Deciding History

Event: The Shidhe unknowingly benefit from leaving the desert and being integrated into the Plasmoid culture, because the ‘Sacred Desert Garden’ was actually hindering their reproduction viability, and would have died out otherwise.

Historian Notes: Through much digging, we have found evidence of only tragedy for the Shidhe. To stay within their realms meant death, and to leave only prolonged their struggle. If there are gods, why do they cast such misfortune on the helpless? I only know of their end, but I must uncover more about them.

History is a lot more than just facts. There’s interpretation, conjecture, and narrative, all of which say more about the historians and the societies they live in than the events themselves. Microscope creates a collaborative playspace where players make a history of a civilization, charting out eras of time or detailing specific scenes. Everyone has their own agenda, and many stones will be left unturned.

Microscope is about being selfish under the guise of egalitarianism. You and your fellow historians start with two bits of information, the birth of a civilization, and the end of it. From there, you propose events that transpired during the course of its run to satisfy your curiosity. What kind of people are these? What events led to their destruction? Despite the constant shifting in authority, patterns emerge and the culture becomes believable. Eventually you forget that this retelling of Roman conquest or future space exodus is just notes scribbled on index cards.

Play is conducted in cycles and phases, much like the movement of history. Each cycle starts with a player anointed the Lens, who will decide which facet of the civilization the rest will Focus on. The Focus can range from wars to xenobiology to romantic affairs. Once its been set, players will add a bit of history to the timeline that falls under that Focus. Each will submit either a Period, Event, or Scene: a Period is a general era of time, an Event is a happening that takes place during a Period, and a Scene drops us in a particular moment in the Event that answers a question.

Period: First Plasmoid Ruler

Event: Established courting traditions

Scene: How does Plasmoid magic inform their courting traditions?

Historian Notes: The lynchpin moment for Plasmoid dominance. Still unexplained, but the Plasmoids as a species are unrelentlessly attracted to the Shidhe. Strange, because the Plasmoids didn’t mate or reproduce before they met the Shidhe. It came to be that many Plasmoids died in the process trying to mate with Shidhes, but this didn’t stop them. It wasn’t until the first ruler of the Plasmoids magicked a special material that allowed safe copulation did they discover reproduction. That first Shidhe would be used… a horrible fate. Now, what was their name…?

Deciding HistoryA lot that surrounds the Lens is interesting- it shows something about us as people, how we can see the same object from different perspectives and arrive to totally different conclusions. When it is your turn to write a card, the rest of the group is silent. This leads players to interpret other cards on their own terms, which could be radically different from its original intent. There is something Rashomon about Microscope; in fact, if someone was to blend it with The Mountain Witch, we would have the ultimate Kurosawa experience.

The pacing is deliberate and pensive. A player may have a card ready to place once it’s their turn, or take quite some time to contemplate. Over the course of play, the timeline sprawls across the table, littered with loose ends that may never be answered. In a sense, Microscope is intimidating, first by having the players exercise their egos in public and create history, then later near the end, force them to reconcile the mess they’ve made. By the time you finish, players leave with an attachment to the peoples they’ve both shepherded and abused through their existence. In the moments between turns, reflecting, the analogy between historians and gods is not lost on you.
Period: The Shidhe Renaissance occurs during their enslavement

Event: Shidhe sex becomes the primary form of Plasmoid entertainment; top performers are richly rewarded

Event: Through the Plasmoid’s eugenics program, 255, 255, 255 is born; looks like the Plasmoid prophet and is considered repayment for the Prophet’s death

Historian Notes: There is much dispute of whether this should really be called a ‘renaissance,’ but considering the terrible place the Shidhe were in, maybe it was a time of a certain levity. But how did the Shidhe lose Plasmoid favor so?

Deciding HistoryMy own experience with Microscope marked the first time my group came together to play. Since it has few rules and a practice round is easy to demonstrate, we were into it by the time we settled with our coffees and sandwiches. Soon, the Plasmoid civilization came to be- amebic creatures with kabuki mask faces and magical powers. Their civilization began when one gained sentience and helped its race advance. In the same stroke we created their end, deciding the Plasmoids would be completely eradicated. By who or what, we left for the future.

An interesting aspect of Microscope is labeling each card light or dark, casting the events in certain a certain light for others to interpret. We decided that both the birth and destruction of the Plasmoids were dark, and much of our exploration was figuring out why that was. Consequently, the Plasmoids became an unsavory race. Since I was the first lens, I chose to explore the subject of interpersonal relationships, and out of that came a 100 Year War, the first Plasmoid ruler, and the appearance of the mysterious Shidhe, who learn to replicate Plasmoid magickz. There was little sympathy for the Plasmoids; they were the villains of their own history.

Period: Mutated Plasmoids become the Shidhe

Historian Notes: A twisted turn of events. With this newest speculation, the implications of Plasmoid culture and behavior are even more grim. What caused all this to happen, we may never know.

There was also a strange relationship between the writing on the cards and the scenes role-played out. Role-playing is typically infrequent, and some of my group members found relief in being able to opt out when they didn’t feel like getting into character. The scene would end when the question established at the beginning was answered. These reenactments took place among many terrible events: enslavement, war, political intrigue. But there was actually a large streak of silliness and humor in these renditions of historical events. Instead of seeing the tragic melodrama we as historians have been laying out for the Plasmoids and Shidhe, history was actually the result of complete buffoonery, then romanticized into the tomes of the past. Makes you wonder how often that is the case in reality.

A cast of characters rose out of these scenes, like a bumbling Plasmoid prophet that explained the move from a socialist society to a monarchy, mostly the result of a chain of strange idiosyncrasies. His death clued us in to a great war between the Plasmoids and the Shidhe, but left its details to the deserts he last traveled. The end of the first ruler of the Plasmoids was met by a strange scene of voyeurism and incest.

We ended after everyone had a chance to be the Lens. About four hours of play generated a story that could rightfully inspire other creative projects. It wouldn’t surprise me if a passerby that overheard us playing and thought we were storyboarding a narrative for a film or video game. Microscope, indeed, would be a great tool to do such a thing, and not necessarily because it makes creating a story ‘fun,’ but that it teaches players to understand the construction of one. It also feels like a cultural bonding game; there is nothing more satisfying than telling your version of the story.

Period: Remaining Shidhe barred from marrying into royalty

Event: Plasmoids begin a subtle subjugation of the Shidhe by restricting access to Magickz

Historian Notes: Here it is, the turn from being royal concubines to oppressed slaves. There is low interest in researching the Shidhe further, but I must know- why? Why has the Shidhe been kept secret from us all this time?


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Mattie Brice is a game critic, designer, and social justice activist. She focuses her writing on diversity initiatives in the video game community, often bringing in the perspective of marginalized voices to publications like Paste, Kotaku, The Border House, and Pop Matters. Mattie also consults and speaks at gaming related conferences like the Game Developers Conference and IndieCade. The rest of her work can be found at

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