You all know about role-playing poems, right? They’re tiny games made to be played in about 15 minutes, often to explore a specific concept, emotion or atmosphere. They’re an excellent vehicle for experimental design – and for design that helps players experiment.
At Solmukohta 2012, I ran a small series of identity poems. These games don’t use fictional characters; they use you, the player. Your history, your identity – these are the playing grounds.
I’ll give a short description of them here. For several of the games, this is the first time I even write down the rules.
3 of me
Based on a previous design, this game is about how we construct the narratives of our own identity; we tell ourselves the stories of our lives, as if we had only one such story and only one identity that was always present or destined to emerge.
Each player gets a challenge from another player, for example: “Tell us how you’ve always been such a weirdo!”, “Tell us how you lost contact with your true self”, “Tell us how you were always a success at what you did”. The player then selects three real events from their life that support this identity, and narrates them. Play passes on to the next player. Ideally played in small groups, so each player can get several challenges; for a group of 3, set aside 20-30 minutes.
About living with labels. You play yourself, exactly as you are. Somehow, you’ve acquired a label – a psychiatric diagnosis. Another player decides on a diagnosis, and sets a scene for play (for example “In the grocery store”, “At the library” etc). A third player plays out the expectations you feel, be it from yourself or the world around you; they follow you around and whisper in your ear. “Hey, you know autists would have a lot of trouble with this disorderly behavior!” “Paranoiacs would certainly see significance in that the number 23 came up again right now.”
This game was very uncomfortable and frustrating – which is great, it only lasts 15 minutes and is made to illustrate a point. When playing, I got really angry at my label, and having to fight it the whole time.
A mellow, strong and potentially fruitful game. Pick two players to play out real people in your life – family, friends, colleagues. Play out a realistic scene, perhaps instructing them as you go along – “my dad would say this and this”, “my girlfriend tends to be more so and so”.
Then, play out two more scenes – 10 and 20 years in the future. The same people are in it; however, you or the group may decide to remove one of them.
After you’re done with your life, it’s someone else’s turn.
This is not a short game, as it turned out. Set aside at least one hour, probably two. Also, it might be interesting to play more than just three scenes, and to discuss between each scene what had happened or could happen. The game wasn’t strong as in “emotionally wrenching”, but more in the sense of “makes you stop and look inside yourself and think for a while”.
Play out a scene from your past – a fight with your mom, the first time you met your boyfriend, whatever. Instruct other players to be the other people present. Then, replay it, and let the other players give you traits, attitudes, tell you what to do. See what happens.
We didn’t get to play this, too little time. It might be intense, I don’t know!
This is a previous design, not tried out before. I wasn’t present while people played, and didn’t get to talk to them afterwards, so I have no idea how it went!