I've been playing so many journaling games, and experiencing them as a porous world determined by my unconscious in unexpected and affecting ways

I’ve been wanting to write about journaling games. I’m very consumed by them. I just don’t know where to start. I wrote The Ink That Bleeds about them, and now if I post something from my recent play, and what I realized from it, and you haven’t read The Ink That Bleeds, maybe it doesn’t make any sense?

So…this is an experiment.

I write about your approximate self in The Ink That Bleeds. It’s playing immersive journaling games as basically yourself, just affected as you’ve been by prior games and with any necessary changes for the situation in the current game. So you know how to play guitar, or talk with spirits, or whatever is requisite for your new game, but then in all other ways you’re the persistent self you’ve been playing. For It Is Written, by Cat McDonald, I was a cartomancer at a summer beach event. Later when I played Once and Again, by Armanda Haller, I still had and used the oracle deck from It Is Written, but in both games I was also altogether the same person you’re reading right now.

It’s super fun.

Lately I’ve been thinking I might need to write a sequel to The Ink That Bleeds though. I’m realizing from my recent play that there are things to be said about the worlding you do when you play as your persistent approximate self from game to game, how you gain entry to the world of a game, or fail sometimes, and about the porousness between worlds, between the temporal world of your real life, and the worlds of your play.

A couple of months ago I started playing Tending, by Tori Truslow. I was really excited about it. I’ve always been drawn to monasteries and faith communities. I went to see the Dead Sea Scrolls when they were in Michigan, and bought the exhibit book about the Qumran community. I chose the desert saints setting seed/source by Alex MacFarlane from the Kickstarter bonus book of additional ones, and wrote to find out that they’re in the mountains above a valley in Arizona that’s mostly a sprawling private prison and its surrounding town.

Write to find out is a way of playing journaling games which aids immersion that I describe in The Ink That Bleeds. It’s based on Julia Cameron’s journaling practice that she describes in The Artist’s Way, which is like communication with your unconscious mind. You can read about it in this excerpt at the Indie Game Reading Club blog if you want.

I wrote how the desert saints have a few partially completed geodesic canopies, one of which is over an open kitchen and a dozen or more tables. A practice of the desert saints is to cook for anyone who comes. I wrote how there was a news article I read that made me want to go to them. There was a quote in the article: “Why should it surprise you that this beautiful world would react to the institutionalized taking of freedom with a contrary outpouring of it? It only surprises you because you have been unfree your whole life.”

I wrote how I arrived with food I bought from a roadside stand: peaches, peppers, onions, lemons. A woman of the community greeted me and asked if she could cook for me. “What did you bring? May I cook for you?”
“Yes, thank you.” I showed her what I had, and asked, “Do you have sugar? I could make lemonade?”
“Sure,” she said. “Come on. My name’s Unguarded.”
“I’m Paul.”
The members of the community all had descriptive names they’re given when they join. I wrote how later she gave me my name. I wrote another entry about weaving replacement shade panels for the canopy with her from rushes to replace ones that were damaged. I wrote another one about dudes who came with a business proposal to make a nearby hot springs into a sort of ongoing Burning Man that the desert saints would run. And then I decided to quit playing the game. It just wasn’t clicking with me. It believes you find spiritual truth by completing tasks assigned to you, task after task after task. And I don’t believe that. I spent years of my life in corporate jobs being given tasks by idiots in leadership positions, being told the work was part of a smart plan, and it never was. The best work I’ve done in my life is work I chose for myself.

I’m consumed by playing journaling games, but sometimes I just don’t gain real entry to one or another and I quit it. I couldn’t figure out how to believe the spiritual truth of the world works the way Tending believes does.

After quitting Tending I started to play These Stars Will Guide Us Home. I wrote a couple of entries, and didn’t click with it either. Then I played Beneath the Wishing Tree. I finished it, but again, didn’t really click with it. I love that it uses tarot cards, but it uses them wrong for me. It uses them to tell me actions I take and how I solve problems. I don’t get that as a design choice. Other games I’ve played that use tarot cards to inspire situations and then I write how I address them were so immersive, but not ones that use the cards to tell me what I do.

Then I playtested a short game called Temperance that I’m going to include as an extra on the back of a tarot card with the next one I do as a zine.


And then I started playing Tam H.'s game Heard. I wrote how I met a woman named Lindsley at a local park while I was sitting writing in my journal on a hill among some large rocks, which were a portal to another world that Lindsley emerged within. We talked about our experiences in other worlds and she asked if I wanted to go with her to hers. I played from this starting point through to the end of Heard over the course of six weeks. I was saved from an attacking wizard by a fairy who’d been watching over me. I shopped a goblin market with my friend Elise.

