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Author Topic: [The Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Playtest  (Read 3762 times)
Devon Oratz
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Posts: 75


« on: February 13, 2011, 11:04:20 AM »

I "played" this recently with my regular gaming group. I was ostensibly an audience member but I kind of wound up as a co-facilitator at the end. (For the final scene, we kind of had two "GMs", one helpfully supporting the narrative suggestions of the killer and the other callously shutting down the narrative suggestions of the victim.) The primary facilitator and the killer were both female (with the killer playing a male character), the victim was male (playing a female character) and the players of the killer and the victim were dating in real life. The victim genuinely thought we were playing Sunshine Boulevard through the final scene. Everyone else was in on it.

I might post a play example here, but more likely, I'll try to shoe-horn one of the other players into doing it. Hopefully the victim.

edited to change the title upon splitting - RE
« Last Edit: February 15, 2011, 08:54:59 AM by Ron Edwards » Logged

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Willow
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Posts: 224


« Reply #1 on: February 13, 2011, 11:09:43 AM »

That must be read.  Thanks Devon!

The feedback I'd most be looking for is:
*When did the victim realise the game wasn't everything it was supposed to be?
*How did they react, socially, when this happened?
*How playable did Sunshine Boulevard seem, as an actual game?  Would it actually be playable?
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Devon Oratz
Member

Posts: 75


« Reply #2 on: February 13, 2011, 11:17:42 AM »

I can answer those quickly but some of my other players can totally give you more detail.

1. Well, when the Facilitator asked David how he was secretly watching Janet. : )
2. Janet's player had a pretty amazing reaction in that he stayed PERFECTLY IN CHARACTER the entire time without even breaking character to say "Dude, what the fuck?" or whatever. Later on, after the game was over, he said that it was "very upsetting". Maybe I can get him on here to tell you more.
3. It (Sunshine Boulevard) is not the kind of game that I would be interested in playing, ever, so I can't actually say. I stay as far away from the romantic comedy genre as possible, in any media. Janet's player, at least, he seemed perfectly happy playing Sunset Boulevard while he thought that was what he was playing.
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mccleverly
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« Reply #3 on: February 13, 2011, 11:40:45 AM »

Hi Willow!

I was Devon's "Facilitator" for the game we played so I really wanted to give you the feedback/play sample. I hope I can give a detailed enough summary for you, but if there's something else you really want to know about what happened that I leave out I'd be more than happy to keep answering questions.

First of all, I loved this game from the get go. Dev and I immediately wanted to try it out on our two regular gaming buddies, an in life, sometime couple. Initially Dev wanted to play it with the girl as the Sunshiine and the boy as the Recluse (mainly to see if the boy would even be able to go through with killing his girlfriend), but I convinced him that doing it the other way around would be more fun. The girl is kind of a serial killer affectionado and I thought she'd be more likely to effectively gruesomely kill and maim her boyfriend's Sunshine. There was also the added desire to prank our friend, since he's one of those who gives good reactions to pranks but never takes it hard afterward.

As the facilitator and also a longtime fan of cheesy romantic comedies, I had fun setting up the "meet cute" in Sunshine Boulevard (they met when their dogs' leashes got tangled up in the street), but I was a little frustrated in the players... our Recluse was roleplaying her serial killer incredibly well, but perhaps a little too well, as she neglected a lot of the tropes of the traditional romantic comedy (so much so that I worried that our Sunshine would get frustrated). When the Sunshine would ask if she could see the Recluse's apartment, the Recluse adamantly declined, mumbling, fiddling with something and suddenly snapping it in half (which she did in real life as well, startling me pretty well).

I also decided to get a little personal about our Sunshine, asking the player about what undergarments his character was wearing. Of course, this made the boy player uncomfortable but he wasn't in on the joke at all... everyone at the table knows of my affections for romance tales, so I think he might have thought I was just being cheeky. Our Recluse player took the opportunity to tell the Sunshine what underwear she would have. We continued going back and forth in this way until she had decided much of what the Sunshine looked like, where she worked, and what she liked to do.

