Its time for another installment of The Dreaming Crucible online edition! The Crucible is my storytelling game about young people working through their pain in a deadly Faerie quest. It’s available on Etsy.com or the Indie RPGS Un-store as a handmade book (see the above link), but the text itself is available under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license. And so I’m releasing it in sections, first here on my blog, and soon to be compiled into a Wiki.
Last time I talked about the game’s narrative Principles of Play, but today I’m going to delve into an even more basic principle that embodies the Crucible’s underlying philosophy.
The Dreaming Crucible is a game about teenagers and children coping with trauma and heartache. This can take a relatively mild form, or it can delve into the darkest corners of alienation and abuse. Furthermore, a happy ending is possible but not assured. Are you willing to risk that? How far are you willing to go in depicting a child suffering? How young a protagonist are you comfortable with portraying in such excruciating circumstances? These are important questions to answer as a group.
The Dreaming Crucible is not safe. My hope is that you will enter into a relationship with the game and with your fellow players, such that you will go to the dangerous places together in mutual bravery and trust. Game designer Meguey Baker has coined this distinction as Nobody Gets Hurt vs. I Will Not Abandon You.
She says, “I as a player expect to get my buttons pushed, and I will not abandon you, my fellow players, when that happens. I will remain present and engaged and play through the issue. I as a player expect to push buttons, and I will not abandon you, my fellow players, when you react. I will remain present and engaged as you play through the issue.”
I Will Not Abandon You is the default mode of Dreaming Crucible play.
This is a double-edged principle: not only do I promise not to leave you stranded and alone when you’re most vulnerable, but I promise not to check out when I am most vulnerable. When the boundaries of my comfort are breached, I’ll stay right here with you and work it out, and you will do the same, and we’ll be the stronger for it.
This week I explored how Nobody Gets Hurt and I Will Not Abandon You relate to everyday life, in considering how to protect my daughter from all the messages coming in from the world that could harm her. I realized that I can’t stop hurtful or shaming messages from coming through, not all the time, and thus Nobody Gets Hurt isn’t possible in the real world. The best thing I can do for my little girl is to let her know, every waking minute, that I Will Not Abandon You. I can tell her through my words and my actions that I will be there walking beside her in the hurtful shit of society, letting her know she is loved, and helping her work through the attacks on her identity.
So Nobody Gets Hurt is, in my view, strictly for games, or for other structured activities like therapy or support groups that intentionally create a safe and comforting space. Sometimes we need that safe space. Sometimes we need a relaxing evening free from the exhaustion and tension of vulnerability. Sometimes we need a retreat from the battles that consume our lives, battles for sanity, security or well-being.
However, I for one desperately need, sometimes, to be part of a company of dear friends who bravely confront our own demons while each promising, I Will Not Abandon You. Even in a game. Perhaps especially in a game. Because life isn’t safe, and I need to face that, not hide from it. Facing it may be painful, but I have the hope that I’ll be the better for it.
Which is what The Dreaming Crucible is all about in the first place.