So, today’s xkcd comments on hypochondria:
This stirred some memories of an age, long ago, when I would meet with several friends for a curious pastime. Bear with me a moment as I explain.
It all started with a humorous story taken from the early days of Usenet, about a poker game played by personifications of universal, um, properties? Absolutes? Whatever. Anyway, we happened to like the idea of characters ruled by their nature. Now, during this period we also engaged in an activity usually described as “story game,” which was born from exercises often assigned within college writing courses. Essentially, start a short story with a descriptive title and a first paragraph. Then, fold over the title so it cannot be seen and pass this along to the next person in line, who reads the first paragraph and then adds one of their own to continue the story. This person then conceals your original paragraph, so only theirs is showing, and sends this along to the following person. With only one paragraph to work from, each writer usually ends up inferring a lot. Eventually, it comes back to you, requiring you to decipher just what the bloody hell happened to your original premise, and to try and salvage it if you can. Played in a circle among several creative people, each having started their own story, it can be hilarious. And from time to time, when some of us get together again, it gets raised from the dead.
So, we tried a few rounds with Good, Evil, Order, Chaos, Truth, and the Void. One friend made Chaos his own and nurtured him (Chaos just seems right as a male) into a scene-stealer, like Serge from Beverly Hills Cop, while Void turned out to be very difficult to incorporate. In our very first attempt, one friend wrote the exchange that will remain in my head forever. The six personifications are riding in an elevator when it breaks down abruptly between floors. Order removes an address book from his pocket and says, “I have here the names and numbers of all of our appointments, so we can contact them and explain that we are going to be delayed.” Chaos immediately leaps across the elevator, grabbing the address book and eating it. Order, completely unperturbed, takes out a backup book and says, “Luckily, I have another.”
What does this have to do with the xkcd comic? Be still, I’m getting to that.
So then, we decided to branch out with different personifications, such as Hopeless Romance, Depression, and Blatantly Wrong. Another variation that we added was of random events, such as ‘getting a flat tire’ or the classic, ‘a team from Star Trek beams into the room.’ We would write several of these down on pieces of paper and put them into a hat, along with numerous personifications into another hat, then draw randomly for each round and have to write our story segments around those. With four of us, that meant every story would have (at least) four characters and four events in each, occasionally including the original storyline.
So, one particular round, I drew the event of ‘a character is struck by a meteorite, perhaps fatally,’ and the character of ‘Paranoia.’ Now do you see where the connection came in? I was smiling gleefully to myself as I incorporated what I considered the best combination of event and character that I’d ever seen, and I vividly recall writing that this was perhaps the one demise Paranoia had never predicted. But it gets better.
My turn came last in the reading roundup, but you can imagine my delight when the second story from the others featured (pause for vain dramatic effect) Paranoia getting struck by a meteorite. Yes, we put the characters and events back into the hats after each draw. I looked forward to introducing the exact same event in my own story when my turn came.
When the third story also had Paranoia getting struck by a meteorite, I was reduced to a basket case, laughing uncontrollably on the floor because I alone knew that it was coming yet again. I also knew I’d have to read my own story out loud, which made it even worse. The others were somewhat mystified that this coincidence had struck me so distinctly, but my turn was coming. And you have to admit, you cannot write a bad story about a character getting struck by a meteorite. You just can’t.
By the way, one of the stories from the subsequent session was about Paranoia’s funeral. If you think about it, you may realize that Paranoia cannot die, but even worse, Chaos was attending…