Electron Dance
11Oct/11Off

Brian Sachs Wants To Go Home

[alien ship over city]

I can’t be sure how I feel about the apparently tragic, meaningless death of Brian Sachs. But I can tell you one thing: Kent killed the wrong man.

Two Weeks Earlier

Second Person Shooter's Kent Sutherland fired off a group e-mail inviting a bunch of us to join a new game he’d devised called BLOODSPORT. IN CAPITALS. It wasn’t a computer game, more a PBEM RPG with Kent as Game Master.

Now, after recovering from three difficult months of Where We Came From, I was heading into a new shitstorm of activity. The Eurogamer Expo was coming up. Plus there was a children’s birthday party during the same weekend – which is about as distant from being relaxed as you can get. And I had already committed the following week's evenings to editing both a video and a podcast for the Expo. I was running a pretty tight ship.

After some intense debate between the left and right hemispheres of my brain, I threw my hat into the ring because I like Kent. I just couldn't say no to those puppy-dog eyes. I've never seen his eyes in real-life, but that's how I picture him. But I warned Kent I would have little time for the game – no-one would see  “The Aspiration” this time around – and I would only be able to e-mail once every evening. Kent assured me it wouldn’t need much time to play. Funny... I could have sworn he'd said exactly the same thing to me a year earlier before Neptune's Pride.

During the post-mortem for Brian Sachs, Kent wondered if he had misled people.

No, he was just a little optimistic is all.

They Tell Me To Go On

In BLOODSPORT IN CAPITALS each player was someone abducted from Earth and forced to fight gladiatorial combat for the pleasure of their alien captors.

It evoked a game from the 80s (what, them again?) called Alternate Reality whose plot starts with an alien abduction and, with no explanation, the aliens cast the player into a fantasy world of magic, dragons and swordplay. There's a song in one of the game's pubs which portrays two lovers hoping to reunite, one obviously taken away in exactly the same manner as the player. The song is perhaps your first inkling that these abductions have been going on for some time. But I digress.

If the song below sounds familiar, it's because it kicked off the third act of Eulogy For An Atari Childhood:

Back to BLOODSPORT IN CAPITALS. We were asked for character details - a name and a catchphrase. I thought about the reality of being abducted in this way; the abductee would be desperate to return home and not surrender to this frightening situation willingly. And so Brian Sachs was born with the catchphrase "I want to go home". He didn’t want to fight anybody, he wanted to return to his family - just like in the song.

I even thought if Brian did manage to make it to the end of the game, he would subvert it somehow, refuse to fight for the pleasure of the aliens. He'd opt for something heroic or noble. Maybe he'd start out desperate and panicked but, gradually, turn that desire to return home into an obsession that would drive him on and keep him alive.

That is, of course, if Kent would let me do that.

But the alarm bells, boy, did they start a-ringing. Kent sent out the instructions.  Over several e-mails. More like a manual, really. I was hoping it'd be easier on my time; this was not what I wanted to see whilst pooling together bits of podcast.

When the game started properly, my fears were confirmed. The game promoted collaboration amongst the players and expected online discussions to take place. It also expected each player to conduct a single "activity" every day which involved sending one mail to declare your intention and another to make a decision within the context of that activity.

For my first activity, I sent a mail to Kent saying I would go see “the doctor”. But due to the time zone issues and my small e-mail window, I only saw the follow-up decision mail from Kent after the game day was over. And I realised I'd never be able to complete an activity.

At the same time, discussion threads were erupting and multiplying on Gmail. I did my best to respond but… it was impossible. I wasn't playing the game; I was merely trying to avoid letting the other players down as success depended on working together as a team.

I sent a mail to Kent explaining that I couldn’t keep this up. And thought that was that.

I Ask Them For How Long

Kent sent this mail to everybody:

Brian Sachs was sleeping in his bunk. That's all he'd been doing for the past few days. Everyone else was traipsing around this god-forsaken cave like idiots. Shit, he didn't want to be here. He'd said it from the first day: he wants to go home. He approached an alien guard and asked him to spear him in the stomach.

Brian Sachs has been killed. He will no longer be playing with us.

It was nice that Kent went to all the trouble of writing Brian Sachs an exit scene but, considering I knew who Brian was supposed to be, it was kinda sad. Kent told everybody that Brian had given up. It struck me as a bad case of the unreliable narrator for me; I had given up not Brian. Brian, this revolutionary in the making, this man who wanted to go home to his family... had asked for a spear in his gut? What?

