Dec 1 2010

Game Poem 33: Insomnia


This is a game for one player who wishes to sleep, and six other players who are the voices who keep them awake. If you do not have six people to play the roles of the voices, players can double up on the voices, but you should not play with less than three, plus the sleeper. You will also need a regular deck of playing cards, which the sleeper will shuffle and hold.

The voices will surround the sleeper, and they will each draw a single card from the deck. (If a person is playing the part of more than one voice, they should draw a card for both voices, and hold one card in each hand.) Each voice will look at their card, decide what it means to them, and choose something that their voice represents to the sleeper: a idea that won’t be given up, anger at someone or something that happened during the day, the sleeper’s fear of death, or anxiety about an upcoming task or event, a song that will not leave the sleeper alone, hunger for one more slice of pie, anything.

After the voices have all indicated that they have chosen what they represent by holding their cards to their chests, the sleeper signals the beginning of the game by drawing a card from the deck and looking at it. At this point, all of the voices should begin speaking at once, insistently and urgently, with as few pauses as possible. Each voice should express in detail and at length their purpose to the sleeper. Each voice should strive to be heard and understood, but there should be no shouting. The sleeper will have no rest as long as a single voice is still active, so they must begin trying to silence them.

The sleeper will have a card in their hand. The sleeper will show the card to one of the voices, and tell it clearly and forcefully why it should be silent.

“I have plenty of time to finish writing that story!”
“He was never interested in me in the first place!”
“Women in my family have always lived to a ripe old age!”
“They’ll never fire me – they need me!”
“I don’t care, none of that matters, anyway…”

The voice may pause for a moment while it looks at its own card, and responds. When the sleeper shows a card to a voice, and that card does not match the number and color of the voice’s card, the voice may respond with one of three things:

  • “Higher”, if their card is higher than the one that the sleeper shows them
  • “Lower”, if their card is lower than the one that the sleeper shows them
  • “Not Red”, if they have a black card and the sleeper shows them red, or “Not Black”, if they have a red card, and the sleeper shows them black.

Each voice may only say “Not Black” or “Not Red” once; after that, it is the responsibility of the sleeper to remember which color card that voice holds. (If a voice finds themselves in a situation where they must say “Not Black” or “Not Red” again, that is, if they have already said that, and the sleeper shows them a card that matches their number, but not their color, then they may repeat it, of course.) If a single player is speaking for two voices, the sleeper will point to the hand that holds the card for the voice that they are attempting to silence, and the voice will hold up that hand while answering the sleeper. After responding, the voice will continue its verbal onslaught, and the sleeper will draw another card, and attempt to silence another voice.

If, however, the sleeper shows the voice a card that matches both the number and the color of that voice’s card, the player will turn the card to show the sleeper that it matches. The voice will go quiet, and remain silent for the remainder of the game. The sleeper will then draw another card, and attempt to silence another voice.

The game continues until the sleeper has either silenced all of their voices, or they have run through the entire deck. If they have used all of the remaining forty-six cards without matching every voice, their alarm goes off, and they must begin the next day without any rest. If they have somehow managed to get all of the voices to go quiet, the sleeper may finally rest, if only for a little while. Count the cards that remain – each one is worth ten minutes of sleep. Is it enough? We’ll see, when the morning comes…