I was given the chance to speak with Samuel Mui, a 23-year-old RPG author from Malaysia. He is a really interesting person to follow. I wanted to know how he came to create games. And take advantage of this interview to introduce some of them.
Sam, can you tell me who you are ?
Hello, my name is Samuel Mui (He/Any) aka Samwise aka Clarice aka BabblegumSam. I’m a native (but not indigenous) Malaysian Chinese game designer/writer/musician/artist.
I make stuff about trauma, intimacy, healing, Christianity, and Asian culture and experiences.
In addition to roleplaying games, I’m also doing video and photoshoots with some of my friends as well as working on some narrative fiction.
What a marvelous introduction. Where do you live today ?
Subang Jaya, Malaysia. Been living here since the day I was born. It’s a (soon-to-be) city in Selangor populated by a wide range of Malaysians from every race, from every social standing, and from every political leaning. Like every postmodern city, it’s somehow cultivated its own unique breeds of « Subang Kaki » (which roughly translates to « Subang Folk » but literally translates to « Foot Earring » insert laugh here). I won’t get into specifics because you could do a whole academic journal on Urban Malaysian sociology.
To get a picture of what it’s like, think of it as being a wide range of district and zoning types all smooshed together like patchwork. We have this township called Sunway City (which is every Subang person’s go-to place for entertainment) which has two upscale, for-profit universities, Asia’s largest theme park (complete with a zoo), one or two industry districts, multitudes of cafes, both luxury and budget(seedy) motels, an enormous mall (and then some more), lots of startups, not one but TWO megachurches, and it’s own public transport line all within the same 800 acres.
It’s pretty nuts, the juxtaposition between privilege and poverty. I went to a university in Sunway City, which while the area was pretty developed, if you walked across the road you’d come to a block of gentrified hipster eating locations and car chop shops. So there was always this sense of « hey let’s go for a taco » but if you went to that same taco spot at 11PM there was a chance you’d be robbed or attacked by strays.
Kinda weird, Unknown Armies-type vibes going on all the time too sometimes if you looked hard enough. I went to college which was next to a very shady mall. Each level had like 3 illegal gambling parlors where high school students, immigrant workers, and gangsters would spend 100s of ringgit at loud, table-like gambling machines. Lots of possession cases in schools too. A few cults. Back-alley vendors in rat-infested alleys selling bootleg alcohol and whatnots who operate behind a sliding plate in the wall (you never see their faces, only their hands). All these literally nearby upscale hotpot restaurants which charge 100RM per head for overly-salted soup and « okay » beef.
I’m talking about this a lot because where I live has been a big, subconcious influence on my work. It’s something I’d like share, especially in my upcoming Asian Drama RPG Capitalites.
Oh yeah, and the food is fucking amazing.
It feels like art : you are influenced by the way you are living and how you feel about your society. When did you start to play RPG ?
Went to a boardgame event at a boardgame space in 2015. Some guy was running DnD so I sat down to play. That was the first time.
But I knew about the hobby a LONG TIME AGO before that (tried making my own games too) through a lego webcomic called « Irregular Webcomic ». It was through that I learned about the Cthulhu Mythos amongst other things – another huge influence on me. The creator of the comic was a huge GURPS’s fan so I spent a lot of time researching and looking into RPGs.
I remember being in the local DnD Group and asking about Dungeon World only to get bombarded with people who said that « DnD was the ultimate game » and that « you don’t need to play anything else » as if DnD was like this holy, sacred, untouchable religion. I’m a viciously anti-religious Christian so it left a bad taste in my soul.
I guess that’s why I vibe more with the lyric RPG space to be honest – they’re way more open-minded about things.
I first started my group in 2016. We’ve been going strong since with regular sessions every week. We’ve played everything from small micro-RPGs, to Dungeon World, Cornerstone, FATE, custom systems… it’s been a lot of fun and I consider them to be good friends of mine. Like you know when you’re good friends with your RPG group when you connect with each other over non-RPG things and hang out outside of game time.
I’m super grateful for them. Like any married couple, we communicate a lot, we bitch a lot, and we compromise a lot.
We also have a rotating GM structure and it serves as a great testing group for new GMs to find their footing. The power distribution here is very even in a way. We’re not one of those groups where it’s one GM leading a troupe of players… That’s kinda fucked up in my opinion. GMs are just like any other player with the main difference that they’re just there to facilitate and help the game move along.
