The Procession of the Species studio hosted a game of “Sea Dracula” on the evening of June 5 as a kick-off to a closing gala to that weekend’s event: Fabricated Realities, Olympia’s first ever story-gaming convention.
Jackson Tegu hosted as the game master. After introducing himself, Tegu explained the instructions with paper hand puppets of the game’s designers, Jake Richmond and Nick Smith. He announced the game’s beginning with,“This is a modified version of Sea Dracula— formatted to fit your screen.”
If this all sounds a bit confusing, keep reading.
Imagine this scene: You are in a big room with paper mache’ creatures suspended from the walls and ceilings with a mixed crowd of strangers and acquaintances. On one side, giant pink crystals jut from the floor.
On another, a cloud castle rises over the people sitting on the lightly cushioned plywood drawbridge. A man wearing giant red butterfly wings sits at a drum set and another man holding a guitar is wearing a rather large frog mask. Five people are picked from the audience to be mock lawyers in the murder case of a piece of moss that was burned earlier in the alleyway. Dance battles ensue between the “lawyers”. Volunteer “witnesses” called to the stand testify with a mix of spontaneous replies and pop references such as, “We didn’t start the fire,” from the song of the same name by Billy Joel.
The “animal lawyer” who eventually wins concludes that “Art literally sets things on fire,” in the case of the burnt moss which appeared to’ve been taken from the eerie “Forest World” near the studio’s entrance.
Ross Cowman and Andrew Dorsett played as Fall of Electricity. Cowman and Dorsett provided short bits of music for the dance battles, themselves in partial costume and sporting pseudonyms.
The Procession studio is tucked away between Thurston and Olympia avenues in an alleyway linking the downtown streets of Capitol Way and Columbia Avenue. For three days, the space was transformed into eight artist-installed “realities” for convention participants to immerse themselves in imaginative scenarios with potential strangers.
According Cowman, it was a joint planning and coordination effort between Tegu, Grace Ellis, and himself that began on January 11 of this year. Cowman also credits local collective The Art Kitchen with contributing significant support toward the production of the event.
The Fabricated Realities website created by those sharing the administrating efforts of Fabricated Realities provides some clues on why an event like this was held in this city. “Echoing the Do-It-Yourself music scene, the advent of print on demand publishing has allowed for many independent game designers to flourish. Though chiefly organized through the Internet, there is an inordinately strong concentration of these designers in the Pacific Northwest and we’re excited to welcome the entire spectrum of designers to the convention,” the website said.
When asked how he might explain story gaming to those unfamiliar with it, convention organizer Ross Cowman replied, “Like nothing else I’ve encountered, story gaming demonstrates how awesome it is to work together and build off each other’s ideas, instead of competing to be the best.” With this egalitarianism in mind, the link to a D.I.Y. approach toward creativity and idea sharing becomes even more apparent.
One gala volunteer, South Puget Sound Community College student Steven Boyd explained what the previous days at the studio would have looked like: “This was all tables of people playing games.”
Ben Robbins, a participant in the entire weekend event, had volumes to say about his experience. “If you walked in here Friday, you would see people at tables; small groups of three or four, just talking to each other. And from a distance you might be saying ‘that looks really boring.’ But you’re having this shared imaginary fictional world that you’re building, having to go back and forth,” he said.
According to Robbins,“It’s pretty much about coming together and making something creative with people you don’t know, you’ve never met—which doesn’t sound that scary. And trying to spontaneously invent something that is exciting and dramatic and tells a good story and also appeals to everybody and satisfies their sense of what’s relevant or what’s interesting and sometimes touching and sometimes scary. So, it can be very…in a way, dangerous!” He also said that “Sea Dracula is a party game” in comparison with the framework of many of the stories he constructed with others during the convention.
Robbins recited a recurrent joke that seemed to sum up the weekend to him: “What is the game about? Oh, it’s about the human condition.”