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Story Games Seattle Message Board What We Played › A day in the life of Alphred (Microscope)

A day in the life of Alphred (Microscope)

Terry F.
user 27520232
Seattle, WA
Post #: 9
What we played: A day in the life of Alphred (Microscope)

Players: Jerome Terry Adrienne

Seed: A day in the life of a person.

Bookends: Alphred wakes up, Alphred goes to sleep.

Yes: multiple personalities, mundane.
No: no obvious supernatural, no aliens.

I'll list the Foci & Legacies last. As an exercise try to guess at Foci!

While we were playing I got the impression that this day happened in the 80's. There was no overt tech, no cell phones, or computers (I know how did we survive the whole session without tech?). And there was 80's music playing in some scenes.

The day starts with Alphred waking up and shooting up, but as we discovered he's of two minds about it. A part of him wants to over dose, tired of his circumstance, the other wants to take a shower because he stinks and just want enough to get by. While he was injecting himself, he is observed doctor over a closed circuit camera. At some point in his dialogue with himself he nods off, worried for his life, the doctor sends in an orderly covered from head to toe in a suit meant to camouflage him in the room. The orderly takes vitals and backs away when he sees that Alphred is ok. (this scene had two of us playing Alphred. This happened a lot during the course of the night). Shortly after this an important character we will meet later picks up a recording device from the doctor.

The day starts with Alphred waking up next to Mable. This being Microscope, we already know a lot about her, but you reading this linearly, Mabel is a new character. Hang on, she's important. Alphred and Mabel make love. She feels like her true self in his arms. A short time later Alphred is in the shower, for his usual long showers. In this scene the doctor, Dr Vikram, Mabel and Larry Mable's pimp are discussing business. Larry wants more for Mable's time, Vikram wants to make sure Mabel is using the instrument correctly. Larry storms off after insuring he gets his fee, Dr Vikram is satisfied that Mabel is using the instrument correctly. A little later, Alphred is looking around the empty room, suspicious of Mabel.

Next we are at a taco truck next to a gas station. Mabel is taking orders and serving various Mexican dishes on flimsy paper plates. This is where we, the players, first meet Mabel when she kisses Alphred. Alphred is sweet-talking Mabel, he's in need of a fix. He takes a $20 bill from the till while she's not watching. Her brother Lucas is there, which Alphred saw earlier and didn't recognize. Lucas pulls Mabel aside to warn her that Alphred is no good, but also he's leaving town because of troubles. He also tells her not to go back to her apartment. Mabel leaves work without warning. While no one is watching, Alphred takes a package from under the counter. We're not sure if this really happened by the way - he may have confused this with taking the $20 bill. Which later when he looks at the bill, he sees Dr Vikram's face instead of Andrew Jackson.

Still at the taco stand, we are treated to an Alphred psychotic breakdown where we try to answer the question: What does Alphred think is in the package? He's in a fugue where events real and imagined overlap. I'm not going to go into the scene in detail, but I played Alphred, Jerome played Alphred and Adrienne played everyone else. The same thing thing kept happening again but from different perspective or times. It was nuts. And in the end, Alphred thinks there's either money or drugs in there, he needs both.

On her way from the taco stand, Mabel stops to call Dr Vikram to tell her she's quitting. Vikram responds by saying "It's not up to me."

Alphred is coming down from his high, he starts to feel like himself, but he's lost. He's wandered away from the taco truck into a bad neighborhood. He runs into an acquaintance of Mabel, who is in front of a store considering robbing it. Alphred goes up to him and tries to convince him to take him to Mabel. The hood leads Alphred to an alley where he extorts $20 for information. Alphred balks and the hood punches him and takes the twenty. After this our poor hero wanders the streets thinking he sees Mabel every where.

From an apartment window Mabel sees Alphred wandering in the street. She's busy trying to explain to Larry, her pimp, why the package was lost. She does a poor job explaining, considers blaming Alphred, but before she can make up her mind, gets shot by Larry.

Alphred gets tired and slumps somewhere to rest. As he does Dr Vikram slinks by and injects him with his second dose of the day.

Now things get really crazy.

The dose seems to revivify our hero and he decides to open the package. Expecting drugs, he finds a strange device. He goes to an antique store to find an adapter for it - he is convinced that if he plugs it into a wall socket, he can make it work and understand it. The store clerk isn't very helpful to the manic Alphred. At some point while he's rummaging in the back, Dr. Vikram comes in and tries to take the device from him first with words then by force. She grabs the package and runs out. The clerk manages to get in Alphred's way to give the doctor a head start. ALphred chases Vikram till she hops in a small company car and drives off.

