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Playtesting and Testing Play
February 7, 2000

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I started an entry some time ago, but it went nowhere fast and I've been awfully busy the last week or so. Call it pre-Playtest anxiety. I've completed my first professional gaming assignment and I'm in the long wait for it to go into Playtest on the Pyramid boards, where people I respect will tear it into tiny little pieces and demand blood to slacken the thirst of their Lord Arioch. I know this because I've done it myself, to other people.

Such a lovely 11,000 words, no doubt to be trimmed to 9,000 or so. But it's all grown up now and in the hands of editors, which is in its own way like giving primary care and instruction over to teachers. I birthed the damn thing, but now it's got to go through the adolescence of editing and playtesting and sweating down and building back up. I'll have a hand in that process (for one thing, I'll have to make the changes that are mandated), but it's not in my hands any more, and if I'm a good and professional writer I won't meddle where I shouldn't.

Parents don't think of themselves as giving primary care of their children up to school. (Public school parents, I mean. We have people who pay a lot of money to send their kids to the school I work for 24/7, and while most of those parents do it to give their kids a better life and good start, a few do it to save themselves the agony and work of actually having to raise this mass of protoplasm they spawned.) They think of the school as a place where their children, who they raise, learn things while the parents go off and work. But from eight to four, daily -- a majority of waking hours for any kid with a bedtime before eleven p.m., assuming an hour for breakfast -- that child is in the hands of other people. Strangers, many of them. People who tell them what to do, how to live, how to be social with others, what is important, what is stupid, what is smart, what is right, what is wrong and that chewing gum in class is bad. Most teachers do it with love -- you don't teach for the money, after all. But they do it, because that's their job.

It's like I've said before, as someone in education. Schools, from Nursery School up to the Bachelor's Degree, don't work for the kids. They work for society. If Education is an Industry (as some of my vendors insist, thinking in their mutant way that this will endear them to me), our product is not the learning the kids get, but the kids themselves. We take the raw materials of society itself -- the subliterate, selfish little sweethearts -- and through a long process involving many workers and hands we turn them into citizens. Citizens of their community, their country and the world. Citizens who know the basics of how to survive as intelligent human beings, are given the tools of education, who have learned the skills that will let them assume a trade and become productive and consumptive in society. More than that, they have been exposed to our great cultural legacy and tapestry -- the great works of art and literature that make the Humanities the core of education. And the History that teaches that the greatest work of art humanity has come up with is our society and cultural legacy itself. At the end of the process, we send our product out with a piece of paper in their pocket that says "Inspected by #12" in Latin that we call a diploma.

Many people I know hated school. Many good kids at Brewster hate Brewster. Now, they don't hate the students. They don't hate the teachers. They don't hate me. A good number of these kids actively like every part of Brewster life, but hate Brewster. This is normal, and healthy. We are all resistant to change, and Brewster represents the imposition of change from above -- the alchemy that forces that student to become a citizen. Brewster's even less subtle (and more effective) at it than most public schools. We require community service as a part of school life. We name our honor roll students "Citizens of Brewster." We make them get up at an ugly hour of the morning and we work them hard until they go to bed.

And they hate it. They rebel in little ways, like scrawling graffiti in bathrooms. They complain to each other. Even the ones who love Brewster spend time resenting it. It's perfectly human. When we catch them rebelling, we punish them. Sometimes the only way to discipline is to send someone away, as I mentioned in my last entry. Send them elsewhere, to become a Citizen.

The funny thing is, hindsight is powerful for these kids. It was for me. Later in life, students look back at their schooling as the best time of their lives. Many people fight to get back into school programs, or take courses. In part because they want to learn, but in part because that overly structured environment with the annoying teachers and sports was a time when they were sheltered. When people gave a damn about them, and pushed them to become more than they were. To reach for the prize. To become a Citizen. Now, in the "real world," no one really gives a damn if they live or die. They want to go back.

I know the above isn't true in all schools. I know some schools are at best demilitarized zones where chaos reigns. I know other schools exist purely because the law says they have to, and students are shuffled through inpersonally, then thrown to the wolves to learn on their own or get devoured. But the reason school exist still applies, and I daresay most strive to meet that goal, and later in life the Citizens they created respect and love them for it.

Since the incident of my last post, morale's been low. We're on a long weekend right now -- a scheduled break that lets the kids see their folks for a few days, during the doldrums of the year -- and then it's the long weeks before March Break, and my students are feeling the pain of loss. We'll have to work on it, hard. They're too good a set of kids not to support as hard as possible.

Then, of course, they go into Trimester exams, which is like Playtesting them, if you think about it. We'll see where it all stuck and we'll take it from there.

Mason's had a birthday and I've gotten my new car. More on those (and hopefully automotive baby pictures) later.

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