much looking forward to playing this, and Yuuyake Koyake, one day. As an adult, this genre appeals to me, even if it's just to pass some nice time between some otherwise GrimDark fantasy campaigns.

    -Andy
  • This might have to do with worldview. Some people, especially in the west, find it condescending and childish for art to claim that problems can be wished away. In Japanese art it seems to be a much more common comfort fare to just throw out some nostalgic idyl and tell stories about how everything will be all right, even after a token bad turn. If I wanted to be offensive, I might speculate about the "broken national spirit of the Japanese people" in comparison with us mighty masculine power rangers here in the west, still believing in just use of force, evil that lurks around the corner, struggle and sacrifice, heroism, and the other elements that make up a solid dramatic work according to classical premises.

    Of course similar stuff is done a lot in the west as well, but it's directed at much younger children, generally, than some of this Japanese stuff.

    Also, consider The Princes' Kingdom. Very similar structure, but it's told like it had teeth - which it does, in fact, have.
  • edited February 2010
    Posted By: Neko Ewen(Also also, "Neko Ewen" is my goofy internet handle. Call me Ewen, which is pronounced like "Aaron" for reasons my parents have never adequately explained to me.)
    Ewen-pronounced-Aaron it is then!

    I'm keen to write in the 'everyday magic' genre but perhaps from the perspective of my own childhood in the English countryside.
    It'd be interesting to reclaim the British witch (pointy hat, black cat, broom etc) from the Japanese and rewrite Witch Quest (or something similar) with a western slant but still attempting to retain the core sentiment of the original game. Of course, children's television from my youth is a major source of inspiration; no power-ranging actionmen for me. A game about scrawny, tea-drinking, broom-flying but ultimately well-meaning 15-year-olds from 1980s Sussex trying to solve the problems of their parish with magic they can barely use before the summer holidays are over. Could be fun.
    I don't know if 'heartwarming' would survive totally the national character of the English (which tends to criticism and eccentricity) but I'd do my best.
  • I would refer you to Ray Bradbury's "Family" stories, and the novel/collection "Dandelion Wine" for more.
  • Eero: I'm hesitant to bring the "broken national spirit" in because it too is a very complex and distinctly Japanese phenomenon, with some important historical factors at work to boot, but it's definitely relevant. There are other things too though. "Amae" (which is really hard to explain succinctly) maybe one of the most important factors. (OTOH, Japanese children are in some ways more independent than their counterparts in other countries. For example, kids are expected to resolve their own disputes, and teachers don't normally step in.) Japanese culture has somewhat different notions of masculinity and adulthood from Western cultures, and without at all touching on what otaku are into, I see a definite trend in mainstream Japanese culture towards levels of cuteness and sentimentality that would be way over the top by Western standards. That probably gives everyday magic a broader audience in Japan than in the West, and it might help explain why Miyazaki's films are so dominant at the Japanese box office.

    Mike: I've been thinking for a while that an idealized English countryside would be just as good a setting for everyday magic stories as the Japanese countryside of Yuuyake Koyake (or the whimsical, vaguely European setting of Witch Quest). To me it calls to mind the right kind of atmosphere, to a degree that I would have a much harder time achieving in an American setting.
  • Absolutely this appeals to me. We've been using Archipelago II to try and do an Aria-inspired heartwarming utopia. It ended up a bit more actiony (but not violent) than intended, but there's still a strong heartwarming focus. Would love to see more games that drive towards happiness rather than angst
  • Ewen: I think there's a similarity between England and Japan; cultural idiosyncrasies brought about by extreme age, tradition and a spiritualised attitude towards nature. For example, I was walking past my childhood church over Christmas and overheard two Canadian tourists exclaiming with gleeful awe that the building so normalized in my mind was nigh on one thousand years old. This, I concluded, was somehow magical, yet entirely everyday.

    Eero: The Prince's Kingdom strikes me more as folk-tale or biblical legend than adding magic to everyday/bucolic occurrences. I'm with you on the western perception of childishness though; a naive approach to human struggle cheapens our experience of the world. However if we shift paradigms and reconstruct the world to operate under the new, fictional rules of the 'magical everyday' (that, for example, all situations have a solution) we might act with our suspension of disbelief intact.
  • Posted By: Potemkinfor example, all situations have a solution
    This belief is practically so widespread among non-children that if we were Burning Wheel characters and picked to be from America, it would be one of our mandatory traits.
  • Posted By: JDCorleyPosted By: Potemkinfor example, all situations have a solution
    This belief is practically so widespread among non-children that if we were Burning Wheel characters and picked to be from America, it would be one of our mandatory traits.

