Alice is Missing: Spotlight Series

Wanna try a story game? A game that’s immersive, but lets you express your creativity with your friends? And also something that’s easy to play and doesn’t require a huge time investment? Alice Is Missing is a great game for you. Get your group chat started up, collect your friends, and buckle up - there’s nothing like Alice Is Missing.

Alice Is Missing is a very unique experience, one that’s adjacent to other very different kinds of games. Alice Is Missing can entertain a pretty diverse number of audiences, too. In an indirect way, Alice Is Missing comes from a tradition of very nerdy, esoteric hobbies; but there’s also a lot of influence that makes it much more accessible. But instead of speaking of it in vague, high-minded and, really, uninformative phrases, let’s take a look at where this clever role playing game comes from.

Heart and Soul

Technically, it’s most accurate to describe Alice Is Missing as a role-playing game. However this implies that Alice Is Missing is an experience similar to the prototypical RPG, Dungeons & Dragons. Role-playing games tend to have books full of rules and fantasy backstory, producing an experience at the strange intersection of Lord of The Rings and an algebra test. This implication is actually misleading - the similar DNA that Alice Is Missing and Dungeons & Dragons share is much more subtle, and human.

About ten or fifteen years ago, there was an online community of open-minded RPG fans who questioned a lot of assumptions about RPGs. This community, The Forge, invented many new RPGs while simultaneously deconstructing them. They produced many new, interesting, and fascinating experiences such as Donjon, Dogs In The Vineyard, and Shock: Social Science Fiction. The basic discovery that these indie RPGs found was that, at their heart, RPGs are simply co-operative storytelling.

This was the magic that Dungeons & Dragons infused into fantasy wargaming. The thing that makes D&D and its myriad descendants culturally worthwhile isn’t elves and fireball spells and mind flayers. These games are structured around the players creatively contributing to a narrative, collaboratively, in real time. The players’ decisions synthesized into a coherent narrative. Role-playing games make memories.

Post-modernist Play

In the recent years since the Forge and Story Games communities came and went, RPGs have changed. The “simulationist” RPGs such as Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, Shadowrun and Call of Cthulhu continued unabated, but forever changed. New editions of these games now try to include more tools to help players tell stories right alongside new bodies of mechanical rules.

Likewise, “narrativist” RPGs have grown as well. Fiasco is a personal favorite of this author, and story-driven systems like FATE and Apocalypse World prove to be fast, reliable engines to produce engaging stories.

This is really where Alice Is Missing fits into the grand scheme of things. It’s not an RPG in the sense of math-driven power fantasy, but in the sense that it’s a creative writing structure that generates a memorable experience for its players. And true to the tradition of indulgently clever indie RPGs, Alice Is Missing uses a system that no other RPG uses.

Dial M for Memories

Setting up a session of Alice Is Missing uses some pretty standard tabletop components. There’s a rulebook, and several decks of cards, and there’s some specific rules on priming the decks of cards for play. There’s no single storyteller or dungeon master, but a player should be designated a facilitator to help keep the game moving. But the unique spice of Alice Is Missing is a group chat.

Players don’t necessarily sit around a table and play Alice Is Missing face-to-face. Instead, most of the narrative plays out over a group chat, using a chat app like WhatsApp or iMessage or Discord or Facebook Messenger or whatever. Players are encouraged to rename each other in the group chat to match their character’s name. When they type to the group chat, they type in-character, responding to the prompts from the game’s clue cards. Over the 90 minutes or so of the game, the chat log that the players record tells the story of a group of teenage friends trying to track down their dear friend Alice.

Alice Is Missing isn’t just a single story to tell, either. Like a good indie RPG, it’s a system for telling stories in this style. There are several different Alices that players get to choose at the beginning of the game, and the shuffle of the deck of clue cards makes each journey to find Alice - and Alice's fate - different.

A Clever Roleplaying Game for Everyone

One of the biggest strengths of Alice Is Missing is simply how easy it is to start playing. The rulebook is short, and easy to understand for people who don’t play RPGs. This is a big benefit of indie games and the story games they inspired - there’s a strong imperative to use fewer rules and allow room for creative freedom. As such, Alice Is Missing is an experience suitable for a surprisingly broad audience. Anyone with an open mind and a few willing friends will be able to crack open Alice Is Missing and enjoy the unique experience of this clever roleplaying game.

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