Do You Think You’re Beautiful?

We’re on the verge of a breakthrough that will change society. We’ve deciphered the genetic code and can bend it to our will.

But… the only genetic trait we’ve mastered is beauty. Physical beauty. We can’t make you smarter or healthier, just more attractive. We’ve isolated beauty to a mathematical equation and can engineer facial symmetry, eye size and spacing — the works — to guarantee generations of children with equally ideal features.

That was the premise of our Follow game at Story Games Seattle last week. The quest we picked was, of course, the Breakthrough, where the goal is to change the world with our invention. Our characters were part of a medical-tech startup company, Blossom, that was gearing up to roll out this procedure to the world, and if you’re thinking “oh my god the horror, what a giant bucket of ethical worms!” then you are on exactly the same page as us. That’s what we were going for.

The challenge in a game like this, where our agenda is sooooo questionable, is to make characters who support it for reasons that feel believable and even relatable, and that’s where everyone at the table rocked it. Some were personal — like the wealthy investor who wanted his kids to have advantages he never had — and others were broadly idealistic: it wasn’t that beauty was better, it was that if everyone was equally beautiful, discrimination based on looks would be eradicated. Right? Right?!?!

As we played and really dug into our characters, the central question that kept coming up was whether each of them actually saw themselves as beautiful. For a variety of reasons, the answer was universally no. Even the extremely vain, self-centered womanizer turned out to doubt his own appearance.

Were we kidding ourselves about our real motives? Claiming to want to bring happiness and equality to an unfair world, but really just trying to tackle our own insecurities? But as we’d known from the start — known consciously, but maybe not really viscerally come to terms with — our procedure worked by engineering a fertilized egg that would, years later, grow into a beautiful person. We couldn’t alter the DNA of someone already born. It wouldn’t change the lives of all the people around us now, the very people we were trying to sell on the idea. It wouldn’t change OUR lives.

Quite fittingly, our final challenge was to convince the public our breakthrough was needed. After wrestling with terrible side-effects and then a surprise competitor in our first two challenges (and resorting to legal skullduggery and flat-out corporate espionage), we had the technology down, but without public acceptance none of that would matter.

Did we win? Did we change the world in a morally dubious way that everyone in the fellowship was now secretly questioning? Of course we did. Our work changed the world, and everyone at the table groaned. Never has a victory been so unappreciated.

Our epilogues spanned the decades that followed as the process became widespread. On the surface we smiled at these beautiful children of ours (some literally our own children) and accepted the accolades of a thankful world, but in our hearts we wondered what we had done.

Serious and thoughtful stuff. Well done, team.

    Ben Robbins | May 31st, 2017 | follow | show 2 comments