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Author Topic: [The Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Ronnies feedback  (Read 13009 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: February 10, 2011, 07:16:03 PM »

The Secret Lives of Serial Killers by Willow Palecek wins a Ronny. My notes actually put it this way: "All right, you win the Ronny, you depraved [expletive]." And they don't say "expletive."

... and now what? I'm dumbstruck. I disapprove of it from the git-go, I can't imagine actually playing it, and yet I know it'd work. I'm reminded of the classic line:

Quote
Then he got an idea!
An awful idea!
THE GRINCH
GOT A WONDERFUL, AWFUL IDEA!

Can you just imagine what a published version would look like? It'd be "Sunshine Boulevard" in all its glory, done up with nicey-nice lemon-yellow hip packaging as if published by Emily Care Boss if Emily Care Boss were a beaming Mormon who never wrote Under My Skin. And perhaps with some kind of removable pamphlet accompanying it explaining the real rules.

I will try to express myself better with reference to the film Benny & Joon, itself merely one particularly clear version of the common film plot that if someone is a little bit kooky, alienated, perhaps downright irrational, that this means they have a big loveable heart with all sorts of love to give which happens not, at the moment, to be fully appreciated. Closely related to the also-common idea that mental illness is really some kind of personal window into a more wonderful world, which the rest of us are privileged to glimpse through the lens of this daffy, occasionally irritating, but ultimately transcendent person (Depp again, Don Juan DeMarco). One can find another version of it in Twilight, as satirized exceptionally successfully in the Buffy vs. Edward: Twilight Showdown video. Geez, I could go on - the more off-kilter the person, the more wonderful they are, or will be once romance has found them at last, and their terrible, terrible loneliness is eased, and the childlike goodness of their big, big heart can finally be unleashed. Like in Shine. The more I try to describe it, the more film titles just crop up as I go.

So what do I want to express about that? Easy: bull fucking shit. Mental illness is not whimsical joy. It is not "wise" underneath all the irritating parts, which, in addition, are not themselves cute. What's that you say, you met a fellow who lives almost as a shut-in, whose sense of humor seems enchantingly off, who says inappropriate things and then covers it with a certain opaque, clueless charm? Has hobbies that are a bit too compulsive? Stutters and becomes sullen at the mention of his mother? How charming! How wonderfully insightful he must be, if only he could trust someone enough to express it! How he must yearn for the touch of someone who truly cares! What love must be beating and throbbing away in his big, big heart, to be unfettered by you! How grateful he will be when you teach him to bathe regularly and to use shampoo when he does it!

Except it's not his big, big heart which matters, it's yours, after he's dissected it from your chest while you're still alive and put it into a jar of alcohol, then put the jar in with all the others in his cupboard. This game is about that. And to cap it, you do exactly the same thing psychologically to one of the players in raw social terms even as this is done to his or her character in graphic gore-porn terms.

You nailed it, Willow. Fucking nailed it. You took the Big Model and made it your bitch, for the ultimate inside-out Narrativist gut-punch.

I have one whole criticism. it needs some mechanics which would fit perfectly in one of those "I ripped off My Life With Master like all the rest of you for my hawt new story game" threads at Story Games, to be incorporated into Sunshine Boulevard to make the cover story perfect. Just enough to be actually pretty fun.

Oh, and an addition to the Secret Lives part of the rules text: After "apologize," add "and if necessary, run like hell."

Best, Ron
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jburneko
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« Reply #1 on: February 10, 2011, 07:45:30 PM »

Oh fuck.  Fuck, fuck, fuck!

So, when I read this I had the same thought as Ron.  "Man, this would work."  Hell, I even thought of a couple of people who I thought could probably handle the "joke" if I sprung it on them.

BUT!

What I totally failed to do was make the connection to this
Quote
Closely related to the also-common idea that mental illness is really some kind of personal window into a more wonderful world, which the rest of us are privileged to glimpse through the lens of this daffy, occasionally irritating, but ultimately transcendent person (Depp again, Don Juan DeMarco).

Which is is like one of my favorite movie genres.  K-PAX, Neverwas, to a lesser extent-Franklyn.  I seek these movies out.  I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE them.  Hell, the LAST design competition I entered I wrote http://www.grahamwalmsley.net/littlegamechef/games/BreadMoldMightBeMedicine.pdf SPECIFICALLY to do this kind of story.

I'm even more disturbed now.

