Friday, September 29, 2023

New TTRPG ‘Likeness Machines’ Released To Support SAG-AFTRA/WGA Strike

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Starting today, anyone can download and play a copy of Likeness Machines, a just-finished game centering the conflict between actors’ rights and artificial intelligence. When union activist and game designer Pearse Anderson saw SAG-AFTRA begin their strike on Friday, beginning with some nightmarish examples of how film studios try to use AI to exploit workers, he knew he had to make a game to support those on the picket lines. Working all through the weekend, Pearse finished designing a brand new game — and it’s a ton of fun to play. “Likeness Machines” is a pay-what-you-want PDF on gaming marketplace, with all profits going to the Entertainment Community Fund and other emergency strike funds.

Likeness Machines is a 1-2 player game that only requires a tarot deck, index cards, and your imagination. The rules are contained on a single page of printer paper, so players can print the game at home or quickly play on their computer. Likeness Machines starts similarly to a tarot reading, with you drawing tarot cards that represent performances for a fictional actor you create. But as your actor faces hardship and failure, the heads of studios scheme to replace your actor with an AI replicant. To win, you’ll have to race against the snowballing power of your AI self and get out of Hollywood while you can. The game showcases a speculative, satirical dystopia — but one that’s unfortunately within reach with further union busting, profit seeking corps, and streaming’s enshittification.

The dual WGA/SAG-AFTRA strikes have been sites of creative solidarity, from picket sign poetry to fake CEO yacht clubs to this weekend’s musical fundraiser: this tabletop game is yet another art form to come out of the collective empathy and organizing happening across the country. “Likeness Machines” is the first tabletop roleplaying game designed to benefit striking SAG-AFTRA workers, but hopefully it won’t be the last: who knows how long the strike will continue, and actors might need games like this to keep themselves busy and their improv skills attuned.

SAG-AFTRA strike
Image via SAG-AFTRA

Likeness Machines is the second game Pearse designed specifically around union organizing. Last October, he released Cosmic Latte, an interstellar barista simulator to raise funds for Starbucks Workers United after seeing the impact of likely union busting at his Starbucks. Cosmic Latte ended up raising hundreds of dollars for service workers and pro-union politicians, and was covered in Teen Vogue, Eater, Belt Magazine, and more. “I’d like to continue to design tabletop games for labor organizing,” Pearse says. “So many people are disconnected from what a union can help with, especially after decades of poor labor representation in the media. A tabletop game can help bridge this and get others’ mirror neurons firing.”

To read more about Likeness Machines, take a look at this page, which contains game imagery and details, or read a playthrough of a game here. You can download a free copy of the book here. The game was edited by Satah, a tabletop gaming consultant.

Images via SAG-AFTRA

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