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What's My Motivation?

Recently, I was invited by a friend to playtest a game he is working on. The game is about assassins that possess people close to their targets in order to gain access to them. The game is a work-in-progress, so I don’t want to get too deep into how it works. Instead I want to focus on a particular exchange I had with one of the other plays that I found really fascinating.

There is a type of scene in the game where one player is playing the assassin, one player is playing the target, and one player is playing the host personality of the person being possessed by the assassin. I was playing the host personality.

There’s a card playing mechanic and in order for the host player to play cards they must describe a flashback of the host’s life usually involving their relationship with the target. Each card has a keyword on it and the flashback must incorporate the keyword of the card the assassin player used. In short, the host player has backstory authority over the host and their relationship with the target.

It was very clear to me that the host is not aware they are being possessed. So this action is not the host “fighting back”.  It’s just a memory bleed through into the assassin’s experience of the situation. I understood my role in the scene and was perfectly happy doing this.

The target was a high powered lawyer and the host was her lover. I had decided that the lover was a fairly submissive man. The first time I framed a flashback the word on the assassin’s card was “Commitment” and so I described a moment where a marriage proposal had turned into an argument. I then skipped the next round because the word wasn’t particularly inspiring to the point that I don’t even remember what it was. The third card read “Violence” and so I described a time when the lawyer physically abused her lover.

When the scene was over the assassin player said he really didn’t understand the host player’s motivation and asked me to explain the plays I had made.  So I explained that “Commitment” and “Violence” inspired thoughts about the lawyer and host’s relationship as I was imagining it and the middle card did not. He still seemed confused and asked, “Okay, but what were you trying to accomplish, what was your goal?” To which I replied, “I didn’t have a goal. I had a creative mandate and I was fulfilling it based on the tools I was given.” He genuinely looked shocked.  Apparently, the idea that I was quite content with contributing creatively without a meta-game level agenda motivating me was apparently eye-opening to him.

That little exchange was very revelatory of two different people engaging the same game from very different points of view.  I thought it was worth sharing.

Department: 
Actual Play

Comments

Ron Edwards's picture

So I understand the fiction part a little bit better, was the lawyer/lover the assassin's target? Or was the target a different person entirely?

For your topic, I think some specification is a good idea. In principle (and I think fact), there isn't any such thing as play without a "meta-game level agenda" because we are social primates being smelly with one another. But I don't think that's what you're talking about, correct? 

Hoping that I'm correct ... with that phrasing, you're referring to an imagined next step or final moment for a given experience of play. In other words, playing ahead of where one is right now, toward or about what one plans to happen or is invested in happening.

I guess I better find out if I'm understanding you correctly before continuing.

Jesse Burneko's picture

The lawyer was the assassin's target. The assassin was possessing her lover to get close to her.

My understanding was that the lover (host) personality is entirely surpressed during possession.  Therefore the host player's job is simply to describe bleed memories that the assassin momentarily experiences.  Now when you describe these memories you do play a card that counts against the assassin acting toward the target.  But it's not because the host is actively fighting back or trying to accomplish something.  It's just that the bleed memories throw the assassin off their game.  (The cards the host is playing also contain descriptions of hallucinatory effects the assassin may experience in the future if he's forced to take the cards into his deck by losing the card play).

The assassin player seemed confused that the host player didn't appear to have anythiing to earn or win by playing well; neither ficitonally (as the host is not fighting back nor has any kind of goal) nor personally (I as a player don't gain any resources, abilities or even outcome authority).  He was utterly surprised that simply describing emotionally significant content based on my reaction to the keywords on his cards was "enough" for me.  In otherwords, I was not invested in winning or losing the card bid at all but simply reacted to the keywords as a creative prompt with the impact on the card play as a side-effect of that inspiration.

Does that clarify?

Ron Edwards's picture

It does. In turn, what is your take on my phrasing, in the part beginning"... you're referring to ..."?

In what follows, I am not referring to this game experience or to the other players at all, but rather to my own observations - probably a side issue to what you're describing, but also, possibly, not entirely irrelevant.

One of my designs I've abandoned included holding cards as in many card games: a hand held as a fan, with the cards' content hidden from the other players, and from which you select cards to play. As it happened, I don't think any of the many sessions with many different people actually helped me design further - because the physical act of holding and using cards that way was evidently so imprinted upon people as a specific kind of competition, that they could not help but fall into that mental state of activity. 

Jesse Burneko's picture

...you're referring to an imagined next step or final moment for a given experience of play. In other words, playing ahead of where one is right now, toward or about what one plans to happen or is invested in happening.

Yes - ish. What I was thinking of generally was any kind of reward to be applied toward something. I may not know what the something is, yet though. But yes, it's the idea of playing now with an eye toward "what's best for what I'm planning next."

Your point about holding cards triggering a set of assumptions about play is really interesting and is highly relevant to at least a couple of projects I have.  I'll have to think about that.

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