This was a great game
. One that has consumed much of my thought over the past few week and demanded a more detailed discussion than my usually short con game descriptions. One of the greatest things about it was that I had heard such good things about it going in, yet it lived up to my high expectations. I could talk about the many artistic reasons for my appreciation of the game*, but the two things that contributed the most to my desire to race about this game are its emotional impact and the fact that it has spent so much time resonating around my mental space since I played it. These are related, but to clarify, the first is emotional and the second is intellectual. Not that I subscribe to a strict dichotomy between those two spheres, but as a classificatory scheme, it's a convenient distinction.Alaska
was fantastic example of a game with character descriptions that get you into the head of a pre-generated character. My character, Marc Taylor, a Clinical psychologist with a preexisting undisclosed relationship with the central NPC, resonated with me personally in several ways and made getting into character both pretty easy and quite an emotional experience. For several days afterwards, I was still mulling over the game, my character and my decisions and the more I thought about it, the more I appreciated the experience.
Part of the appeal of story games was the chance to have some deeper rpg experiences than my previous history with traditional gaming had provided. Several years later, I now think the main reason for the problem was a mismatch between some of the things I wanted out of gaming and what the rest of my group wanted.
Elsewhere, I've described the game as inspirational. Obviously not because of the content, but rather because of the creative process. I found out afterwards that both music and personal experience were central to the genesis of the game. I've written here before about how those two factors have been major parts of many of my most satisfying GMing experiences. It's both gratifying to see that I'm not alone in this, and and exciting challenge to see if I can produce a game that can produce this kind of response in players.
There has been discussion of the ethics of eliciting emotion in players and whether it is voyeuristic to do so. I'm on the side of Games as Art, and one of the points of art is to ellicit emotion, so for me, the idea of a game that isn't designed to elicit emotion in some way is odd. The most usual emotion, and the easiest to generate, both in my own experience, is excitement. That's great, and I love exciting games, but it's kinda like the gaming equivalent to just adding a lot of sugar** to something. Reliable, but samey and with diminishing returns. drbunnyhops
' use of trigger warnings in Alaska
was great for a few reasons: First, if you don't want to be confronted with a hot button topic, like child abuse, then you must be allowed to avoid it. Playing "gotcha" in this sort of situation is cheap and could completely ruin the game for everyone. Second, it lets people searching for interesting gaming experiences know the kind of things they'll get in a somewhat-non-spoilery way. Thirdly, a lot of people just don't want that out of their gaming, and it should be the goal of a game blurb to give as accurate a description as possible of the kind of experience that players are signing up their valuable time for. I want my games to be full, but I want them to be full of people who want what I'm handing out.
I don't see roleplaying games as being significantly different to movies in this regard. I'm signing up to have my emotions manipulated in various ways. As long as the manipulation matches my expectations, I'm good.
Being on the same page as your players is good practice for any game, but especially if you're going to deal with seriously emotional topics. And it goes both ways. If you as a player don't want to be forced to engage with certain issues, don't sign up to do so. The Sorcerer idea of lines and veils is a great tool here: lines the players don't want to cross, and veils behind which action is not described. I've certainly not thought about this enough in the past, so Alaska
was a good reminder.
I can't speak for everyone else, but I signed up to be put through an emotional wringer. I'm not really a horror fan, but Alaska
has definitely illuminated the attraction.
*In fact, some of these do come up here, but not in depth. Briefly: prep, props & performance. I couldn't run this game.
**I was originally going to go with bacon, but quality variation in bacon diminishes the metaphor somewhat.
For my reference: Broken People
, Failure through Success