This is a collection of some of the thoughts I had about the game while playing:
At the beginning of the game, I was feeling nervous and not quite sure what I wanted to do. I latched on to the suggestion on my character sheet, which was, “A girl like you can’t be at a party like this without deciding on someone to flirt with and maybe hit on for the night. Who will it be? Somebody you know well or some interesting woman you have yet to get to know?” So, the first chance I got, Katherine tried to seduce someone. It worked more quickly and efficiently than I’d expected, so… I tried again. This is what helped build my character in my mind as a sexual huntress, as someone who loves a challenge, and as the lesbian seducer of straight women. As a player, I did not expect Katherine to actually succeed in seducing Evelyn, and I was so psyched when she did! I loved that Katherine developed a reputation amongst her friends that revolved around that. “Katherine always gets the straight girls!” And since she gloated a bunch about it afterwards, some other ladies tried to hit on Evelyn as well, but failed. That really amused me.
The part where Katherine accidentally introduces Sinclair to Nick, the editor of Out magazine, really was a mistake. I wasn’t thinking about it as a player; I was simply looking for ways to interact with more people. I was trying to get into character as a wealthy woman who knows all the “right” people, and completely forgot that Nick worked for Out Magazine. Oooooops.
Ashleigh, the person playing Santiago, had warned me in advance about the big fight she’d planned between her and Pen on the dance floor. We’d agreed prior that Katherine would chase after her, though I’m not sure we planned anything that happened after that. Some other stuff happened that prolonged the scene, though… enough time had passed that I had assumed it just wasn’t going to happen. So when it did happen, Katherine really was completely focused on hooking up with Dawn, and I as a player really was surprised when I heard Santiago shouting across the disco. And really did leave Dawn (played by Emily Care Boss) standing on the dance floor, holding a pink feather (with OOC apologies)!
A lot of the “surprises” in the game were real: when Abner walked in on Katherine and Santiago having sex, that was completely unplanned – as was the comically surprised look on his face! The line between fantasy and reality is fuzzy enough that it makes things like that work really well. Players might discuss certain scenes in advance if they want them to go in a certain direction, but for the most part, I think that most people were thinking on the fly and reacting to what other characters were doing.
I had no idea what the Lottery of Death was going to be like. As I mentioned previously, I’ve played “I Say A Little Prayer” before, so I’d assumed the process would be similar: that we’d know exactly how many people were going to die, and that their names would be pulled from a hat. So when ten names were called, I assumed that all ten of us were going to die. I really was the last name called, and I really was shocked. I remember walking out to the funeral site in silence, and being really upset with myself: I shouldn’t have put my name in three times; I should have only put it in twice like Ashleigh told me to. And then I thought, if Katherine were a real person, she would also be having regrets about the decisions she’d made in her life. Most people don’t get choose when they die, and you can’t change the past: there is only regret, and focusing on the future. I took my regret and the other emotions I was feeling as a player, and turned them into Katherine. Melissa didn’t regret putting her name in the hat three times; Katherine regretted the risky behavior that led to her death. Melissa wasn’t sad because she was enjoying playing this character; Katherine was sad because her life was about to end.
I had no idea that not all ten of us were to going to die. When we approached the funeral site and only saw five coffins, I figured there just weren’t enough for all of us, logistically. But then only five people were told to lay down. After a few moments, three of those five people were told to get back up, and they’d been infected with AIDS but didn’t know it. Katherine was not one of those five names. I still wasn’t completely sure that Katherine was still alive until the rest of the players were led out to the funeral site. (I even had to clarify with an organizer later; being called meant that sometime between July and December of 1982, my character had a near-death experience. It was my decision as a player what that would be.) I remember being in shock, and relieved that I wasn’t dead.
Katherine having a near-death experience gave me the opportunity to have that black box scene where she had pneumonia. This was to help solidify some of the relationships that I was feeling a little lost with; specifically, with Katherine’s little brother Artie. Artie hadn’t been around for Act 1: when Simon and Leon died at the end of Act 1, those players were given new characters to play for the rest of the game. Katherine and Artie were supposed to have been very close growing up – but since he was a brand new character, I was feeling pretty disconnected, and figured this was a good way for Katherine to connect with that character. It was really interesting for me to be there but not really be participating in the scene, and to see how the other characters interacted around me.
