Oct 18 2010

Game Poem 32: The Invaders

The Invaders

This is a game for an even number of players, around six to twelve, but more should work just fine. (If you wind up with an odd number of players, that’s not an insurmountable problem; one player will just sit out in each round.) You’ll need a number of index cards, one for each player. One of these cards will have a black spot or mark of some kind clearly drawn on it. Shuffle up the cards, and hand one to each player; the players should not know which one of them received the card with the spot. The player who received the mark is the first Invader. Their minds have been corrupted by an alien presence, and they will attempt to similarly infect the other, still human, players.

Each player will write three true things about themselves on the card, in order: Something that should be immediately obvious upon first meeting them, something that would be noticed about them after watching them or talking to them for some time, and something that describes something about their internal life, such as a belief or personal preference. The Invader will do the same, but they will also mark the last item (the internal trait) with an X. This represents their corruption, which will spread through the players as the game progresses.

The game is played as a series of short conversations, just a minute or two each. To begin a round of conversations, someone should set a timer for a minute or so, and the players should break into pairs. Conversations should be held discreetly, so that other players are unlikely to eavesdrop on their content or outcome. Clearly, it is preferable to mix up the conversations thoroughly, so the players should always choose to talk with someone that they haven’t talked with before, if possible. Start the timer, and begin chatting with each other.

There are just a few rules about the conversations. If something related to one of the items on your cards comes up, you must talk about it honestly, as written. However, if one or more of the three statements on your card has an X next to it (as the initial Invader will have) then you must actively try to bring that up in the conversation, and you must lie about what you have written; you are forbidden from telling the truth about that item, and must in fact attempt to mislead the other person as well as possible, no matter how ridiculous it might seem.

So, for example, you may have “I love chocolate!” in the third position, and it is marked with an X on your card. In the course of your conversations, you must make it a point to assert how loathsome you find chocolate to be. Likewise, if you’ve noted down that you’ve never pierced your ears as your second statement, you must be sure to talk about your favorite earrings, even though it may be clear that it’s quite unlikely that you’d be able to wear them.

When the timer sounds after a minute or so, quickly wrap up your conversation, and one person must end with the phrase, “Are you okay?” How the players respond to this question depends on whether they have been infected by the Invader or not. (If a player has one or more Xs on their card, they are now an Invader.) Both players will respond with a gesture at the same time, either an okay sign, or with their index finger pointed like a gun. Humans will make these gestures with their right hands, Invaders with their left.

If you’re a human, and you make an okay sign with your right hand, that means that you think that the other player is still uninfected. If both of you are still fully human, and you both do this, you each get to put a check mark (*not* an X) next to one of the statements on your cards that came up in your conversation, affirming your humanity. If none of the statements on your card came up in conversation, you may not check any in this way. An okay sign has no effect on an Invader other than letting them know that you are human, and think that they are okay.

If a human points their finger like a gun at their conversation partner, that means that they think that they are infected by the Invaders. Pointing at an Invader will force them to remove the topmost X from their card; if they no longer have any items with an X next to them, the corruption has been completely removed from that person, and they are human once again.

However, if they point their finger at another human, they suffer for their false accusation! The human player who points their gun-finger at another human player must cross off one of the statements on their card, and may no longer use that statement in conversation in any way. Additionally, if there were check marks associated with that statement, they are lost as well. If a human player is ever forced to cross off an item that has no check marks next to it, they are immediately removed from the game! Attacking other humans is dangerous business.

If an Invader uses their left hand to point their index finger at the other player, they are attempting to corrupt their conversation partner. Their target marks the lowest unmarked statement on their card with an X. They are now an Invader as well, and must be actively dishonest about that item in future conversations. If the target winds up with all three of their statements X’d out, they have been fully transformed, and may not be corrupted or attacked further. A transformed Invader must reveal themselves as such at the beginning of their conversations; they may discuss the nature of the Invaders with their human partners, taunt or threaten them, or simply continue to creepily pretend to be human, although they are clearly nothing of the sort.

If an Invader chooses to make the okay sign with their left hand at the end of a conversation, they are simply activating some kind of protection. Invaders who do this are not affected by a human pointing at them. This clearly has no effect on other Invaders, other than affirming that you are, in fact, infected with the alien corruption.

