Using Psychogeography in Fate

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a fan of Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff, and that frequently I’ll get ideas as I’m listening to episodes and make notes to myself. A few months ago, I was listening to Episode #81, and the first segment about psychogeography stuck me as a cool notion to think about when making Fate aspects. I won’t attempt to explain psychogeography like some sort of low-rent Kenneth Hite, since that episode has the real deal doing it, but I will start with Ken’s opening line for context:

Psychogeography is […] the way that the geography and the observer of the geography interplay. And since the geography isn’t moving around usually, its mostly the play on the observer, the experience of the geography.

Ken relates it to RPGs in that segment, and I of course recommend giving it a listen—if only because the rest of this post will assume that you have.

One of the early distinctions that Ken explains is the difference between a personal connection and a cultural connection. For instance, Golden Gardens Bathhouse now has a personal connection for me and my wife, as well as our wedding guests, since that’s where we held our wedding. The Chipotle near my office continues to remind me of the fallibility of cars, because that’s where my last car died. EndGame Oakland holds something deep and personal to me, because of the years I spent with that as a spiritual home.

The cultural connection is about what happens when enough people share the same connection to where it’s in the public consciousness, that place’s space in the zeitgeist. If you walk around Times Square or the Colosseum or the beaches of Normandy, there’s a cultural seeding that is already in your perception.

Both of these concepts could be aspects on a location, if you want your game to non-trivially involve psychogeography. If the interplay between the observer and geography is important enough to be compellable, or you want to use aspects as a tool for showing change (such as how the PCs’ actions cause shifts in others’ connections), the tool’s already built-in.

For cultural psychogeography, this can just be an aspect on a location. Unlike what we say for location aspects normally, this doesn’t have to be a current or impending issue or problem—though psychogeography does fit the same framework as a current issue.

For personal psychogeography, each PC could have their own aspect for a place to represent their connection. For you, this aspect overlays on top of any cultural psychogeography aspect that place has, so you can’t draw on both for invocations. To avoid aspect spamming, I probably wouldn’t do more than three per PC; that allows it to stay focused enough to see how personal psychogeography can change as a result of their actions and the actions of others.

To me, this opens the door to the idea of persistent aspects that revolve around a specific character without being attached to that character. This is something I hadn’t thought about doing to in a concentrated sense before, and might play with in the future.

– Ryan

Original photo from: Jean-Christophe BENOIST