Act 2 is what I titled in my head as “Fuck The Pain Away.” At first I wasn’t sure how Katherine would have acted with the spread of the disease, especially since she wasn’t friends with either of the men who’d died in Act 1. So I decided that she was scared, but didn’t show it, and that she’d become even more reckless than she’d been before just to try and prove how “not scared” she was. This translated into lots of booze, and lots of fucking. Katherine’s three main reality checks in Act 2 were Santiago chastising her after she’d had unprotected sex in the orgy with Kimberly, her conversation with Ruben about printing something in the Times, and Steven’s outburst about the luminaries.
Steven is a character that I didn’t really interact with much outside of that scene with the luminaries. But that scene had a huge impact on Katherine: it was just after Santiago chastises her, and after her promise to Ruben that she’ll do something to help educate people by printing an article in the paper. The wheels of change are starting to turn in her head, and she is just starting to face her fears when Steven has his outburst. It’s a very memorable scene for me as a player.
Here’s a funny thing that stands out to me: During Katherine’s conversation with Ike in Act 2 when Chain is looking for Sinclair, I accidentally said something about Sinclair needing to “text his wife.” It didn’t even dawn on me until the next day when I was describing the scene to another player: it’s 1983; there is no texting! I mentioned it to Rachel later, who played Ike. She said that she’d noticed but didn’t want to call me out on it. I was so into the game play that exactly what I’d said didn’t even dawn on me until it got pointed out to me later, and it still makes me laugh!
When Chain said the line about Ike not being able to defend his boyfriend, that scuffling sound was real – I can imagine Mo, who played Ruben, scrambling off the cot to come out and confront Chain. It was so… real.
The American Flag stickers in Act 3 were real – the organizers had meant to use them but forgot, I guess? Anyway, I asked if I could have some, and when I started giving them out to people, it was just to be silly. There were two kinds: stars, and the shape of the US. When Katherine approached someone who she expected was especially sad, she gave them a “special” sticker to make them feel better. Later, Rachael asked if I was purposely marking people who’d tested positive for AIDS, and I was horrified. No! But much later I realized… yes? Though, not on purpose. Ooops. (Making sure that everyone got a star sort of worked it’s way into the engagement speech after I’d started giving them out, and then I really liked the idea.)
I was surprised at how nervous I was before Katherine’s proposal to Santiago. Ashleigh and I had already talked about it as players, so I already knew that Santiago was going to say yes. It’s not like I have anxiety over being the center of attention; I do the announcements at Friday Night Blues all the time, and I generally don’t have problems with public speaking. But my hands were literally shaking, and I really did get nauseous as soon as I took a bite of my dinner. I guess I was really into the game. Talk about bleed…!
I enjoyed telling Max off later, after Santiago attacked him. It was a spur of the moment plan on my part, but it was effective. At that point, Katherine was already thinking of Saratoga as a sanctuary, and “not here” kept echoing throughout her mind when people broke into fights. It was supposed to be a place of peace and love and, hopefully, of healing. So to ensure no more fighting, she used her words to intimidate Max. His reaction made me feel really powerful. I know that the words Katherine used were really harsh, and there was a bit of a rush in being able to do that, because in real life, I would never speak like that to someone.
In the later part of Act 3, I felt like Katherine’s story was pretty solid, and found myself at a loss for what to do. This is where she became more of a caretaker for her friends, and I think this was somewhat of a mistake. Melissa is a caretaker, not Katherine. I think I allowed a little bit too much of Melissa to bleed into Katherine. It turned out just fine, but in hindsight, I could have played that a lot differently.
The sex foursome in Act 3 was an accident! Very late in the night, just before bed, the players were chatting out of character. I managed to talk people into coming with me to sleep and snuggle in the Pillow Room. We spent the night there out of character, but were awoken by the person playing Fernando, who was in character. At that point, we all shrugged and said, “welp, I guess this really happened, then!” So that whole scene I wrote about with Mr T is a fabrication; I actually hung out and snuggled/chatted with those players all night. Accidental orgy FTW?
Mr T did give me a ring in the morning before the last funeral scene. I was grateful to have it – if Mr T had died, it would have wrecked me even more. I was especially grateful for it during our debrief, because we were each told to remove an item that was given to us in-game, or an article of clothing that made us our character. The ring was the only thing I had to remove!
The third Lottery of Death was really unnerving. I thought I knew what was going to happen, so when things changed, I was confused in addition to being sad and scared. The realization of “I care about so many of these people” was real. And that funeral was just… egads. I’ve never cried so hard in a game before.