[Kazekami Kyoko Kills Kublai Khan] Playing with someone I love

Started by chearns, June 09, 2009, 09:59:28 PM

Previous topic - Next topic


Me and my partner are playing Kazekami Kyoko Kills Kublai Khan over email. We've been playing now for about two weeks.

Most of the posts happen while she is at work (about two or three each a day, depending on how busy she is). But on weekends, it usually slows down to about a post every other day (since we're together most of the time).

This is our first time playing together, my second time playing this game, and her first time playing it.

Her history includes, what I presume to be, participationist (or illusionist) games of Mage. Mine includes, well, about twenty years of games, but in the last year, mostly one shots (some examples would be: Dirty Secrets, Universalis, 3:16, Formless, and Breaking the Ice).

My partner was a bit hesitant about playing KKKKK because, as written, the game seems to be suggesting that the wives are objects to be manipulated by the two players, which she wasn't interested in playing out. However, I spoke about how much latitude she would have during her narrations, and she figured we could give it a try.

We are currently on our third wife and the game is continuing on. She has expressed surprise that my Khan cared about his wives (and was really a tolerant and open-minded bigamist and dictator), while I was surprised at just how much agency she gave those wives. Kyoko is active, but those wives are making lots of decisions on their own in her narrations.

Their has been a bit of a shift in the rules in that we play half in English and half in French, so the key phrases have been translated into French.

Playing in two languages means sometimes we can't respond right away because we need clarification on what someone was saying. It also means sometimes misinterpretations occur. I am a fanatic about sticking to the key phrases, whereas my partner sticks to the spirit of them, while often breaking the specific format.

The first problem we encountered while playing was that my partner narrated something about how the Khan felt. I responded by using the second optional response to say, "that can't be right, that's not how I feel, how did you come by this information?"

This, as it turns out, was a big mistake. She now felt stuck in the game (since she didn't want to have Kyoko say, "hey, I messed up, sorry it turns out I'm not very competent"), and so we sat down to talk about it face to face.

The problem was resolved by us simply talking about where we could go from here (she was adamant about not taking back any narrations) and also saying that narrating for the other character was off limits. However, it's clear to me that my problem was with how she (the player) narrated what my character was feeling, and I should really have spoken to the player right away about that, instead of trying to resolve it within the game. A mistake I'll probably make again in the future, but it was disappointing.

We got tripped up again later on, when I misinterpreted her narration and we went back and forth a few times before she realized that I had misunderstood her. Once again, we spoke in person and she figure that my misinterpretation still made sense, so we could go forward with that.

Which was good, because that misinterpretation was quite powerful for me. I wasn't expecting to really feel anything in this game (seeing as it is played slowly and over the internet), but the misinterpretation involved the Khan learning something about his second wife that he didn't know. Something that was incredibly important to her and that she was dedicated to that he was ignorant of. And the Khan (and I), we felt so bad. It actually hurt to hear that.

I don't think my partner has had any powerful moments like that while playing, but she has said that she likes logging into her email at work to find a response in her inbox. On reading the rules she wasn't sure about the game due to the setting, but she's glad about where we've taken things and she's enjoying playing (enough so that she's keen on playing Breaking the Ice soon).

On my end I'm ecstatic about the game. I was very nervous that we would be incompatible players, but this game is a lot of fun during play, and when problems arise, being able to talk to her about them without the worry I would normally have, well, it's making things very easy (after my first mistake, that is).

What does the future hold? I'm not sure, we're continuing to play, but it's a hard game to plan out ahead of time, but I'm hoping to reflect changes in the Khan as we progress through his wives, to show how later in life, he wasn't the same person he was with his first wives, but we'll see if that happens.

It may not because I'm noticing how great it is to let the wives flow from one to the other. Like, ok, that's how Kyoko treated that wife, but now how will she treat this one who is different along this axis? I also learned early on not to try and set up situations for Kyoko, but rather just to ask the next question that the Khan would have, a natural one from her last narration. Unless, of course, inspiration hits and I've got an interesting situation to present her with. Then we go with that (and some of them have been doozies, for which my partner has expressed how much she liked my post).

The points:

Wow, is roleplaying ever easy with someone you love and trust.

Wow, trying to resolve at the fiction level, problems occurring at the player level is really dumb.

Wow, playing over email can actually be a moving experience.
- chris hearns

Simon C

I'm really glad people are playing this game and writing about it.  I had probably the most satisfying play-by-post game I've ever had with KKKKKK, and I'm always interested in playing it again.  I think email is a great way to play the game, especially with someone you love!  Playing in French and English is an exciting twist also. 

