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Bob Williams, Patrick Lennon, Monica Galarneau, Alex Samuels, Kevin Lin. Photo by Joe Iano
Silence In Heaven
Produced at the 14/48 festival, 1/6/18. The randomly drawn theme for that night: "The Seventh Seal." My random actor draw: write a play for five actors. Julie, Annie, Nell, Sam are arrayed around a coffee table, maybe on cushions on the floor. Ricki narrates the opening. RICKI to audience: So - Iím a game designer. I make mobile games for kids, although I used to make tabletop games. I donít get to bust out my really subversive side on company time, but every now and then I surprise my gaming group by asking them to playtest something new that I invented. To the others: So this is a pretty dark game, I think. Yíall up for that? ANNIE: Like that time we played your bootleg version of Cards Against Black Mirror? RICKI: That was just goofing off. This is a whole stand alone collaborative game, so you all play as a team. Itís also kind of a story-telling game, so thereís a little role playing. NELL: Whatís it called? RICKI: Itís called The Seventh Seal. Your goal is to open all seven seals of the apocalypse. SAM: Thatís bleak, Ricki, even for you. ANNIE: You mean like, four horsemen type of apocalypse? RICKI: Exactly. This is a four player game - we have the perfect number. JULIE: What does that make you? The Dungeon Master, or the Game Master, or what? RICKI: Uh, well in this game, that role is called the Antichrist. So yeah thatís me. Ricki deals out a single card to each of the four players. The cards each feature a corporate logo. RICKI: These cards represent the four major corporate entities that currently dominate life on the planet: Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple. Each of these companies is secretly one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. In phase one, you take turns making your case for which horseman you are, until we have consensus. JULIE: Do we roll to see who goes first? RICKI: No, there are no dice in the game. Iíll blow a toy horn for color and then decide randomly. SAM reading from her phone: Well I hate to be a rules lawyer already, but history gives two choices for the first horseman - Conquest or Pestilence. Which is it? RICKI: Playersí choice. She blows a little toy horn. Sam, youíre first. SAM: Well, I drew Facebook. And I guess I would say - the way Facebook divides people into echo chambers, and pits opposing viewpoints against each other in this kind of ugly memetic battle royale - not to mention how Russiaís using Facebook to fuck with our elections - I would say that Facebook is War. NELL: Interesting. I drew Amazon. And I would have said that Amazon is War. Because itís waging war on every last consumer product silo in existence, right? JULIE: Thatís just competition, isnít it? ANNIE: Isnít war a kind of competition? JULIE: Well, Russia isnít using Amazon to fuck with our elections, itís using Facebook, which is cyberwar at minimum, isnít it? NELL: Amazonís building a fleet of drones, though. And Bezos has rocketry! SAM: Are we supposed to argue like this? RICKI: Yeah, thatís the game. NELL: Okay, well if Amazon isnít WarÖ then itís definitely Conquest. Its whole mission is to conquer every last aspect of every consumer supply chain. And thereís no like major philanthropic side of Amazon, or Bezos, or whatever. Itís the Mongol horde of convenient impulse shopping. ANNIE: Hmm, well I drew Apple, and I love Apple, going way back, so this is hard. I think your game is hard, Ricki. JULIE: There should be a skill deck, so you can draw something like, ďOvercome Brand Loyalty.Ē ANNIE: Oh shush, I can do it. I would say Apple is Famine. SAM: But the world is completely flooded with billions of Apple devices. ANNIE: Right, but somehow they always leave you wanting the next one, like the one you have is never satisfying enough, right? Youíre always hungry for what you donít have, and itís this - whatís the opposite of a virtuous cycle? SAM: Itís buying shit from Apple. ANNIE: Right. JULIE: Okay well thatís weird then, because I donít associate Google with Death. I mean, theyíre the original do no evil company, right? Except how unfairly they pay their women employees or whatever, but thereís no horseman of Misogyny. RICKI: We can definitely put one in the expansion set. SAM: It would be easier if you had Twitter, because that would at least be brain death. JULIE: Can we just agree that Google is Death, by process of elimination? RICKI: Sorry, you have not convinced the Antichrist. NELL: Maybe Apple should be Death. I mean, donít people literally jump to their deaths from the roofs of iPhone factories? ANNIE: They hung up nets! NELL: Iím just saying. SAM: With Google you get YouTube, and thatís where