Jesse
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stefoid
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« Reply #2 on: February 10, 2011, 07:50:07 PM »

sweet jesus
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stefoid
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« Reply #3 on: February 10, 2011, 08:03:34 PM »

P.S.  can I ask that anyone who actually  plays this game do a 'you tube Sunshine Boulevard reaction video'?  this has internet meme written all over it.
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Willow
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« Reply #4 on: February 10, 2011, 08:06:13 PM »

Quote
Can you just imagine what a published version would look like? It'd be "Sunshine Boulevard" in all its glory, done up with nicey-nice lemon-yellow hip packaging as if published by Emily Care Boss if Emily Care Boss were a beaming Mormon who never wrote Under My Skin. And perhaps with some kind of removable pamphlet accompanying it explaining the real rules.

Oh yes, Ron, oh yes.

Of course this means you're going to be responsible for coming up with a fake blurb about how wonderful Sunshine Boulevard is.

Yeah, SB needs to be actually playable as written for the cover story to work.  Love the fake dice mechanics that don't really do anything idea.
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Devon Oratz
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« Reply #5 on: February 10, 2011, 08:11:45 PM »

This is an amazing idea. I immediately want to try it on one of my friends. : ) (Although my players and I never play games that DON'T involve murder so I'm afraid it would be hard to sell them that we were playing "Sunshine Boulevard" to begin with.)

I do have a concern though, and it stems from this:

"Ask the Victim questions about the setting, but do not take the answers as concrete facts.
Ask the Killer questions about the setting. Take the answers as concrete facts."

This and variations on it are repeated multiple times. It seems to me that even in a fairly accepting group, this could lead to one pissed off player (the Victim) long before the game gets to the punchline, by giving a very unequal control of the shared narrative space. In fact, it would be markedly worse than just having one GM who controls everything and two players who are powerless, since only one player is excluded. It's like the narrative control equivalent of "monkey in the middle". At best it seems like it would prompt some spoilers.

Another thought: could the Killer and Facilitator be conflated into one roll  for a two player game?

How to avoid this? Is there a better way to interpret these sentences that I'm not getting?
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Devon Oratz
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« Reply #6 on: February 10, 2011, 08:14:24 PM »

Er, the last two sentences in my previous post should switch places to avoid confusion. Me no likey not being able to edit.
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whduryea
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« Reply #7 on: February 10, 2011, 08:21:22 PM »

I had two immediate reactions to this game. The first was, "I know exactly the player that I'd like to subject to this." The second was, "I wish I hadn't read this game, because now I can never be victimized by it."

Taken together, I think those reactions reveal how deeply unhealthy I am.

That said, I agree with Ron. I love the way this game works so well as a dissection (dismemberment?) of those irksome "mental illness = adorable" romantic comedies. The ones that want to be As Good As It Gets--one of my favorite films--but don't want to deal with the pathos and hard honesty of that film, and instead opt for superficial quirkiness.

The structure of this game seems perfect. I would like to see a lot more examples though, particularly of traits/habits for the killer that would seem charmingly oddball but have insidious implications.

Oh, and I love you word choice. Facilitator is such an ideal name for that role.
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terrible games about terrible people in terrible situations/
terrible games about terrible people in terrible situations
Willow
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« Reply #8 on: February 10, 2011, 08:25:54 PM »

A major part of the game is deprotagonization of the victim player.  This starts subtly, with them getting less effective creative input, but remember that while the Victim player is supposed to think they have a fairly symmetrical relationship with the Killer (ahem, Recluse) the Killer is all antagonist, and in many ways co-'GM'

I don't imagine it would work as a one-on-one game, at least not with the same punch, which is that two people conspired to actively deceive you.
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Devon Oratz
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« Reply #9 on: February 10, 2011, 08:40:42 PM »

That's a good point.

I just think that the Victim might start getting indignant and demanding metagame explanations before the big reveal at the end. Of course it depends on group dynamic.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #10 on: February 11, 2011, 03:19:13 AM »

I dunno, it seems like giving an award for someone saying 'On the red light at the intersection, press the accelerator!'. Maybe it's a human conceit of 'oh yeah, I get it it/I'd get it' upon reading, because to admit it'd get you is to say your stupid like that - what's easier, to praise or admit personal frailty?

For some reason I think of a diff version where at the end of act four you drop a copy of the real rules right in front of the person, before you've gone the next step (if I'm skimming act four right). Watch them uncomprehendingly stare at you then pick the rules up and start to read, watch the horror of the twist, yet maintain a human understanding. Watch them realise they are standing at a razors edge, yet you did not push them. Watch their choice. Not some stupid PC's choice, a real breathers choice. Together.

