Sketching matrix games

Last month, I sketched a matrix-game workshop at the University of Queensland — a type of roleplaying game designed not to be “won”, but to create & identify problems inherent in (or that could affect) the scenario, for later investigation.

The workshop was part of the Defence Innovation Bridge — a joint project between the UQ Business School, the UQ Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, the Australian Defence Force, and several startup companies in very interesting fields. The workshop was run by Dr Helen Marshall and Professor Kim Wilkins.

Tiny black-line drawing with dashes of blue and yellow marker. Person rolling dice. In a speech bubble, a person waving a flag points to the sea.

The scenario being played through involved an evacuation being conducted in diplomatically awkward circumstances, with an eye to raising questions about systems, strategies and limitations to do with communication technologies (among other things).

Tiny black-line drawing with dashes of blue and yellow marker. A man rolls dice and says "yes". Another writes while someone off the page describes a reporter in a storm. A hand waves into view.

I was (always!) looking forward to some documentary sketching — complicated in this case by the physical people mostly just sitting at tables (no dramatic poses, I thought) and some technical things happening into the situations they were describing (for which I might not have mental reference).

Tiny black-line drawing with dashes of blue and yellow marker. 
People stand in front of paper on the wall. One says "Tron motorcycle system. Fireworks - pew pew pew pew"
Very serious technical discussions

Of course, the combination of physical presence and stories being told turned out to be delightful to draw. People got invested in characters and situations, which made their movements interesting.

Tiny black-line drawing with dashes of blue and yellow marker. 
People describe a spider, someone meditating, a dictator, a ship and the name SHUFFLEBOTTOM, and a backyard communications array with a satellite dish, tower, Hills Hoist and very tiny bird.
I’m particularly pleased with the backyard communications array

It was also enjoyable considering how groups related to each other at tables.

Tiny black-line drawing with dashes of blue and yellow marker. 
Three groups sit at tables, one discussing a person in a helicopter writing a media release, others discussing a radio, and the third saying POLICY

Or moved between tables.

Tiny black-line drawing with dashes of blue marker.
One person sits at a table while another scoots their chair to a different table.

I also discovered that it can be fascinating watching what people do with their feet when sitting for a day — not as consciously communicative as hands, but definitely expressive.

Tiny black-line drawing with dashes of blue and yellow marker. 
People talking and rolling dice, describing sock-puppets, crowds, soldiers, a bulldozer and a police car

Drawing what was happening in the game was more difficult than in other role-playing games where each person controls one character — this was groups and interests and technical details, and a fairly high-level view of the situation, and all being discussed and refined and changed.

I solved this by drawing the scenarios and fragmentary suggestions into speech bubbles, which at least amused me. However it also had the effect of creating rough time-stamps, capturing attitudes in the room around particular points in the game — an unusual but intriguing record alongside the more traditional formal note-taking.

Tiny black-line drawing with dashes of blue and yellow marker.
People sit and stand at tables, talking. A woman describes a girl climbing out a window.

Materials

The notebook is a pocket Moleskine sketchbook, and the pens are all Faber Castell Pitt Artist Pens (I posted more about the colour choices here: Sketchbook colours — blue and gold.):

  • Small Black Fineliner 199
  • Sky Blue brush tip 146
  • Green Gold brush tip 268.
Photo of a hand holding 3 pens.

Lessons: 

  • 6 solid hours of live sketching is a lot. Especially after a year of doing very little out and about.
  • Documentary/reportage sketching involves rather intense alertness. Not just the drawing, and the noticing what you’re drawing, but noticing things to draw, and patterns, and so on. It burns up a bit of energy.
  • I do like documentary sketching, though! It’s very useful for other work, of course, but there’s a liveliness and immediacy and plausible-deniability to drawing in the moment, picking out flashing fragments of the day, sharing things that charmed me, or jokes, or fascinatingly human gestures. Also, sometimes it’s nice to just draw a thing, intensely, and then be done with it.
  • Feet are surprisingly expressive.
  • Drawing conversations as speech was a lot of fun, and has worked its way into some projects since.
  • The blue and yellow combination feels very effective — a hint at colour difference, warm/cool separations, delineating areas. It’s starting to feel more naturally and flexibly communicative. I posted more about that colour combination here: Sketchbook colours — blue and gold.

Note: This post started as a post for supporters on Patreon. If you’d like to support art and writing and posts like this about it, I have a Patreon account (patreon.com/tanaudel) and patrons there get behind-the-scenes process and sneak-peeks, starting from US$1, or you could buy me a (virtual) coffee at ko-fi.com/tanaudel(and I get through quite a bit of coffee).

1 thought on “Sketching matrix games

  1. Pingback: April 2021 — round-up of posts | Kathleen Jennings

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