[Kim & Marshall] Playtest a game about Eminem's relationship

Hi folks,

Kim & Marshall is a game about exploring the semi-fictional relationship between Marshall (Eminem) and Kim, his wife. It is about what happens to a relationship when broken tools are all you have to work with. You will need:

The Rules
Kim's Playsheet
Marshall's Playsheet
Pressure's Playsheet

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It's a game for 3-4 players. One player will play Marshall, one will play Kim, and one or two players will play the Pressure, setting scenes and complicating the lives of K&M.

It's a game that lasts one session. Every time I've played it has lasted between 2.5-3.5 hours, and produced satisfying and sometimes emotionally troubling play. It has a clear procedure for how the game ends, as well.

It's a game that is pretty light-weight, and designed to learn as you go, reading from the text together at the table. Here's a little bit more about how the different player roles work:

-Marshall's player has powers to change what other people at the table say.
-Kim's player has powers to force Marshall, the character, to do things in the fiction.
-The Pressure players have power to force Kim & Marshall into difficult situations.

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If you would like to playtest my game, I’d love it and be super grateful! It’s worked every time I’ve played this version, so far, and I’ve gotten a lot of satisfaction out of it already.

If you do play it, please get in touch with me afterward and let me know how it goes. Talking about it anywhere in public, online, is totally cool, too (even if you didn’t like it).

If you want to record it and send me the audio or put it up somewhere, that would be amazingly appreciated and you’ll get SPECIAL RECOGNITION in the notes when I publish this game.

Here’s what I’d like to know, once you have played it:


1. Who ended the game? Why did they decide to end it?
2. What direction was the relationship between K&M going in at the end of the game? How did it (or did it at all) change during play?
3. How many Persona Tokens did Marshall usually have, at any given point? Did he ever hit the limit of 10?
4. How many Break tokens were earned and Break scenes used?
5. Were there any specific points of confusion as you were reading the text?
6. Any other comments are appreciated.


The materials for the game are strictly functional, nothing pretty. Just so you know.

Comments

  • edited January 2013
    Here's a bite-sized bit of AP, to give you a sense of how it might play at your table:

    We had a chilling scene where Kim and a friend were discussing her relationship over coffee. The Pressure at play in the scene was “infamy”. The friend was concerned for Kim's safety, as she'd seen so much bad press about Marshall—how he was violent, a drug addict, etc. Kim said things were fine, but eventually let slip that Marshall had hit her, once. Immediately Marshall's player (not in the scene), spent a resource and forced her to say something different. What came out was a defense of Marshall. Confession erased.

    Sometimes we have scenes like this, and they affect the dynamic between the players at the table: we know that Kim was silenced here, and the rules say that when Marshall spends that resource she must remain silenced. However, she has her own ways of getting Marshall to do what she wants. What happens from here, and where does it all end? That's why we play.

    I'm happy to answer any questions. If it's just crickets, that's cool too. If you stop by because you're intrigued but then leave, I'd love to know why--I'm trying to finish my first game and I'm doing it with a really weird concept, so any of the thoughts in your brain about this are valued by me. I discuss my playtests of the game in more depth over here.

    Thanks!
  • OK, Hans, I'll bite. Why the Eminem thing? I might actually be interested in the general topic of the game, but the specific celebrity focus makes me wonder if I'm missing something.
  • edited January 2013
    Hey Joe,

    The short answer is: it just came out that way.

    The answer that may actually be most useful to you is: I think biographical or semi-biographical games are a rich and untapped design space. I picked Eminem because he’s a strange, interesting figure, and I’ve listened to his music a lot throughout my life—maybe I’m exorcising a demon here. I think he evokes an immediate reaction in people--which in my circles is usually the crinkling of the nose. He’s super popular in general but hated by a lot of intelligent liberals, he’s got skill at what he does in spades, but his music is often problematic as hell. He also occupies a uniquely weird position in hip-hop that brings up all sorts of stuff about how race works in this country if you think about the “phenomenon” of Eminem even a little bit.

    A big part of it is that I simply thought "Eminem RPG" in my head and laughed. It's so ridiculous that I had to follow the thought. I figured most everyone else would also do a double take at the sheer weirdness of the concept, and that Eminem would be immediately recognizable as someone you have some sort of opinion about.

    I wrote this game in the mindset someone might have when they write an analytical paper on Eminem. Not to say I’m all smart, just to say that I was looking at his music and pulling apart the assumptions and perspectives and using the game to say something about that.

