Jul 23 2010

Game Poem 29: Mask

This is a game that will accommodate any number of players, but will likely work best with a smallish number; definitely not less than three, probably no more than five or six. To play, you must create a mask. The mask will be constructed from a single piece of letter sized white paper (8.5×11, or A4). Just draw two simple eyes – just circles about the size of quarters – about halfway down the page, so they’reĀ  as far apart from each other as they are from the edges. The mouth will be a straight line drawn about halfway between the eyes and one of the short edges, just straight across, as wide as the eyes are apart. Do not poke or cut out the eye holes. You don’t need to attach a string or rubber band to hold the mask on anyone’s head – players will just hold the mask up in front of their faces when they want to use it.

Choose the most shy player to wear the mask first. That player will hold the mask in front of their face for a few minutes, and play the character that emerges. Everyone else will play as themselves. To begin, give the mask a simple gender-neutral name, like Sam or Alex. One of the players will greet the mask, and say hello. “Hello, Sam! How are you?” The player wearing the mask is now “Sam”, and will respond as such. When wearing the mask, the player should respond slowly and smoothly, without twitching around or making any quick or sudden moves. When someone talks to the mask, the mask should unhurriedly turn to face the person and respond naturally, in a voice that fits the mask. So, the mask will turn to look at the person who greeted them, and say hello back. All that is happening now is a regular conversation, just normal everyday chit-chat between the players and their new friend, the mask.

The conversation with the mask will last for a couple of minutes, and then someone will say goodbye, and the person who was wearing the mask will hand the mask to another player, and as they do, tear off a small piece of paper from the corner of the mask, and roll it into a small ball. The new player will hold the mask in front of their face, and play the same character. (So, really, there will be a number of “characters” in this game equal to the number of players, plus one: everyone playing themselves, and the character that emerges from the mask.) When the new player has taken on the role of the mask, someone should greet the mask again (“Hello, Sam!”), and you will have a short conversation again, only a couple of minutes. When the conversation is done, say goodbye, and a new player will take the role of the mask. Make sure that whenever a player takes off the mask, they take a small piece of paper from the corner of the mask, and roll it into a small ball. Also be mindful of who you are handing the mask to – try not to give it to the player who just handed it to you. You will do this a few times, just talking to your new friend, and taking turns between the all the players playing themselves, and playing the character of the mask.

Eventually, maybe after switching the mask between players three or four times, shortly after one of the players takes on the role of the mask, just after someone says hello to the mask character, one of the players will say, “I have to tell you something.” Then they will say the name of the person who is currently wearing the mask, and they will say, “…They mean to do you harm.” The mask can react to that revelation however they like, but remember that they should still be making slow, gentle movements, and they should still be using a voice that is appropriate to the character of the mask. Let this conversation go however it goes for another minute or two, and then say goodbye and pass the mask to another player.

Have another conversation or two, until at some point, one of the players will say, “You know…” And then they well say the name of the person who is currently wearing the mask, and add, “They mean to help you out.” (This person cannot be the same person who intends to do the mask harm, as you may have guessed.) The mask can react to this announcement however they like, but remember to maintain your steady movements and the voice of the mask. Continue the conversation for another minute or two, and then say goodbye and pass the mask to another player.

Eventually, the mask will be ready to confront the person who intends to do it harm. It should make sure that it can see both the person who wants to harm it, and the person who it knows will help it. When the mask is ready, after the players say hello, it can ask the person who intends to hurt the mask why they want to hurt them, what they intend to do, and so on. The mask can react to them however they wish, but this will be the last time that the players talk to the character of the mask. This time, when the player who is currently playing the mask takes the it off, you will determine the ultimate fate of your new friend. Each player will give the small paper balls that they have collected to either the person who will harm the mask, or the one who will help it. Whichever of the two has more paper balls will get their way – in the case of a tie, the person who had the mask last will decide the winner. Once the decision is made, that person – the helper or the hurter – may do whatever they want with the mask, save it or destroy it. After that, the character of the mask is gone, and the game is over.

Jul 7 2010

Game Poem 28: Public Trust

This poem is a game intended to be performed in front of and with an audience. It should run about ten minutes, give or take. Any number of people can be in the audience – the more the better – and it should be performed in a space where people can stand up and move around a little bit. The presenter just needs to read the following rules out loud to the players in attendance, and if they want to and are able to affect the stereotypical “poetry slam” pacing and cadence in their presentation, so much the better.

This poem is a game. Your attendance implies your consent to take part as a player here.

