Playing God

Playing God
Morton Benning
Stone Table Books, 2017


With a wry humour reminiscent of Terry Pratchett, Morton Benning treats the reader to a quest fit for any lover of role-playing fantasy games. Playing God explores the fallacy of making yourself a god – something ‘God Avatar’ Jeff created the entire digital world of Utopia to do. When the A.I. of Jeff’s game world malfunctions and turns on him, he finds himself trapped in Utopia. His quest to get back to the real world forces him into a party of rag-tag travellers including a cleric-in-training, an elf, a loveable little cat-creature, fairies of an aquatic variety and a surly goblin. Through a series of misadventures, Jeff is forced to unlearn his selfish ways and see the importance of helping others and working as part of a team.

This is a book that will certainly appeal to a teenage audience. It is easy to read and the story feels a lot like a madcap Dungeons & Dragons campaign. That being said, while the plot is plentiful in encounters with monsters and the odd flesh-eating tree, it doesn’t delve much into character. Jeff is easily the most developed character, but at times when he isn’t present the story feels a little more stagnant with other key characters such as Keenley, Turnshoe, and Miyako coming off as a touch shallow. This is a little disappointing given that Keenley is, arguably, the main character – not Jeff.

There is also a bit of ensemble-cast-syndrome going on as sometimes it feels a little like there are too many people in the party, to the point where none of them truly get to shine – something not uncommon in D&D style fantasies in which a big party is common.. The pacing can also be slow in parts, particularly when the characters are travelling, but this is made up for by the action-packed sequences peppered in-between.

The concept behind Playing God is a compelling one. What is it like to be one of the NPCs inhabiting a game world? It’s the kind of angle rarely examined – the exceptions being the likes of Viva La Dirt League’s Epic NPC Man series on YouTube. With a similar turn towards humour, Benning takes the NPC experience a step forward by looking at how the characters in Utopia react to their creator, Jeff, whose decidedly 21st century quips and analogies leave Keenley and co baffled.

Overall, this is a playful and enjoyable debut.

Playing God is available to purchase through Stone Table Books.

3/5 stars


Words by Lisandra Linde

Quest Time!

For an hour, Improv Adelaide’s Quest Time! turned the Adelaide Room at the Duke of Brunswick into a mystical world filled with magic weapons and doppelganger monsters. Quest Time! is an improv comedy with fantasy roleplaying game (RPG) elements from games like Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). It’s a weird combination, but it brought an evening of laughs, engaging characters and some unexpected WTF moments.
Although an odd combination, improv and RPG elements work very well together in Quest Time!. The main characters of the show are formed by the audience, common in improv, which is everything from their fantasy race( (eg. elf, dwarf, gnome) to their name. This show started in a day spa with two gnomes, one being a towel apprentice and her master, a great warrior. Where the D&D elements come into play is the use of the d20 die. It is here that I found the combination of improv and RPG elements at their best together. Whatever the game master rolled affected the outcome of the story, changing it before my very eyes.
The game master gave effective descriptions and brought me into the world. At one stage, I actually felt as though I were in the world myself, trudging through a swamp and sitting in a cave covered in bones and gore. The mixture of fantasy music also brought me further into the world, enhancing my experience overall.
The comedy worked very well in the show. The performers did a really good job improvising their act, which in turn made the show funnier. My favourites of these was a nonplayer character (NPC), who played an Irish/Scottish man searching for his daughter. The performer’s accent was down pat and had me laughing each time they made their appearance.
While I did enjoy the characters, acting, and comedy, I did find the story very difficult to follow. The randomised style made the main plot very difficult to follow and I couldn’t quite follow some of the character stories. This did bug me but it’s how the show is meant to be played out. The plot is not meant to be clear and changes with each viewing.
Quest Time! is a whole lot of improvised fun. I really enjoyed my version of the show and the improvised acting is very well done. If you enjoy improv comedy and RPGs then I highly recommend you see this show. It’s a whole lot of randomised fun!

 


Words by Cameron Lowe

Four stars

Quest Time! is playing at The Duke of Brunswick Hotel February 20-21, 26-28. Tickets available here.

 

Pop Con 2.0: An Overview

Some smaller pop culture conventions have been popping up around Adelaide recently and Pop Con is one of them. Hosted by the Pop Club and held at the Thebarton Community Centre on May 12th, Pop Con is in its second year, hence its name Pop Con 2.0. Being a fan of pop culture conventions, I decided to check it out. I left excited and wanting more.

 

Entry was $20 at the door ($15 online), a reasonable price for its overall size. It took up two halls in the Thebarton Community Centre: one for tabletop and video games, another for Comet Market (an artist alley) and a stage. Video game consoles like the Nintendo Switch and Wii U were free for use for attendees, with tournaments like Splatoon 2 and Super Smash Bros (on Wii U) playing through the day. Attendees too were free to join in on tabletop games like Dragon Reign and Dungeons and Dragons.

 

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Despite being only four rows long, Comet Market was filled with local arts and craft. I found a wide variety of things, from anime-inspired artwork of Bilbo Baggins to steampunk mysteries books by indie author Karen J. Carlisle. Some products on sale that caught my eye were customised figurines. Priced at $100, these figurines were originally dolls that had been turned into pop culture icons like Ash Williams (The Evil Dead) and Link (The Legend of Zelda). What really made Comet Market fantastic was how affordable everything was. I paid $8 for Final Fantasy stickers made by LapiaRieDraws, a local artist.

 

Before leaving for Pop Con 2.0, I was unsure on whether to cosplay, but after seeing the number of people cosplaying, I regret deciding not to. There were many fantastic cosplays, from Steampunk to D.va from Overwatch. Cosplayers could also get their photo taken by official photographers and participate in a parade.

 

Like any good event, there was a place to purchase food and drinks. The food available was mainly Japanese snacks like Pocky and onigiri. These were served by Yummi Maid Café, a maid café on Gouger Street (part of the Pop Club on 117a Gouger Street). Onigiri were $2 each, with both meat and vegetarian options available. A beef burger was available for $7 for those who didn’t want Japanese food.

 

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Perhaps the most stand out part of Pop Con 2.0 was its friendly atmosphere. People hosting the tabletop games were more than happy to allow new players to join in. One stall owner made it clear we could open something (e.g. a DVD) to inspect it if we wished to. Due to the smaller crowd, I could have decent conversations with the artists and ask about their artwork. Even one of the people from the maid café came up to me while exploring to deliver my onigiri. The overall atmosphere is what I imagined it would have been for AVCon in its early days.

 

Pop Con 2.0 may have been a small event, but its friendly atmosphere, focus on local art, and smaller crowds made it feel more personalised than much bigger conventions. Pop Con 2.0 filled me with a lot of hope; I would love to see conventions like this appear more. I look forward to the next Pop Con and where it could go in future.

 

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Words by Cameron Lowe