Heard is a pretty good game…though there’s a thing I don’t love about it. The moves you can do to resolve a situation aren’t the ways I resolve situations: fight, manipulate, seize, suffer, reckoning. I try super hard to play games rules-as-written, but the way those moves tell me who I am as a character made it very hard. It wasn’t unlike Beneath the Wishing Tree telling me how I would solve its problems. Both games did keep me playing though.

And then at the end of Heard I was sitting with my friend Dee, waiting for Elise who’d gone off to do something, and Unguarded came into Dee’s body and told me how two men had joined the community of desert saints and become close to the leader Benjamin, and how she’d been suspicious and discovered that they were trying to steal the secret of body possession for their employer, Season Hold, the prison services company in the valley. Unguarded knew I’d be horrified of what Season Hold would do with that ability and asked me to help her stop them. I had rolled a “Someone you trust has hired a new advisor and is acting strangely. They confront you, raving about a dark future.” prompt, and had written to find out the situation with the two new men in the community. Yeah they weren’t quite “hired” and weren’t quite “advisors”, and it was Unguarded telling me about the dark future, not Benjamin who they’d become close to, but it felt in the spirit of the prompt.

And that’s the thing I’m thinking of writing about in a sequel to The Ink That Bleeds. I wrote in it about how your unconscious mind maintains your approximate self from game to game, keeping some elements that it wants and shedding others. When I played Once And Again I still had the oracle cards from when I played It Is Written. But it does it for the world you inhabit too when you’re playing as your approximate self, keeping elements from past games and from your life in the temporal world, and eschewing others. When I played Transmission For Them my unconscious brought in a woman from a photo I’d seen years before I’d ever played a journaling game and had long forgotten about. Dee and Elise are characters I met in prior games that are still my friends. Elise worked for Season Hold in another reality where they’d become a sprawling and problematic prison services business. Dee I wrote about meeting in The Ink That Bleeds. She came to the goblin market to defend me to the fae who were planning to judge and hold me to account for what happened to the one of them who fought the wizard that attacked me. And my unconscious just erased the events of my few turns of These Stars Will Guide Us Home like they never happened, and I thought it had probably erased the events of Tending too. I hadn’t even written an ending for either of those games. But then for my last entry of playing Heard it totally surprised me and brought Unguarded back.

RPG designers generally believe a game needs some combination of a gamemaster or randomization for its world to feel alive and to surprise players, but it’s not true. When you play a game with your unconscious mind making decisions it will surprise you again and again and again.

Have you been playing journaling games? Have you experienced the porousness of the world that I’m talking about? The reason I wrote The Ink That Bleeds is because I think immersive journal gaming is a different experience than people guess and I felt no one was writing about their play to show the actual experience. I’d love to see people writing about it here on Wynwerod.

9 Appreciations

I laughed out loud when you suggested playing journaling games not as you, the player, transposed (as most seem to anticipate) but as a character who has, in some sense, been all the characters you’ve done in journaling games before. What a charming concept - and, I would add, one that reactivates certain games which might not otherwise really call to me for a re-play. Now I’m excited to look back at some of the ones I’ve moved to my “I played this” box and see how they might work with a different “me”.

3 Appreciations

Oh, @PaulCzege, it embarrasses me greatly to say that despite reading The Ink That Bleeds this past spring, very much enjoying it, and vigorously nodding at everything you say on page 21, I still haven’t revisited journaling games with the newfound tools you shared on your zine.

I’m embarrassed because I feel that I have not properly honored what feels like a thoughtful and much needed gift in our times :cry:. I keep dancing around it, as I already read tarot cards as a regular practice, was very good at doing my morning pages before the start of the summer, and then in the summer I took an acting technique class that taught me a great deal about reconnecting with my unconscious and my imagination. Despite all of these things, I keep finding myself too distracted to sit down to play all of the journaling games I keep promising myself I will play someday soon.

The longer I postpone it, the bigger the failure feels…the temporal world keeps winning at quieting down that inner voice that desperately wants to scream “I AM ALLOWED TO TAKE UP SPACE!”

Write to find out, braided lifescape, porousness between worlds are all things that make sense intellectually…but I can’t say I feel justified to properly comment on them without actual play experience to back up how true they ring.

After reading your post today though…there’s a spark. Come Monday we will find out if this was the weekend I decided to visit San Sibilia.

