Friday, July 5, 2024

Revisiting GRIDSHOCK 20XX Zine 4: Reference

Gray would be the color.

GRIDSHOCK 20XX's fourth and final zine is "The Encyclopedia of Post-Shock North America" (or Reference for short). The back cover calls it "A glossary of everything you've wanted to know about the GRIDSHOCK universe - and then some - from A to Z" that includes "data about the world after the Shock and everything in it, cross-referenced with every other GRIDSHOCK 20XX zine." It's essentially an official guide to the setting, presented encyclopedically.

The Cover

  • In keeping with the academic tone of the EnSHOCKlopedia (as I called it during development), I opted for a simple graphic cover that I hoped would evoke old science textbooks and the like. I think it works, and sets itself apart from the other zines. The idea was to communicate that Reference was somewhat less "core" than the other three zines -- strictly for those obsessive folks who enjoy digging far below the surface of a game setting. You know, people who can spend hours reading The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, or The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs, or Wikipedia. The sickos, in other words.

The Contents

  • The Reference zine itself is an encyclopedia. It's entirely made up of alphabetically organized entries describing the various elements that make up the the game's setting (or canon, or "lore," if you insist). Many are illustrated with sketches that Grey Wizard -- the co-creator of Break!!, which was recently released in print to great fanfare -- drew early in GRIDSHOCK's development. Back then, it was basically a bunch of scattered ideas I was blathering about on the now-defunct Google+.
  • The alphabetical entries are written in an omniscient point of view. Their tone is fairly academic and perhaps a bit dry. If you've ever read the old Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe from the 1980s, you will understand what I was going for. Whether writing in that style was a good idea is an open question. Whenever a term that has its own entry in the zine is mentioned, it's written in bold face, so readers can look those up and get a more complete picture. 
  • The idea is that you would naturally start to learn more about the world and history of GRIDSHOCK as you cross-reference those terms. I learned a lot of things this way as a kid, and still do today, but I'm a professional academic librarian. I will admit that this approach could be intimidating to some readers, particularly when you run into ten or more bolded terms in a single entry.
  • Also, I am well aware that this kind of information-dense background is out of vogue in some circles of the hobby these days. "Anti-canon" is a buzzword that has gotten some traction recently. I feel like avoiding a huge info dump is usually a noble goal, particularly if one is playing with a genre that is well-established (like dungeon fantasy, for example). The thing is, GRIDSHOCK is a less familiar concept that takes a bit more explanation than that. Plus, some readers really enjoy "lore" and figuring out how it all fits together, as the success of publications like Vermis make clear. (Not to say that this zine is very much like Vermis in presentation.)
  • My intention was to make it so that the Reference zine wasn't something that players or even GMs needed to be familiar with to enjoy GRIDSHOCK, but I wonder if having an entire zine dedicated to "deep setting lore" might act as a barrier, or something that scares off people who might otherwise enjoy it. It's a question I will definitely need to figure out as I work on GRIDSHOCK's next iteration.
This post-mortem examination of GRIDSHOCK 20XX took longer than I expected to finish, but I did move to a new state and start a new job in the middle of doing it. Thanks for reading.

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