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Mattie Brice’s Game of Life

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In the first line of Mattie Brice’s article “Death of the Player,” she almost sighs with boredom at her audience, and with one sentence she makes her case:

“Players are overrated.”

Well, I am hooked. Tell me more, you who has no use for me.

Mattie Brice can do whatever she would like in her games. As the designer of several “personal use” vehicles that display her talents in the gaming world, Brice is vehemently against most regular people even attempting to play most of them. But does that challenge itself become a game? I will absolutely suffer through this nonsense in an attempt to beat this creator – is that not the main plot line of several games that don’t have such unwilling masters?

Mattie Brice’s work, however, is incredibly personal, and a way, she says, for people to understand what it is she has dealt with in her everyday life as an extremely, excruciatingly poor student, trying to figure out how to solve all the problems that everyone else has some “simple” answers for. In the introduction to her incredibly compelling yet equally depressing game EAT, she tells potential players, who think they’ve got it all figured out and could never end up with problems like she has:

“Play this on top, or instead of, your normal life.”

Then she lays out some draconian rules, which honestly, as a grad student, sound terribly familiar:

fullsizerender-40You start with a budget of $0 (not including your first student loan)
*You must spend 1 Bath & Beauty (B&B) point in order to leave your (real life) house. 48 points cost $200. You begin with 0 points
*You must visit a university campus at least 3.5 miles away from your home for 6 hours every school day
*Any food, mode of transportation, or other expenses must come out of this budget and cannot be carried over from before play
*The budget can only be supplemented by work centered around writing and editing skills, and donations
*If you cannot pay your cellphone bill, you can’t use your phone. If you can’t pay your loans or eat once for the day, you can’t leave your house until you do. You must move out of your house if you can’t pay rent.

NO NO NO never mind, she is right. Lucky for me, I guess, I neither have it all figured out — nor have I tried to tell anyone I do. And this, for me, is much too much like real life to be a game. But her style is undeniable and her ability to put the know it all in its place seems like an experiment those who haven’t in fact suffered through any sort of poverty or the indescribable fear of always living on the brink of destitution could possibly use to gain some empathy. Perhaps this game would be a good way to convince Congress to actually do something about those student loan rates? Or maybe help those who went to school 20 years ago know what it’s like today. So, perhaps Mattie Brice thinks we, the players are overrated, but the lessons she can teach certainly are not.