*
*
Home
Help
Login
Register
Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.
November 23, 2014, 07:59:16 PM

Login with username, password and session length
Forum changes: Editing of posts has been turned off until further notice.
Search:     Advanced search
275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4283 Members Latest Member: - otto Most online today: 82 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
Pages: [1]
Print
Author Topic: [Under the Bed] with Mom  (Read 2303 times)
Ben Lehman
Member

Posts: 2094

Blissed


WWW
« on: January 10, 2006, 02:48:51 AM »

I played Under the Bed with Calder and my mom.  This is an account.

Social Background:
So my mom wanted to play a role-playing game with me.  This hasn't happened since I was, what, 5 years old, and my brother ran us both through the dungeon in the back of the D&D basic book (the red one, with the Elmore art.)  But, man, she's really hot to trot.  She e-mails me about it.  We keep trying to schedule things, but it falls through, mainly because my bro and dad are giant sticks-in-the-mud about it.

She offers me three options: Polaris, Breaking the Ice, and Under the Bed.  Holy shit!  I have a violent negative reaction to the first two.  Like, literally, the thought of playing either Polaris or Breaking the Ice with my mom is terrifying me even now.

At first glacen, this seems strange.  A game that touches on issues of childhood, particularly the difficult issues of childhood, does not seem to be the most comfortable option to play with mom.  But that's assuming a generic son and a generic mom and, well, my mom and I are probably anything but.

I was raised in a politically active Northern California family in a politically active Northern California county (voter turnout is consistently forty percent above national average.)  My high school shut down on protest days, because all the students and teachers would attend protests en masse.  My brother tree-sat, with full family support.  Many of my high-school chums went on to organize the WTO protests.  My dad works in alternative fuels.  And my mom is a self-identified activist for Indian rights, children's rights, cancer awareness, and sexual abuse survivor awareness.

Polaris is pretty much my direct, scathing, bitter critique of the culture of activism.  (Make no mistake, I'm damned proud of my heritage.  But I'm not so proud as to be blind to the social and personal problems that activism engenders.)  So, uh, that's right out.

And my family never, ever, ever talks about our romantic relationships.  So Breaking the Ice would be breaking 24 years of solid glacial build-up.

But issues about trauma and childhood?  Heck, that's right up our alley!  I've been pretty consistently involved in my mom's activism, especially around this issue, up to and including serious debates and critiques of the text of new book (which: recommended for anyone interested in exploring issues of child abuse in any context).  Further, her academic speciality is children's literature, and discussion of that topic in general and a shared love of great kid's books (Nesbit, Milne, Kendall, etc.) form a serious bond in our relationship.

So, Under the Bed it was!

The Game

We rounded up my gaming buddy / business partner Calder one evening for dinner and a game.  After dinner, my bro and and dad skee-daddled like hell was on their tail, and I went upstairs to scrounge up some d8s (didn't have enough, so we used d10s, which turned out fine.)  So we sat down, I gave a very brief rundown of the rules (for Calder, as my mom had already read the instructions several times.)  I shuffle and deal some traits.

Mom gets: Frail, Ugly, Impressionable.  She's an old wooden doll.
Calder gets: Crazy, Beautiful, and something else.  He's an old, colorful rubber ball.
I get: Stupid, Violent, Faithful.  I'm a plastic soldier.
The center gets: Brave, Contentious, something else.

As soon as the cards get dealt, my mom's face falls.  "Oh man," she says, "can't we get some better traits?"  It's really a serious issue.  She using her "emotionally distraught" voice.  I try to talk her around it, but it's no go.  I almost deal out new cards, but then suddenly she says "I'm an old doll" and bang -- there's no way in hell we're dealing new cards.

So our kid is a boy, his name is Toby, and he lives in a rundown old house with some mostly absent family (later described as a creepy old Aunt.)  He's mostly a shut-in.  The stakes of play are: Does he make a friend?

Yowch.  We're not going for light and happy.

Anyway, what happens in the game is that he sees this girl playing in the yard, goes down to play with her, gets embarrassed, and beats her up so she won't laugh at him.  Her older brother comes to get revenge, Toby evades him in various ways, ending up plunging into the neighbor's yard, only to discover the girl giving a tea party.  He ends up apologizing to her, trying to hide from her brother in the barn, and then breaking his arm by falling off the roof.  But the experience cements a friendship between the two of them.  (I'm going to talk more about the events of play, later.)  The toys take an active part throughout.

