Archive for January 19th, 2009

Murderland Reviews: Pies 11-12

2009 Jan 19

Finally. I’m just going to keep posting these as I get the reviews finished, instead of waiting until I have a whole batch typed up from my notes.

11. Mike Sugarbaker – Moving to Murderland

Premise: Players take on the roles of three people whose otherwise peaceful lives have been interrupted by acts of violence, by to varying degrees. Play takes the form of three conversations the trio has, perhaps in a bar. By moving icehouse pieces around on a chessboard (including changing the way in which they are pointing), the players negotiate the conversation, asserting things and contradicting previous assertions.

Thoughts: Presumably, part of Mike’s intent here is for the players to, over time, tie their characters various experiences together and express a variety of different things about the affect of violence on the lives or everyday people. All in all, I think this overall setup is great, including manipulating board game tokens as a way of negotiating the conversation and providing some interesting structure. However, I have a hard time getting really excited about the way the token-moving rules are implemented. While having the characters initially defined by where their pieces are placed is pretty sweet, the ranges given to the various sizes of icehouse pieces are not very intuitive, taking unfamiliar (to me) shapes that are much more complex than just a set range of squares or the moves of a chess piece. Also, while it might be neat to see how all the different movement rules interact on the board, it’s also not clear to me that the various movements will lead naturally or interestingly towards the act-ending condition (pieces being a certain distance from their starting point). Also, the negotiation itself is a bit weak, I think, or at least could be spiced up a bit. Currently, you can 1) assert that something has happened, 2) assert how someone feels, or 3) contradict an assertion. Those are a bit generic, unrelated to the overall premise of violence and dealing with its arrival. If you could assert your suspicion, your anger, or that someone had been hurt, that might help the elements connect more. So while the premise is great, I think the movement rules could be more intuitive and have a stronger sense of purpose.

Conclusion: Warm.

12. Tomas HV Mørkrid – Raven: Claw and Beak

Premise: Players take turns describing problems that they have faced in the past while the other players play family, friends, antagonists and the like who are trying to influence the players’ actions. Players are encouraged to resolve the problems in ways that are much more destructive and violent than what they would actually do in real life and, if a player chooses violence, they stab their teddybear in one of the limbs or (eventually) torso. The narrative portion ends when all bears have been destroyed, though there is some space for closing rituals that offer some closure for the bears.

Thoughts: In my mind, this combines three different design concepts. First is an orientation towards intense emotional experiences (with or without catharsis) as a primary motivator for play, common in the Nordic larp and jeep traditions but prevalent elsewhere as well. The second is a tendency I’ve often seen in Ben Lehman’s recent design work (Bliss Stage, Land of 1000 Kings), which is to incorporate elements of players real lives into play as a way of creating instant emotional engagement. I imagine this happens in other play traditions as well. Finally, like Mist-Robed Gate, it ups the social tension (in the form of fear and anxiety) between the players by introducing a dangerous object (a knife) into the play environment. Honestly, none of these are concepts that speak to my personal play priorities, which makes it difficult for me to judge the success of the design. When I play Mist-Robed Gate, for example, I intentionally choose to use a symbolic knife rather than something that is actually dangerous. Additionally, I feel like I don’t have a lot of pent-up violent rage to direct at those who have held my life back, so the cathartic effect of destroying one of my teddybears would not be worth the loss of the sentimental object or the regret I would feel for having willingly participated in its destruction. In general, I find this game somewhat interesting as a piece of cognitive art or a Fluxus-style event score, but I can’t imagine myself actually playing / performing it. However, I don’t view it as some kind of alien artifact or “not roleplaying.” I honestly find the directness and clichéd symbology (i.e. knifing teddybears) to be a rather brutal and somewhat crude attempt at addressing issues that may be much more complicated. If there were people who wanted to deal with their pent-up rage through roleplaying, I don’t think this would be a very helpful or safe (both physically and emotionally) way to handle it. So, all in all, a worthwhile topic to explore, but there are probably much better ways to structure an experience that explores this territory, ones that focus more on creating a worthwhile experience for their participants, rather than appearing more focused on defying social norms about cherished childhood objects.

Conclusion: Warm.