Alphred continues the chase on foot. He tires out near a train station where he spots the same logo on a vending machine as was on Vikram's company car. What does Alphred buy from the vending machine? The other characters in that scene where a bum so dirty, the word "crusty" was enough to describe him and a prostitute that really wanted item 4C from the vending machine. What tipped Alphred here was he asked crusty about something and crusty told him about the device and that he knew Dr. Vikram. But all crusty wanted was to be told to leave. And Alphred obliged, crusty left, not before putting a $100 bill in the vending machine and getting something out it. Alphred used his $20 bill to buy that plug he was looking for.

Mabel is in Larry's car (presumably running away), she narrowly misses crusty as he's crossing the street. She notices Alphred in the train station. Mabel pulls up the Pontiac Firebird to the station where with some cajoling Alphred hops in. He begins to ask her about what is happening, she's cagey, until she sees Dr Vikram in her Honda hot on their tail. During the ensuing chase, Mabel spills about the study and Vikram. Apparently Vikram can hear this conversation and slams her car into the Pontiac. Alphred flees on foot while the others are stuck in the accident.

Alphred manages to go back to his apartment building. He discovers the observation lab next door. Looking through the shabby lab he manages to find a vcr where he can play back tapes with his name on it. Here we played a scene of Alphred watching the tapes - we played what was on the tapes. He sees his miserable life in the apartment. His coming and going, the orderlies and doctors entering checking on him and checking his dope, and also the conversation between Mabel and Dr. Vikram and Larry. Finally we see the apartment clean and new with him in a business suit shaking the hand of Dr Vikram.

Terry F.
user 27520232
Seattle, WA
Post #: 10

ALphred falls asleep on the lap of Mabel, on a couch. She's watching tv. After a bit he wakes and tells her to turn down the volume which she does. He's half asleep and they talk of their future, but the last thing she tells him is "I'm sorry."

Alphred is sedated back in his apartment. The sheets are clean, everything is put away, the patient sleeping the orderlies leave the room.

Alphred is looking for Mabel in a bad neighborhood.
-- this was before we knew we were going into Philip K Dick land...

Alphred wakes up as someone else
-- Philip K. Land here we come. Introducing this helped up experiment with perceptions - parallel interpretations of events and so on.

The Package.
-- Help us drill down a bit on Alphred.

When he becomes himself again.
-- This gave a little pause in the craziness.

Mable's change of Heart.
-- This was a great focus - it literally put Mabel all over the map.

Alphred's Disease.
-- this helped us get over the end.

$20, The Device, Alphred's Paranoia, How grounded Mable is, The Drug, Some people are Broken.

I really enjoyed this game. Having a narrow focus really helps. One thing I did early was put the book end cards together which helped us think narrow. Another seed that wasn't overt was Jerome's idea of a parallel storied which influenced a lot of our scenes.
user 13294625
Seattle, WA
Post #: 60
Wow. That sounded like an amazing game! It's interesting how you guys changed the Periods into Foci to accommodate the non-linear story. It totally makes sense when introducing parallel timelines.

I'm super interested to know the details of Alphred's first day. What did Dr. Vikram promise him and who was she really working for?
Terry F.
user 27520232
Seattle, WA
Post #: 11
It was pretty amazing. We didn't change anything structure wise. The foci has to be independent of the periods because things can jump around. For example Mabel's change of heart was spread out all over the place. It started out in the second period, and continued through out the rest of the story.

In microscope it's best to be specific, but also leave things open ended so that they can connect to events that we come up with later.

I think I put in all the significant details. So what you see his what we know. We don't know what happened between Dr Vikram and Alphred in a suit. Also stuff that happens from Alphred's POV can be considered suspect.

user 13146674
Belmont, CA
Post #: 20
Thanks for the great write-up, Terry. I’m so happy this game is immortalized. I think there were a couple of things that were special about this session:

  • Most noticeably, the fact that we were constrained to a single day. Like Terry said, this definitely forced us to focus. You would think that with a story that specific, we would fill out every hour of the day in incredible detail, but we actually ended up with a number of blank spaces. However, I’m pretty sure that was a result of the other features of this game (see below), and not necessarily what would happen with a different ‘single day’ setup.

  • Alphred had multiple personalities. We had this in the ‘Yes’ list at the beginning, but it didn’t actually manifest til we got through the first round, I think. So our story started off pretty mundane, but then we started getting multiple ‘Alphred’ perspectives. It was really cool to play scenes with many Alphreds. In a way, it made the scene a little easier than the usual Microscope scene and in a way it made it harder. Easier: different view-points are more transparent. Alphred is really happy about listening to Blondie. Alphred hates Blondie. Harder: When the question revolves around Alphred’s actions or opinions, how do you know when the scene ends? It may be over for one Alphred, but not the other. This leads us to...