It seems that we share a lot in our RPG experience. When did you feel the need to create and publish your first game ? Why did you create it and what was this game about ?
I had already been making games as a teenager/preteen.
I remember hacking together Connect 4 with Cluedo and adding a drawing mechanic when I was 11 or something.
I don’t remember how it played though.
Then I discovered RPGs and in 2013 (I was 15 I think) I bought a big can of dice from Target during a trip to the USA. With that I made my own very clunky game with like 16 races and 16 classes. It used err… All 7 dice DnD dice too.
I remember doing it because 1) my mom banned DnD out of Satanic Panic – she’s very Christian – and 2) DnD was expensive as shit.
I also explored GURPS and FATE CORE then and messed around with very tough recreations.
I’ve lost the files by now of course. I’m not really sentimental about them.
But speaking of sentimentality, I would like to talk about Death of a Hero, a short conversation game which encapsulated my process of dealing with the death of my grandmother.
It’s not that complicated honestly, everyone fleshes out their history with the deceased hero and talks about their feelings.
E.g. the Bard may feel angry at the Hero for betraying them in the past while the Fighter might feel guilty about letting the Hero die.
It deals with all those weird feelings you get after someone dies on a good note or for a good/heroic cause. Like their death was never in vain and whatever happened happened for the best… But it’s hard to deal with the resulting feelings of loss and grief.
It’s so complicated… Weird… Tough.
And through the game we realize our memories of the deceased, while they might contradict each other, come together to form a complex, realistic, and sobering story of a flawed, very human individual.
Speaking of my grandmother, she was a very active church member. She did a lot of great charity work and selflessly contributed positively to the lives of the marginalized and the underprivileged.
But on the other hand, she said and did a lot of things to my family, my father and uncle specifically, which could never be taken back.
So while I remember her as a kind and genuine person I also remember her as being sometimes quite bitter and difficult.
Death of a Hero is me bringing those two conflicting perspectives together and accepting that she was a marvellously human being.
It’s so surreal talking about this to be honest. I’m sitting in my other grandparents’ home on the day of my other grandmother’s death.
It’s morbidly poetic.
I’m sitting here, dealing with my feelings, thinking that the first death of my grandmother would make me stronger but it’s hitting harder… Differently… You can never really be prepared for these things.
I’m also having the thought… I played Death of a Hero to deal with the first death. I embraced it. It helped me to understand my own feelings and helped me to relate on a deeper level with my friends and family.
But now, I don’t think I can ever play Death of a Hero again hahahahaha.
Life’s weird like that.
Somehow, the idea of this interview comes from your game Fuck me Fuck you. I really like how you put the « bile noire » rules from Libreté. I like relationship games, and love 2 players RPG.
Do you want to talk about this game ?
Fuck Me, Fuck You was partly an experiment with the Librete system (to understand it and push the limits of me hacking it) as well as me just wanting to explore toxic relationships in general. I was definitely trying to be « edgy » with the system and see what it could do for a 2-player game where you explore memory and emotions – in retrospect, I’m not sure how well I succeeded in making a game what was actually good to play but regardless I’m quite satisfied with it and what I learned making it.
There was also the issue of me toying with terrible, disgusting, and unpleasant subject matters. Fuck Me, Fuck You is one of my poorest selling games for a very good reason and I don’t blame anybody for it – it takes a very specific kind of person who would want to play out a game where you gaslight, abuse, and demean your partner. I wouldn’t want to play it myself honestly…
But there was a point to it. I wanted to lay out abusive relationships in a way that people who read the game could easily identify it, if they were in that situation or knew someone in that situation. I also designed the game as a sort of ‘power fantasy’ where you, both as player and character, could exercise the power to walk away from a toxic situation… I mean, that’s how you win the game. You stop playing it!
In retrospect however, I have a feeling that I didn’t deal with the subject matter as well as I could’ve nor do I think that it’s a topic I wanna revisit. The game doesn’t provide you a safe or nuanced way to deal with the abusive relationship – it’s basically just you and your partner tearing each other down until one of you quits. It doesn’t really go in depth into the long, painful processes of breaking away from an abuser or learning to unlearn your own toxic behaviours.
I do aim to improve on this exploration in future games like Capitalites, my game about Asian young adults growing up in the city. You level up by reflecting on the choices you made as a person and the steps you took to grow and mature.
