It’s been about a month since I’ve played Mad About the Boy, and I’m still debriefing. I know that it’s an intended part of the process, and that makes me feel more comfortable lingering on those thoughts about the game left unresolved. The feeling is satisfying, actually, this reassurance that yes, in fact it is ok to keep reminiscing about my experience, the stories, the characters. Some scenes are still persistently echoing in my memory.
A Muslim doctor comforts a conservative pioneer woman, because she understands religious persecution. They’re both moved to tears.
“Kill it!” a woman screams, frightened by the sight of the first man she’s seen after the event. Later, she forgives mankind in an intense confrontation with him. She had been abused by men her entire life.
A young businesswoman is granted a child with her family trio of older businesswomen, but she needs an ovarian transplant first. It’s apparent from the crestfallen look on her face, she feels broken.
A famous performance artist interrupts our evening party with a rowdy striptease, revealing the last layer to be none other than an American Flag stolen from the conservatives cabin.
These scenes still invade my mindspace from time to time. I’m captivated by my experiences from the game. Using the Ars Amandi (a technique of touching hands and shoulders and the base of your neck to simulate sex) was incredibly effective in communicating intimacy. Imagining all the men in my life dropping dead in five minutes on a normal Wednesday filled me with a profound sense of loss. Deciding the fate of the future generations of humanity amongst strong, interesting, competent women was intensely empowering. So much so that it still affects my daily interactions with women (and myself) a month later.
At this point though, I’ve shed my character and let go of the intense experience itself. A lot of this was done through the early debriefing process when I interacted in our googlegroups email chains, and publicly posted my thoughts as they unraveled on google+ and Story Games. My intention was to share that process, allow people into my brain as the vulnerability was being dealt with. Please read about them to see the impact I first felt from the game, before I was able to form more coherent thoughts. I find my mind now focusing on other parts of the game like themes, mechanics, and the psychology of play.
This game was smart. It worked on levels. The game itself is crafted to be played by either women or men dressed as women. This can lead to two type of play, but both of them are about inhabiting our gender’s skin and exploring women’s roles. The game on the surface is a competition amongst thirty women to see who is fit to be a mother and continue the human race, but really it’s talking about the responsibility women are given in culture to be mothers and give birth.
The game consistently raised interesting questions like “what if traditionally masculine roles still needed to be filled, but they were filled by women? Would that still mean that the masculine roles were in control, ruling through a patriarchal masculine system? Or would more balanced and feminine traits emerge as the more dominant? How would power structures work, and would things be more equal? Would we use the guns we were given? What would families look like? How would they change when all our children would be gay? What would you do if all the men around you died? Who would you become in a world that was just made up of women?”
There were lots of really amazing answers to these questions in the game itself, but I think it was the asking of them that was the most important. It gives me pause, and makes me think about all of these issues related to the real world and feminism.
The game play itself was very narrative. We were given a situation (you are here to decide who will be able to reproduce in this post apocalyptic manless world) a timeline (Act 1 leads up to the decision, Act 2 a man appears) and characters with really interesting personalities, backgrounds, and goals that all tied together in interesting ways.
I really liked the way the characters were built. Each character was designed in such a way that we all had an archetype, a goal, at least six relationships with other characters, a meta-level function in the larp, and a brief page of history before and after the event. This lead to a tangled web of roleplay that was easy to create stories in without the use of any other story element. This game was about the characters, and the players by proxy.
All of the Nordic larp rules were brilliant. My favorites were the before play workshops that lasted a total of about eight hours. These workshops detailed all the different tools we could use (Ars Amundi, Black Box, Inner Monologue) while we were playing the game so that there was no question once we got started. Most remarkably though, these workshops created community. We were forced to interact with our fellow players in a host of different ways, from guided meditation to hand touching to a technique called the hot seat where you interviewed other player’s characters. These were incredibly useful for getting us in the headspace of the game, and our characters, and just getting us comfortable with playing. I’d want to use them at any larp.
Some mechanics were used more than others during play. I saw some inner monologuing, it would be during conversations mostly. My most memorable personal moment of it being used was when my character Linn the ex-playboy was talking with Anne the conservative mayor. When she informed the mayor of her previous livelihood, in character Anne smiled, then drew a box in the air in front of her indicating inner monologue and said “slut”. The conversation was vastly different when we stepped back in character, me knowing out of character that’s what Anne was thinking. It was a great tool.
People loved the Black Box. It allowed you to play out memories your character had at any point in time, or dreams or fantasies… it was a creative box to explore your character. I had limited time in there so I didn’t interact with it as much as I wanted.
Psychology of Play
This particular game in the US, the first of its kind, gathered women gamers together from all over the country with a vast background of different play styles from beginner to experienced. I think that in an of itself is part of the game. Getting women together to play a game of this style, magnitude, and intensity is a very real world experience that leaves an impression on everyone. I kept saying afterwards that I felt like I made forty friends, and it’s true! It realized this idea that there’s women gamers out there like me with the same interests, ideas, and hobbies. That, I think, was the single best part of the game.
In addition to gathering us all together the larp was meant to cause a jarring dissonance between your self and your character. The Nords call this “bleed”, parts of the game when you become your character and your character becomes you. This is a part of every roleplaying game, for sure. What stood out in this game though was the particular intentionality on that aspect of the game. These roles are meant to teach you something about yourself. Casting them was important. Many people felt connected to their character in some meaningful way whether it was in the similarities, the themes, or the issues the character was dealing with. Then, on top of this intentionality is the story. It’s about women discovering, exploring, and creating roles for themselves in the world. It was a perfect storm of experience for all of us. We walked out of that game feeling impacted by those stories. They bled into our collective consciousness and resonated deeply.
I have an infinity of thoughts to share about this game. I’m sure I’ll be posting to that thread on Story Games and debriefing with my fellow players on the google groups forever. I think I’ll end with this though. This game was important. Women have welcomed Nordic larp into the US. It impacted us. As gamers, we created something in a space designed to tell women’s stories and tell them beautifully. I can’t wait for more opportunities to play as thoughtfully designed games as these.