3 Appreciations

This is really great, Paul. I might write more thoughts later, but for now I’ll rephrase here what I told you in DMs[1].

I had seen the excerpts you linked from The Ink that Bleeds. It’s definitely the first time that I read something that made me think “Oh, this journaling stuff, I should try it”. I hadn’t really got what was interesting about it, before reading those articles.

This to say, I currently have no mental model of how that even works in practice. This is all very fascinating, but I’ll admit my knowledge of journaling games is pretty much zero. I do bullet journaling to manage ADHD, that’s pretty much the opposite in journaling of the four page stream of consciousness journaling from The Artist’s Way that you reference.

However, I’m something of a Jungian humanist, and everything you’re saying about the unconscious, and characters emerging, in a way that they’re distinct personas from yours, but still drawn from your unconscious, makes a lot of sense to me, and that’s how I conceptualise a lot of my roleplaying. There’s this excerpt from another thread that might not look that related, but it is to me.

I really want to get into the details and ask you more questions, but that’d require time that I don’t have right now, so I’ll have to leave it at that.

  1. Paul wanted to double check that this was on topic for the forum, I allowed it, and seeing the result I’m pretty happy that I did. ↩︎

3 Appreciations

For the past few days, I’ve been getting interested in your “The Ink That Bleeds.” And it’s a surprise to find you here and have the opportunity to read you and chat with you.

I love immersive journaling games. They let me really get into a new worlds in a unique way.
I’m really intrigued by the bleed-in and bleed-out, and that’s what I look for the most in games I play. I even wrote my own journaling game to have a chance to write something in the gonzo style and to have the chance to relive those sensations I found in Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing” (it is in italian, Paura&Delirio)

Even though I’ve never played the same character from game to game, sometimes I’ve had the distinct sensation that my character disappears and I’m facing a subconscious “self” that I don’t know.
This especially happens with those journaling games that encourage (even in an unconscious manner) a deep sense of immersion and self-exploration (the Magus). But I’ve had a similar experience with this porousness world during hypnosis sessions (but that’s another topic).

I’m sorry for my english.

4 Appreciations

I have found since writing The Ink That Bleeds that I can have a similarly immersive experience as playing my approximate self if my unconscious is treating the world in the game as the same one as my approximate self inhabits. It’s another thing I’d write in a sequel about worlding. In The Ink That Bleeds I used the word psychogeography, but it’s not the right word. Lately I’ve been using the word Inscape, to mean the inner landscape inhabited by your approximate self that creates you through your actions and relationships within it. It’s a word coined by the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins to mean a similar thing.

2 Appreciations

I’ve mailed over four hundred copies of The Ink That Bleeds and I’m surprised no one’s written about its connections to Jung’s own entry into his unconscious in his Red Book. Someone did write about it from the perspective of Tolkien’s essay On Fairy-Stories, but not Jung. I thought Jung would be the first thing anyone said.

3 Appreciations

How did you decide to play every journaling game as a persistent journaled-self? (If the answer is “read the ink that bleeds” that’s ok.) I wonder about the similarity between journal-Paul and real-Paul. Wouldn’t undergoing all of these fantastic adventures have changed you dramatically?

How would things be different if you started every game fresh, as real-Paul? Does that have any attraction to you?

I wonder if this has to do with your choice of journal-Paul as character for the game. Can you imagine someone who did find spiritual truth through labor? (I can: a powerful person who had never done manual labor and always avoided drudgery, and who learned about the value of working for others. But maybe starting out with such an over-tuned character concept would determine too much of the game and take away interest. What do you think?)

I also wonder if you, the real you, might have a very different relationship with labor if it weren’t part of a corporate structure. I don’t know anything about you other than what you’ve written here, but I do know that spiritual traditions which emphasize labor are usually trying to de/re-structure your ego, humble you, help you be mindful, etc. We may or may not think these are important goals, but they are certainly not the goals a corporation has for its employees! (Maybe a corporation wants you humble. But I think it’s more likely that a corporation wants you powerless and pliant, and doesn’t care about your character.)

2 Appreciations

Heve you ever read Robert Bly “Iron John: a book about men”? He is a “post-Jungian” poet… That book addresses the concept of the shadow that we often conceal within ourselves, exploring how to confront and integrate them to achieve personal growth and greater self-awareness. The book uses the story of Iron John, a character from a Brothers Grimm fairy tale, as a foundation to delve into these themes.
I had never really thought about it, but it’s what I unconsciously try to do when I play RPGs I enjoy: bringing to light some of my own “shadow”.
It’s a unique way to approach RPGs, but it’s what I enjoy.