After we play, we spend some time decompressing and discussing, then Calder and I go out and Mom goes to sleep.  My mom and I talk about it more in the morning, and probably will talk about it for a while yet.

How did Mom do?
Mom had some trouble adapting to things at the beginning.  She had a hard time calling on traits -- she kept wanting to use them to describe things other than the child or the toy.  She also had difficulty understanding the difference between a conflict and the opposition traits (she kept framing conflicts as adjectives, and opposition traits as questions), and really stumbled around the idea of providing opposition traits (she kept wanting them to be positive things for the child, like the girl being nice, or for them to be internal traits of the child.)

I think that all of these difficulties relate to the same thing -- she empathized with the child, and wanted the best for him.  Since most of her traits were negative, she wanted to apply them externally.  Likewise, making his life difficult with opposition traits was just hard.

This isn't because she's not used to story-arcs or conflict.  She's an award winning novelist.  I think maybe that she had trouble empathizing with the character and providing adversity at the same time, on demand.  It really made me amazed at all of our unspoken skills, as role-players.  How do you teach something like that?

Regardless, by the end of the game, she was really catching on and enjoying herself immensely.  She even won the final conflict -- narrating the child falling off the barn to draw in "frail" and "brave --" and narrated the ending excellently.

She wants to play the game again!  Possibly with some girlfriends of hers, or maybe once more with me before I leave.  She even went out and bought some eight sided dice to play with.

Critique of Play
During our play, it soon became obvious that Toby had far deeper problems than being a shut in, and that he was projecting them on the old, hand-me-down toys he'd gotten from his Aunt.  My mother's backbiting, bitter, safety-conscious doll was clearly the Aunt.  My toy soldier was clearly his abusive father who had left him at a young age.  And Calder's ball was some sort of wild, untapped Id that thought nothing of leaping off high places *constantly*

Boiled down, we had this kid who, pretty much, had never had a friend.  Not only that, but no one he's ever known has had a friend.  His father's idea of friendship is fear-based loyalty enforced by violence.  His aunt thinks that people are wretched and terrible and dangerous.   I imagine his mother wasn't much better (I wonder if the ball was his crazy, drugged-out mother?  That would make sense.)  So, basically, the kid doesn't even know what friendship is.  All he knows is that he's missing something, and he wants it badly.

And, in the end, his friendship was based on violence and wounds, particularly his own.  This is a decidedly mixed ending.  On the one hand, he took his Aunt's vicious emotionally abusive messages and, dosed with a bit of bravery, he turned them into a powerful tool to provide for his own needs.  On the other hand, victimization and fragility becomes is primary survival strategy into adulthood, which is not a basis for healthy relationships at all.

My stab at the central theme of the game is "Children will do what they have to do to survive, and they'll do it with the tools that they're given, and that's not always a good thing for the rest of us."  Or perhaps "deeply harmful dysfunction in your social interactions is better than nothing."  Toby's decisions were a terrifying emotional triage that I don't think any of us expected when we sat down to play.

Once again, Under the Bed delivered a thought-provoking, satisfying look into the world of childhood without being patronizing or shallow.  Damn, but I love this game.

Anyway, that's all from me.  With permission, I'm going to repost an e-mail from my mom to Joshua, below.
Logged

Ben Lehman
Member

Posts: 2094

Blissed


WWW
« Reply #1 on: January 10, 2006, 02:51:36 AM »

This is a letter from my mom to Joshua Newman, author of Under the Bed.

Quote from: Carolyn Lehman
Hi, Joshua --

This is a quick note to let you know that I played your game last night
with Ben and his friend Calder.

It's the first time I've played a role play game with the exception of
an early D+D game or two when Ben was maybe in first grade.  Oh, and we
had those fantasy roll-the-dice books, kind of one step beyond Choose
Your Own Adventure and I think I worked half way through one with Ben
and his brother.

Anyhow, UTB was a totally different experience.

First of all, I am captivated by building the toy characters from the
character trait cards.  The combinations call forth archetypes that I
didn't realize I was carrying around.  Very vivid.  It is fun to just
sit and deal out threesomes and imagine the toy they describe and its
personality.  I've done this several times with the deck for my own
amusement, although it is much more fun in collaboration.  As a writer,
I enjoy the character conception part a lot.

