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Ben Lehman

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Contest Entry: A Breath of the Heart (Giving and Taking) [Jan. 30th, 2010|05:07 pm]
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This entry has already been revised since the contest deadline; I'll be reviewing the original submission. The author is a fast one, and it's hard to keep up with her.

As far as I know, the game is not available for download anywhere (I received it in e-mail). The author might be convinced to put it up for download. [edit: She has indeed done so. This is the revised version, so some of my comments below might not make sense.)

This game explicitly labels itself jeepform, which I will take the author at her word, because I'm pretty much incapable of distinguishing between jeepform and high-concept, small group LARPing.

The game calls for 2 to 4 players, although the third and fourth players are somewhat superfluous and require extra bits to shoehorn them in. During play, one player portrays a root character who interacts with three other people in three separate scenes, portrayed by the second player: one person who they are close to, one person who they know but not well, and one person who they are antagonistic to. In each scene, there is a conflict for the non-root character and also between the characters, the root character expresses love in some way, and the other character reacts to their expression. Each scene is played out multiple times, presumably with different outcomes. The game consists of these three scenes, and the interstitial discussions of them. When they are played out, the game is over.

In the three or four player version, the extra players can rotate playing the non-root character, or can hover over play and whisper suggestions to the players that are actively playing a character.

The game contains a large amount of technical terminology that I don't understand, so it is a bit of a challenge to offer significant comment. Here's a brief list of these terms: scene, take, guide, intensity, players are resolved with the situation.

Here's my assumptions: a "take" is a play through of a scene. A scene is either the played event or a unit of play that encompasses many "takes." A scene is played in many takes until all players agree to end it, at which point we move on to another scene. "guide" means something like "give suggestions to other players, plus control environmental features and incidental characters." "players are resolved with the situation" means "players, for whatever reason, have decided to move onto the next scene." But there are other possible interpretations (for instance, maybe you play three each scene in order and that's a take, and then we start over and replay them until we're satisfied).

So what's my critical judgment of the game? I would play this, because I trust the writer and also because it seems pretty different from what I'm used to, but there seem to be a number of procedural issues which I expect would give me trouble.

First, like with Romantic Comedy, the amount of prep compared to the amount of play seems very high to me. There are, in this case, some prep suggestions, which are very welcome. Nonetheless, I worry that we're going to spend a lot of time determining trivial details of the root character (what's her job?) which aren't really going to matter much in play. I would rather either give a single player control of this, in order to speed through it, or leave it open to be addressed in play if necessary, which would allow for transitions between retakes (okay, let's play that scene over, but this time you're a gas station attendant).

Likewise, a fair amount of prep goes into each scene. I'm more worried about this than I am the initial prep, though, because while initial prep really only has the chance to waste my time, in scene prep we're figuring out what the conflicts of the scene are, which strikes me as really dangerous pre-play. I worry that we'll figure out the conflict entirely in preparation, which would leave very little space to explore during play. My fear is that this will end up playing like a flat game of Primetime Adventures, when we've figured out the whole conflict and stake before we even start playing. Maybe we're supposed to do that? Or maybe I'm over-thinking this?

(reading again, I realize that I might be mistaken: there's no explicit pre-figuring in the text, however, the presence of "conflict" and "difficulty" on the game sheet makes me think we are supposed to pre-figure them. I guess it's another ambiguity.)

There is a tone throughout the text that we're going to be doing some very heavy emotional stuff, but for the moment I don't really see it justified in the text. I mean, yes, the topics that we'll be dealing with can be very heavy and emotional, but I think that there's not really the tools for emotional deep-sea diving that would require an emotional check-in after each scene. The thing is, I would like to play that game, I'm just not quite seeing it present in the text, unless we already have a social contract-level understanding that we're going to "go there" in which case we probably also have our own pre-existing expectations about emotional well-being and such, and don't really need the game to do that for us. What I'd like is to see more tools for that in the game itself.

In all, I think that this game is strong, if written in a technical language that I don't entirely understand and with assumptions that I can't access. I would love to see a version that was more accessible to me (nb: it is possible this already exists: I haven't yet read the revised version); I think that a lot of my issues with the game would be cleared up if I understood the basic procedures and social contract level understandings that went along with the 'jeepform' label. Even as is, I'm considering playing it soon, just to try to understand what else is going on.

[User Picture]From: keirgreeneyes
2010-01-31 01:37 am (UTC)


Thanks, very much, Ben!

The technical terms were intended, mostly, to have plain, non-technical meanings. But that doesn't mean I don't have to explain what I mean. For example, I will clearly have to work on making the difference between a take and a scene more clear. The game is very brief, currently.

The prep between takes is intended to be very short. And the breaks between Scenes are meant to give space to the players and to the fiction, not for more prep work. When playing jeeps in America especially, I've found people do often want to talk and plan about what will come up later. Reigning back on that impulse is helpful to avoid the flattening you talk about. But also, the slight course corrections and changes in emphasis that *are* intended to be what happens between takes, is meant to shake the scene out of pre-conceived notions. It is live once it is in play, and nothing is pre-plotted, just the initial situation and some motivations. And it will change and hopefully follow the players interests in the situation and the characters.

I'm glad you're interested in playing it. I'll continue revising and have a link very soon. Thanks again for doing this. I'm glad to have found this game, and am grateful for your perspective.