When the GM goes a little crazy…

13 Sep

I‘ve posted about Junta before. But this time, things are a bit different and infinitely more awesome.

Most of the time, when the game ends, someone wins. That’s how games work.

Sometimes, the GM goes a little crazy, develops a god-complex, and decides to unleash a zombie horde on the players. And suddenly a competitive game rather instantly becomes cooperative. This makes the leadership studies professor inside me squeal with delight.

Two days ago, this group of ten people was lying to each other, backstabbing each other, and generally trying to get everyone else killed so that they could walk away with the most money. Insert a zombie invasion, and all of a sudden those ten people become compatriots in arms, best friends (which some of us were already outside of the game), and more than willing to cede authority to anyone who has a halfway decent plan for survival.

The dynamic of this sudden and immediate change reminds me considerably of the phenomenon we’ve been talking about in one of my classes – that crisis makes people immediately band together. Now in certain situations, crisis can permit the rise of a single charismatic leader behind whom the people will rally (for good or ill). In the case of our game, however, there is no single charismatic leader because, well, we’re all potential leaders (that is half the point of the game). What it produced in us was the sudden urge to collaborate.

And here’s the thing – the game also suddenly became a lot more fun. I think this is due to two factors. 1) This was totally unexpected. Novelty will produce a sense of elation that increases enjoyment. 2) Collaboration is naturally fun. We’ve learned this from horde modes, from Team Fortress 2‘s “Mann vs. Machine,” from Yggdrasil and Pandemic. Collaboration is just more fun because there is no enemy in the room – the Other (in this case, zombies) is a universal evil that we can all agree needs to be destroyed. (It helps that the Other is mindless and brain-eating so we don’t have to suppress any empathy.)

Essentially, by dropping a zombie apocalypse on us, our GM has given us a reason to unite with one another in a way which would never be possible in the “everyday” of the game. We’ve been given a common goal (“survive”) which we all want to achieve. It’s drastically changed the ludics of the game without actually needing to alter the mechanics themselves.

Best of all, perhaps, is that the game has ceased to be at all predictable. We no longer know the way things go – how long it will go on, what it takes to win, anything. In that sense, it mimics life much more truly than it ever can again (since we will know, in the next zombie apocalypse, how it works). And it’s amazing.