terrorists put up their beheading videos, right? JULIE: Oh, come on, Sam, Jesus. RICKI: No Jesus. Only AntiJesus. JULIE: Ricki, remind me why itís a desirable outcome to bring about the apocalypse? RICKI: Youíre not bringing anything about, Julie. The game is to help you understand the apocalypse thatís already happening all around you. SAM: Iím telling you, Google is Death because of beheading videos, do we have consensus? Can we have an official ruling from the Antichrist? RICKI: Congratulations, the four horsemen have been identified, and the first four seals are open. NELL: Ricki, if youíre looking for feedback, this is not a very commercial gaming experience weíre having. RICKI: I havenít got the rest of it worked out too well. The fifth seal is the anguished cry of the martyrs who were slaughtered for the cause. Iím having trouble gamifying that to be honest. ANNIE: Sure, but think about - like, Facebook is hiring like 50,000 people to help monitor user-generated content and theyíre like, staring at the worst of human society all day long, day after day, violence and sex crimes and depraved shit, and these people are just kind of getting ground up, arenít they? Like they donít last long in that position because itís hard on the soul. SAM: Or, like, tens of thousands of Amazon warehouse and delivery employees are getting ground up for the sake of Prime shipping, at least until they get replaced by robots and drones. NELL: And even if they hung up nets, Appleís suppliers are cramming workers into dorms in their factories and they basically live there, I mean, thatís where youíre going with all this, right? These companies extract a human cost that isnít measurable by standard economics? RICKI: Exactly. And then, the sixth seal, thatís the giant earthquake, when kings and rich men cower, and the mountains themselves tremble. JULIE: Whatís the game scenario for that? RICKI: Everybody draws cards from the Workers Rise Up deck, and you play out a series of violent revolution rounds until the four horsemen are all converted to anarcho-communism. And then, when the Antichrist of capitalist corruption is thrown down, you finally get to the seventh seal. SAM: Which is Judgment Day, right? Thatís when judgment finally happens? RICKI: Yeah, but first - when the seventh seal is opened, there is silence in heaven for half an hour. Thatís your reward for winning the game. Thereís silence in heaven because all the angels come down to Earth to celebrate with us, because we eliminated poverty and everyoneís got medicine. But to simulate that, you the players get to sit in silence for half an hour, without checking your socials or your work emails or whatever. A brief silence. ANNIE: Well look, I think itís heavy handed as an allegory and the game mechanics are obviously not all there yet, but itís more interesting than fucking Settlers of Catan. JULIE: What happened at work that brought this out of you? Did they sell the company? Are they canceling your project? RICKI: What, I canít strive for violent revolution without some personal inciting incident? NELL: This reminds me of a game I used to play in high school, called Thermonuclear War. It was a card game where you couldnít win, you could just die a little less horribly than your opponent. SAM: Oh - see, I thought silence in heaven as a winning outcome was supposed to be hopeful. ANNIE: This game just introduces you to the problem space. This is practically a game for kids. NELL: Itís not like you to write a kids game in your spare time, Ricki. Are you pregnant? RICKI: Theyíre canceling my project at work. Theyíve decided to license the game IP to some Chinese company that builds stuff for Android. All our mobile devs are history. JULIE: You could go back to board games, couldnít you? RICKI: I was thinking I might go solo for a while. The Seventh Seal is obviously not the game for it, but I think I could dream up some sharp stuff that might keep us afloat for a while. ANNIE: Ah yes, the crucial pre-revolutionary entrepreneurial phase. NELL: With a little more work, I bet you could sell The Seventh Seal. SAM: Oh yeah, a mobile version especially. You just need to ask yourself - where in this complex moral and philosophical framework can I make room for, like, microtransactions? JULIE: All right, enough, we are not selling The Seventh Seal to kids to play on their phones. NELL: Not right now, I mean, kids will expect a well-designed mechanic for slaughtering martyrs. RICKI: So what do yíall actually want to play tonight? SAM: I hear the land of Catan is currently unsettled. ANNIE: Let it remain unsettled. JULIE: We could watch a movie. NELL: Hmm, yes, I wonder if there any movies that might match the theme of tonight...
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