Game Pile: Picking Up The Pieces

Notes after the fold!

What is this game?

  • Picking up the Pieces is a 2020 two-player tabletop RPG about 
  • Actually explaining the rules systems in it would be a bit of an anticlimax; this game is 11 pages long, including cover, credits, content warnings and table of contents. It’s a breezy read.
  • It systemetises (eh) a thing we don’t actually have a Www wegood word for. While English has a word for ‘a statue of a saint who is holding their own severed head’ and a word for ‘convincing a stranger to watch the opening few seconds of the song Never Gunna Give You Up by Rick Astley,’ but we don’t have a word for ‘the moment of raw conversation about a relationship that predicates either an emotional renewal or a breakup.’ 
  • It’s a liminal game; it wants to put you entirely in the space where the relationship is a thing remembered and the renewal or breakup is a thing that concludes the story. You are remembering your backstory, you are not experiencing it or changing it
  • It is extremely rules light: You are not here to memorise a ruleset and there is almost no mastery to the game. You will make all your own pieces and one of the steps in the game is to step through the rules with both players so you both have the same understanding of how the rules system works.

What are games even for?

  • Okay so it’s an extremely art-piece TTRPG about relationship tension or breakups or whatever, and yes, if you go looking, you will be able to find a lot. I didn’t find this out of a comprehensive search, I found this because I already had it in my Racial Justice Bundle. I am not speaking about whether or not this is a good example of what it is in the greater landscape of extremely emotionally challenging TTRPGs put up on itch.
  • A long time ago I talked about a game that was about contrasting one of the biggest and most well known historical genocides with the genocides of the countries that tout themselves as averting it. The idea is that at its core, we have a lot of presumption about what a game is and who it’s for? 
  • Like, I wouldn’t call this game fun. I wouldn’t call what it’s about fun.
  • It is, however, engaging. It is interesting and it’s intriguing. It’s interesting to look at the way the game creates pauses for reflection and makes its experience meditative and shared. It’s a game for two people, just two; it’s about the relationship between those two people, and they may be partners or friends or siblings or even parent and child, and the game cares about the conversation about reconciliation or redress.
  • This is one of those games that I want to see exist, and I think it’s worth people investigating, because the audience for it is small, but you may never know you’re part of the audience if nobody presents it to you.  A lot of you are going to look at this and go: Oh well, I don’t need this game in my life, I have other options or just real life trauma to sort out, thanks.
  • And that’s okay, but it’s not everyone, and this is something that we often say we want in games that we generally don’t get. Games are very rarely about relationships being repaired. They’re often about them starting, about fitting two puzzle pieces against one another perfectly, but in many cases they do that by being extremely static, and reliable, and tropey.
  • This game is dynamic and messy and creative and, to me, extremely challenging. I don’t know how I’d feel if one of my friends wanted to play it for its own sake. 
  • But I want it to be seen.
  • I want people to remember that your games and your ideas don’t have to be ‘fun.’ Games are not about fun.
  • Games are the consensual overcoming of unnecessary obstacles. We use games for all sorts of things, and one thing we use games for is to play with ideas in a space that is safe for that. 
  • This game plays with extremely jagged, extremely painful ideas, and it does it with a lot of care in only eleven pages.

Why use this game?

  • Expertise
    • If you asked me to design a game about couples counselling I would probably have to start by doing a lot of research into parameters and boundaries and the lines and veils system, and I haven’t done that. But this game has done research and has had safety readers and a consultant and stuff.
  • Safety
    • The game has clearly defined rules and boundaries that are meant to give the narrative sinew but which are also there to ensure that each player has the means to stop play when they need to without it being a catastrophic break on the game’s diegesis
  • Permission
    • Why would someone willingly and for fun fantasise through the experience of one of the worst things that can happen to people who live to talk about it
    • Well, you’re doing it because it’s a game. Someone else designed it. It has rules. It’s not your fault that it’s the way it is

Who wants this game?

  • I’d argue that there are three categories of players who want this game
    • Obviously, there’s a category of people for whom the novelty alone of ‘this is a game about navigating this mishmosh of feelings and creating a shared narrative with another player’ is just mashing all the shiny buttons in your brain and yes, you should drop your ten bucks to look at the pdf and go ‘ooo, interesting’ and maybe find another person like you to play it.
    • There’s also people for whom this kind of play presents something that they can see as therapeutic but which they can’t handle being real. We play games to create fictions we can engage with, to give us a handle on reality: Picking up the Pieces is a game where you can deal with this kind of story because it’s not about you and it’s not about them and you can learn how a person might react in these situations. I’m not saying you should play games with your friends as therapy but I am saying that if games are the best way for you to approach something difficult to you, that’s a meaningful thing to seek out, as long as everyone involved is informed.
    • And finally, I think this game is a really useful toolkit for implementation in other games that lack this kind of system. In other games, whether you’re stabbing draculas or posting bad tweets, they may not have a system for this, and it may be something you want to do as part of the game’s fiction. It can be implemented as a module, where you and another player or the DM do a side story that other players don’t have to be there for while you grapple with a much more intense mechanical system, without it just being a heads-butting negotiation that gets too real. 

This was extremely difficult to make because the game doesn’t give a lot of visual material to work with.

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