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My Life with Master

Entry updated 21 August 2012. Tagged: Game.

Role Playing Game (2003). Half Meme Press. Designed by Paul Czege.

Role Playing Games have been defined as examples of quantified interactive storytelling. Typically, however, only physical actions are resolved using quantified rules, leaving players and Gamemasters free to portray their characters and control the overall flow of the narrative in whatever way they wish. In My Life With Master, an award winning Independent Game, this convention is inverted. The game models a very specific sub genre: that of the Gothic horror film, whose archetypal example is the science-fictional Frankenstein film (1931). Players adopt the roles of the distorted and oppressed minions of an evil Master, Igors to the Gamemaster's Doctor Frankenstein. Each minion's emotional state is quantified using three numbers: self-loathing, weariness and love. As the game progresses, through a series of sequences resembling the scenes in a film, these numbers will change. For example, a minion might attempt to form an emotional bond with a human, gaining love but also risking an increase in their self loathing if they are rejected. The narrative resolution of each scene is constrained by the game's mechanics, but the physical events which lead up to that result – acceptance or rejection, successful completion of a master's scheme or humiliating but perhaps preferable failure – are improvised by the players and their Gamemaster. Throughout, the minions are poised between the forces of fear and reason, between the dread figure of their master and the normality represented by the inhabitants of a nearby town. In the end, the game's story generation machine will always produce a final act in which a minion rebels against and destroys the master, after which closure is achieved using a series of equations which determine the final fate of every character. The approach taken in My Life With Master could perhaps only succeed in a limited subgenre with strong conventions which are understood by all the participants; while games often create powerful and emotionally involving stories, they can become repetitive. It remains, however, a highly impressive example of innovative RPG design. [NT]


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