The Sunshine finally figured out something was wrong when I described the character as being alone in the bakery where she worked, closing up. The player later told me (when I asked him this exact question) that he actually assumed I would have someone else come in and attack his character, and allow the Recluse to save the Sunshine's life. Then, when he heard that the Recluse was watching him secretly, he still held on to the hope that the Recluse was merely awkwardly watching the Sunshine due to some romantic interest. I think it wasn't until the Recluse choked the Sunshine into unconsciousness with a dog leash that it really sunk in for him.

He rolled with it, didn't break character (no "what??" reactions), and he and the Killer took it to a pretty hard place. He got more and more affected I think when he would say things like "I scream" and I would say "no, you don't, your throat is too bruised." When the Sunshine, tied to a chair, tried to hop toward the door, Dev and I decided that the chair merely tipped over, leaving the Sunshine embarrassed and in pain on the floor. The Killer took her time, and she and I had some helpful and "fun" little conversations... When I pointed out to the Killer that the Sunshine's hair was dirty, the Killer proceeded to wash her hair, gently, before committing the final act of killing and eating her, dissolving her teeth and bones in a strong acid.

Because of the Sunshine player's refusal to break character, I worried that it hadn't "gotten" him... but when pressed afterwards, he told us that he found it "very upsetting" and that he "didn't like that game". Of course, on the other end of the spectrum, our Killer was overjoyed, going on and on about how much she had loved the game. She also admitted that she softballed her boyfriend a little, mostly due to time constraints (she wanted to draw out the stalking a lot more).

Overall, it was a good experience and an interesting social experiment. The only thing I had trouble with, as I said, was getting the characters to fall more into the romantic tropes in the early Sunshine Boulevard portion, but that might have been due to the players and not the game itself. The "fake dice roll" mechanic also might add a little more to the con.

I think this is a great game; thank you for making it!
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johnthedm7000
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Posts: 58


« Reply #4 on: February 15, 2011, 11:53:55 AM »

While the themes of this game seem really interesting (and I know from experience how fun it can be to roleplay a twisted psyche like that of a serial killer), I kind of shudder at the fact that you seem to be happy that one of the players involved in the game "was upset" and "said he didn't like the game". I firmly believe that roleplaying games exist as a means to have a good time-whether that's through exploration of another world or mindset, through the exploration of theme or premise, or through competition with other players. Challenging and intense themes can be used to great effect in roleplaying games, but I feel like one has got to be careful about their use and make sure that the players are ready to address said themes and handle such issues. To do otherwise strikes me as irresponsible.

I'm not speaking from the perspective of an outraged moral guardian here either. I've referee'd for, played with, and played some characters who were disturbingly twisted, callous, and inhuman and my fellow players and I enjoyed every session. But the enjoyment is what's key, in my opinion not congratulating yourself over making a friend uncomfortable.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: February 15, 2011, 01:28:03 PM »

This is kind of a different game which may exist more as a thought-piece than as a game to be played.

For reference: [The Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Ronnies feedback, which includes a link to the text.

Devon is quite brave and/or ... well, I dunno and/or what, for playing it, and the experience is definitely interesting to read about. However, I think people reading this should know that the game text itself explicitly acknowledges that the game is not socially functional. Whether and how it might be, or whether the dysfunction can operate as its own productive form of satire, is currently under debate.

Best, Ron
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Devon Oratz
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Posts: 75


« Reply #6 on: February 16, 2011, 02:53:05 PM »

Quote
I kind of shudder at the fact that you seem to be happy that one of the players involved in the game "was upset" and "said he didn't like the game".

I'm not happy (I'm ambivalent, Rachid is a big boy, it is just a game, and I am sure he can and will get over it), but I thought Willow would be. I look forward to (her?) response. If I had written the game, with my own typical design goals, I would probably have been quite dissatisfied with that result. Basically, I tried to playtest the game entirely to the author's specifications as much as my situation would allow...ignoring that one sentence about how no one should ever play the game.