The play was hard for me at first.  "Conflict?  Give the traits for
this conflict?  What?"  I felt like the scenarios I came up with were
wooden and trite.  Of course, my character was a wooden doll and trite
(frail, ugly, impressionable), a battered remnant of the Child's family
history. Then I began to see how the characters built on each other to
project the nature--the potentials--of the Child.  This doll really was
the voice of the Child's repressive aunt.  She also acquired Bravery,
and that was part of what the Child needed.   Calder was pulling in
unexpected elements (we were playing a true-to-life situation but he
gave his character, a rubber ball, magic traits, a twist that worked).
Ben (a violent and stupid toy soldier) kept messing things up the very
way this kid would do it.  The play took on the inner workings of a
very disturbed little boy.  Frailty, I have to say, is an amazingly
unsettling trait to play--there's a lot of power in being a victim,
especially for a child.  Yuck.

UTB is an amazing game.  I really liked it and want to play again.
Some of my friends--also women in their fifties and forties--have said
they were game to try.  The mechanics are all new for non role play
gamers and I think that may be hard to overcome.  I know with one four
chip game under my belt I hardly feel capable of explaining play,
especially the reasons for things.  Most women of my gen don't have
piles of eight sided dice lying around.

What I like best about this game is the afterwards, thinking about the
deeper structure that emerges from these simple traits as the Child,
through the toy personae, moves through the action.  This is disturbing
in that way that really good fiction is, and also ultimately satisfying
in the same way.  You recognize things that you might have been more
comfortable living without seeing--I guess that's why they are Under
the Bed--and yet also feel their truth.

If I do make a foray with my friends, I'll let you know.  (I'm hoping
Ben will play another round with me first.)  Meanwhile, thanks for an
evening of live fiction.


