What would you do if you were thrown into prison in a dystopian future, given a new identity, a new past, and were told you had to convince a group of strangers not to execute you? That’s the premise of The Prison, a live action role-playing game coming to The Brick this weekend as part of the theater’s Game Play Festival, taking place all this month.
In The Prison you’re given an inmate number and a generic orange shirt labeling you “detainee.” You’re informed of the details of your new identity, including the story of how you landed yourself in jail. The crimes you committed are nuanced enough that you could be redeemed, but it’s up to you to make a case as to why your life should be spared. And, oh yeah, the dystopian world you’re living in has a caste system on the outside; if you’re lucky you’re an Alpha. Beta’s not so bad. Omega: not good. Gamma: life dealt you a bad hand. But your imprisonment neutralizes your differences—in jail, you’re all treated the same.
The game was adapted for American players by Christopher Amherst, who first encountered the original Russian version of the freeform game at Knutepunkt, a Nordic game design and LARP (live action role-playing) conference in Oslo. “The game speaks very much to the issues of class of privilege in the United States,” he said. It’s a bit like Escape the Room, if the players were pitted against each another and the losers were put to death. We won’t give away all the details, but suffice it to say it’s not a lighthearted form of escapism a la College of Wizardry. We’re dealing with some heavy stuff here.
“It kind of challenges the common preconception of what a game is,” Amherst said. “We tend to think of games as fun, but with The Prison you’re not going to laugh and have a great time. It’s more like a movie that’s very traumatic, where you feel for the characters.” So it’s not for the faint of heart then, especially given that it’s a four-hour commitment including workshops before and after the game play, but how often does one get the chance to cast the PlayStation and iPhone aside for a real-life, face-to-face game with actual people?
The Prison, Saturday, July 25. The Brick, 579 Metropolitan Ave.