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46709 Posts in 5588 Topics by 13297 Members Latest Member: - Shane786 Most online today: 30 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: [Secret Lives of Serial Killers] Yes, a Playtest  (Read 3166 times)
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #15 on: March 21, 2011, 04:30:20 PM »

You'll be pleased to know that I say, fuck the postmodernists with a rusty implement and never mind any notions about whether hurting people is art. I'm talking about when playing this game is demonstrably fun, or perhaps a broader word, well worth all the participants' time, as assessed exactly and only by them. So we don't need any twee notions about abstractions in order to assess this thing - and that goes double for those butthole larpers you talked about in the Ronnies thread, too.

Also, that's a nice try at dodging your way out of my question. But I'm not talking about being incomprehensible or unenjoyable. I'm talking about being entirely comprehensible and enjoyable except not necessarily for everyone, and perhaps some of that limitation lies in social circumstances.

That's what I'll hold you to answering: given that the game is indeed comprehensible and enjoyable, without any need for postmodernism or abstract art talk, without any need for talk about pain as a goal, but it's not for everyone, and when that limitation depends on certain social circumstances - does that make the work weaker?

Best, Ron
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #16 on: March 21, 2011, 05:20:46 PM »

With those reservations, I have to agree: a work is not weaker as art for merely being intended for the enjoyment of a narrow audience. It might be weak in its craftsmanship, as I already suggested, if it being of limited appeal is due to laziness instead of considered artistic tradeoffs, but that's not quite the same thing. This is why I phrased my question the way I did: does this game benefit of being constructed in a way that makes playing it a bad idea for groups that do not think that breaking boundaries in this way is fair game, or could it be rethought to achieve its goals related to romantic comedies and slasher movies and whatnot without being so risky socially? If the answer is negative, that's fine with me, and a lesson learned for everybody.

I find the above an entirely relevant game design issue for this game, as it would have to impact the way the game is delivered and chosen for play by gamers in practice. Provided that I was myself interested in making something like this and doing it responsibly, the least I would try to figure out would be how a given gamer can assess his friends and gather the appropriate party to play the game, all without actually revealing the big surprise to the victim. If it's all going to be hit and miss and basically dependent on the GM's personal intuition about what's going to happen, then fair enough, but maybe there are some thought-experiments or tests that might be used to figure out if the game is right for our group. Of course this sort of thinking is always involved when considering new activities among friends, but this game is admittedly a much more volatile proposition than most. Just about the worst risk you usually run by running a murder party or roleplaying game or whatever is that it'll be embarrassing because your co-players refuse to get into it, while here the stakes are somewhat higher.

Being socially dangerous is not entirely unknown in roleplaying game design, and it occurs to me that thinking about prior successful examples of alternate social set-ups might be useful here. For example, hardcore gamist D&D has been known to cause anxiety and frustration that's sort of similar to what this game does, right? In the case of D&D, however, this is genuinely an unintended consequence of differing expectations and play cultures (setting aside intentional bullying, of course), so the social responsibility of everybody involved is quite different from something like Secret Lives. I remember how I actually managed to completely unintentionally drive a player away from my D&D campaign in early '00s simply because I was totally committed to playing hard-ball with characters' lives while he was busy committing to his character's personality and story; it was quite jarring when I simply declared him dead after a foolish mistake in a trivial situation, and not even in the first session of the game, but rather after a few successful adventures where he'd done pretty well. It was foolish of me not to communicate the nature of the game (high stakes, but not so deadly as to kill you every session) more clearly to him, but at least what happened was not intentional in any way, so my conscience was not too badly compromised.

The entire affair actually resembles April Fool's jokes more than a little. I don't myself hold with those affairs due to being a dull and serious sort of person, but anybody who's going to play pranks on their friends needs to have a keen insight for their limits and nature to avoid turning a harmless joke to a cruel and traumatizing experience. It's not much of a defense afterwards to say that it was an April Fool's joke if you actually care about the person you hurt.
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Brendan Day
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« Reply #17 on: March 21, 2011, 06:17:52 PM »

I've been trying to think of ways to make this game more accessible.  I don't to ruin this lovely piece of sashimi by cooking it, but at the same time, I'd like to be able to serve it without worrying that my guests might end up in the hospital.

What if both players were deceived, so that the victims are in the majority at the end of the game?  They spend the first half of the game playing Sunshine Boulevard, until at some point the moderator gives them each a note, and sends them off to separate rooms to study their characters' "embarrassing secrets".  The note for the Sunshine player is just a decoy, a set of outrageous constraints on play, the sort of thing we would expect to produce "fun and games".  He laughs and shakes his head, and thinks nothing of the fact that somewhere nearby the Recluse player is also laughing, and quite possibly cursing.  She had just learned that her character is a serial killer.

In this version there are two victims, instead of one.  That changes the dynamic at the end of the game, and makes it less likely that players will come away feeling injured.  They were both deceived, and they outnumber the moderator.  The game kills two birds with one stone, and the birds don't resent it, because they died together.

Does this lessen the impact of the ending?  I don't think so. The punchline is the same.  It's just that the joke isn't quite so cruel.  Does this make it any less "funny"?
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #18 on: March 22, 2011, 10:40:37 AM »

I like that line of thinking, Brendan. It poses the question of coordination, though: can the effect of story reinterpretation via shifting perspective be achieved if the killer-player is not conscientiously setting it up from the start? If both players are actually trying for a Hollywood romance, what if they get into it and succeed?

One way to get the "this story makes better sense as a serial killer story" effect might be to do it the No Myth way, like I work in Zombie Cinema; just play Sunshine Boulevard until whatever point and then have the GM actually make active judgment: does this story actually have the genuineness and psychological truth to be a romance, or is it actually really creepy? Perhaps it does make sense for there to be a serial killer, perhaps it doesn't. In this situation the GM might even frame the serial killer option as a choice for the player who "failed" by providing a potential serial killer as their character: you the player, considering that it seems to me that this romantic stuff is not working for you, do you want to swap direction and go for a crazy serial killer portrayal instead?

The original set-up of the game has the considerable advantage that the cabal can pretty much be presumed to be cynical towards and willing to undermine the soppy sentimentalism of the Sunshine Boulevard genre. There's no question that they'll enjoy deconstructing it. Perhaps that strength is necessarily entangled with the cruelty of choosing a victim who enjoys the genre and selling the idea of playing in that genre to the victim, all merely so as to have sufficient lambast for the deconstruction. Were the victim equally inclined to be cynical about romance, the impact of the deconstruction wouldn't be so severe, and neither would the cruel betrayal of creative goals. This is probably true for any deconstructive art, obviously enough it only has relevance for those who actually care about the matter under scrutiny.
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Phil K.
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« Reply #19 on: March 22, 2011, 11:06:34 AM »

Out of pure curiosity, I would like to see which results in a better reproduction of the films Sunshine Boulevard is imitating: Secret Live of Serial Killers or Sunshine Boulevard played "straight" with no hidden game. In the play accounts the awkward behavior of the recluse is obviously informed by the player's knowledge of the hidden game and the serial killer. That behavior absolutely fits with the tropes of Sunshine Boulevard but I'd like to see if people can get the same awkward charm playing it straight.
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