: )
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Willow
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Posts: 224


« Reply #7 on: February 16, 2011, 04:34:41 PM »

Hey Devon, I actually don't have too much to say, other than it sounds like you and your friends completely nailed it.  I'm glad that 1) such a minimalistic text communicated my intent so effectively 2) you appreciated my idea enough to play it, warnings to the contrary and 3) that it had the intended emotional resonance, i.e. brutal betrayal and a stab in the gut.

Am I happy that (by writing this horrible game) I caused another human being emotional turmoil?  No, but you can't make art without breaking a few eggs.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #8 on: February 16, 2011, 09:59:33 PM »

Thereís a time to ponder and thereís a time to communicate. So long as we donít ask the what of the first, and the who of the second, we can pretend that art is the sum of their confusion.

A quote that comes to mind.
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johnthedm7000
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Posts: 58


« Reply #9 on: February 17, 2011, 09:53:41 AM »

You see, it's not that I'm upset simply because you caused a player to have an emotional reaction to a game-that's one of the hallmarks of good design whether it's the "I WIN!" feeling of a good gamist experience, a sense of "being" brought on by an amazing Sim game, or as a previous poster mentioned "ye old narrativist gut-punch". What I object to is the fact that you forced this experience on someone without their express consent and moreover you forced this experience on someone who considered you a friend and who trusted you (under the terms of you guy's social contract) to provide a certain play experience.

I also understand that to a great degree "Sunshine Boulevard" is intended as satire, both of Illusionist GM'ing techniques and of poorly written "boy meets girl" romantic comedies. I can appreciate the value of game as satire, I loved Donjon in great part because it was a homage to and parody of the hack and slash roleplaying that I was introduced to the hobby on, but the difference is that Donjon is also designed to be a functional game, whereas Sunshine Boulevard is not. One could easily bring up something like Violence: The Role-Playing Game of Egregious and Repulsive Bloodshed at this point and ask me if I have a problem with it too. And the answer is that I don't, just because Violence is obviously intended as satire, makes no pretensions to the contrary, outright states that no one in their right minds should play the game, and then goes forth assuming that everyone who does despite these warnings is "in on the joke". While Sunshine Boulevard does warn individuals not to play this game, it simultaneously assumes that those who do play the game will fool and trick a third party into having their character viciously deprotagonized.

And violence makes it's point about the very antisocial and violent nature of most RPG character's activities (ie. breaking into creature's homes, murdering them and then taking their stuff) wonderfully. But you don't see a sidebar in Violence that says "So here's a great idea-take one of your friends (you do have friends don't you, you sniveling twit?) and ask him/her if he or she wants to play a new RPG you found. If he/she asks what it's like say "kinda like Shadowrun" and leave it at that. Then when they least expect it, bring out the torture-rape, drug abuse, and mutilation!" There's a good reason for that; because while the creator of Violence obviously wanted to make a (much needed) point about the unquestioning attitude of the average RPG character towards violence and what that reveals about the hobby's health, he didn't need to get people to violate their group's social contracts to do it.

One can always make the argument that true art is always upsetting, or that it always inspires strong emotions in the viewer. But that's the thing-with even the most controversial and inflammatory pieces of art on display in galleries, shows, museums etc people have a choice as to whether or not to view them, based on what they find appealing. Performance art is no exception-if someone sees a man flagellating himself in public as an expression of some sort of artistic principle (the human attraction to the suffering of others perhaps) then they can always look away or leave the area. In no cases that I'm aware of, where people ever offered an opportunity to "look at some beautiful Landscape paintings" and then led into a room where they were greeted with a painting of Jesus, Moses, Mohammed, Buddha, Krishna, and Zoroaster in a violent sadomasochistic orgy with Satan. This is hyperbole, but it works to make my point that while controversial art is important it's important to insure that either people can "opt out" of it, or that they know what they're getting into. It seems as if your friend didn't know what he was getting into, and felt obligated by the group's social contract to continue playing despite the fact that he was uncomfortable.