The game will continue over a number of rounds equal to the number of starting players. At the end of the game, get together and reveal everybody’s cards, totaling up the check marks for humanity, and the Xs for the Invaders. if there are twice as many check marks at Xs, the humans have enough wherewithal to drive out the Invaders’ corruption. You may briefly narrate how this happens. If, however, there are twice as many Invaded players as there are humans, the Invaders are able to round up the humans like cattle, and bring their alien schemes to completion. Of course, if it is clear at any time there are no longer any Invaders, or that there are no uninfected humans, the appropriate side may be declared winners then and there. Otherwise, play it out to the bitter end, and see which side prevails!

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.

Jun 19 2010

Game Poem 25: Danse

The Danse requires at least three players, but will greatly benefit from more – try it with a half dozen, at least. In addition to a number of players, you will also need several regular six-sided dice, approximately twice as many dice as there are players. One of the dice must be of a different color than the rest, preferably one red die among a number of white dice. The players may also wish to each fill a glass to drink from as they play.

The players will take on the roles of the hosts and guests of a lavish party, an extravagant affair that takes place within the walls of a grand mansion while a plague sweeps across the country outside. However, as you may well know, and will surely learn, death may not be held in check by iron gates and stone facades, nor by purses full of gold and goblets full of wine. This will be the tale of how even the noblest fall to the pestilence, and the reaper takes his due on all men.

One player will take the colored die – we will assume that it is red from this point – and give it to the person who will play the host of the party. In doing so, introduce yourself to the group – tell them your name, your title if any, and what your relation is to the host, familial or otherwise. Describe your manner and your station briefly, and describe how you came to be invited to this most exclusive of festivities. If you are related to the host, tell us how, and what your feelings toward your kinsman are; if you are a dear acquaintance, or a partner in business, or a lover, or a cherished old friend, provide whatever level of detail that seems proper to the relationship. When the first guest has finished, someone else will take another die – one of the white ones – and give it to them, introducing themselves similarly. Once they have made their acquaintance to the other partygoers, another guest will give them a white die of their own, and make their own introduction, and again and so forth, until finally the host hands the last guest a die, and at last properly introduces themselves to the gathering, and bids the revel to begin in earnest.

The Danse is to be played out in a series of rounds. Each round commences with the player who holds the red die, so the host of the party will begin the first round. This first player describes what they are doing at the party at this moment. (If the players have drink, they may take a sip from their glass as they do so.) Now, close to the beginning of the festivities, the revelers’ activities will be primarily light and gay – dancing merrily, flirting and gossiping, telling amusing stories, taking advantage of the banquet that has been laid out before them. Do not take a long time to recount your folly; let your description be brief but rich in detail. The other players may raise their glasses as well, and cheer those exploits that they find pleasing.

Now, the current player will roll their die. If they roll a two, three, four, five, or six, then he or she may continue on blithely, and play passes to the person sitting on their right. The next player will describe their behavior at the party similarly, and cast their dice when they have finished as well. Play continues on this way until someone rolls their dice, and a one appears.

If on your turn, you throw your dice and any should come up a one, then the plague has found you. You will be silent for the rest of the game. Drain your glass, and give your die (or dice) to any single player. That person will tell the others how they found you among the revelry, where in the mansion your body lay and how death has ravaged you. This news is, of course, troubling to all those gathered, but there is nothing but to carry on, so the player with the red die will describe how the corpse is disposed of (discreetly, of course), and they will pass the red die to any other player, and take a new white one from the supply to replace it.

A new round now begins with the new holder of the red die, and each player will take turns recounting their actions at the party and rolling once again, until death claims another. At this point, you will notice, some players will be rolling more than one die on their turn, and more still will be rolled as the game wears on – this is simply the nature of things.

Play continues this way, with party guests (and, inevitably, hosts) succumbing to the epidemic, emptying their glasses and passing their dice on, describing more and more desperate acts as the night progresses and the company dwindles. Polite conversation turns to bitter accusations and recriminations, innocent flirtation becomes outright lechery, and the normally refined enjoyment of a simple meal may degenerate into an orgy of gluttony and inebriated debauchery. Any deeds that are described by any of the players should be treated as fact, regardless of their consequences, but they party guests must remain inside the mansion, and may not take the lives of any of the other guests outright – that is the sole purview of the pestilence that stalks the halls of this doomed revel.

Eventually, there will be but two that remain, and then one. The last surviving player will continue to describe his or her actions alone, rolling their copious supply of dice each time, until they too succumb to the plague. When the final partygoer has met their end, set all the empty vessels and dice aside. The party is over, and death has won the game again, as always.