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Bestial beauty

The slow burn topic on my mind lately is randomization, for any and all ways it’s been employed in role-playing. As Justin and I discussed in the Design Curriculum series, solo games provide a useful comparison in terms of randomizing mechanics.

In Aleksandra Sontowska’s The Beast, play is run simply through answering questions on cards, drawn one at a time. The deck has 26 cards, and you remove seven of them and then proceed through the nineteen left. Play is conducted daily, once per card, which are drawn in whatever order the shuffle provides.

What’s it about? Sex with the Beast. And you should know I’m expicitly breaking one of the rules of the game, which is to keep it entirely private and to destroy the record of the game afterwards. (It’s intended to be written, not recorded as I did.) Instead you get to see it. All that said, though, I am circumspect and tasteful in my wording – sorry, no smut.

It is possible that I’m ruining the game for viewers, in that players’ secrecy preserves a valuable naivete for every new player. Therefore I say now, view at your own risk for that exact concern.

Here's an interesting detail. The "setting" turned out not to be my current actual life in Sweden, but a state of being or mind that I have encountered many times in dreams: as if I had not left the Monterey Peninsula and had become an adult there, remaining a townie and retaining or developing the local world-view. I was a little surprised to "find" myself playing there or in this way, as I did not plan it, and therefore the player-character "me" is really a fictional character from about the sixth or seventh session, albeit one that I found easy to play, but nonetheless whose decisions were not obvious or especially predictable by me during play.

Back to system talk, i.e. the random factor, it arrives in the order of the cards, as well as the absence of an unpredictable set of seven cards out of the full set of twenty-six. I don’t know how other people do it, but I didn't look at any of the cards before pulling out the seven and using the rest, i.e., I didn't know what was on any of them, used or unused, so each draw was de novo.

I'm interested in the order as such for two reasons. The first is pretty obvious: if X happens early on, then it simply isn't going to have conclusive power regarding things which have developed and built-up through extended previous play; and if it happens late in the game, inherent creative cognition is going to assign it that kind of power, or be open to that happening, in which case, at least one of the last few cards is going to do that.

The second reason is maybe less obvious: that this game does not explicitly encourage the creation of fiction, and potentially can result in merely nineteen short haiku about sex with the Beast, with an arbitrary "then it dies" or something like that at the end. But I suspect a lot of us are going to shift into a more developing-fiction mode at some point, and that the full day's reflection (or better, the night's sleep/processing) between each snippet is an important procedural feature for that to happen. 

Afterwards, I looked at the cards to find some that I did not get but which might have changed-up the developing story considerably. A couple of others' countent turned out to get into the fiction via narration, without me knowing they were cards of their own; I suspect this is pretty common in playing this game.

If you watch the videos, you’ll see that it takes over a week for a certain "this isn't 'play,' this isn't fiction" to metamorphose into “oh, this is fiction, this is a story. I felt the former as a genuine lack at first, but trusted the rules enough simply to keep going and see whether and when it might become so. I specifically did not force it - for instance, there could have been plenty of "story" when the Beast ate the intruding person, but I didn't feel the content in such a way that it needed to be there, as I saw it (non-verbally and non-reflectively speaking). It really kicked in when she got sick and everything after that just built from there, again, without saying "I better make this a story." I think it's pretty obvious that I started thinking much more in scenes, this-happens, then-she-does-this, then-I-do-that terms from that point forward.

I’d like to compare thoughts on a critical matter, along the lines of how much "story" happesn when it's not forced and imposed. It’s actually the central concern underlying my concept of Story Now, for which the “now” does not mean “immediately” or “arbitrarily,” but rather, created by the procedures we are actually using, in the moment, moment by moment.

One of my biggest frustrations with the hobby culture is how much so-called story gaming is the same old vile railroading and imposition, especially based on play-this-scenario-this-way convention one-shots, just dressed up with indie gloss. It's nice to see something which achieves real story creation by opening the door into nothing rather than trapping you in an already-furnished room.

Part 1 is embedded below, followed by Part 2 and Part 3.

Department: 
Actual Play
Games: 
The Beast

Comments

Ross's picture

I found this really interesting:

The "setting" turned out not to be my current actual life in Sweden, but a state of being or mind that I have encountered many times in dreams: as if I had not left the Monterey Peninsula and had become an adult there, remaining a townie and retaining or developing the local world-view. I was a little surprised to "find" myself playing there or in this way, as I did not plan it, and therefore the player-character "me" is really a fictional character from about the sixth or seventh session, albeit one that I found easy to play, but nonetheless whose decisions were not obvious or especially predictable by me during play.

alongside the process you describe of slowly moving into fiction creation. I wonder if play runs in two stages - early situation and "character" creation laying a seed bed for later fictional flowers to bloom from?

In the paragraph above character is in scare quotes as, although I haven't read the game, I got the distinct impression that playing as yourself is mandated and a big part of how play is expected to b unsettling. Do you feel you moved away from the textual rules in your play in this way? Or is this actually an inevitable outcom of the process of play? In either case in your actual play, going by your comentary here and actually watching I certainly feel this fictional Ron didn't detract and likely brought something extra to the resulting story. (And after all are we not all just the fictional characters we choose to show the world?)

Ron Edwards's picture

To answer in reverse order, I am reasonably certain that we all show fictional characters to the world, but whether that's "all" we are, or whether it's a choice in either content or in the act, I leave to the branches of philosophy that go that way.

The text is so spare that it's not possible to say the "you" referred to in the rules (themselves just a card) or on the daily-use cards is mandated actually to be yourself in the immediate and literal present. Working from there more or as a default is likely, I think, in the absence of any hint that you might make another "you" up at the start. But given the events and specifications, I wouldn't be surprised that a fictionalized version develops - more so than merely the preferred self-image that we try to project to others in real life. It'd be an interesting variable to contrast from player to player, especially if the issue had not been raised in discussion with them beforehand.

As for the events early/late - yes, absolutely. For instance, if the friend had demanded to meet the Beast relatively early, and if she had eaten the intruder later, it is at least possible that those would be related events and would have incorporated a different set of interactions and judgments. And a lot of things that were contextual or necessarily vague or kind of "floating there," like my response regarding the danger posed to me by sex with the Beast, might have had much more plot-outcome roles, as results of previously established material, then they had as early-input.

I think that works quite well, that answers early in play take on a framing or portrait-style, introductory role, and then something acts more or less as a Kicker at some point, thus later answers take on a sequential, caused, rising-action role. The point being that the transition (gradual or otherwise) is possible regardless of the order of drawn cards.

Now, that time-dependent response also cross-references productively with the diversity of questions themselves, some of which are very portrait-oriented, some of which are very "this happens, what do you do" oriented, and some of which are easily read or answered either way.

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