    Really, it’s about the specific sub-set of Eminem’s music that deals with his fucked-up relationship with Kim.

    This is all, of course, intensely interesting to me. I figured it would be for others, as well. This is the test!
  • This is interesting. I'm also a moderate fan of Eminem, he is incredibly skilled, though his topic choices and the Slim Shady 'style' do not appeal to me sometimes. Marshall Mathers LP has been in the CD player for several months when I'm not listening to NPR.

    From your description, it feels like you took a GM and their duties and actually turned it into a character of sorts, which is a very interesting concept. The GM isn't just the world, they're how the world presses in on these two characters. But by not calling it a GM or giving it full GM duties/status, you really relegate the role to a backseat to the primary characters, though still vital and really cool in my eyes.

    I doubt I'll be able to get a playtest in, but if I do I will post feedback.

  • From your description, it feels like you took a GM and their duties and actually turned it into a character of sorts, which is a very interesting concept. The GM isn't just the world, they're how the world presses in on these two characters. But by not calling it a GM or giving it full GM duties/status, you really relegate the role to a backseat to the primary characters, though still vital and really cool in my eyes.
    Yeah, it's a very focused GMish role. Once you play you realize that Marshall is the real power in the game.

    Thanks for the comments, I'm glad you find it interesting.
  • OMGOMGOMGOMGOMGOMGOMGOMG

    YOU WROTE THIS GAME JUST FOR ME
  • Hell yes I did. You must've been that ghost in the room with me when I was thinking, "Someone else out there (besides my friends who will test it with me because they are my friends) has got to want to play this."

    Let me know what you think!

  • I am intrigued, but I'm not sure if I will have a chance to play it.
  • edited January 2013
    The fact that you, Daniel, who have designed possibly the most intriguing game I have ever played, are intrigued is a great compliment. Thanks.
  • As much as I agree with you about Eminem's talent and share your fascination, I just can't see this game as being in good taste. Just because an artist gives you something doesn't mean it's yours. I like the mechanic though.
  • edited January 2013
    Just because an artist gives you something doesn't mean it's yours.
    As in, I'm playing around with real people and their real (if fictionalized) lives, here, and that's probably not my right?

    If that's what you mean, I agree with you. I mean, I still did it, so I guess I agree only to a certain point, but that's something that I still think about, in terms of ethics.
    I like the mechanic though.
    Thanks! That means a lot. Anything in particular you're thinking of?
  • When we played i was one of the two pressure players. It was really sad, & a bit scary - like being in a room with someone who might become violent at any moment, and you know that no one would believe you that they did so.

    There were some really sweet times, too, though; when Marshall and his daughter (a child in our story) connected.

    There were funny moments, but those also had the underlying danger of being upset at any moment.

    I liked playing with the mythology that real-world Marshall made about his & Kim's life. It made me uncomfortable (not in a way i shied away from) a bit, thinking about how, regardless as to what Eminem says in his music, there's no way to know how kind or desperate the relationship between Kim & Marshall really was. I'd like to play again as one of the character roles.

    Thanks for putting the materials up, Hans!
  • I am disturbed and amazed. I'll be watching.
  • I've played this game twice, (Maybe I'm the only one who has beside Hans) and both times it was a pretty intense experience. The first time I played as Kim. The way the mechanics work, like in the example Hans mentioned, have a lot of bleed. Playing as Kim you really feel the power Marshall has over you. You'll say something as Kim and Marshall's player will correct you. When the thing that gets silenced is a mentioned of Marshall's abuse, you can't help but feel a little of what it's like to be a silenced housewife. The fact that his character's hold over you doesn't require his direct interaction in the scene makes it feel even closer to that parallel, Marshall's voice is always in your head, telling you what to do.

    The next time I played I thought I might be able to get out of the hotseat by playing Pressure, but I ironically felt a lot more creative pressure in that role. You've got to set every scene and populate the world with characters on the fly, much like a GM. Luckily the play aids in the game give you exactly what you need when you look down. Throw together any combination of choices from the three lists of seeds and you'll have a great framework for a scene. Then it's like you've got your hand on the temperature knob for a pressure cooker holding Kim and Marshall's relationship, slowly turning up the heat .

    To me the game isn't specifically about Eminem. He's a great subject because he talks about himself with seems like great candor in his lyrics, creating a rich persona when mixed with his coverage in the media and the autobiographical film about him, but it's impossible to know how much of the persona he projects is real without knowing him personally. He provides a good canvas for the themes the game is looking at. But really the game is about the pressures of being famous as an entertainer in America, with your flaws thrust out in the media spotlight, and then seeing how that falls on your personal relationships. It examines the duality of having a public and personal persona and seeing what happens when one bleeds over into the other.