    Hm, in this there is a fundamental difference between the Englishman and the American. We see the world through largely-ironic inevitablities; being hopeful in all things is childish whimsy. Thus is encapsulated British opinions on the American character.

    Well, I've started writing British Witch Quest.
    It's clear that character role-playing is central to the emotional integrity of the game so I'm trying to build a sense strong personalities with attributes ('strengths' and 'shortcomings') based on the archetypes of the school genre (I don't know if the US has that term, but it's the British equivalent to highschool stock-characters) such as Bold, Smart, Mean, Clumsy; touchpoints for the players from which to flesh out a more complete characters.
  • I'll be looking forward to seeing how that turns out. :3

    BTW the Witch Quest website's wiki has a list of works to look to for inspiration. A lot of them are obscure Japanese novels and manga, but there are a few you can get a hold of without too much trouble:

    Card Captor Sakura
    Sugar Sugar Rune
    Ojamajo Doremi
    Tweeny Witches
    Someday's Dreamers
    Magical Nyan Nyan Taruto
    Mary Poppins

    Also, I totally didn't know, but Kiki's Delivery Service was based on a Japanese novel which is in fact available in English (though AFAICT the sequels were never translated). I may have to pick up the Japanese version the next time I'm by the local Japanese bookstore...
  • edited February 2010

    I'd like to point out that Howl's Moving Castle was based on a british young adult novel of the same name. If anything the book is more heartwarming than the film. As I understand it it certainly fits in the everyday magic 'genre'.

    EDIT: Don't let a name like Tweeny Witches turn you away. That is a boneheaded dub title; the show itself is one of the best animated and most charming things to come from Japan.

  • I have to make a parallel with Croc's Animonde (1988).
    Animonde is a fantasy RPG set in a world without metal, and where animals and humans have a harmonious, symbiotic relationship. The game is intended to be non-violent, with the players using persuasion and intimidation instead of direct violence (although it is possible)
    The game had a big appeal to me and my friends back then. We were already in our late teens when we played, and we probably wouldn't have been excited about it when we started with D&D 6-8 years before. The non-violent theme of the game and the mechanics, as much as I remember, tried to inspire players to think out of the "Hack'n'Slash" box. The game didn't deliver very well this type of fun, but we loved that at least it tried. The setting doesn't have much in common with the heartwarming Japanese subculture, rather its roots would dig into a flower power dream. Plus the existence of many Belgian and French comics with low level of violence was a fertile ground for this game.

    I'd love to play "everyday magic" type of game, it appeals to the fleur bleue side of my personality.
  • Oh and I wanted to ask a question... So what's necessary, in your opinion guys, to achieve this type of game style?

    Animonde was very traditional but added a trait like Harmony if I remember well. Or maybe was it Empathy? Anyway violent PCs might solve a problem in a dirty quick way but on the long run would screw themselves. The Harmony/Empathy trait was a bit like VtM's Humanity (for the Camarilla), i.e. it was more of a stick than a carrot. The mechanics made us feel like we lost control of our characters and it's probably one of the biggest downer we experienced if my memory is correct.

    So what would be a good frame to inspire "everyday magic" behavior at the table?
  • To put on my game designer hat, I'd have to say that getting rid of the player character party and GM-initiated missions pretty much removes the drive to violence so inherent in traditional roleplaying games. It's really that simple. So if you want to create a non-violent feel-good rpg, that's probably the best place to start. Keeping those elements is of course possible, but then you'll need to fight against the established models of activity that players have learned from other games. You'll also find that your game will have plenty of elements that are symbolic of fighting and really just give the exact same game elements a new surface gloss - like, instead of swinging a sword a player character gets a "carebear stare" that brainwashes his enemies, and this is somehow less violent as content.
  • Posted By: Eero Tuovinen...getting rid of the player character party and GM-initiated missions pretty much removes the drive to violence so inherent in traditional roleplaying games. It's really that simple.
    Maybe it's simple to you, and on a gut level it sounds plausible, but I wish you would unpack the implicit reasoning here.
  • I've seen that in action, too! Although I'm not sure it's 100% reliable. But good advice to a designer: get away from the conventions that the players have associated with violence and certain styles of play in the first place, and you'll find them approaching the game with fresher eyes.
  • Yuuyake Koyake does a certain things that help with this:

    1. Its whole premise is good for creating a heartwarming atmosphere. The way I explain it is that D&D tells a new player, "You're a young adventurer. Goblins are attacking the village; how will you stop them?" YK tells a new player, "You're a fluffy bunny. You see a boy who's crying. How will you make him feel better?" A big part of what makes the game work is that it simply immerses you in the right kind of setting, and then lets you role-play. YK scenarios often start off with the PCs having gathered somewhere just to play together, and letting them role-play that for a bit before the Narrator brings in the inciting incident.

    2. The game's rules primarily deal with a synergy between developing relationships between characters and abilities that let you affect circumstances in useful but non-violent ways. Connections with other characters give you points that power special abilities, which in turn let you do things like read minds, disguise yourself, fly, calm people down, find things, etc.

    3. Having a fight is not impossible under the rules, but it really doesn't make the endeavor useful or satisfying. It basically comes down to a contested check and which side wants to spend more points, but doesn't have any direct consequences in the rules.
  • There's not really much reasoning to it, it's more like an observation: an important reason for why rpgs tend towards violence is that having the player characters be a team against the world while set upon a mission given by the allmighty GM resonates with violence as a theme. Military fiction and games that model conflict have the same set-up, which is pretty much about justifying violence: we are special and set aside, our mission is important, we will only care of succeeding in our mission, no matter the means. Using even a part of this crystallized cultural set-up immediately evokes the rest in players well accultured with the theme.

    My experience is that games that break up the party and do not have the GM provide clear-cut missions are immediately less violent simply because they do not evoke righteous violence: the players have to actually think a bit before deciding that violence might be an appropriate solution here. This is even true of games where the player characters actually are killers; the killing is more personal and weightier when it's not handled as action movie choreography.

    For this reason I would not make a game that I wanted to be non-violent and sweet team-based and mission-focused. The team element disincentivizes inter-PC roleplaying, while the mission removes the opportunity to play tourist in the imaginary world. Both teams and missions can in fact exist in such a game, but they should appear from inside the fiction as emergent structure. Trollbabe is a good example of this, even if it's not particularly anti-violent in other ways. That game puts both teams (via relationships) and missions (via scenario design guidelines) on the plate, but neither is introduced without the player making the conscious thematic choice to accept them. This makes all the difference in the world, as the player character in Trollbabe is actually morally responsible for the continuing existence of her team and mission.

    (I'm not particularly criticizing Witch Quest here - I haven't read or played it. There are other ways of achieving non-violent sweetness in rpgs, so even having teams and missions doesn't mean that Witch Quest fails in its genre. It's just not the easiest way to go if that's a priority, I think. I could well imagine that a designer choosing teams and missions for a game that has nothing to do with skirmish warfare simply has a bit narrow idea of what roleplaying games can be like, structurally. D&D - an extremely violent game - has teams and missions, so my game has to have those too!)
  • Also, I like the sound of the game Ewen describes. You sure have a lot of cool games in Japanese, just waiting to get published in translation...
  • It sounds as though Daniel Solis's upcoming "Do: Pilgrims Of The Flying Temple" fits in this genre:
    "It’s a coming-of-age story about young travelers leaving their adopted home, of special young adults getting in and out of trouble. This story is special because you and your friends get to share in its making.

    These travelers – orphans, refugees, wanderers and lost ones alike – are on a Pilgrimage to experience what life is like beyond their mysterious home, a Temple floating in the center of the sky. They're sent on this journey because they have reached the Age of Choices, the age when they are old enough to make the decisions that will change not only their lives, but also each other’s destinies.

    Pilgrims fly across the endless skies between the worlds. During this journey, they meet strange cultures and quell troubles they face. And even though they are children, the people of these distant, floating worlds look to these pilgrims for guidance and salvation.

    Every time you and your friends play Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple, your pilgrims travel to a new world and face its troubles. You will make short-term decisions and see their long-term consequences. Your pilgrims will forge and break bonds with each other."
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