The Upgrade

In December I played two freeform games, one was The Upgrade and the other one was M vs M. In this post I will talk about the game The Upgrade.

Freeform games are a little hard to explain since they don’t have a formal definition. What I can say about them is what they share in common, even the american freeform games. They usually are not continuous, they game is compose by many short scenes between 5 to 10 minutes each. Since the game is divided in scenes it can travel in time. For example, the game Limbo is one single event that happens for 2 hours. On the other hand, The Upgrade shows past events; scenes happened in the last week during the period the couples spent in the resort spa. Another similarity among freeform games is the use of meta-techniques such as monologue, whispering, and etc. The meta-techniques are interesting because players have the opportunity to assume roles other than their own characters. Also, freeform games can have a director, who conduct the experience. More information about meta-techniques

The Upgrade is a jeepform game (more info), and it is about a TV show where couples go to decide if they want to stay together or “upgrade” to a new relationship. In the begging of the game players are split up in pairs, which are couples, and they have to answer questions, first individually and then as a couple. The questions are like: how did you meet each other? How was the first date? What is the couple’s favourite music? Once players figured out their answers, the game starts with a speed dating. When the speed dating ends, half of the players will hand out a flower to the person they want to meet and know more about; the only exception is that everybody needs a new partner.

The next step is a character introduction. Each character has to come in front of the camera and introduce themselves to the audience, which is only fictional. After players assume roles of the producers of the show, and decide what kind of date each new couple will have during the week. After the producers meeting, and as main characters, the hosts ask each person to show a clip about what happened during the week. In this part, each couple has to role-play a short scene about what happened during the date. Each person has the chance to choose one specific scene from the same date. While there are two players role-playing, all other players are watching, so in this game sometimes the players are participants, and sometimes audience. For example, in my case during the producers meeting we decided to put my character, who were a mountain climber, in a date where he and his partner climb a mountain, have a picnic and them return to spa via helicopter. I chose the scene where I helped my new partner to overcome a challenge during climbing. My partner chose the scene when the helicopter came to pick up the couple, and took them to the ground. During any scene  players can apply a meta-technique introducing scenes from the past or speculations about the future. The game place is divided in three areas: past, present, and future. At any moment any player can enter in the past or future zones to role-play a scene while a scene is happening at the present time; the main scene stops until the past/future scenes ends, and then it resumes. The interesting part about this mechanic is the freedom to build characters. For example, in my case one of the players entered in the past zone, and declared that my character was afraid of heights. When my scene resumed, and we were in the helicopter I had to role-play my fear of heights, and this actually helped build the connection with the new partner because she was very supportive. Another example happened in game was about colour blind. One of the couples were having a picnic, and one of the characters started to talk about the sunset. A player entered in the past scene, and declared the character who was listening about the sunset was colour blind, so he wasn’t able to understand very well about the beauty of sunset.

One more time we had the producers meeting. We came up with the idea of putting all players in the hot tube and then showing very specific parts of the dates to the original partners, and asked them to say something about it to the cameras.

After the directors meeting, all the players were set up in a hot tub where they had the opportunity to talk about their dates. In this scene one of the new couples left the hot tub and went to their room. Also, another original couple had a fight because what happened during one of the dates with the new partner. After this short scene, the characters were interviewed by the host after they watch parts of their partner’s date. In game terms, the players had to do small parts of the scene again.

Also the producers decided to promote a private dinner, which were not really  private, where the original couples could talk to each other. What actually happened each old couple had the chance to talk to each other, but only one couple at time; the other couples had to watch.

The last part of the game is the voting for upgrade or stay together. The vote is secret, and the rules are: if both partners decide to stay together, they stay on the show. On the other hand, if the votes are different or both decide to upgrade, the couple has to leave the show.

My character and my partner won the tv show and got a good money =]; one couple decide to stay together and left the show, and the other couple one person upgraded and the other vote to stay together. There were 4 men and 2 women plus 2 hosts. So, my original partner was another man, and I was picked by woman. I also got confused by the character sheet because it said that I was in the TV Show with my step brother, so I thought that we are straight and pretending to be a homossexual couple just to get the money since my character was bankrupted. On the other hand, my step brother was gay.

Few comments about the game. First in the manual there are no rules about physical contact, although we set up our boundaries before the game. The game is divided in three areas: past, present and future. When a scene is happen in the present, any other player can interrupt the current scene and role-play a scene in the past or future, and by doing that the current scene will be influenced. Although that was the purpose for the areas, we used the areas in a different way except for one scene that actually showed a past experience of one character. Most of the time we used the other areas as a tool to interfere in the current scene such as saying a character is afraid of heights or colour blind. Also, the game include the possibility to role-play a scene more than one time, but we didn’t use it. One player mentioned s/he saw people doing a 30 minutes scenes more than one time in Europe. Another possibility for the game that we didn’t use due time is to introduce new characters role-played by the same players after characters are out of the show.

The game is really good and interesting, although after I played M vs M, which I will talk about in a future post, makes me believe that this game could give better instructions and ways to introduce the meta-techniques.

I would like to say thank you to Nicole and Gary for running the game! Also, thank you Stuart Candy to book the space!

Nicole also wrote about the experience check it out!


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