Thank you very much for pointing that out to me.

2 Appreciations

The first ever journaling game I played was The Beast, by Aleksandra Sontowska and Kamil Węgrzynowicz. I playtested it in 2015 before it was published. It doesn’t directly say you’re playing as yourself, but I think it strongly implies it. There’s no chargen for you (just determining some details for the beast itself). It repeatedly refers to “you” in its prompts. And it says to burn your journal at the end, which I think implies how much of yourself you’ll be expressing with your play. So I played it as myself.

Then in 2020 I played Wait For Me, by Jeeyon Shim as its prompts were released daily to Kickstarter backers. It does specifically tell you to play as yourself.

And I played The Magus in early 2021. I didn’t play it as myself, but the character had similarities to me. He didn’t know his father. He wanted similar things in life.

After The Magus I was hooked on journaling games. I think I just felt the potential of them.

I write in The Ink That Bleeds how they change journal-Paul from game to game. After playing It Is Written I still have the oracle deck from it, and use it when I’m playing Hopelessly Devoted. I learn shapechanging as journal-Paul when playing Hopelessly Devoted, and can do it in later games I play, including Hit the Road Jack, and the South Elk Path Cards.

At the same time, some things don’t persist with journal-Paul. He’s not married to the woman I proposed to at the end of Be With Me. And journal-Paul never did any of the letter writing from the few turns of Spirit & Ink I tried to play.

3 Appreciations

I have more of a practical question, @PaulCzege. I’m a sucker for nice journals, I like experimenting with different rulings and patterns, sizes, paper thickness, page amounts.

How does it look like, physically, when you play these games? Do you write all games on the same one? Do you buy a new one for each game? What size are they, what ruling? Could you share pictures of some of the journals?

It’s a mess!!

I started doing the three pages of stream of consciousness journaling recommended by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way back in 2000. I write them in cheap composition books that are U.S. Letter size. I write them in orange ink, which has just always felt like the right color for me.

The Beast recommends getting a separate journal for playing. I didn’t to that. I just used a different color ink, and wrote in my same current composition book that I was also using for my stream of consciousness journaling.

And I’ve continued just playing in my same current composition book like that. So all of my play is mixed in with my other journaling. Mostly even in my same orange ink.

Usually when I start writing I put the date and time, and write a sentence of where I’m at. I try to write outside somewhere at a table or bench as often as I can.

For journaling games that require stat tracking or dice rolls, I make notes of them in the margins or between paragraphs.

There are cross-outs. Sometimes if an entry doesn’t feel right, I later do another entry that rewrites or replaces it. Sometimes for those entries I transcribe parts from the prior entry that I want to keep, or that I want as a starting basis for my rewrite.

I try to write lots of dialogue, and in The Ink That Bleeds I explain why.

In the middle of writing something for the game I sometimes write other thoughts I have outside of the game. Things I need to remember to do. Things that happened that affected me. And then I get back to the game.

Here’s a page that’s mostly play, my first turn of Armanda’s game Once And Again:

2 Appreciations

My advice would be to not try to make your writing or your journal too much of a showpiece. The kind of writing that’s immersive and affecting is just a scaffold for your imaginings and emotions, and enough of a record that you can return to it and recapture those imaginings and emotions for yourself. When you start writing like it’s for the appreciation an audience, then you’re performing the game more than experiencing it.

2 Appreciations

A post was split to a new topic: Visiting San Sibilia

Not at all. I like high-quality journals, but the writing itself is quite plain and functional, not decorative. I use two colors for main text (black) and headings (orange). These are session notes from a game I played with @LordPersi and Manu from Adept Play. (Sorry about the candidness, they were taken off-the-cuff!)

Definitely looking forward to adding some journaling games to my journal. You got me very interested with this thread.

2 Appreciations

I’m not that organized… The first Journaling Game I played was “Guarda il Mare”. A shipwrecked sailor stranded on an island in the North Sea, 28 days long. I wrote it with my left hand because I imagined the protagonist had injured his right hand. I’m not left-handed, which is why I chose a small notebook.

I’ve played The Magus 3-4 times…
I close my eyes often and make an effort to speak out loud, recording myself, instead of writing (as required in the Long Haul 1983 )

Sometimes I “performing the game”, I enjoy writing and focus on the style. Sometimes, when the games are less intimate, I’ve shared what I’ve written on a forum.

But thank you all… I going to buy a new notebook to record all my upcoming experiences in a more organized way.

6 Appreciations