I dunno - there seem to be alot of people who think there is some sort of 'together' after you ignore the traffic lights. But the twilight/buffy video was awesome - I think it was the sort of incision the author of buffy was trying to get at.
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Baxil
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« Reply #11 on: February 11, 2011, 10:10:15 AM »

Callan,

It's pretty clear to me that it's not a matter of human conceit or anyone's personal frailty.  As Ron specified in the original contest thread:
Quote
My criteria for a Ronny are whether you use the terms centrally and well, and whether your game design seems like it has a shot at working and would quite likely be fun. You win a Ronny simply by meeting these standards ...
And in the winners thread:
Quote
What [February winners] share, aside from meeting the terms requirement, is my judgment that this title is ready for playtest and the point of play ("the fun") is gorgeously clear.

"Secret Lives" reminds me of nothing so much as the "Freebase" RPG that was released as an insert to Hol's "Buttery Wholesomeness" supplement.  (To be clear here, I share Ron's nauseated admiration for Secret Lives.)  Both would be gloriously, brutally wrong to play, but their value lies outside the gameplay.  I think the better analogy would be:

"Look at this awesome device I made for your car!  It's fusion-powered, uses visual OCR to determine light state, and has predictive traffic algorithms that can reliably tell when a bus full of nuns is in front of your car."
"That's awesome! What does it do?"
"When you're at a red light and it sees nuns, it presses the accelerator."
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #12 on: February 11, 2011, 10:30:22 AM »

Hi Callan,

I'm not sure whether your post is directed to me or to Willow, or "either/or." Most likely the latter, but I'd rather not butt in if that's not what you wanted.

For the record, I think your suggestion to reveal the "real" game at the start of the final phase is a viable option, possibly even desirable if we're talking about my own inclinations of play. However, my inclinations aren't especially relevant once past the awards process. The question for the designer is whether she thinks that change would make the game more fun in the way she wants.

Best, Ron
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David Berg
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« Reply #13 on: February 11, 2011, 11:33:47 AM »

I would thoroughly enjoy the twist if it happened to me, and I have a few friends who'd probably feel likewise.  The problem is that none of us would choose to play Sunshine Boulevard. 

Some sort of additional hook would help.  Something like, "the friendship story is quick to play, and there's a really neat endgame mechanic I want to show you."  (That might hook my designer curiosity.)  Something for the in-the-know players to sell the victim on besides just "you like Benny & June?"
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Ian Charvill
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« Reply #14 on: February 12, 2011, 02:55:18 AM »

It seems to me that a plausible reaction to the game of an emotionally mature, self-determining individual is just to say, at the point of the twist: that's not the game I agreed to play, and I'm not enjoying the twist -- so I'm out.  I'm not sure that outcome would be a positive outcome for anyone at the table in terms of it being a worthwhile game to play.

Another emotionally mature, self-determining response would be to approve of the twist and to play out the endgame.  So I think a challenge in presentation is how to invite people to the game in such a way as to select for the latter and not the former.

I think the challenge goes a bit further in that, there are people who wouldn't enjoy the twist but won't leave the table from a sense of social obligation.  Them staying will likely damage them.  I don't mean in some kind of melodramatic way, I mean in the staightforward sense of causing ongoing hurt and resentment.  The internet is littered with posts by people who are angry about a ten or twenty year old incident of GM deceit and railroading -- and this game has that as it's first principle: the GM will lie and railroad*.  So ideally, the initial invite to the game needs to select against that kind of person -- or following Callan's suggestion there needs to be some kind of opt-out clause that makes it easy for people to stop playing the game if that's what they want to do.  And is the game worthwhile if they decide to stop.

I think the biggest challenge, though, in presentation for this, though, is how do you publish it and have it find and audience in the age of the internet.  If you ask Bob to play Sunshine Boulavard with you and Jane, Bob's response is likely to be "is Sunshine Boulevard the secret serial killer game I read about on RPG.net?".  And if so, can the three of them still play the game with total awareness and enjoy it?  I'm reminded of a lot of old-school D&D discussions about character knowledge and player knowledge, and the idea that play can only be effective if players don't know what characters don't know.

Two thoughts occured to me while typing the above: firstly, there are a lot of films that follow the Sunshine Boulevard story -- A Beautiful Mind being a based-on-a-true-story example.  It's a popular conceit.  And also the personality type of the recluse as presented in the game text is: shy & quirky but loveable.  It's a personality type that's over-represented among the role-playing deomographic -- and therefore that the baseline goodwill toward the recluse character would be particularly high among roleplayers.

----
* at times the game reads less like something to be played and more like a satire on bad GMing and certain roleplaying personality types
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Ian Charvill
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