July 22nd, 2008

The Black

Carry: A Game About War

On Saturday night I played "Carry" a tabletop game that takes place in Vietnam during the war . Inspired by the book, "The Things They Carried" by Tim O'Brian, characters are given emotional issues they have to carry around with them. The game was run by Nathan Paoletta, the author, who describes the game on his blog thusly:

" Carry isn't about Vietnam. It's about the fiction that American culture has created about Vietnam." In play "Carry" becomes something more than about that fiction and becomes a commentary war itself.

At the start of character creation, players were given an index card and told to write out an emotional burden we were "carrying" with us. I wrote down that my character continually needs to prove his manhood. Then I passed to the player on my right, who wrote that I had to hide my homosexuality and then passed again to the next player to the write who wrote that I frequent young male prostitutes. This is the very core of the game, that these people are carrying around massive burdens in a difficult time.

Characters are pregenerated, but the burdens add an extra twist to them which changes game play every time. Though Wendell Kitteridge, my character, will always be the gunner, always be from a Christian family, always telling lewd jokes and always have the nickname "Professor", he won't always be a closet homosexual who needs to prove his masculinity to protect himself from the shame of not being considered a man.

I was going to do a blow by blow of what happened as I played the game, but as I wrote it, I realized that it may be offensive for some for whom the war may have played very directly into their lives, or for whom war is very present right now. I learned a new (for me) racist term while playing this game and my character, as well as the other characters, did some very offensive things. Writing about the actual acts would, I believe, be distracting from the actual point of the game. I've been forced to consider if my game play, or writing about my game play, was offensive.

I've come to the conclusion that while it isn't offensive to play these characters, it may be offensive to write about their actions. I realize that this seems contractictory, but telling you what the characters in the game did is not an accurate reconstruction of the experience of playing the game. The final actions that happen aren't the point, it's the conflict that goes into deciding on those actions that make the experience.

"Carry" takes place in the Vietnam war, but I believe that the game could be moved into any violent conflict. The characters could be under Genghis Khan, Napoleon or in Iraq today. The game seems to emphasize that whenever there is violence, something is lost. That loss could come in the form of a life, resources or the breakdown of morality.The judgment about war, it's cost and it's consequences is left to the players. I believe that, after playing this game, you are meant to ask yourself: Is it worth it? The game doesn't answer the question for you. Like any good piece of literature, it's up to you to decide.

Nathans Blog Is Here: http://hamsterprophet.wordpress.com/

"Carry" can be purchased here: http://www.indiepressrevolution.com/xcart/product.php?productid=16181&cat=0&page=1

"The Things They Carried", by Tim O'Brian, can be purchased on Amazon here: http://www.amazon.com/Things-They-Carried-Tim-OBrien/dp/0767902890