The game was True Love Match, run at January's Kapcon in Wellington NZ. This was the game pitch:
Everything has been building up to this moment! Across this series, our lonely gentleman has farewelled sixteen beautiful ladies. Now only four remain! Across one whirlwind weekend it will be time to decide who the gentleman will choose as his.... True Love Match!
This game is inspired by the subgenre of romance reality TV, the most famous example being The Bachelor, with a side helping of the satirical Burning Love.
In True Love Match, one player will be the lonely gentleman and four others will be the ladies competing for his heart. Romantic developments between the gentleman and ladies will unfold using a version of Emily Care-Boss's Breaking the Ice; interactions between the ladies will use the rules of Gregor Hutton's Best Friends; the confessional-to-camera rules from Jared Sorensen's Inspectres might make an appearance too.
I have no idea if this is going to work. I guess we'll find out.
I mostly hate romance reality TV. I *really* hate The Bachelor. That show is inhumane and inhuman and actively harmful to the collective good. The show promotes the idea of "love" as a special, magical connection that you discover and honour. Nah. Love doesn't work like that. A lot of people think it does, though, and if you make life decisions based on that idea of love, you're setting yourself up for heartbreak.
We humans are messed up and permeable. We are not in command of ourselves; we don't know ourselves like we think we do. Our emotions happen for all sorts of crazy reasons, and we are useless at knowing why and even identifying what we're experiencing.
So, The Bachelor. you put two dozen women in a hothouse competition for a single man, and any chance of "authenticity" is gone. It's not about being fake or being real, those categories disappear entirely. There is no truth or untruth any more. There is no space for uninflected emotional response. The situation is all-powerful: these women are going to fall furiously in love with the bachelor, a man they just met, and all but one of them is going to get hurt.
The unseen, unspoken truth is this: situations have great power over us.
I wanted to see how powerful that truth was. If I recreated the situation as a game - a few hours, a few rules, and people who knew they were playing pretend - would it affect them?
Me, in email to Mash beforehand:
I don't know if it'll come together. I am confident it'll work fine as satire and humour if that's the way it goes, but I'll be disappointed if that's where it ends up - not disappointed in the players of course, just disappointed that the structure wasn't as strong as I currently assume it is.
In advance of the game I made the playsheets available. These contain full rules for the game. As mentioned, it's a mix of Best Friends and Breaking the Ice. BF was for the relationships between the women, and while it was a perfect thematic fit, I knew it was ultimately secondary. These rules were mostly a distraction, to hide the sucker punch coming in the other set of rules. In practice they were even less necessary than I expected. (Still perfect thematically, though. BF is a great game!)
While the Best Friends rules were simplified for TLM, the Breaking the Ice rules were so massively simplified that they don't look much like Emily's at all. Still there, mostly, is the dice transaction economy. At the start of a "date", both people get some dice to hold. During the date, when the other person does something romantic, you give them one of your dice. They roll it and see if sparks fly.
The first round of dates, people gifted dice a bit slowly. I told everyone they could chase, and give, dice a lot more freely, and in subsequent encounters loads more dice where handed back and forth. The lady players have mentioned just how much their experience began to revolve around chasing dice. The bachelor player said he could say any cheesy thing he wanted and he would be given a dice by whichever lady was next to him. After dates, all conversation stopped as the other lady players listened carefully for the clatter of dice, an indication of just how well that date had gone.
After the first run of individual dates, we had a group hangout session where only the Bachelor could hand out dice. Somewhere in there, the intensity racheted up. When we began the second (and final!) run of dates, I could feel the tension in the room. After that the Bachelor had to decide his final two, and then (after receiving advice from two unchosen) have intimate chats with both of them before deciding who he would propose to. We just followed through the format to the end.
The players were using coping strategies. Sudden outbreaks of exercise. People dropped out of character more frequently, as if taking a deep breath before diving back in. Several people expressed amazement that they were feeling this as intensely as they were. For my part, I was in a very weird space, carried along and guilty and excited, and I was genuinely moved to tears by one piece of character testimony.
When the final choice was made, everyone felt it.
Afterwards we had a debrief. (If you run this game DO NOT FORGET THE DEBRIEF.) Hugs and talk about what happened and why, a general comedown process to step back into normal emotional processing. And then we were done, off to the next game...
I've been trying for the last month to draw some useful lessons out of this. I haven't, yet. What happened in our game was so distinct to our particular configuration of people - all experienced, all confident playing emotions, most with enormous trust built up between them. And even then, if we had ended up with a different person playing the bachelor, we would have had a massively different experience.
I think it shows that situations have power over our emotions, sometimes, if we engage with the situations in such a way as to allow it. Would it work if the players didn't want to "go there"? Maybe, to an extent. I don't know that I'll ever find it. I don't think I'm going to run this game ever again. It's too mean.
Much love, of course, to the amazing players - Anna, Nikki, Muppet, Andrew and Jenni. Jenni took this pic of the rest of us:
Anna has detailed report of the experience on her blog.
Jenni covers it on her blog.
Do you want to try True Love Match yourself? Grab the playsheets. I also prepped a run-sheet to keep me on track, but it's basically all there in the playsheets - come up with an order of ceremonies that suits you. Will it work? I dunno. Hopefully? If not, hey, just lean into the comedy. At worst, you can spend a few hours viciously lampooning The Bachelor, and that's not a bad way to spend some time.
As mentioned above, the Best Friends stuff was pretty irrelevant to where the game really had power. Would I cut these rules? No, I wouldn't. They provide support if needed for whatever might happen in the mansion, but they also provide a bit of weight to the relationships between the women, something concrete and mechanical to balance out the concrete mechanical relationship with the bachelor. That said, if you wanted to cut them, would I try and talk you out of it? Probably not. Do it your way.
In preparation, Mash referenced Dale Elvy's amazing player activation stuff in his game EPOCH. This was definitely a useful suggestion, one I kept in mind as I got things going. I recommend checking that out.
(Curiously, TLM was one of two on this subject offered at Kapcon that year. Kapcon is a weird convention.)
This is not the version of this post I wanted to write. I had a longer - substantially longer! - version in the form of incoherent pieces and half-thoughts that needed full paragraphs to explore. I couldn't make that one happen. Partly because I need to get something down before this recedes in the memory, and partly because I couldn't manage to put those half-thoughts together right. This will have to do, for now at least.