When Dave and I played, I felt like there was a little bit of jockeying over the tone of the game.  I was interested in exploring a slightly darker tone, while Dave kept the tone lighter.  This was all resolved at a character level though - I'd introduce something that looked like it was making Kyoko do something questionable (Kind of like "Hey Kyoko, when did you stop beating your wife", in effect.) Dave would just Batman the hell out of those situations, giving Kyoko the moral high ground again.  The result was actually some pleasant tension in the game.  So I guess that not all player-level disputes need player-level solutions, but I totally agree that in your case you were right to go the way you did.

Jonathan Walton

This thread makes me really happy.

The premise of Kazekami Kyoko is unquestionably problematic. Kublai is a polygamist. Kyoko is a bizarre stereotype out of the Khan's freudian fantasies (female ninja who seduces all of his wives, stabs him, and then tells him all the sordid details while he dies). In addition to issues about gender roles, there's also the strongly orientalist setting, which I haven't seen people bring up as much.

However, I've come to suspect that those problematic aspects are part of what make the game work. Like many roleplaying games, Kazekami Kyoko is really about exploring the relationship and interactions between the players.  And having the content be so problematic makes this exploration more interesting, I think. The players end up -- in most playtests that I've participated in, followed, or read about -- surprising themselves in their ability to create meaningful interactions out of the problematic premise and, in many cases, even seem to exorcise some of the problematic material by processing it together.

But the game isn't like: "Hey, let's explore our personal feelings about gender, sexuality, love, ethnicity, morality, and murder!"  Still, that seems to be the "fruitful void" that makes play interesting, even in situations -- as in Simon's game -- where one or both players are intentionally or unintentionally trying to avoid those issues. And, yeah, those kinds of conversations are really valuable to have in close relationships (whether romantic or otherwise), so I definitely think playing with close friends or significant others is the way to go.

The other thing that makes the game work -- which you also found -- is that the 2-player structure really lets players explore how they interact with each other, whether through the fictional position or through OOC conversations about how the game is going.

In the end, I keep being surprised by how many interesting things are going on in this game, considering that I wrote it in 2 days and wasn't aware at the time what I was really doing with it.


Hey Jonathan,

you said on your blog:

Now, this sounds really awesome and sexy. But Kyoko tends to treat Kublai's wives just like scenery or tools, which is not as feminist as the premise might initially suggest. It's basically a very masculine fantasy about being totally dominated by a powerful women who, to make things worse, is busy telling you how she did the deed with a bunch of other hot women. So, yeah. Can't really make excuses for that. It's just one big giant sex-capade.

But, I think I disagree with this (and I suspect you do now as well, based on your post here). The structure is there to push towards telling that story, but, the structure easily allows for other stories (as I'm finding out in play). When you say the fruitful void is "gender, sexuality, love, ethnicity, morality, and murder", I kind of agree. The rules push towards a particular type of story, but then we decide as players what story we want to tell.

As the Khan player, I'm placing women in situations and then asking Kyoko, what happens next. The player of Kyoko then decides whether or not those women have agency or not. The player of Kyoko also decides how a situation should be overcome. Is a violent man in the story killed, humiliated, beaten, avoided, evaded? When you humiliate him and beat him down, and he wants to kill himself, do you let him?

Do the stories tend to look like a ignorant male fantasy? It wouldn't surprise me because the game reflects how the players feel about sexism. If the players are masculists, then that's what the game will reflect, if they are pro-feminist, then that's what the game will reflect, and if they're somewhere in the middle (say, ignorant males), it will reflect that as well.
- chris hearns

Jonathan Walton

Totally. Yeah, I don't agree at all with my original assessment and I think that change of heart has come from watching other folks play it and realize that the game really does have something to say (or, rather, creates a space in which the players say things), which is unexpected and neat.

Simon C

I just came from reading an excellent feminist analysis of the show True Blood, and how it advances a feminist agenda.  I've also just finished reading a long thread in a feminist forum about how they can't stand True Blood because of how sexist it is. 

Texts are complex things, I guess.  KKKKKK is as complex as any.  When you're mixing power, violence, sex, marriage, gender and love, you're going into risky territory.  That's what makes it fun.  I think there are lots of different ways to read the game, and lots of different ways to read individual acts of playing the game.  Yeah, it's totally a masculine fantasy, but it can also be a subversion of that fantasy.  There are elements of the game that can be read as sexist, and elements that can be read as feminist.  I think that's what we get for living in a world with such embedded sexism, and weird attitudes to sex.