I’m on a study project to improve my understanding of roleplaying games. To this end, I already have two reading projects, A Game Per Year and An Adventure Per Year. This is the third, with the goal of reading or playing 52 games made in the last few years. Originally I considered making this “A New RPG Per Week” and that’s where the number 52 comes from, even though a weekly schedule is probably not within my abilities.
Midlife Blues is a scenario from this year’s Fastaval, available here. It’s a warmly humorous game about midlife crisis. A middle aged werewolf called Hemnes (werewolf names are drawn from the IKEA catalogue) has to make an important choice and the players will be along to see how it plays out.
The choice is whether he’ll buy a sportscar or a motorcycle.
In our culture, a middle aged man who buys either of these is a standard object of ridicule. What’s interesting about Midlife Blues is that it goes out of its way to be nice about this. There are warm-up scenes that gets us into the mindset where players are asked to describe motorcycles and sports cars in exclusively positive terms.
What makes this interesting as a design choice is that it clearly plays against the cultural assumptions and standard attitudes we have for this specific scenario. Since we are conditioned to treat Hemnes the middle aged werewolf with ridicule and scorn, the game asks us to speak with love instead.
The game consists of a series of scenes built around people in Hemnes’ life. He’s a family man of course and one of the more ingenious details concerns how to cut scenes. The mechanic has two parts: First one player will introduce a child to the scene and then another player, as that child, will ask a question. At that point, the scene ends. Of course, the most obvious kids are Hemnes’ own.
My favorite scene is one where Hemnes talks with his gay son Billy. Hemnes is a modern werewolf so he has no trouble with his son being gay. However, his son also identifies as part of the bear subculture, and that’s something Hemnes has trouble figuring out. How can a werewolf also be a bear?
This is a lovely, positive scenario, funny but never mean.