Tabletop Simulator

Tabletop Simulator is a physics simulation sandbox developed by Berserk Games and released in 2015. There's no central plot or story to Tabletop Simulator, it's more of an open space that encourages multiple players to play digital, physics based versions of tabletop board games. This means the rules of the games you play in Tabletop Simulator exist only in the heads of the players and not in the game itself. Even though Tabletop Simulator is designed for multiple players, in this video I am alone. What I'm piling in this particular case are not bodies, but instead all of the items that Tabletop Simulator provides for the players to use. This includes dice, cards, calculators, figurines, tokens, and so on. It might seem strange to have a video where no bodies are piled in this project, but consider for a moment that all of the objects in this particular video are "game pieces", meant to be used and manipulated by the players in Tabletop Simulator to play games of their own creation. If we compare that to how bodies function in, say, Hitman or Skyrim, they are also digital objects meant to be used by players to play games, and could also be considered "game pieces". With this in mind, Tabletop Simulator helps us raise the question: what ethics, if any, do we need to have towards our game pieces?

The assignment of values to the objects of Tabletop Simulator is very unique as the game designers could not know what objects would be valuable ahead of time. Since players are playing their own games, the outcome could hinge on even the most insignificant seeming of pieces: a single dice or a single token, and there's no way to know which of these matters ahead of time. The game becomes therefore extremely focused on loss prevention: every time an object falls off the table, it is teleported back to the center- there's no way to lose anything. In games like Dishonored and Hitman, bodies conversely have an extremely well defined value before the player encounters them. They function as guards or as obstacles while alive, and then as potential hazards if discovered while dead or unconscious. They are disposable for this reason, these games already "know" you won't need or want bodies around. Even if the player does assign extra value to a particular body or a particular character, this isn't expected, the games have already ensured their disposability and there's no way for a player to impose their value system onto the one already encoded in the game. The tokens and cards of Tabletop Simulator are systemically more "important" than the actual human bodies of either Hitman or Dishonored, as their value cannot be predetermined.

One other really notable aspect of this particular video is how easy it is for me to create the objects in it: all I need to do is click in a menu. The other games in this project need varying amounts of (violent) work: choking a guard, firing an arrow, shooting a gun, etc. This comes partially from different understandings of where the "game" is in these games: in Tabletop Simulator the idea is that the game begins after you have all the pieces, so getting the pieces should be easy. Choking guards is part of the "game" of Dishonored, so it takes some work, but other things, like saving and loading files, are easy. This gives us a tool with which to consider how the labor of violence in games is labor. Tabletop Simulator lets us see creating a pile smoothly and relatively painlessly. In all the other games in this project, especially Hitman, creating the pile is slow, taxing, and laborious. Games very often are performative practices of violent labor. I don't want to cast judgement on it here, but I think it's important to recognize that as we engage with games in our lives. It's important to not unthinkingly accept work, and I hope this video can shed a little light onto the work we do when we play games.