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[UtB] Good, Disobedient and Heartbreaking

Started by lumpley, August 31, 2005, 01:15:44 PM

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On Thursday night at GenCon I played Under the Bed with Danielle, Paul, Ben and Eric. It was the saddest game in the history of time.

We took an extreme stance toward the game's fiction, one supported but not promoted by the rules. It was: no fantastic, no toys. No metaphors. Just the five of us playing one little girl trying to make an emotional connection with her busy, alienated parents.

In a comment on my blog, Joshua (the author) says:
QuoteFrankly, I'm consistently amazed by how well it works, given that the difficult color of the game is only implied. People just love to throw their own fears at each other. That's why it's scary, and that's why it's sad: everyone lays out the saddest parts of being a child. And that's something they bring to the game, not something I wrote in. They just always bring it.

And didn't we!

Let's see. We went camping, and dad tried to take us fishing, but we convinced him to go hiking instead, but that made mom jealous of us(!) on account of how we got to spend time with him while she didn't, so she picked a fight with him, and after that we hardly saw them. We snuck out after dark and hid under the canoe, we had a spatty couple exchanges with a boy staying also with his family on the lake - he roughhoused us dangerously in the water, we knocked him off his rope swing into the gully. On the drive home we struggled with our seatbelt and the DVD player in the back of the SUV just to get mom to please LISTEN TO US. This kid tried to DROWN US and you haven't even HEARD!

In the real world, the personality traits that were winning through this were - Lord - Clumsy and Treacherous, plus a third I don't remember, but it was like Sweet or Fragile or Pretty or something. Paul, Ben, maybe you remember? Anyway we're manipulating dad by falling and getting hurt, by acting sick, and later we try to get mom's attention by having swiped dad's lighter (and the table's going "lighter+Clumsy+in the woods = uh oh.") The rival personality traits, Eric's, were Good, Disobedient and Sad. Good, Disobedient and Sad! The rest of us were pretty much tied for third.

We hadn't formally established the "no fantastic" rule up front. I tried to introduce some fantastic thing - anything to blunt the truth! - but I was roundly rebuffed and didn't press it. The table wanted what it wanted. Similarly, the toys just organically dropped out of the picture, except occasionally Eric would act as his stuffed kitten - our personality traits were the girl's, plain and simple. Afterward Joshua thanked us for playing this way, he knew it'd work, he knew it'd be the saddest game in the history of time, but he wasn't going to try it to make sure.

Back at home, mom tells us we have too many toys, we have to choose one to keep. We use Good and Disobedient to try to hide some so we can keep more than one but that doesn't work out; I think Eric was rolling against mom's "mom's very thorough" and "mom doesn't know us at all." Ouch. Mom gives us a couple of days to decide.

By now Paul's crashed and left the game, and Ben's lost his toy and taken Paul's over, and all our hearts are broken. At the start we'd decided to play to 4 instead of to 6, and Eric's just won his fourth favorite, and we start a new round, and we draw ... Eric! If he wins this conflict he wins the stakes of the story, our emotional connection with our parents.

Mom comes back to find out which toy we've decided to keep. Eric rolls Good and Sad: she'll give up her toys "if that's what you need, mommy," but can we give this one to the boy up the street, and take this one to our baby cousin, and give the rest to kids who don't have any?

And he wins. And mom's crying and the girl's crying and who isn't?

When I was a kid, they made me choose one toy, and I had two favorites, and I'm sure that if I'd managed to communicate it to them they'd have let me keep both, but I didn't.



Can you please write up the other UtB game you played, where it wasn't The Saddest Game in the History of Time (tm)?  This sounds truely sad. I don't think I'd be able to play this version without serious group commitment to deal afterwards. Too close to home.

Ron Edwards

I'm with Meg.

Also, I guess I'm not really seeing how you guys ended up stopping playing the toys. Did you really make a break from the rules, or did the rules persist, only with different role-playing?

