I Am of the Future. I Am of the Past.
About: Because nobody wants to be of the present as the present is, by its nature, easy and dull and always the only segment of time that is physically inhabitable, making it an unsatisfactory and inconvenient fact imposed on a people inclined contradictorily toward both nostalgia and the future’s restless pull, this game will be called “I Am of the Future. I Am of the Past.”
Objective: The objective is to win the game, though players should know that winning won’t change anything.
Players: 4 – 8
Contents: 1 Deck of Bicycle playing cards; one game board; a sand timer; thirty-two cardboard game pieces containing images of smog; thirty-two cardboard game pieces containing images of the sun; the past; one cardboard game piece containing a detailed map of the universe, even the unknown parts; the future; and two dice.
Set Up: Lay the game board out on a flat surface. Arrange the cardboard game pieces in separate piles so they can be easily distinguished, and make sure the timer and dice are easily accessible. Know that the past is inside you, as is the future. Give the deck of Bicycle playing cards to a player who has a dead grandmother.
Beginning the Game: The Player’s Dead Grandmother will shuffle the deck of playing cards. Her hands will shake and she will drop cards, like how she shuffled cards when she was alive. The Player’s Dead Grandmother will deal three to seven cards to each player, depending on how many players are in the game (4 players = 8 cards, 5 = 7, 6 = 6, 7 = 5, 8 = 4, ∞ = 0). Each player will watch the grandmother deal the cards and think about his own dead grandmother. If a player does not have a dead grandmother, the player must imagine that her grandmother is dead. Once the cards are dealt, players must look at their hands, consider their grandmothers, and declare either, “I am of the future,” or “I am of the past.” In the rare exception that a player can think of only a living grandmother, that player must declare, “I am of the present.” Such a player must be immediately removed from the game and asked to leave the premises so he will not remind the other players that they are all, truly, of the present. After the declarations have been made, players will be arranged into two groups, those who are of the past, and those who are of the future. Turn the timer over and let the sand drain from the top to the bottom bulb. Players will feel a secret but shared sense of dread knowing that they can only ever be the sand perpetually falling through the narrow passage between bulbs, but never the sand in one of the bulbs.
Playing the Game: Each turn will begin with a player throwing a baseball with a childhood friend in the backyard of the house in which she grew up. Or each turn will begin with a player talking about the excellent gas mileage he gets on his new flying car, which is a Lexus. Or each turn will begin with a player asking his father an unanswerable series of questions because he cannot fall asleep at bedtime. Or each turn will begin with a player tending a hydroponics bay on a moon base. Or each turn will begin with a player listening only to songs she was familiar with during her junior year of high school, because that was the best year of high school. Or each turn will begin with a player naming his children who have not yet been conceived, with a wife to whom he is not yet married. Or each turn will begin with a player watching archival videos of decades old television commercials on YouTube and thinking about how much better commercials used to be. Or each turn will begin with a player being surgically fitted with a realistic, cybernetic, prosthetic arm after losing her real arm in a car accident. Or each turn will begin with a player sitting in front of a television at a friend’s house, playing the original Final Fantasy, with a party of a fighter, a thief, a white mage, and a black mage, for the Nintendo Entertainment System until two o’clock in the morning. Or each turn will begin with a player sitting in her fully automated, self-cleaning apartment playing Final Fantasy XVIII instead of watching the evening, network news, which probably doesn’t exist anymore. Or each turn will begin with a player, in the basement bathroom of his parents’ old house, masturbating to the lingerie section in a JC Penney catalog, then wiping his milky discharge from the hardwood floor and feeling ashamed. Or each turn will begin with a player describing how next year will be the year, how it’s all going to happen, and why (or, alternatively, the player can describe how the next year will be abysmal, and why). Or each turn will begin with a player feeling an acute, debilitating fear of growing up (Note: players who choose this option should be viewed with suspicion as, while a fear of growing up gives the appearance of a player being of the past, it might also indicate that the player is secretly of the present). Or each turn will begin with a player who is of the future traveling back in time to become of the past; in this instance, the time traveling player will change groups without the possibility of changing back.
After a player completes his or her turn, players from the opposite group will judge whether or not the player’s action was satisfactorily completed (those of the past will judge those of the future, and vice versa). At the conclusion of judging, another player will begin his or her turn. Turns can consist of un-listed actions, as well those listed above, but any action must be completed satisfactorily for a player to receive a cardboard game piece that also counts as a point. It does not matter which cardboard pieces are awarded to players who are of the past, or players who are of the future, as long as each group receives only one type of cardboard game piece, and the two groups receive different cardboard game pieces. For the literal minded, we suggest giving the cardboard pieces with images of the sun to players who are of the past, and cardboard pieces with images of smog to players who are of the future. It doesn’t really matter, though. The progression of turns will continue until all of one type of cardboard game pieces is exhausted.
Winning the Game: When one group’s selection of game pieces is exhausted, the player with the most cardboard pieces from his/her team will face off against the member of the opposite team with the most cardboard pieces. This face off may be decided by a roll of the dice. The player who is of the future will try to predict the result of the dice roll. Then, the player who is of the past will guess the number that was predicted by the player who is of the future. At this time, a neutral player will roll the dice. If the player who is of the future successfully predicts the outcome of the roll, and the player who is of the past did not successfully guess the player who is of the future’s prediction, then the player who is of the future will be declared the winner. If the player who is of the future fails to successfully predict the dice roll, but the player who is of the past successfully guesses the player who is of the future’s prediction, then the player who is of the past will be declared the winner. In all other scenarios, no winner is established, and the game must continue into sudden death.
Sudden death will be decided through arm wrestling, using the game board as an elbow pad. During the arm wrestling match, a neutral player will hold the sand-timer vertically, between the arm wrestling opponents, allowing the sand to drain from the top to the bottom bulb, and flip the timer each time all of the sand in the top bulb has fallen to the bottom. During the match, the opponents can look only at the timer and must continuously say either, “I am of the future,” or “I am of the past.” If a player looks away, fails to repeat this phrase, or is defeated in the act of arm wrestling, that player loses. In the case of a stalemate, however unlikely that might be, then the neutral player must break the sand-timer, and a second neutral player must hide the one cardboard game piece containing a detailed map of the universe, even the unknown parts, someplace where it can never be found. The game will officially end when the stale-mated arm wrestlers say, in unison, “I am of the future. I am of the past,” and hug each other.
Regardless, of the outcome to the arm wrestling match, all games of I Am of the Future. I Am of the Past, must end with players feeling frustrated that they are still only of the unsatisfactory present, while The Player’s Dead Grandmother packs the game’s pieces back into the box.
JAMES BRUBAKER‘s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Zoetrope: All Story, Hobart, The Normal School, Web Conjunctions, Indiana Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and elsewhere. He is the author of a chapbook, Pilot Season, which is forthcoming from sunnyoutside.