In regards to relationships, one of my earlier games « Wet Cigarette« , another 2 player game, did deal with similar themes to « Fuck Me, Fuck You » such as dealing with a bad relationship. The key difference is that « Wet Cigarette » doesn’t explore it through antagonism or manipulation but rather through bold, brutal honesty as you share truths over candlelight before you break up.
If anything, I’m very damn proud of « Wet Cigarette » because it reflects on my personal growth at the time of its writing and my current goal to build my personal relationships on honesty and sincerity (whether it’s a sincere love or an honest sharing of hurt). Fuck Me, Fuck You is the reverse – a fucked up, ultraviolent exchange of trauma upon trauma – it’s everything I never want to get into nor want to inflict on another person.
What is your creative process ? Do you read a lot of games too ? How long is your creative process between your main idea and the moment when you know that your game is ready ?
Oh yea, I definitely read a lot of games. I always like to keep up with what everyone else is doing because there’s a lot you could learn from just paying attention and try to tap into another designer’s head. It helps that this particular indie scene is very iterative/indirectly collaborative; as in, even though we are all doing our own things most of the time, there’s a lot of sharing and back-and-forth.
As for how long it takes between the idea and moment, I honestly don’t know. It can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 years – case in point, « Magical Bitches » (a TTRPG about ex-Magical Girls returning to fight a returning evil while dealing with long-buried trauma (think Doom Patrol or Umbrella Academy mixed with Sailor Moon and K-Pop) which I’ve been working on and processing/digesting/gestating for a long time.
I think the reason for this lies in that I was using the process of designing to sort out my own feelings and life as I entered university. When you’re transitioning to your 20s, suddenly everything changes and you’re faced with the impending doom of adulthood and figuring your shit out asap so you don’t miss out. It’s a very violent and emotionally turbulent process – because you realize you want to fall in love, discover what you’re good at, and need to find a community of sorts – and at that age it is very easy to be taken advantage of or even realize you’re a shitty person.
I feel more confident about returning to it now that I’ve graduated and can reflect on all the good and bad things with a stable mind and matured outlook.
I don’t know if I’ll feel confident with it soon though… but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’ll just mean that a lot more work will have to be done in my personal life.
But yaknow, sometimes you just wanna make a game about Kung-Fu Bears and you just do it… Maybe there’s a good lesson here, if you as a designer want a more frequent and consistent output then don’t make your games super personal or ambitious and just have fun with it.
I do a bit of both. I make smaller games to take a break from making bigger games. I think that’s a nice balance I’ve achieved.
Oh yeah, I would like to that I also know it is said that indie designers don’t playtest or don’t need to playtest… that’s a fucking lie! hahahahaha
Really like your point on the « inderectly collaboration » of the indie scene. I know that, by I never put word on it. And it changes my vision a lot
Which TTRPG authors do you read most ?
Honestly, I don’t keep track. Most of the time, I just check out what my twitter friends are making or what they are recommending. I often check out stuff based on what I’m working on at the moment.
For example, I’m currently working on Capitalites which is a No Dice, No Masters game (ndt: based on Belonging Outside Belonging) so I’ve been looking at stuff by Jammi, Jay Dragon, Luke (@wildwoodgames), but also an assortment of other random stuff like Ajey Pandey’s Bolt RPG, Maria Mison’s well… anything, Kazumi Chin’s Recollection, Vivien Feason’s Librete, Aaron Lim’s Fade From Black, @udernation’s Sharehouse/Butterflies, a whole buncha stuff from WSCAJam and whatnot…
All of them (fairly popular) household names in the scene of course… but that’s just for that one game and where I’m at at the moment.
What does catch my eye is stuff about violence or intimacy (aka my brand) though so if anybody wants to shoot me their own games or recommendations by all means tweet or DM me!
Do you want to talk about an other subject before the end this interview ?
I will say that I’m very excited to see where our industry goes, what with the popularity of Wanderhome and Jiangshi… I think there’s a lot of hope for indie/avant-garde/lyric designers like myself… especially because we’re willing to go to places and other industries RPG folx have not really ventured before and that’s very exciting.
I also wanna plug Alyssa Yeo, another game designer from Malaysia, (https://allyiisms.itch.io/) who’s currently working on some really interesting genre stuff inspired by Bioshock and Red Dead Redemption, the latter of which is an Asian American-centric board game/story game/rpg hybrid she’s developing with me.
I’m very excited too ! that’s a good conclusion. Thank you Sam
It was a pleasure
You can find Sam’s games on his itch.io page : https://babblegumsam.itch.io