#iHunt: The RPG, Pain Vs Fun

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Have you gotten your copy of the #iHunt RPG yet?

So far, the responses are AMAZING.

I could do this all day. But I won’t.

No. Today I want to talk about the biggest point of contrast in #iHunt.

Pain Vs Fun

#iHunt is a game about poverty, about the crushing weight of capitalism, and about struggling to get by. Yet, #iHunt is meant to be fun.

How the fuck’s that work?

Isn’t that terribly depressing? Why would someone want to just be on a down-note all the time in a pretendy fun time game?

It’s actually not that complicated. It’s really about modes, priorities, and contrast.

Two women watching a house burn while a man struggles in the fire.

Modes

A good RPG session shifts modes. This is informal in most games. In Dungeons and Dragons, you have an informal planning and prep phase where the players’ characters “go to the tavern and look for a quest,” you have the bits where they’re shopping for gear, and you have exposition bits. Then you shift to the main, formally acknowledged modes of play, which are the dungeon exploration and combat.

In some games, it’s more formal. The Leverage RPG, for example, has a distinct planning and briefing phase, a job phase, and a “mastermind action” wrap-up phase. Blades in the Dark has a more formal version of Dungeons and Dragon’s planning phase in addition to its adventure phases.

In #iHunt, the main, formally assumed mode of play is the gig. That’s the adventure. There’s also an informal “finding the gig” mode that’s implied by the text but not particularly emphasized. The other formal mode of play is the aftermath—this is the wrap-up phase after the mission’s complete.

This is hugely important to the pain/fun dichotomy of #iHunt. It’s spelled out abundantly in the text, but #iHunters are set up to win. It’s not that the rules are inherently in their favor, but that the default play assumptions and the setting conceits assume that the players will grab onto whatever advantages are present and abundant, and they will kick monster ass.

This is fun. It’s the heroes getting to be badasses. It’s the part we cheer about in the serial action adventure drama show on the CW network.

Then the opposing mode is the aftermath. That’s for grounding. That’s for the bite. That’s for the pain.

In game terms, there’s a clear distinction drawn by one specific mechanic—imperiling aspects. During the adventure phase, the action, the gig, the players have opportunities to imperil aspects and cause remarkably bad situations for monsters. This is their chance to shine. During the aftermath phase, the Director gets to imperil aspects against the players. This is where the Director plays the part of capitalist realism. This is the part where the players have to make hard choices. So not just in play assumptions, but in the mechanics, there’s a sort of push and pull that guarantees a regular flow from pain to fun and back again.

Priorities

Another way that #iHunt manages the balance of pain is through shifted priorities. #iHunters will never be rich. They’ll never be “okay.” The idea of class mobility is a lie, and to present it as anything otherwise would be a slap in the face to the real world people who deal with that lie every day. So if you can’t receive rewards, why is it worth playing?

We don’t prioritize monetary rewards. It’s really as easy as that.

This is a common meme with millennials. You aren’t going to have money, a house, job stability, so why expect that? What we have is experiences. Money can, and will, be taken away from you. Experiences can’t be. You can fire me from my job and I can lose my car, but you can’t take away the memory of that time I went to the beach and searched for starfish in the tide pools.

So #iHunt tracks experiences. Not like… experience points. We have what we call Selfies. They’re moments. They’re memories. They’re events that you hold onto. You build a Scrapbook of Selfies, and you can call back to them for advantages later on. The game actively encourages you to make a literal scrapbook, to better engage the story as a player outside of normal play time.

Contrast

Lastly, #iHunt balances its chief paradox through contrast. The game is dark, but humorous. It balances harsh, negative themes with humor and punk rock irreverence. #iHunt is a funny meme about how the world is ending.

If you can’t imagine how a game about something so dark and negative as hunting monsters in the gig economy is actually fun, I implore you to check out genre films and shows. Works like Ginger Snaps, Evil Dead, Jennifer’s Body, The Originals, They Live, Six Feet Under, and many others deal with dark, depressing topics, but use humor, action, romance, and other points of contrast to help soften the blow.

#iHunt might be the first game that’s so directly tackled topics you’re directly familiar with, but the whole thing wears its fun on one sleeve, while wearing its biting criticisms of modern capitalism on the other.