It might be "just a game" and I'm certain your friend will get over it, but that doesn't mean that you should have done it-art may require breaking a few eggs, but that doesn't mean you need to reach into your friend's metaphorical basket and smash all of his.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #10 on: February 17, 2011, 10:00:10 AM »

A tricky moderation moment.

John, you've stated your position and described your own reaction, and preferences, extremely clearly. What I'm stepping in about is your statement about what Devon should have done. That's Devon's business; he's a grown-up.

With that boundary brought forward in the conversation, it seems to me that now you've aired and explained your position, there's no need to get into should and shouldn't have except as it relates to yourself (which you've stated). and again, with that boundary brought forward by me, here, in the above paragraph, to Devon, I don't see a need for you to consider yourself attacked and preached to, or to defend.

I think I'm being fair about this and not shutting down anyone's actual judgments or views, merely laying a boundary in social terms about telling others what to do.

As a historical and comparative note, Power/Kill, the Tynes game I mentioned elsewhere, also plays a gotcha game on the players as it becomes revealed that they are really "playing" violent psychopaths all along, and the RPG they thought they were playing was actually a form of therapy.

Best, Ron
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johnthedm7000
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Posts: 58


« Reply #11 on: February 17, 2011, 12:24:06 PM »

I apologize for being rather heavy handed with my previous post, both to Ron and to Devon. It's a credit to the strength of Willow's satire that it's provoked this response in me, even if I disagree with how Devon utilized Willow's work. I definitely overstepped my bounds by saying what he "should" have done in that situation; we're all adults here and thus have the freedom to do as we like in all aspects of our lives, obviously including playing whatever RPGs we prefer. So once again, my apologies.

Bringing the conversation back on track somewhat, reading over the Sunshine Boulevard rules document, I was struck by how there might be a possibility of using a similar design in other games, just not as satire. Perhaps a rule designed to allow the GM Illusionism up to a point, whereupon the reveal (whatever that might be for the game in question) occurs and then a mad rush of Bangs that lead directly to the conclusion, firmly in the hands of the table as a group. If it could be kept in check somehow, limited Illusionism could allow these sorts of emotional reveals in a game without preventing the players from giving their creative input.
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Devon Oratz
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Posts: 75


« Reply #12 on: February 17, 2011, 02:48:35 PM »

I'm not sure what I'm "allowed" to say based on Ron's moderation. I will try not to "defend" but I do feel the need to give my perspective. As a personal observation: I do not feel encouraged to post future playtest reports here. This is the only time in my entire life that I have played another person's homebrew tabletop RPG and given feedback. I was rather surprised that some of the response I received was tantamount to calling me a bad person!

I was going to say something flippant to the effect of "Tabletop RPGs are serious business" but then I realized where I am. : )

In all seriousness, it is my opinion that if getting "pranked" by your friends "playing" "Sunshine Boulevard" "with" you is the worst thing that happens to you in any given day, week, or hour, you're living an incredibly charmed life. Repeat: I think that if playing "Sunshine Boulevard" registers on your scale of "bad stuff" that happened to you in any discrete block of time, you are a very fortunate person. The you here is the general you. I am not singling anyone out.

Goes without saying (so I'll say it anyway): everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But I think even further than anything I've said before I would say that John and I have a fundamental disagreement on how and how much something that happens to your character in an RPG can effect you. The next time that I am angry at someone, I am totally going to threaten to viciously deprotagonize them because come on, what a great turn of phrase. : )

Quote
But that's the thing-with even the most controversial and inflammatory pieces of art on display in galleries, shows, museums etc people have a choice as to whether or not to view them, based on what they find appealing

I think that I did a poor job of contextualizing this playtest in the scope of myself, my friends, the types of games we usually play, and our "social contract". In the subject matter of our usual games, being brutally murdered by a serial killer is not even worth BATTING AN EYE. This is rather implicit in our "social contract". For years I've been running my homebrews alongside Call of Cthulhu (played straight to genre), World of Darkness (played straight to genre) and a Shadowrun that has more in common with the early works of William Gibson than it does with four color comics. The only thing our group dynamic has been surprised by, in a long time, is the fact that games like "Sunshine Boulevard" actually exist and are played. We find the subject matter of the games written by Emily Care Boss to be shocking. Brutal murder is passe. If we typically played games about "nice stuff" and I unleashed Secret Lives on a player out of the blue, I might feel an ounce of regret. As it is, getting carved up by a psycho is not even worthy of note in our standard play experience. One way or another, I'm pretty sure that the player of the Sunshine was expecting the other shoe to drop, and prepared for it when it did.

