When I sat down to read “The Wild Hunt” by Samantha Marie Ketcham Seguinte, I was thinking about doing a twitter read-through of it, as I typically do with shorter games or even longer ones I want to highlight. But something about it defied the type of writing I usually do for my read-throughs. Typically, I try to break a game into it’s component parts, circling certain segments and trying to create some narrative on how they build into each-other. But for “The Wild Hunt”, such an approach seemed inappropriate. It’s not as if there’s nothing to highlight, far from it. But each piece links together very intricately. It seemed like to focus on any tree would be to miss the proverbial forest.
That said, I am in murky waters here, as I’m really going to extrapolate my own meaning from the game, rather than trying to discover the mechanics that underpin it in order to create what I think was the designers’ goal. So be aware, in trying to understand the forest that is “The Wild Hunt”, I’m looking through my own set of eyes.
To me, this is a game about consent, and the nature of how consent works, both specifically in love and more generally in how we play games. The framing of the game is that one player is the “Quarry”, the character that will be pursued, hunted, and almost invariably defeated by the “Hunters”, played by the other players. In constructing such a game, questions of narrative control abound. Is it placed with the Hunters, as they pursue the Quarry? Is it set ahead of time by the Quarry, acting as a GM that provides challenges towards an inevitable outcome?
In “The Wild Hunt”, the agency seems to rest entirely with the Quarry. The Quarry dictates the order of the game, it’s flow, and it’s ending. There are mechanical limits, cards that the Quarry plays, but far fewer than are placed on the hunters.
Initially, I thought “The Wild Hunt” might be about exploring the mentality of the Quarry, the reasons why someone would place themselves within a dangerous situation. But from reading the game, I can see that while the Quarry is in danger (in a sense), they control it completely. They must, by virtue of the games rules, consent to every outcome.
In one sense, the consent of the Quarry is something that the hunters compete for. There is a system of bidding and playing cards by which the hunters can gain some control of a scene, and by doing so gain “points.” Maybe having the most points will mean you “win” the hunt and seize the Quarry, but then again, maybe the Quarry will decide it doesn’t. It is ultimately up to the Quarry whether or not the “best” player of the game will win.
There is an idea in tabletop design, typically board game or card game design called the “kingmaker.” The creation of a “kingmaker” is a situation that arises in some games, in which a player cannot possibly hope to win, but may, through their play, essentially decide which other player wins instead. In most schools of thought, this is a bad, undesired outcome. In “The Wild Hunt”, it is the whole point.
I play a lot of board games, and I don’t mind kingmaker scenarios. I can see how they can be frustrating to game purists, but to me, they impose a social meta-game. What virtues does the kingmaker prize? If I play more fairly, more friendly, but less optimally, perhaps isn’t that a winning strategy?
Ultimately, the choice lies with the Quarry. If I can get both sociological and personal for a minute here, I was raised in an environment where the media landscape told me that as a man, I was meant to pursue women. In movies and on television, women were a prize for the hero to be won. Not exactly groundbreaking feminist theory, but it should be acknowledged.
In my relationships with women, I’d come back to this flawed worldview, even as I struggled against it. What could I do to make my partner love me? In my mind, if I performed some role well enough, my “reward” would come (I was never exactly sure what the reward was. Sex seemed an obvious answer, but also too shallow. Eternal love and devotion? A cookie? Who knows). I’d try new roles, sometimes switching from moment-to-moment in some desperate attempt to be loved. The caring boyfriend? The mysterious boyfriend? The considerate? The aloof? I didn’t know what was lovable about me, if anything, and so I endeavored to “perform” as someone I thought more worthy of love.
Finally, a realization came to me. I could not control the love of another, anymore than they could control mine. Love was either freely given, or not given at all. It couldn’t be bargained for, or won, or manipulated into existence by the performance of some role. Love would last, or it wouldn’t. Nowadays, I perform some pieces of the role of “good boyfriend”, as I envision it. Not an all-encompassing mask, but as an expression of the love I feel, or for the conformity of my own self image. I am good because I wish to be good, not because I think it will force someone to love me more.
In “The Wild Hunt”, each hunter has a desired outcome. A purpose or intention they come to the hunt with. There is clarity of vision in this approach, in bringing single-mindedness and intent to the game. Not to try and wheedle for the favor of the Quarry, but to simply be, as the character, as the hunter, and to seek what they seek.
This is a fundamental power of roleplaying games. They allow us to step outside our wants, our desires, into those of another. Many times, our character’s motivations are clearer than our own, and that clarity of purpose allows us an incredible freedom that is many times fleeting in our current era.
As for the Quarry, the Quarry causes me to reflect on why I GM. Why do I create worlds, villains, plots, monsters to be defeated? To GM is, in many ways, to lose. To give yourself over to the final victory of the players, to test them as you wish along the way, but, in many games, with a sort of implied certainty that they prevail. There is joy in seeing someone else strive and overcome, in cheering their successes and sympathizing with their failures. For me, being a GM is being the Quarry, a Quarry that loves the chase, loves the forest around it, loves the hunt and it’s Hunters. I love the hope of a final victory, promised from the very beginning.