Now I didn’t pound the carpet wondering what all this meant, I just got on and finished my podcast then set about writing a post about Nicolau Chaud's sex game troubles. No time to stop and think! Things to do, places to be, people to see!

But, as explained over on Second Person Shooter, Kent decided to act following Brian's ignoble death. As he was running an intensive game where almost everyone was guaranteed to die, Kent offered an escape route to the remaining players. If they couldn’t keep up with the game, they could choose to “join the revolution” which offered a dignified, early exit for their character.

But only one person took up the offer and Kent’s message detailing what had happened is blackly comic:

“The time is now, ladies and gentlemen,” screams Derrick, a crazy look in his eyes. “Who’s with me?? Viva la revolution!” He draws a beautiful diamond sword and raises it above his head.

“I’m with you!” shouts Roly Poly, and then the room is heavy with silence.

“No one else? Only one will join the revolution?” No response. “Ah, to hell with all of you. We’re dead either way. Come Roly, we have guards to slay!” Roly Poly and Derrick charge off into the black of the cave and they are never seen again.

Roly Poly has died.

The reason why Kent couldn't give Brian Sachs an appropriate role-play ending, unlike the hard-fought, pitch-perfect coda I’d earned for The Aspiration, is that he didn’t know Brian.

During the game, I wrote just three e-mails as Brian and none of them were sent to Kent. All he had to go on was the catchphrase, and wrote Brian's final moments based around these five words: “I want to go home.” He couldn’t possibly know who Brian Sachs was, because I never gave Kent a chance to see him.

This can only mean one thing. It wasn't my Brian Sachs. Kent killed the wrong man.

So Brian is still out there, probably hiding in some god-forsaken cave, surviving off scraps of bloodmoss and the odd stonewyrm that wanders into his lair. And he's trying to work out how he can get home to his family.

Brian Sachs is alive.

I know that you'll agree
To hurry home to me
As soon as you are free

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  1. If it makes you feel any better, I did not fare so well in that brutal world either. After acquiring a marble that very explicitly did nothing at all (except look pretty… it had a bit of blue at the center and some sparkly bits that made me think of the sky when I stared into it… but I digress) Bartleby was promptly chopped down in the arena by someone with a better sword and a tricky special attack.

  2. Well, at least you gave it a shot. I just looked at the size of my shesgonnablow Brian Sachs inbox and knew I was done for.

  3. This is really interesting – thank you for sharing it.

    In story games and indie tabletop there is sometimes the concept of a “social contract,” which is a document everyone is supposed to read when the game starts that details things like expected time commitment and how the game difficulty and character death, interparty conflict, etc, will be handled.

    I did one for my most recent tabletop game. I told them, yeah, it’s kind of a touchy-feely thing to write down all these things like this, but, at least we all have the same expectations and are on the same page going in. In the end it’s convenient to have something like that for any regular group game to avoid these kind of misunderstandings.

  4. It’s funny that you mention subverting what the aliens wanted, since my character’s suicide was inspired by that same idea (though it was more to deny the opposing team the pleasure of finishing me off).

    I also transitioned from speaking Engrish to talking all fancy about ascending to another plane of existence, which in retrospect was totally The Aspiration influencing me. The ghost of Neptune’s Pride follows me always.

  5. @Amanda: Hey thanks, Amanda. I used to play some D&D and CoC about 25 years back but we didn’t play them “seriously” – never keeping up the commitment and often breaking out new rules on the spot. It makes sense that you’d have to lay out clearly what was expected. Kent was trialling this experimental game for the first time so what seemed to be a thin experience on paper turned out to be a more involving endeavour than he envisioned.

    Part of the fault, though, is mine. I absolutely knew I didn’t have time to play as the schedule was horrendous (as always), but I didn’t want to turn Kent down. The path of least resistance is often the path of most disappointment.

    @BeamSplashX: With the heady history of Neptune’s Pride behind me, I wanted to do the complete opposite, role play someone who could not be confused with the religious-psychos-cum-hivemind-turned-refugee of The Aspiration. Not that I’d be able to pull off a role-play of that depth, either. But I was looking for something different and I decided playing Brian Sachs as a real person, rather than someone who was willing to kill others just because it’s a game, was going to be more interesting.

    Except I had no time to dress him up in conversational clothes. The Emperor was naked.

    But none of us like meaningless endings for role-play we’ve invested ourselves in. That’s what The Aspiration taught me – and you too, it seems!

  6. This was a lot of fun to read. Thanks, Joel.


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