An outcry for the new year

In every cup of joy
a drop of heartache

A tang
Continually reminding
of the poison in the well.

In every breath of life
the wheeze of death

A rattle
Marking the slow march
of every endeavor into decay.

In every heartbeat of courage
the skip of fear

A moment
Of sheer terror
that the talons will close.

Continue reading An outcry for the new year

A Rapture of Terror

Steve Kornacki wrote a Salon article last week about how Harold Camping‘s 1994 prediction of the end of the world caused him to live in fear at 13 years old.

I feel his pain.

I was terrified of the Rapture as a kid. The Christianity of my youth was full of Rapture and Tribulation theology, with the Antichrist rising up to take over the world and desecrate the Temple, judgments pouring out and seas boiling and scorpions tormenting, all culminating on the triumphant return of Christ himself with a sword proceeding from his mouth to slaughter the wicked.

And me, the confused little preacher’s kid, who got “saved” at age 6 but soon realized that his faith was hollow and empty, but didn’t dare admit this to a soul—I believed the Rapture was coming, and that if it did I probably wouldn’t go. And I was terrified.

Our family attended a dramatization of the book of Revelation, and one scene consisted only of “sinners” cast into the Lake of Fire, coming on stage in gunny-sack robes and screaming in agony as they “burned” in stage-flames. I had a front-row seat. I was terrified.

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Beyond mere misery: playing Nicotine Girls

A couple of weeks ago I played a little game called Nicotine Girls, by Paul Czege. I was terrified. The game is modest enough in scope, but the subject matter is incredibly vulnerable: you play low-income young women aged 16-19, in desperate or dismal circumstances, trying to make their dreams come true.

I first found Nicotine Girls a couple of years ago, on Paul’s website. It appealed to me a great deal, but I shied away from actually playing it, especially since the one other gameplaying person I showed it to seemed to think it impossible to play seriously. So it just filed away in the back of my brain, because I was afraid.

I was afraid that I as a thirtysomething white guy would make some horrible sexist and classist blunder in play. I was afraid the game would degenerate into pure misery tourism under the guise of something deep. I was afraid it would take a more glib turn and degenerate into a disrespectful laugh-fest. In short, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do justice to the subject of the truly disempowered.

But some other recent play put it back to the front of my mind, and I began to gather the courage to try. At Go Play NW I polayed it with Michael, Ogre and Johnstone. I had a pang of guilt as we started, as I realized that I, as the Gamemaster, was not in as vulnerable a position as my cohorts. They would be putting a lot of emotional investment on the line with these impoverished and desperate characters, while I would be primarily piling on the adversity. It seemed unfair of me to ask of them what I would not do myself. but we began with a frank conversation of the emotionally vulnerable core of the game, and proceeded on a foundation of intimate trust.

The thing with Nicotine Girls, is that your actions are extremely constrained both by the situation–low-income girls trapped in their circumstances–and by the rules framework–you must act out of Hope or Fear, and you can only use Sex, Cry or Money to get what you want. And there’s a hope roll at the end of the game to attain your Dream that’s heavily stacked against the players. It seemed like a dismal setup that could only end in tragedy–Misery Tourism indeed.

But an amazing thing happened: there was a wonderful array of texture and nuance to the fiction we created. There were moments of misery, but also humor, of tragedy, but also hope. The characters were drawn as vividly and realistically as in a movie like Trainspotting or SLC Punk. And three girls’ fates ran across a whole spectrum, from the senselessly tragic to the deservedly dismal to the brutal but hopeful. What the nigh-impossible Dream roll did was ground the story–this ain’t no Disney movie, there isn’t a fairy godmother in sight,  but your life is what you make it.

I was moved. We all were. I was so gratified to put my trust in these guys and have it returned. Together we transcended the shallow or pretentious and moved beyond it to true beauty and unflinching truth.

Peace,

-Joel