[Playtesters needed] Nordic Freeform: "Bipolar Lush"

edited January 2016 in Story Games
I've completed the second draft of a game I hope to bring to next year's Fastaval (the Danish freeform festival), and am looking for playtests and feedback. "Bipolar Lush" is a relatively high intensity/bleed scenario about a main character who suffers from bipolar disorder and alcoholism. The game is written in the Danish/Swedish freeform tradition, and is my first venture into this particular style of game. It's been playtested twice with good results. It's for four players: The GM, P (the main character), The Demon (plays the disorder/addiction) and The Extras (plays secondary characters). It has a three act-structure, containing sketches for various scenes that help develop the story.


  • I have a fairly strong reaction. So, let me see if I can express this correctly.

    I don't have bipolar disorder; I do have a pair of mental illnesses (PTSD and monopolar depression) which are often misdiagnosed as bipolar disorder. I have had a lot of bipolar people in my life, including friends.

    This game seems -- and this is a surface impression but of course surface impressions matter -- to be contributing to and reinforcing a commonplace social narrative of vile dehumanizing bullshit about mentally ill people. It seems to be exploiting this (vile, dehumanizing, bullshit) narrative of mental illness to try to get a shortcut to "serious emotional game." Of course, you can't shortcut to emotional meaning, all you can do is reify and reinforce dehumanizing stereotypes about people.

    So pretty much the message I'm getting out of this is "we're willing to trivialize your* problems and dismiss your* humanity to get some cheap thrills while considering ourselves important and emotional and 'high bleed.'"

    It's not a happy feeling.

    * and people like you.
  • edited January 2016
    Yes, that is a fairly strong reaction. A useful one to be aware of, though. You don't know much about the game based on the brief description above, so I'm curious as to what triggered it. I'm guessing the title, which might mean I'll have to consider changing it.

    There is a high degree of comorbidity between bipolar disorder and substance abuse (60 percent), and the game explores this. My wish is that people will learn more about the disorder and the challenges it presents some (not all) with from playing the game.

    Incidentally, the scenario is autobiographical.
  • Clearly, @Ben_Lehman, the game triggered a strong reaction in you. I'm wondering whether it's the way it has been described, or just the existence of the game at all. I have a strong belief that games like this -- about serious, autobiographical stuff -- deserve the benefit of the doubt.

    It may be worth pointing out, that no one game can hope to capture say, the myriad of different experiences that bipolar patients have. It can only focus on one, or at most, a handful, and by necessity, those will be the ones that are most interesting to the author.

    In a similar way, my game The Curse only captures a certain sort of narrative around BRCA. Is it "vile dehumanizing bullshit" because it emphasizes the tragic cosmetic nature of losing a body part of femininity? Or because it leaves out the myriad of women who learn they have BRCA when they are older, after having children, thus silencing a part of the BRCA community that often goes overlooked because it's not full of young cute women? Or because it perpetuates narratives about unsupportive boyfriends? I couldn't say. But then again, I wrote about my own experience, because that's what seemed most compelling to me.
  • I was just discussing my desire to make educational games about mental illness with my fiance the other day, though in our case it would probably involve "how to create an effective treatment environment to encourage recovery in folks with eating disorders." I think there's potentially a lot of good that could be done through games like this, but also -- of course -- a lot of pitfalls and potential for misinformation as well. But the only way to find out and get better at this stuff is to try, right? And, of course, to be open to very real criticism (like Ben's) and try to minimize the possible harm. There's so much misinformation about mental illness, though, that it seems like something worthy of attempting.
  • Playing this today!
  • Looks very interesting. Ben has a point though. Even if the game itself offers the players a nuanced and compassionate view into the reality of a bipolar addict, the title itself is a slur. For all the people who see the title but never actually play, the game will be a murmur in the general hubbub of "mentally ill people suck" running though our culture(s). Like, say, I write a game about misogyny called "Stupid Fucking Cunt." It might be a blistering critique of widely held casual but harmful views and habits, and the sexist microaggressions that flow from them, and the players might have the most amazingly enlightening and passionate conversation and emerge from the game wiser and better (or something). Everyone else still just sees "Stupid Fucking Cunt."

    Fortunately this is an easily fixable problem: Just call the game something not slurry.
  • While I realize not everyone agrees with this, I'm convinced that both writing and reading creates obligations for those committing to it. I'm not completely clear on what all of these obligations are, but I think they're kind of part of the contract between writer and reader which makes text intelligible, and thus part of language in the wider sense. Consider the following a sort of probing suggestion, rather than statements of fact or definite opinion.

    One I'm pretty sure of is that when you as a writer takes up themes that affect people in real life, things which people have a sense of ownership of and internalize as part of their identity, that creates some sort of obligation. I don't think we can expect writers to always avoid offending the "owners"; you might even use your choice of theme to challenge ownership. Sometimes, deliberate offense, preferably kicking up, not down, so as to be in a position of resistance, not a molester, is just what we need. But you do have to use it for something. Merely reveling in whatever misery or drama you're stirring up is just not acceptable. If you're going to manipulate people's feelings, in particular if you're going to offend people, make it worthwile. If nothing else, anything less makes for boring, bad writing. Games run into a problem here, since so much of the actual content only becomes apparent when they're played, and a lot of the content is contributed by organizers and players, not designers. It's risky to judge a game by the script.

    A second obligation I'm beginning to develop an attachment to applies to the reader. You don't get to tell writers to change their title because it might offend someone who hasn't even read the text. You don't get to tell a writer that a subject belongs to you and yours and is off limits to anyone else. As a reader, you're expected to give a text the benefit of the doubt. You're expected to engage with the text on the writer's terms. If you find you don't agree with the writer's terms as you percieve them, you're free to say so, and/or stop reading. This obligation probably doesn't apply to an editor (because they are perfect, godlike beings with a WIS score of 20+), but that's a completely different story. Again, games run into problems; committing to playing a game is something very different and more intimate than reading a text.

    Or something. I'm working on it. In what ways am I wrong?
  • I don't know. To me, using the world "should" when talking about games rarely if ever makes sense. Someone makes something. Someone else hears about it, and has an opinion. Someone else again plays it, and has an opinion. Occasionally people get upset making, hearing about or playing a game. The world goes on.

    I'm probably speaking from a position of privilege when I say that I think people should write whatever games they want, and it's up to the world whether those games get read or played. Games can, of course, be part of a problem, and as a game designer I try not to make things that provoke people unnecessarily. But that's my personal choice. I don't think others "should" make their games in specific ways, nor do I think that others "should" accept whatever games people make. If someone thinks a game has an offensive title, they can say so. The game designer can take that as feedback and do what they want with it. None of them are obliged to the other in any way.
  • Hm. Beginning to agree. "Obligation" doesn't work to describe what I'm looking for here. "Expectation", maybe?

    Trying it out: Writers are expected to be brave, challenge ownership/power, and take care not to kick down. When they fail in those expectations, readers are expected to say so. By choosing subjects that matter a lot to large numbers of people, we explicitly or implicitly announce an agenda. Pointing out a failure to effectively use the subject to fulfill that agenda is a valid criticism. Telling writers to refrain from touching a subject in the first place because we expect them to fail is not?
  • That absolutely sounds like something I'd agree with!
Sign In or Register to comment.