Feb 27 2010

Game Poem 6: Slower Than Light

Find three to five players. You will each be going on a long journey, traveling far away from the others. You will still be able to stay in contact with each other, although as you travel, the distances between you will become greater, and the time it takes the messages to travel between you will increase. But still, you will continue to write, to maintain the threads of connection.

First, agree what kind of journey you will each be embarking upon. Perhaps you will be blasting off into deep space in silver rocket ships, jetting further and further away from each other into the cosmos, or you might be exploring the oceans on old sailing ships, or trekking across undiscovered country with your caravans. Whatever your journey may be, you will be mostly isolated, individually, with the brief letters that you send to each other as the only contact with other people.

Now, each of you will need several small pieces of paper, or index cards, and a something to write with. You will keep the first one for yourself, to keep track of how far away your friends are. Write each of the other players’ names on the paper, one per line. This will be your message log.

Now, choose one to write a message to, and make a hash mark next to their name on your message log sheet. Take a new piece of paper and write them a short message, no longer than a sentence or two, taking maybe thirty seconds or so, but absolutely no longer than a minute. The message may be about anything – what you’ve done or discovered on your journey, a question about how they are doing, passing on greetings from another traveler, or anything else that springs to mind. When the message is written, fold the paper in half, and write “From (your name), To (their name)” on the outside. It might be nice to hold the folded paper up so that everyone can see that you are finished.

Once everyone has completed their letter, or the minute is up, hand the paper to the person it is addressed to. Each player will take a moment to quietly read their message to themselves – either silently, or out loud, in a soft voice, if they choose. Keep the message that you have received safely next to you. When everyone has read their message, it is time to write another.

Every message that you send after the first is likely to take longer than the last. Decide again who you will write your letter to. (Remember that you will only be writing a sentence or two, at most.) If you are once again writing to someone who you have not sent a message to yet, do the same thing as the first message – put a hash mark next to their name on your message log, write your message on a new piece of paper, fold it up, put your name and theirs on the outside, and once all the messages are done, hand it to them to read.

However, if you have already sent someone a message – you will know by the hash marks next to their name – it will take longer for them to receive it this time. Write the short missive as before, fold the paper, but when you write your name and theirs on the outside, draw an empty check box next to their name, one for each hash mark after their name on your message log sheet. Once you have done that, add another hash mark, and when it is time to pass the message on, hand it to someone else, anyone who is not the intended final recipient. They will hold on to it for the next round.

(This means that the first letter that you send to someone will arrive immediately, as the first one did, the second letter that you send will take an additional round of messaging to arrive, the third one will take an extra two rounds, and so on. One extra message round – one empty check box – for each letter that you’ve sent them previously.)

So, what do you do when you receive a letter in transit, one that is not addressed to you, which has empty check boxes next to the recipient’s name? When you first get the message, tick off one of the check boxes. Then go ahead and write your own letter to whoever you choose, and remember to mark them off in your log, and add the appropriate number of check boxes next to their name. Now, look at all the outgoing messages that you have in front of you, including the one you’re sending right now. If a message has no unchecked boxes on it – either this is the first message to that recipient, or all the boxes have been checked off – you may simply hand it to them, and they will read it immediately. If there are still unchecked boxes on the letter, however, you must continue passing it to someone who is not the noted recipient (maybe even the original sender), until it has traveled long and far enough to reach its final destination.

Continue writing and passing and reading messages in this manner for a dozen or more rounds – about fifteen or twenty minutes worth. When everyone agrees that they have written their last message, it is inevitable that there will be many undelivered letters floating around. Take a few rounds to pass the messages around, without writing new ones, checking off the boxes until the last letter reaches its destination. Do not read these messages now, however – take them with you, and read them later, when you are alone.