Saturday, March 26, 2016

Five or So Questions with Josh Jordan and Caitlynn Belle on Singularity

Today I have an interview with Josh Jordan and Caitlynn Belle on their larp that is currently on Kickstarter, Singularity. There are only a few days left on the Kickstarter, but hopefully this interview will tell you a bit about the project and pique your interest!


Tell me a little about Singularity. What excites you about it?

Josh: Singularity is a larp for 4-6 players that emulates a dating game show set in the the transhuman future. I am excited about it for more than one reason. I like that it allows us to play an episode of a dating game show. I think that's a fun format for a one-shot game that I haven't seen before. I like it because setting it in the transhuman future allows me to play characters from a hugely diverse list of human and post-human people. And I like it because I think my co-designer, Caitlynn Belle, is particularly talented at making games about tense human relationships and explorations of personal identity.


What elements of transhumanism are brought forward strongest in Singularity?

Josh: In Singularity, characters are not necessarily human. Though most of them had human bodies when they were born, they now have a variety of physical forms. Basically, the characters exist in a universe where the human body is optional. You can choose your own body to match your sense of identity. Whether that's an uplifted tortoise, a humanoid composed of pure electricity, an android, an abandoned planet, or something else entirely, you choose to define yourself, and you can conform your body to that identity.

Caitlynn: Mostly the idea of changing yourself and no longer needing to rely on standard conventions of what a human being is. We've purposefully kept the majority of the topic out of the game and focused on the technology to change who you are, to bring yourself more in line with the ideal soul within yourself.


When designing games about relationships, particularly larps, what do you think are the most important elements?

Josh: Player safety and comfort are the most important. Then of course, preparing and monitoring to make sure that the players are having fun. After that, being true to the theme of the game itself.

Caitlynn: Figuring out how a relationship actually works and trying to deliver the tools to help players convey that. We have a very romanticized version of how marriage or relationships work via the media we consume, and it's important to try to transcend that and deliver a more honest experience. The core of a relationship is defined, I think, by how people work together and what they're willing to go through and still stick it out. If you're trying to make a game about how people interact with romance and sexuality, you have to take into account that they're people, with their own quirks and hang-ups about love, sex, gender, ethics, and so on. It's putting two personalities together and see where they stick and where they repel, and finding out what happens when they can't make those things compatible.

Another important thing is safety, because a relationship is trust and love and carries certain connotations and baggage with it, and may sometimes elicit strong memories from players. You have to make sure people are ready.


Tell me a little about the structure of Singularity. How does the game flow?

Josh: Allow me to answer that by first showing you the Table of Contents. It follows the order of the game itself, so it should give you an idea of how the game flows.

Pre-Show Directions
  • Pitch
  • Setup
  • Rules
Screenplay
  • Opening
  • Round Table
  • Second Dates
  • Decision Debrief
During the pre-show directions, players talk about what the game is supposed to be and what they need to do to choose characters and prepare to play. They also talk about safety rules and boundaries, so that no player feels unsafe, and so that any player who begins to feel unsafe knows what to do. The players are there to support each other and make sure everyone is doing okay.

During the actual game, which the book calls the Screenplay section, the format is very much like an episode of a dating show, followed by a player debrief. The Host opens the show and introduces the characters. The Star meets all the Contestants at a round table group date. The Star takes each Contestant on a separate second date. Then the Star talks with the Host and makes her final decision of who to pursue a relationship with.

Caitlynn: One player takes on the role of host, facilitating the entire game, while everyone else plays contestants on a dating show. One is the star, and the others are trying to win their affection. There's a round of introductions, then a first date, where everyone plays a scene in a nightclub or bar or somewhere and they discuss who they are and what matters to them.

After that, players work together to improvise stories about a second date, making it up on the fly. The host will try to interject and draw conflict out of it. Then, after about an hour of play, you've got these characters who have put everything about themselves on the table, who are excited that this person is into this thing, but are nervous because they're opposed to that thing, and finally the star has to make a tough decision and decide who is important for them.


Does Singularity have any built-in safeguards for safe, respectful play?

Josh: Yes, the section of the book entitled "Rules" is all about safe, respectful play. Before the players get in character, they discuss which topics should be off-limits, expectations for physical touch during the game (SPOILER: There doesn't need to be any physical touch during the game), three things they can do when they feel uncomfortable during the game, and what to do when they think another player looks uncomfortable.

Caitlynn: We talk a lot in the setup about safe practices and techniques - cut and brake, the door is always open, and so on. There's a whole section dedicated to making sure people understand they're free to walk away at any time and that we all exist as a group to make this a fun experience for all.

Despite the characters being a bit strange, they're really just very surreal takes on identity and gender, so we talk about making sure you're addressing those things respectfully and the role you have in making it work successfully for everyone. Safety and good times are huge concerns!


What do you think is the most valuable thing someone can get out of the experience in playing Singularity?

Josh: That's a good question. I don't want to limit what you get out of the game or tell you that if you don't feel X, you're not playing right. But I hope that by playing Singularity, you have at least a moment of empathy for people who struggle with identity issues in real life. Maybe you are like me and have always had a strong sense of who you are. That's great, but not everyone is like that. Or maybe you have a sense of identity, but the society where you live doesn't value you or your identity. Playing a game of Singularity can give you moments of empathy with people who are either A. still figuring out who their are or B. being told by their neighbors that their identity isn't worth much.
TL;DR I hope you get out of it whatever you want, but our intent to explore issues of identity. Especially identity in the context of looking for romance.

Caitlynn: That these people exist. Trans, non-binary, queer, or what have you. They're a part of our community, and even outside of that, a part of our society. The big goal with this game was to help characters find connections across differing creeds, cultures, ideas, identities, and genders, to show that even the people we hate or distrust, they're still people. We're all human in the end.


Thank you to Caitlynn and Josh for their responses, and make sure to check out Singularity on Kickstarter!

This post was supported by the community on patreon.com/briecs.