Monday, September 17, 2018

Five or So Questions on Something is Wrong Here

Today I have an interview with Kira Magrann, talking about her new live action game Something Is Wrong Here, which is currently on Kickstarter! It's a very different game, from what I can tell, and that makes it all the more interesting to me. I hope you like reading Kira's responses!


Kira, a dark haired nonbinary person with hair and clothing styled after a quintessential David Lynch character.

Tell me a little about Something is Wrong Here. What excites you about it?

Something Is Wrong Here is a roleplaying game inspired by the dark and uncanny work of David Lynch. It's atmospheric, emotional, and personal, and THOSE are the things I'm most excited about in the game! A lot of Twin Peaks style games have been more like small town murder mysteries, which is great and fine, but my love of character relationships, dopplegangers, and personal horror is bleeding like, all over this game. I designed it to FEEL like a David Lynch gig more than follow the PLOT of one of his things. So its a pretty emotional experience, and I love that about it.

You talk about following David Lynch's creative process in the Kickstarter video. What was the creative process? How did it affect the game in comparison to other processes you've used?

David Lynch's creative process is very fine art and drawn from his subconscious. It's so weird I love it, especially the fine art stuff. I'm a sucker for surrealist painters like Francis Bacon, who David Lynch's uncanny films have often been compared to! He was a painter before a filmmaker, and he sees films like moving paintings. I see roleplaying games like fine art experiences, immersive and social performance art, so I really connect with this correlation of the cross contamination of art media. His ideas are drawn from meditation and dream images. He often says "Ideas are like fish. If you want to catch little fish, you can stay in the shallow water. But if you want to catch the big fish, you've got to go deeper." 

I thought I would experiment with this process while making a game inspired by his work, draw from my background as a fine artist as well as my own dreams and subconscious. I thought, what scares me the most in David Lynch things? What do I connect to the most? How can I make the narrative more from my queer non-binary perspective? I thought and dreamed and meditated on it for awhile. From there it was easy to focus on the identity issues that are so relevant in his work that I also deeply relate to. Issues that focus on multiple selves, and what we really need emotionally from relationships with people, and of course that feeling of creeping dread that I really do enjoy (I love being scared and always have).

Small cards with descriptive text on them, one titled "Optimistic innocent"
Character cards!
What is the structure of the game like, and how do players mechanically interact with the narrative?

The game's structure is somewhat fluid in the plot sense, in that the plot isn't the most important thing about the game. The characters are the focus, and the scenes that unfold are there just to focus on the each character's personal feelings, and how their relationships with the other characters might influence their decisions in the final act. There are two acts basically, and the mechanics are card based, in addition to a Facilitator who helps frame scenes, keep time, and play music. The cards change and serve different functions as the game goes on. At first they are emotional prompts, then they are acting prompts that happen in scenes, and then finally they are cues to how to make decisions in a suddenly uncanny environment. The players are encouraged to dive deep into their character's minds, and perhaps see correlations between those minds and their own. This, in addition to atmospheric props like a box and a mirror, create some deep emotional play. 

How did you playtest and develop a game with this kind of complexity - and how replayable is it, with playtest experience in mind?

I actually just playtested it as normal! It played excellent both at home, and at a convention. It's oddly simple once it gets going actually, as the rules are easy and repetitive, like a ritual, and the facilitator really just needs to guide the scenes and the timing. It's reasonably replayable, because the spoiler doesn't reaaaaaaaally matter to the story, its more what happens to the characters and the decisions the players make that are the heart of the game. People could play different characters, or you could end up spending more or less time in different setting options, and I bet it would present a different emotional journey each time. Although it is designed to be a unique, one night experience!

How is Something is Wrong Here different from the works it reflects? I think you address this a little with looking for queer, nonbinary aspects - how do you think that shows most in the game?

Hahahaha well, I love David Lynch but he is an old white guy with some problematic ideas about gender and hardly represents people of color in his work, etc etc problematic faves. My work obviously attempts to diverge from those problematic aspects of his. This game doesn't have representation in it per se... the character archetypes are very flexible and undefined so you can make them whatever you want them to be. The clearest setting elements are "America" and "a forest, a living room, a diner, a roadhouse" so you could imagine perhaps a small American town, but it doesn't say where. SO really, the queerest and most non-binary parts of this game are about questioning dualities and pre-determined endings. Like, at the end, each character has a choice when they're confronted by themselves. How can you confront yourself? Are parts of your identity different than other parts? Those are pretty essential to my personal non-binary thinking. My identity is complex, and made of fluid moving parts, and sometimes I analyze different parts of myself like different parts of a big whole, right. So those themes about the complexness of identity are really central to Something Is Wrong Here.

A box of cards labeled "Something is wrong here" with thematic art.
The mockup for the cards and box!


Thanks, Kira, for the interview! I hope you all enjoyed the interview and that you'll check out Something Is Wrong Here on Kickstarter today!

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