I think I found the first game that I’ve come across that can’t be soloable. Now, granted, I’ve come across some games in the past that have had that similar moniker before, but in those cases, the rules were inconsistent and incomplete at best and problematic at worst.
This is a case where the rules are not only complete and playable, but it has strong and heavy themes that befit a teen drama. The game I’m talking about is Alice is Missing, and if you are familiar with it, you’ll know exactly why I might be stumped.
For those who don’t, allow me to briefly go over the premise. As the name implies, Alice is missing, and you play as one of her friends partaking in a group chat. Over the course of 90 real life minutes, you and your friends must find out what became of her and find her. Thinking about how it plays narratively, it feels like a post modern Flower for Mara, which if you’ve read this blog, you’d know is my favorite RPG that I’ve played on here.
So, what makes this un-soloable? It’s due to how the game is played over those 90 minutes, as it plays into the advantages of technology and utilizes group chats such as Facebook and Discord to allow for extremely engaging moments such as this actual play, in which someone begins the game by asking where Alice is, only to have rapid responses such as “she’s been missing since Wednesday” and even sending each other private messages away from the group chat…
And now you can see why it would be hard, if not impossible, to solo this. With A Flower for Mara, the game has LARP elements in its veins and when you look at how its actual play goes (which is edited down into a trailer) you can clearly tell how it evokes the feeling of a dramatical play. The game even refers to itself as a play. So, naturally, all you would need to do to solo it would be to either act out the scenes yourself or write them out.
You can’t exactly have a group chat with yourself though, let alone multiple. Leaving a voicemail for Alice is the easy part though.
I looked at an alternative though, one that some consider controversial. Over the past little while (as of late 2022), technology has boomed in another area as well: artificial intelligence. Well, to put more bluntly, language models have become more sophisticated than when I took a whack at them long ago. I briefly mentioned them during a blog post, but that was back in late 2021. A lot has changed and while we can discuss the elephant in the room that is ChatGPT, especially with GPT-4 being unleashed as of March 14th, 2023, that’s one chatbot and it’s mostly used to help with general stuff, not to help us find a fictional character.
We need a group of chatbots in a single area. Luckily, we have a solution: Character.ai. So? Open and shut case, right? I just use the site to do a group chat, play Alice is Missing with a bunch of meme characters and call it a day?
It’s not that simple.
I ran a test game (by which I mean I asked the opening question to see if that would get them to actually stick to the topic) with the cast of Breaking Bad (and Mike Wheeler, yes, that Mike Wheeler) and it took a while before we actually got to actually discussing about Alice’s whereabouts since the most they wanted to do was introduce themselves to each other, even when the topic of Alice is brought up. I had to actually shout “Alice is Missing” in order to get them to actually get to the topic at hand. Also, bonus points for Walter White acting like Jesse for a second and then Mike Wheeler’s presence meaning that now we have to worry about demons from the Upside Down.
But in that moment, where I told them about the lighthouse and they all prepared to get themselves weapons, there was a magical moment where I thought to myself that this could work. That this would be one of those games that, albeit heavily tweaked to benefit the solo gamer, can be played solo…
Though, the curveballs present themselves.
See, I’m not supposed to be playing with the Breaking Bad cast and one character from Stranger Things. Like with Flower for Mara, the cast is predetermined. As someone who presents the topic, I will always be cast as Charlie Barnes, the kid who moved away. The other members were all people who personally knew Alice, who loved Alice, who had secrets with Alice, who left messages for her. Not drug lords or corrupt lawyers or even kids on bikes.
The easy solution is to make the other characters and preprogram all the secrets and drives that they have, though I would also be the facilitator by default, this game’s version of a “game master”, just someone who explains the rules and sets things up, but is part of the game like everyone else. The problem is that I won’t be able to get those rules through to the other “players”.
Thinking about it now, it could be doable, but very difficult to pull off…
And I like myself a challenge…
You know what? Let’s make the impossible possible.
It’s funny. If I was writing this two years ago, I would have thrown in the towel and said Alice is Missing is impossible to solo, but it’s ironic. The game utilizes modern tech to innovate RPGs and so I’m using modern tech to innovate a way to solo the game.
I won’t post the results today, but hopefully I’ll post them soon.