The game is simple, and in that simplicity we will find meaning together. This is not about me, the reader, this is about every one of you, individually, and as a congregation of intelligent, insightful, and delightful people who share a common interest in learning about yourselves and the world around you, and having a hell of a good time while you do it.

All you have to do for the next couple of minutes is follow the instructions that I read, and see what happens. All you have to do for the next couple of minutes is trust me, and trust the people in the room around you, let go, and have fun. Without you, this is just going to be some jerk up here reading a bunch of stuff, so come on.


First instruction. Everybody who’s not standing, stand up. You can’t play the game if you’re not standing, and if you’re not playing, everyone’s gonna see that you’re not a player, and nobody likes a grumpy greyface. See, I told you this was gonna be simple. Hang on now players, it gets better from here.

Second instruction. Find yourself a partner. We play this game in pairs, so couple up and get yourself into a twosome. Try to make them someone you don’t know, someone you haven’t seen before, someone you don’t know anything about. If you have to move, move, but watch out for other folks. If you know everyone here, congratulations, player. Hook up with someone nearby. If there’s not enough to go around, and you find yourself the odd man out, come on up here and I’ll be your buddy. Everyone all set?

Third instruction. Partners, grab a hold of each other’s right hands. You can just hold them in a simple handshake, or you can go palm-to-palm, tangling your fingers up like one of you is leaving on a train. You can curl them up like you’re about to get into a thumb war – but you’re not – or you can grab each other’s wrists or forearms like you’re young boys playing at being indians. Any way you do it, get comfortable and hang on tight. Don’t let go, because the next part is where it starts to get real.

Fourth instruction. Every player, listen to me. Using your left hand, and while being as respectful of your partner’s body as humanly possible, take something that belongs to them. Nice and slow, take it easy, but just take it. Don’t puss around and grab their bottle of beer or the glass they’ve been drinking out of. Take their glasses off of their face. Take their wallet, take their phone. Take their necklace, take their little black notebook full of scrawled poems and mash notes. If you have to, and you can do it without letting go, take one of their shoes. Any one thing will do, but if it’s something valuable objectively or personally, and you can hold it in your hand, all the better.

Everyone got something? Good. Fifth instruction. Sounds easy, but it might not be. Just stand there for a minute. Look each other in the eye. Don’t look away. Who is this person? They’ve got something of yours. Something that you probably don’t leave the house without. Something that you pat your pocket to make sure you haven’t lost while you’re out having a good time. Something that you might curse and swear and stomp around about if someone walked into your house and walked away with. But there they are, just holding it like it was theirs. Look that person in the eye. Don’t look away. But don’t worry, because we’re all friends here. Or, if we’re not friends, we are at the very least members of a civilized society that do our best not to do each other wrong, at least, not when anyone’s looking, anyway. Look at that person. Do you trust them? Are they gonna take your stuff? Treat it bad? Drop it, break it, mess it up? Look at that person that you’re holding on to, who’s holding on to a piece of you. Who are they? Are they like you, wondering the same thing? What are they going to do next?

Sixth instruction. Let go. Hold your partner with your gaze, don’t break eye contact, but let go of their right hand, and they’ll let go of yours. Keep looking. There they are, standing there with your stuff. You’re not holding on to them any more. Maybe they’re a little bit further away from you than you’d like. Hang on for just a few more seconds. Keep looking at each other. Who is that over there? What are they going to do next?

Seventh instruction. Turn around. Face away from each other. What are you feeling now? You can’t see them, you can’t feel them, you probably can’t hear them. What are they doing? What are you doing? Look down at the thing that you’ve taken from them. Do they want the thing that they took from you more than they don’t want to lose the thing that you took from them? How valuable is it to them? How valuable is it to you? Would they walk away with it? Knowing that you’re right behind them? Knowing that everyone else here can see them? Do you still trust them?

Eighth instruction. Close your eyes. How about now? Just be still for a minute, here. Are they still there? Do you feel like you need to open your eyes? Like you need to turn around and look, just to make sure that they’re still there? Like you want to take a step backwards, and “accidentally” bump into them, to let them know that you’re still there too? Drop all of that. Are you straining to listen to what’s going on in the room around you, to listen for some small sign that your partner hasn’t walked away with your wallet, with your phone, with your shoe? Would they really do that? What would you do if you turned around and they were gone? Forget about that for a minute. Just hang out here with your eyes closed, breathe, and relax. You’re all good. Just a few more seconds.

