Today on Tabletop a show run by Wil Wheaton that demonstrates various games, which I’ve mentioned before on the blog, they were actually doing something a bit different and playing an RPG. Specifically, Dread, which has a really interesting conflict resolution mechanic: It uses Jenga blocks. The video of the episode is below and well worth a watch:
Before I begin, this post will detail some issues about depression, suicide and spoil major aspects of an excellent video game, Life is Strange by dontnod entertainment. If you have major issues with any of those particular topics, this post is not going to be for you and you might want to skip this one. Alternatively, if you want to play Life is Strange for yourself I really recommend you don’t read this and play it first. It’s a fantastic game and the narrative is really shaping up to be in an extremely interesting place: Especially with what it does at the conclusion of the second episode.
Alright now, with warnings out of the way let’s move onto the actual topic: How do we use player agency in a game – in this case a video game but many of these discussion points will apply to roleplaying games – on particularly serious topics. Most notably for someone such as myself who runs a lot of Cthulhu orientated games, how do you bring up the idea that characters your PCs might care about or even love commit suicide? How should you handle such a thing and by giving agency to the players in being able to stop it, what feelings might you create should they fail to do so?
This topic came to mind recently after I played and finished the second episode of a video game called Life is Strange. This game follows the life of a teenage girl who develops the ability to rewind time over limited periods, which lets her do things like ask questions and see the result, rewind time, then using the knowledge gained manipulate the person she is questioning. One example is getting into a private dance, where after talking to the other girl you get dismissed with a brash “You wouldn’t know what a dress code was anyway”. When you rewind time with this knowledge, you can re-initiate the dialog but this time dropping a casual “I would bet you have a strict dress code” in there impressing the other girl and scoring an invite.
Major spoilers for the game now follow and then, personal experiences and discussion of player agency, suicide and so on. You’ve been warned!