  • The video scene. The question was ‘What does Alphred see on the screen that shocks him?’ (or something like that). We originally assigned roles, but then decided it would be cool to each just describe a clip of what Alphred was seeing, and collectively decide whether that was what shocked him. In a way we were all Alphred. In a way, we were all Alphred twice over, because we were also describing Alphred inside the TV. You would think this type of scene would never end, without a concrete way of making a decision, but like most things in story-games - people are generally on the same page and very accommodating. It worked just fine.

  • Because Alphred had multiple personalities and was on drugs, he proved to be an unreliable narrator. Occasionally, we switched to a different viewpoint (Mabel or Vikram), but usually we only had his perspective to work with. So, when Alphred is talking to Mabel, he may be meeting her for the first time, or reuniting with a steady girlfriend. When he gives someone $20, is it really $20, or is it drugs, or something even less tangible? The fact that his perspective was warped and varied, meant that we didn’t have to worry about inconsistencies in the story. Whenever they appeared, they just added to the surreality and coolness of it all. Again, this is different from most Microscope games. Normally once something is written down on a card, it is fact and immutable. Not so for Alphred.

  • Alphred woke up twice and fell asleep twice. Originally I just thought of this as Alphred waking up, then falling back asleep, and then waking up again sometime later. Then I considered it might be different versions of Alphred waking up. Then I considered that ‘waking up’, might not mean stopping to sleep and getting out of bed. I think that it turns out that Jerome and Terry both had this pegged as parallel time-lines. Alphred wakes up twice, simultaneously. Yeah. How weird is that. I like it, but I don’t like thinking about it. Clearly, this would be a way to get around the narrow scope of time, but in our case it was just more weirdness to stack upon our weirdness.

  • One of the things I loved most about this game was the uncertainty of it all. I liked not knowing what was actually in the package, what the device was really for, and why he was shaking Vikram’s hand. I think we ended up with more questions than we started with. This was probably a combination of the time thing, the multiple personality thing, and something intrinsic to Microscope.

  • Although we don’t actually know a lot about Alphred, we still got really close to him. It was a very touching story. Partly, I think there was a lot of great RP going on around the table, but I think the focus of the story on just this single man’s single day was also a major factor. I suspect that in other Microscope games you aren’t so moved by the fate of a single character, because you have the entire history to play with and don’t spend as much time getting to know them.

This was fun, but also kind of mind-blowing. I went into Gamma-Ray thinking I was going to engage in some mousey sword-play fun. I left wanting to crawl into bed to recover. It was a very hard, but very rewarding game. I liked the atmosphere and the unanswered questions especially. Terry did a great Crusty and Mabel. Jerome rocked as Alphred and his ‘resetting’ the room event still breaks my heart a little. Looking forward to future games and may Alphred rest in peace.
user 8261819
Seattle, WA
Post #: 4
Thanks for the write-ups, everyone. Sorry I'm late to the party, but I think I may have just recovered from this game.

My co-conspirators (Alphred and Alphred) did a fantastic job detailing the features of the story, so I won't belabor the point. Suffice to say, the concept of telling a story from the perspective of an unreliable character who is experiencing multiple realities simultaneously was a trip. A fun, brain-punishing trip.

A few other reflections occurred to me:

- Every time I've played Microscope before 'A Days in the Life of Alphred', the focus of the game was on events. This was the first time I've used the game as a tool to talk about time itself, with events as markers. It really speaks to the power of the game. I would be interested in trying that again, a little more intentionally next time.

- Microscope uses a linear concept of time. It assumes a Before and After, which makes sense, because that's how we normally view history. Alphred subverted that paradigm slightly by having two timelines occurring simultaneously, so that the cause/effect chain was ambiguous. I'm curious to see what would happen if you played the game in the absence of causality. Or if you used a cartesian or polar coordinate system instead of number line to describe time. I know a bunch of different systems were used during playtests - does anyone know how that went? Is it an avenue of inquiry worth revisiting?

- Microscope provides a unique set of perspectives. On the macro level, it tends to be objective: x, y and z events happened. That's history. As you zoom in, whether or not something happened, and how, is now subject to your character's perspective. It wasn't until we played both the macro and micro phases as subjective that this dichotomy became clear to me.

This past game has only served to heighten my interest in the game, and in story games in general. Props to Alphred and Alphred for going with the weirdness. Hope to be exploring normative concepts of time again with some of you soon!
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