Ninth instruction. Open your eyes, and turn around. Smile at your partner. Take their right hand again. Just look at each other for a minute. I know you want your stuff back, but just stand there for a minute longer, looking each other in the eye again. That wasn’t so hard, was it? To give up your stuff to a stranger for a few minutes, to let them hold on to it, to turn away and trust that they would treat you like they’d like you to treat them? That wasn’t so hard, was it? To forget about being cool and interesting and unaffected for a few minutes, give up any number of things that you could be doing by yourself, of your own free will, and do a bunch of stuff that some person reading off a bunch of instructions told you to do, for some reason, or for no reason at all? You could be checking your text messages, or pretending to be interested in something on the wall, or getting yourself another drink, but instead, you gave yourself up for a few minutes, and did something new, something unexpected, something that you’d never normally get to do by yourselves, and probably won’t do again any time soon. You let your own stuff go, and gave your time to someone you’ve probably never met before, someone you probably don’t know anything about. Was it worth it?

Tenth instruction. Let go of your partner. Hand them back whatever you took from them. You don’t need to put it back in their pocket or back on their face, but make sure they get it the same way they had it before. Thank them for playing with you. Shake hands again if you feel like it. The game is over, and you all won.

This poem was a game, and it was for every one of you. Have a seat. Thank you.

Jul 3 2010

Game Poem 27: Achilles’ Heel

Achilles’ Heel is a game for two players – one will play a super-powered hero, the other their nemesis. Choose who will be the superhero and who will be the supervillain, and quickly choose names for your new personas – Captain Fantastic and Doctor Midnight, for example. Find ten cards or slips of paper to write on, and fifteen pennies or tokens of some kind. The hero will quickly write down ten things on the slips of paper, numbering them from one to ten. (Obviously, the players may collaborate on the ten things if the hero is having difficulty coming up with them.) The things may be objects, actions, places, emotions, anything. Two of these things will be the only weaknesses that the hero possesses – otherwise, they are completely and totally invulnerable.

Place the ten slips of paper into a hat or a cup or some container where they may be pulled from randomly. Both players will take four pieces of paper from the container, note down the numbers of the items that they pulled, return them, and mix them up well. The things written on the two slips of paper that were not chosen represent the hero’s vulnerabilities. Everything else will be useless as a weapon against the hero, but each player only knows what four of those things are, so the vulnerabilities still remain largely unknown.

Once the setup is complete, the players will engage in a series of five “episodes”, which will culminate in a final battle between the hero and his nemesis. In each episode, the villain will randomly draw two of the slips of paper from the container, and present a brief scenario where the hero must choose between two situations or outcomes that involve the elements drawn. So, for example, if the villain drew “radiation” and “fear of birds”, they might describe a scenario where they must disable a nuclear reactor that the villain has rigged to blow, while the nearby city is being attacked by mutated crows. Alternately, they may combine the two pieces – the reactor may be protected by the giant, twisted birds.

Once the scenario is laid out, the villain will take a number of coins from the supply and divide them between the two elements. In the first episode, they will only take one, in the second they will take two, three in the third, four in the fourth, and five in the fifth. So, in the initial episode, one slip of paper will have one token next to it, and the other will have none; in the final episode, they will have zero and five, one and four, or two and three. The hero will then choose one of the situations indicated by one of the slips of paper to attempt to resolve.

If the thing on that paper is one of the ones that either of the players chose during setup, the hero is invulnerable to that thing, and they succeed in saving the day all around! The hero takes the coins from that item, and the villain takes the coins from the other. The superhero may now quickly describe exactly how they thwarted their arch enemy’s diabolical plans. For the purposes of narration, assume that the hero has whatever powers necessary to do what needs to be done – flight, super strength, laser eyes, telekinesis, whatever. The day is saved!

If, however, neither player has the chosen element noted down, the villain has discovered one of the hero’s weaknesses, and the hero fails to foil their evil deeds! The villain takes all the tokens from both pieces of paper, and narrates how they used the hero’s vulnerability against them, incapacitating them long enough to execute their nefarious plan – this time! The hero is not completely defeated, though, and will return in top condition to fight the forces of darkness once again in the next episode…

After all five rounds have run their course, both players will have a number of coins in front of them. There will be one final episode that will decide the fate of the two mortal enemies once and for all. Decide together how and where this ultimate battle between good and evil will take place, and then, starting with the hero, each player will put forward one token and narrate an action, either telling how they attack the other player or defend themselves or react to the last action. Eventually, one player will run out of tokens – that player will be defeated, and the victor will describe how they put an end to their adversary for good. Will Captain Fantastic stop his fearsome foe’s fiendish machinations for all time, or will Doctor Midnight extend his shadow across the entire world? Only you can decide!