The trouble is, the game is pitched very much on the Toy Story model, even with an emphasis on competition among potentially favorite toys. However, my experience of play (a short demo) and this and other accounts tend to be focused more on the tragedies and unsung heroism of toyness and a very strong invocation of how important toys were to us, as real children, especially as we struggled with the various elements of powerlessness and often, all-too-real risks of childhood.

In many ways, I see no particular reason to try to win the game. Having not played through a full game yet, I am driven to ask, does that current-impression on my part match with the mechanics, and/or with others' experiences of play?



Maybe I should emphasize that while this was indeed the saddest game in the history of time, it wasn't problematic in any way. I can't say it was, y'know, big riotous fun, but big riotous fun isn't all I roleplay for, and why should it be? Sometimes I watch and enjoy sad movies, too. (I'm sure you already get this, Meg and Ron.)

Meg: You're thinking of someone else! This was the only UtB game I played at GenCon. I played it in playtesting, but that was months ago.

Ron: The rules persisted, it was only different roleplaying. Instead of each of us saying our own toy-characters' actions, we said the girl's actions in third person. Instead of "I [the Wetsy Betsy doll] drag the canoe into the driveway," I just said "she [the girl] drags the canoe into the driveway." Sometimes the toys were explicitly in the scene, sometimes they just ... weren't.

We did it this way without discussing it at all, I'm not certain why or how it came to be. Some quirk of how the early scenes' conflicts were set up, where dad coming to ask the girl if she wanted to go fishing didn't lend itself to a toy answering, something like that probably. Two or three of those in the first round and that's how we're playing.

Toward the end, Eric started breaking from precedent and acting as his character, a stuffed kitten. In the second-to-last conflict, it was the kitten who hid the other toys from mom, for instance... Hey, this is kind of funny. I remember in response to that, there was a little conversation at the table to make sure that we were all Very Clear that the girl had done it, really, not the toy kitten. Heh. I guess that somebody there just needed the game to be like that.


"No particular reason to try to win the game": yes. No particular reason. There's a particular reason to drive the game toward its end - to have someone win - but I feel no loss when it's not me. The reason, of course, is because we care about the child and we need to see how it turns out for her.

I feel that I own the game. I feel that I've drunk it straight, you know? Next time I play it I'll be all casual and familiar and wise.


Ben Lehman

Yeah, that's what it was like.

It was like watching Graveyard of the Fireflies, if you've ever seen that movie.  It's, like, the saddest thing you've ever seen, but that doesn't make it bad.  In fact, it makes it very, very good.

The scene for me which was like the scene for Vincent was the scene where the parents are fighting so hard they don't notice that the little girl had run off and hid.  I'm not a crier, really, but that scene nearly got me bawling.  I think that only because I knew I wouldn't be able to keep playing if I did, and we couldn't just leave it there, kept me going.


Joshua A.C. Newman

I can't tell you how happy this thread makes me.

Ron, as discussed elsewhere, it doesn't make sense in a lot of situations to have the toys doing all the work. So sometimes the child does. Mechanically, they mean the same thing. It's a matter of color.

Graveyard of Fireflies was on my mind when I was writing the game, actually. I love that movie, but I don't think I can watch it again. Fortunately, there are other ways to play UtB - I've never done it this way, and I'm glad that game at GenCon took place, because I sure don't want to.

The "Toy Story" pitch is the most default way to play it, but the words mean different things. The "Favorite Toy" isn't just a position of respect; it's the toy that has become most representative of the child. It's the personality that has gotten the Child through whatever's gone on in the game.

The game is also about losing toys, about how, when you remember something from when you were little - a street corner, a smell, a rediscovered toy you loved for a while as a kid and have forgotten, you look at it and remember all the vitality the thing had for you, all the meaning you ascribed to it, and it's really gone. You realize that the toy was a mirror of your mind, how all the traits it had were something you only tenuously remember and have incorporated into your self-image, and how that's just gone now.

But don't tell the squares! I want them to think it's about rivalries between buddy toys, up until one player realizes the other guy's gonna win, and he pulls out his relationship with his dad to throw at the other player. That's when the going gets good.
the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.