The hearts

One heart is an anatomical feature, available for, among other things, the draining of blood, the rough dissection, and the raw consumption by a depraved other person; by contrast, the symbolic repository of hopes, dreams, desires, and self. Concerning both, I direct your attention to the path-in-play of Naomi, arguably the hero of her own story, a perfectly viable and understandable fictional human being … who happens to be unfortunate enough to have been placed, not in a feel-good teen drama, but in our game of Monsterhearts.

Naomi interacted with all the player-characters. She connected emotionally with the ghost Alastor during morning assembly. She humiliated my ghoul Dagny the next morning, arguably isolating herself from Alastor’s general protection of students who capture his interest … which sets her up for Piotr, in the grip of his Darkest Self. Do not go walking in the woods with the hypnotic vampire who draws pictures of you. After that, she … or rather, something of her anyway, continues to be the object of obsessions and Hungers, ultimately – perhaps sacrificially – springboarding the rediscovered if fleeting humanity of both Dagny and Alastor.

Our characters are kind of protagonists. The tropes people call it the Moral Event Horizon, over which Monsterhearts characters pretty much hover and may well disappear beyond. I don’t consider that failed play, but rather context for the tragedy that they might not have, and for the heightened poignance or triumphs or whatever that it generates for other characters, who are quite reasonably considered the protagonists to a third party – perhaps you, viewing this.

Paul Czege worked hard with this concept, prompted (I think) by Sean Demory’s le mon mouri and (I flatter myself) by my Spione. Both of these games stand firmly at the Moral Event Horizon for the characters who occupy most of the players’ attention, with considerable scope for enriching and understanding what appear to be secondary characters, even victims. Paul’s game in design Acts of Evil took this principle as its primary design focus, and although it never met his satisfaction, it’s no small thing and deserves attention – another thing on my list for this site.

This session is both profoundly not nice and profounding uplifting. It’s also where we found ourselves as a play-group, and I urge you to watch the faces, to see us listening, and to understand how we understand what is happening. I would very much like an observer’s thoughts on the moment when Dagny and Alastor try their best to be people, and how Alastor’s player narrated the response, and how we all processed it.

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3 responses to “The hearts”

  1. Teenage . . . kicks?

    Player-Alastor’s decision to have character-Alastor piss himself genuinely shocked me. I watched the middle section of the video twice to get some perspective and I noted that the participants handled the situation with more aplomb than I initially thought (projecting, no doubt). Ron’s ability to remember the monstrousness of the characters and imagine a not-quite-human response struck me as crucial here in driving the action forward. I’ll try to contain my urge to write a theater-review rave of the resulting scene, but it was great — touching and heartbreaking. Alastor’s sex move and its demand for revelation was a powerful game tool, wielded as it was here to cut to the heart of both characters.

    On my second viewing, I was tickled by Ron’s almost parental reservations over the immaturity of Dagny’s declaration of love, which made me wonder if he forgot her monstrosity for just a little bit there. I mean, it’s not like she's going to meet someone in college — is she? Say, why is she even still in school? Are her parents still paying her tuition? Do they know she’s dead? So many questions.

    P.S. Oleg’s performance this session was chilling, so I mean it in only the most complimentary way when I say that I really, really hope Piotr gets staked.

    • What impresses me a little

      What impresses me a little bit, speaking as a now-observer of our collective play, is that none of us tried to correct or dial-back or otherwise take over Alastor's play authority. And I know a lot of groups that would do that, and some of my play-history in which I would have.

      But what impresses me a lot is how emotionally authentic and fictionally valid (both!) Alastor's play process is, while completely blowing past all unspoken assumptions about what a role-playing person is supposed to do with a role-playing character, especially per genre or per game.

      Putting those two points together is the key. Everything about the announced action, that is, the reaction, made perfect sense, especially coming on the heels of Alastor's unconstructed excitement about "being here," early in the session, and of the player's genuinely gruesome and pathos-filled account of his death. But why that announcement completely baffled the rest of us for a moment (as I wrote, you can see us get it in an almost humorous sequence) therefore becomes an important question.

      It may not have been a bad thing; it might, actually, indicate how well we are starting to click together, making sure we get things and get one another as we go forward instead of just throwing nastiness into play. (blindly inititating rolls and conflicts seems characteristic of this and related games in my experience – lots of fury and dice clattering, lots of "narration," not much clarity or development or any depth relative to the content-claims)

      We talk a lot about genre expectations as a good thing, about general fictional parameters as a good thing. I am not so sure about that. I never have been, but especially here, it seems to me as if there is a deeper bedrock of human authenticity that hits harder, matters more, and is justified in overriding both.

      Couple of last points:

      1. Yes, regarding Piotr. I think we found our villain, who significantly is the one player-character who genuinely wanted the most, from the start, just to be a normal person. Events will tell, and there's no predicting, but if he goes after Alastor just 'cause some witch told him to, there are lots worse things than cannibals and cults out there, and I'm playing one of them.
      2. I have decided simply not to care about justifying and explaining all the "why are undead monster kids attending school" questions. Sometimes bottle logic is best.
    • I agree with Ron in his

      I agree with Ron in his lecture of why it took us a moment to "get it". I think for a second we all (or at least I did) were clinging to the ideas of genre expectations we had internalised and come to associate with Monsterhearts, even if the text of the game itself doesn't perpetuate those expectations at all.

      Thankfully we were able to break through them and say "No, this is our game and the only responsibility that we have is to each other and to the fiction we have created together". Through play I think we have built enough trust in each other's action to follow and embrace our decisions. I think this is a very important step in the path to create our own fiction instead of trying to replicate other's.

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