Quote
In no cases that I'm aware of, where people ever offered an opportunity to "look at some beautiful Landscape paintings" and then led into a room where they were greeted with a painting of Jesus, Moses, Mohammed, Buddha, Krishna, and Zoroaster in a violent sadomasochistic orgy with Satan. This is hyperbole, but it works to make my point that while controversial art is important it's important to insure that either people can "opt out" of it, or that they know what they're getting into. It seems as if your friend didn't know what he was getting into, and felt obligated by the group's social contract to continue playing despite the fact that he was uncomfortable.

As an analogy (like your landscape paintings/satan gangrape analogy, it's not supposed to be perfect) we as a group spend 99% of our time "watching South Park". This one time, I told him it was Sesame Street, but surprise, it was really South Park again. This wouldn't have the same effect on him as it would on someone who was used to Sesame Street and had never seen an episode of South Park.

Quote
because Violence is obviously intended as satire, makes no pretensions to the contrary, outright states that no one in their right minds should play the game, and then goes forth assuming that everyone who does despite these warnings is "in on the joke".

I suppose I have a deconstructionist streak in me. Is that the right word? All I wanted to do, when I saw Violence, was to play it straight, completely ignoring the satirical elements of it. Its message struck me as very preachy and heavy handed (note that Sunshine Boulevard/Secret Lives, on the other hand, didn't strike me as being messagy at all) and my immediate response was: "screw your message, I'm going to play this game as written and enjoy it unironically, so there". Of course, then I saw that "Designer X" had done a good job of making the mechanics of the game LITERALLY UNPLAYABLE. End tangent. 

I still want to know if Secret Lives was intended as Satire by the creator or not.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #13 on: February 17, 2011, 05:29:28 PM »

You're all good, Devon. Presenting your POV is fine. A reader can look over all the posts and come to his or her own conclusions.

A possibly useful point: at the Forge, if you present the stronger argument, it doesn't matter if someone else gets in the last word and that last word is a weaker argument.* People read entire threads and they make their own judgments quite competently; you can tell by the way threads and posts are referenced later. So it's not like most internet sites where the ping-pong, ha-ha it's on your side again argument model is applied. Once you've made your case, then it stands, rather than being negated simply because someone replied.

I'm not saying that to say you shouldn't have posted. John presented his view in detail, and you presented yours; he's acknowledged and to his credit retracted the accusatory phrases, and you've stated your piece about the substantive issues. So I'm calling it a good day, myself.

Best, Ron

* Said here without reference to these specific arguments. As I say, that's the reader's choice now.
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jburneko
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Posts: 1429


« Reply #14 on: February 17, 2011, 06:22:27 PM »

The more I read about this game the more I wonder where the various people commenting stand on pranks in general.  I don't see anything worse here than what I've seen in some people "April Fool's Day" jokes.  Or some Candid Camera style TV shows.  Or those youtube videos where someone thinks they're playing a video game and then a scary face pops out.  I think what makes this game functional is the simple fact that it's a short single session practical joke with one "gotcha!" moment and then it's over.

Where it becomes bad is when this becomes institutionalized, long term, repeated and expected behavior.  I find the killer players reaction of having a really great time very telling.  I'm reminded of all those old games where people were talking about how they didn't roll any dice the whole game and it was "Fantastic!"  I have long suspected that in situations like that there is often this very dynamic in play.  That player got everything they wanted and there is a silent "victim" who feels marginalized in the session but is afraid to say anything the face of everyone else's enthusiasm.

At least here there's the clean of honesty of, "Of yeah, dude, sorry we fucked you over but man you should have seen your face!" and the joke is over.

Jesse
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