    In Eminem's own words,
    "I've created a monster, cuz nobody wants to see
    Marshall no more they want Shady I'm chopped liver ...
    But sometimes the shit just seems, everybody only wants to discuss me
    So this must mean I'm disgusting, but its just me I'm just obscene
    Though I'm not the first king of controversy
    I am the worst thing since Elvis Presley, to do Black Music so selfishly
    and use it to get myself wealthy"
  • See also the lyrics to Sing For The Moment to better understand why Eminem.
  • edited January 2013
    Thanks for the comments, guys! (to be transparent, I asked Orion & Jackson if they'd care to comment in this thread).

    Pretty much everything you've said is something I wanted people to get out of the game, so it's good to know it's delivering on that.
  • I played as Marshall. I joked over Kim's parenting concerns, showed my love irresponsibly, presented as carelessly masculine, censored Kim's confession that I hit her (that was me up there), cheated on her, had a rap battle. Emotions felt during play were guilt by proxy, nervous hilarity about our little glimmers of beauty, empathy for my victims, reverence when something real heavy got deleted/overwritten, sadness at the circuit of abuse.

    As Marshall I experienced the powerlessness of playing someone everyone thinks they know. And what's worse is that my Marshall knew it was all bullshit, knew the extent of his choice but did it anyways, with a laugh and a shrug and a cleverness that pressures you to forgive, or if you can't forgive, forget.

    Another thing I thought poignant was the irrelevance of my censorship; that statements or entire scenes could be wiped from existence and still remain perfectly true.
  • Hans, have you thought about making the game less specificly focused on a real-life relationship? Would it lose all its potency if it was called "Baby Mama" or something? Is a critical part of the game the transgressive nature of commenting on terrible things that might have happened to real people?
  • Hans, have you thought about making the game less specificly focused on a real-life relationship? Would it lose all its potency if it was called "Baby Mama" or something? Is a critical part of the game the transgressive nature of commenting on terrible things that might have happened to real people?
    Hey Jonathan, I'd be happy if any hacks showed up with different people in the relationship, fictional or not. I'd be happy to play such hacks. For Hans-as-human-trying-to-express-something-through-game-design, though, it's gotta be Eminem or there's no point. I don't know if I can express why better than I already have in this thread (or through the game), but I'm willing to try if you want to know more.

    I'm perfectly willing to acknowledge (and have been all through my process) that this is something of extremely niche interest even within an extremely niche corner of an extremely niche hobby! I still think it's got a worthwhile experience to impart, though, and if it ends up being simply a curiosity that folks raise an eyebrow over and move past, I'll chalk it up as game design experience and move on myself.
  • That's totally cool. I didn't mean that as criticism, just wanted to know more where you were coming from. Personally, I have very strong feelings and associations related to listening to Eminem (as it sounds like you do as well), based on where I was at that point in my life, and I admit to being a little apprehensive that they might clash with what the game wants from me as a player. I think I would feel less anxious about it if it wasn't so specifically targetted, is all. But I'm interested to play it at some point with a relatively "safe" group of people and see what emerges.
  • P.S. In case it wasn't obvious, I think it's the bee's knees that you wrote this game. SO COOL. I guess I should have said that up front. The fact that it's so obviously personal and transgressive is part of why I love it. I'm just trying to figure out the right angle of approach, for me. Does that make sense?
  • Hey Jonathan, I took all your comments in stride--didn't think you were attacking or anything.
    Personally, I have very strong feelings and associations related to listening to Eminem (as it sounds like you do as well), based on where I was at that point in my life, and I admit to being a little apprehensive that they might clash with what the game wants from me as a player.
    I'll be interested to hear how this turns out if you play it sometime. I think this is a valid concern going into playing this game, but whether it will pan out I certainly don't know.
    P.S. In case it wasn't obvious, I think it's the bee's knees that you wrote this game. SO COOL. I guess I should have said that up front. The fact that it's so obviously personal and transgressive is part of why I love it.
    Thanks, I appreciate that. "Personal and transgressive" is it on the nose, better than I've said it.
    I'm just trying to figure out the right angle of approach, for me. Does that make sense?
    Completely. I'm kind of asking a lot of players, here, and I'm not surprised at all that those who choose to engage with it might have to do some self-orienting.
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