Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Games about physical and emotional distance

One Missed Call is a short form role playing game for two people trust explores physical and emotional distance. Seriously, some of these short form games are one researcher short of a psychological experiment.

(My wife pointed out to me that there is a movie called One Missed Call, which is an adaptation of the Japanese horror movie, with the distinguished rating on Rotten Tomatoes of 0%. Which means  taping two people playing this game would probably garner better ratings.)

In One Missed Call, the players play two people are are far from each other and are either drifting apart or coming together. You sit back to back so you can't see each other and play out phone calls.

At the start of the game, you decide how physically apart you are and each person secretly decides if you are coming together or falling apart. 

You then will phone each other. Note I don't say take turns. Let's be painfully honest, life doesn't act so fairly either. The non-calling player has a choice of answering or not. If they don't, then the other player has a choice of leaving a voicemail or not.

Each player has a list of phrases. Comes with the game, you don't pick them out yourself. They include things like I love you and I'm sorry I couldn't make it. When you say them, you check them off your list. After you have checked all of them off, you can't make any more calls or answer any calls.

After you have three minutes of silence, probably awkward silence, the game ends.

One Missed Call strikes me as the kind of game that I don't really want to play but I think does a good job doing what it sets out to do. On paper, it is about physical distance and physical separation. Of course and obviously, it's about exploring emotional separation.

As with any game like this, the players are going to get as much as they put in the game. The rules freely admit that you might be very casual and flippant with your phrases. And that works too because that's another way of coping with emotional separation.

There are even rules for playing via email or real phones or even the post office. Frankly, I think that might be a good way to make the game real. Perhaps too real.

One Missed Call really reminds me of Slower Than Light from Twenty Four Game Poems by Marc Majcher, which is a collection of very short forms. In Slower Than Light, you were communicating with the other players by passing notes. However, with every turn, everyone grows farther apart. You have to wait more and more turns in order to read a note until, at the end of the game, you leave with one note unread.

While I am not a fan of every game in Twenty Four Game Poems, I do think that Slower Than Light is pretty brilliant. With a very simple mechanic, it does a wonderful job of demonstrating growing distances.

Physical distance and, more importantly, emotional distance are very powerful things. Both One Missed Call and Slower Than Light create a way for people to discuss them.

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