23 April 2007

Actual Play - Shock: It Makes Stuff Matter

So, the other night me, Make Tea Not War, Hix and talula played a game of Shock: Social Science Fiction.

We hadn't planned what we were going to play before we started, so the evening began with a discussion of various options before we settled on Shock:. We began the world-building process, discarding quite a few options until we settled on this world:
  • Issue: Technological Unemployment
  • Issue: Personal Relationships
  • Issue: Authentic Emotion
  • Shock: Immortality
  • Shock: Drive Repression (that is, government controlled and drug enabled repression of 'unsafe' emotional drives in the population).
  • Praxis: Spontaneity/Routine
  • Praxis: Sincerity/Artifice
The characters were:
  1. Robert Thoms, a drive control officer recently made redundant due to the introduction of nano-cloud monitoring. Antag was Naomi Michaels, his ex-boss. Unemployment/Drive control.
  2. Campbell Soup, an 80 year old spinster with a controlling nuclear family. Antag was her sister, Tomato. Personal relationships/Immortality.
  3. Victor, a rock star looking for any kind of meaningful relationship at all. Antag was Vaughan, a music journalist. Personal relationships/Drive repression.
  4. Lamar, one of "the first hundred" immortals, craving novelty. Antag was the first hundred. Authentic emotion/Immortality.
As you can see, the initial setup was no without some lighthearted touches. In fact, there were notably more jokes involved in the character creation than my summary suggests.

The evening was getting on, so we opted for a very short set of stories (10 Antag credits). This allowed us three scenes for most of the Protags (Campbell's story goal was so crucial in the second scene that all the credits got spent then).

And then we got started.

Immediately, play started getting interesting. Thoms began as he came home to announce his unemployment to his wife and son, with Naomi there to monitor his emotional responses and ensure he stayed under control. Melissa, the wife, was accepting of the change as she was a happy citizen with drives under control. His son took everything - including the news they must move to hive 7 - just as you might expect a five year old to so. This quickly became quite intense, as Thoms tried to hold it together.

Next we went to the Soups, and discovered a tightly bound, dysfunctional nuclear family set to remain as a unit forever (given that they were immortal). The joke names of the sisters give you some idea of the kinds of manipulation the parents indulged in. Campbell was breaking the news that she wished to go on a date with a man, and this led to all kinds of unpleasantness.

Victor's story began with a publicity interview with Vaughan that resulted in a clip from the new album being broadcast live and immediately getting trashed by critics and fans. This was the start of Vaughan's campaign against the rock star that sie obviously hated.

Lamar began pacing his house in ennui, forced to take part in a weekly poker game that may have been going on for centuries.

The next scenes built strongly and emotionally for Thoms, Campbell and Victor as they dealt with these issues and the consequences of that first scene. This culminated in the third scene with an angry outburst that had him sent for 'reconditioning' to deal with his 'unsafe emotional drives'.

Thoms was next dealing with life in the hive after their expensive apartment and his son's rebellion and unhappiness. Campbell's boyfriend came to visit and this triggered an explosive conclusion to her story as she ended up rejecting both her family and the boyfriend to find a life that actually suited her.

Lamar's story turned into a mystery as several other old immortals had disappeared. Excited to be investigating it, he broke out of the normal ways of doing things and eventually found a secret club of super extreme sportspeople (his introduction into the group was to bungy-jump 3km down into the crust of the Earth).

Victor turned things around, using Vaughan's hostile actions and publicity to ultimately craft an album that contained some real emotions and became the anthem of people in the hives. In a nice touch, the album referenced the other three stories as part of the 'real emotional' stuff that built it (universal surveillance was one of the minutia).

The thing that struck me, playing this game, was the way that Shock makes these stories matter. Even with the comical elements in character generation, the moment play gets going you care about these people. The collaborative world-building, and the way that conflicts get defined by the issues and themes that you built in, really comes home. You basically can't get away without making a statement about what you want (or want for your character).

And it gets to you, too. I had my Antag throw a huge pile of dice on to end Campbell's story, just because the conflict summed it all up. And I felt bad, rolling that pile of dice, because I wanted Campbell to escape this toxic little family unit, but Tomato was fighting that all the way.

Hix had to make a similar call for Thoms - his final conflict was him trying to make his son happy while Naomi wanted him to break down so she could have him reconditioned. And he threw all his dice on Thoms' side, just letting the character be emotionally brainwashed in order to preserve the family. That was powerful stuff.

Victor's album, that included these stories, was a great way to top it off (although maybe a little cheesy), but it really did seem to sum up a feeling of hope for this stagnant society of people living without any 'dangerous' emotions.

It was a great game, fun and moving (I felt kind of emotionally drained afterwards, even).


Make Tea Not War said...

I thought it was very interesting how quickly an entire world emerged through the game. I had no sense of what it would be like as whole when we picked the issues and the shocks.

And it is interesting the way we ended up dealing with issues which cut quite close to the bone of the human condition. At a certain level it was all about people fighting to find a place or to find themselves & maybe that is something everyone can understand. And yes, it was emotional too. I swear I nearly cried when everyone was ganging up on poor Campbell & I felt pretty terrible trying to push Hix to break using his son.

The Gamester At Large said...

You're right about the world coming together - it doesn't seem like the few things that get written down are enough, but it seems to be plenty. I actually felt like the first scene for each character was just as important. However, it comes together remarkably quickly and well. The addition of minutia (extra details that come up in play and become part of the canonical setting) seems to allow the world to grow organically, too.

The emotional scenes you mentioned are the ones that struck me most too.

joshua said...

This sounds like a great game!

The "I was throwing a pile of dice, but wanted her to succeed!" thing is, believe it or not, the reason Antags get 12 Credits; that way, they spend three scenes of four, rather than two of five.

That said, the way the dice work out, and depending on Fulcra, it might not make any difference. There's always a chance, particularly with the MinutiƦ coming into play. Good job not pulling your punches, though. Not caving in is important.

I *love* the character names. I went to bed last night chuckling about the Soup Sisters.

Violet said...

Sounds like excellent source material for fiction-writing.

The Gamester At Large said...

Yes, it could work well for that. The book contains a good short story that is based on playing the game.