Carolyn
~~~~
Carolyn Lehman
STRONG AT THE HEART
strongattheheart.com

"Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the
overcoming of it."
--Helen Keller
Logged

James_Nostack
Member

Posts: 642


« Reply #2 on: January 10, 2006, 06:13:30 AM »

This isn't because she's not used to story-arcs or conflict.  She's an award winning novelist.  I think maybe that she had trouble empathizing with the character and providing adversity at the same time, on demand.  It really made me amazed at all of our unspoken skills, as role-players.  How do you teach something like that?

Ben, I've come across something like this in Radio Free Kroia, a PTA game set in fictionalized Serbia.  I've got this character I sympathize with a lot, yet for the good of the game I've got to savor beating her up.  It's kind of unsettling.

Yet I dont' think this has to do with "role-players" in general.  I think, rather, it's part of Narrativist design or something. 
Quote
[You have to...]
1.  Be the actor, portraying your character.
2.  Be the screenwriter, coming up with plot developments for the rest of the show.
3.  Be the audience, savoring what's happening.

The trick is, if this show is a tragedy (which it is in my opinion, though I'm not entirely sure if the other players agree), then in my function as an actor I have to create a sympathetic character, but to create a good tragedy the screenwriter aspect has to coldbloodly rip her to shreds if that's what the story calls for.  All for the sake of the audience (me and the other players).

I don't find this paradigm operating in, say, Dungeons & Dragons or Vampire.  I suspect it's largely a Forge thing, but I could be wrong.
Logged

--Stack
Marhault
Member

Posts: 185


« Reply #3 on: January 10, 2006, 06:25:02 AM »

Wow, Ben.  That sounds great, I think you just sold me on Under the Bed!

Since I'm not familiar with the game, I have a couple of questions.  Is the identification of the toys with aspects of the child's life an explicit part of the system, or is it left for the players to interpret?  Is there anything more to character generation than the three traits, ie., is there any guidance for what kind of toy you are playing?
Logged
Sydney Freedberg
Member

Posts: 1293


WWW
« Reply #4 on: January 10, 2006, 08:23:19 AM »

First things first: Ben, Carolyn, Calder -- oh. my. God. Wow. I totally want to play RPGs with Ben's mom now (no, not like that), even though I'm one of those residual pre-1968 Democrats predisposed to like invading places and to dislike protesters.

I've got this character I sympathize with a lot, yet for the good of the game I've got to savor beating her up.  It's kind of unsettling. Yet I dont' think this has to do with "role-players" in general.  I think, rather, it's part of Narrativist design or something....

Unless you harness competitive stuff (Gamist-like bits) in service of Narrativism: Then players happily beat each other up -- and, even more fun, crucify themselves to make their point. Or throw their characters off rooftops, as in this case.

This dynamic is what I love about Capes (and what I'm seeking for apocalypse girl as well), but from reading (not playing, yet! Sorrow!) both Under the Bed's "struggle to be Favorite Toy" structure and Polaris's "Mistaken, torture the Heart" structure, I would think they naturally do it too.

Ben, were you seeing that competition in service of theme here? Or was your mom at least initially hamstrung by empathy for the Kid?
Logged

Justin A Hamilton
Member

Posts: 27


« Reply #5 on: January 10, 2006, 09:34:40 AM »

Whoa, that game sounds spectacular.

I am quite unfamiliar with Under the Bed - is the child communally played by the group, or is there a turn-control process, or something else?  I am really interested in seeing how the decisions for the boy's actions came about.
Logged
Joshua A.C. Newman
Member

Posts: 1144

the glyphpress


WWW
« Reply #6 on: January 10, 2006, 11:14:40 AM »

Since I'm not familiar with the game, I have a couple of questions.  Is the identification of the toys with aspects of the child's life an explicit part of the system, or is it left for the players to interpret?  Is there anything more to character generation than the three traits, ie., is there any guidance for what kind of toy you are playing?

Marhault, all the tools the toys have are personality traits. Make of that what you will.

Sydney, it sounds like you guys could make a most excellent group.

Justin, the Child is controlled by whoever's turn it is. That is, to say, the Characteristics owned by the current Player are either  the ones the Child uses during the current turn, or the ones the Toy uses to help the Child who lacks those Characteristics.

For instance, the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz is very brave, which is an attribute of Dorothy. The Scarecrow is a piece of her. That's how the game usually plays. But it could also be that the Child is fearful but is defended by a Brave toy. That's a matter of taste and circumstance.

James, the reason you narrate the challenge when it's not your turn is so your Toy can prove itself the best toy. You want the other toys to fail because your toy will be the favorite and can solve all the child's problems. If you think your toy represents a terrible person, you can be rooting for someone else's toy, but you have to give them opposition to let them prove themselves.

It's a big double-bind in the game. I like those in my game design. You have to make the best of a hard choice every turn.
Logged

the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.
Ben Lehman
Member

Posts: 2094

Blissed


WWW
« Reply #7 on: January 10, 2006, 02:27:53 PM »

Competition in the game was essentially nil -- we were trying to bring in conflicts because they were interesting, and there was little in the way of "gotcha-ism."  Now, as it happens, this is the best for the group we had, but I can see that it may have tripped up the conflict a bit.

yrs--
--Ben
Logged

Bret Gillan
Member

Posts: 375

That's Bret with one 't' damn it.


« Reply #8 on: January 10, 2006, 02:54:32 PM »

Wow, Ben. The idea of playing any roleplaying game with my mom fills me with terror, and probably fills her with terror too.

That said, this sounds like a fantastic session, and demonstrates the power of games like Under the Bed in introducing non-gamers to gaming. I've been really impressed by games like Under the Bed and Breaking the Ice that make me say, "Wow, this is a game I could run with someone who thinks D&D is for weirdos."
Logged
spaceanddeath
Member

Posts: 9


WWW
« Reply #9 on: January 10, 2006, 05:07:02 PM »

Playing with your mom can be terrifying. I think you read Brand's AP report on the session this past summer.

I kept waiting for the inevitable reason: "I couldn't play Breaking the Ice with my mom, cause, well, man, I just couldn't date my mom!"

Sounds like it turned out terrifically. Now I wanna play Under the Bed.
Logged

Joshua A.C. Newman
Member

Posts: 1144

the glyphpress


WWW
« Reply #10 on: January 10, 2006, 10:58:58 PM »

Sounds like it turned out terrifically. Now I wanna play Under the Bed.

... and that can be arranged!
Logged

the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.
Pages: [1]
Print
Jump to:  

Powered by MySQL Powered by PHP Powered by SMF 1.1.11 | SMF © 2006-2009, Simple Machines LLC
Oxygen design by Bloc
Valid XHTML 1.0! Valid CSS!