Hope Inhumanity, and the Stripping Away of “Character” in the Face of Scarcity.

starving 03In my recent play tests of Hope Inhumanity I’ve noticed something odd about the relationship of the players to their characters. And I’d like to suggest that what is being “simulated” is the falling away of superficial character elements to reveal the core survivor within us all.

This game is really “role playing light” to begin with, but there is a small nod towards character creation, and a cursory opportunity for hardcore role players to engage with the character elements they’ve randomly drawn.  In the sessions I’ve had recently, we’ve started the game by sketching basic character elements, and in early scenes, we’d have in-character discussions and debates about whether we should rob that poor family or raid the well-defended big box store for much needed food and medicine. And that lasted for a round or two before falling away to the sheer economics of survival against the odds.

My initial reaction is that this is a failure of the game to encourage players to engage with their characters. And there may be some truth to that. But there’s another perspective to this. As the situation of each character becomes more dire, and the prospect of failure stares everyone in the face, character elements starts to fall away. The discussions around the table shift away from role playing our sibling rivalries toward the dark details of who is most likely to survive and what we can all do to ensure that at least one of us gets out of this alive. In the final round, when death and deliverance are equally within reach, we have to make hard decisions. Do we commit that one selfish move that ensures our survival and everyone else’s doom, or do we sacrifice ourselves to give others with a better chance at survival a final push to freedom? Just how long will it take before I starve to death, and if I’m not going to make it anyway, should I just give my food to someone else?

In each of the sessions of Hope Inhumanity I’ve run, I have witnessed these scenes of survival economics playing out amongst the players. And that was a design goal for this game. I want the game to be a vehicle for exploring issues of humanity in the face of life or death situations. In fiction, you take regular people and put them in extreme situations. I want to take the same approach with my games, and Hope Inhumanity is my first foray into this “games as literature” exploration of human issues through gaming.

I’m not sure if Hope Inhumanity is truly a role playing game, story game, board game or some combination of all three. What I know is the game applies the economics of scarcity to investigate how people behave in an extreme situation. It happens to use a post-apocalyptic setting as the premise to engage the players’ imagination, but this is really just window dressing for the core concept. So if the game is successful and people enjoy it, I’m excited about the possibilities for expanding this core to explore other situations that most of us wouldn’t want to experience in real life, or may prefer to forget that we actually had to experience. Some ideas that have been tossed around range from escaping from a military occupation to the teenage journey through high school. I’m hoping we can eventually do both.