Dog Eat Dog – late to the party game thoughts

Dog Eat Dog is a title I have long wanted to play, with little success. As it turned out, there is a lot of people who played this game once and aren’t willing to play it again, usually because the game is too uncomfortable to just enjoy or it strikes too close to home in its criticisms. However, I have managed to play it with a group of friends and this short piece is a record of the game followed by some feelings I have about Dog Eat Dog.

For context, I was born and raised in Poland, a country with a rich history of colonialism, approached from both sides. To this day, a lot of Polish people deny any wrongdoing on their motherland’s part in the inclusion (annexation?) of Lithuania in the Commonwealth. Usually, the same people bemoan the tragedy of the 18th century partitioning of Poland, denouncing Prussia, Russia and Austria for the loss of independence for over a century. I had three other players, one Polish and two British.

We quickly settled on Natives who were a tribal society of islanders spread across a small archipelago. We made them excellent sailors and navigators, deciding that their islands are surrounded by harsh and dangerous waters. They had animistic beliefs and law that required all disputes to be solved through trial of skill. We also decided they didn’t use money and instead had a society where trade and ownership is a reflection of social status.

Our Occupiers turned out to be quite a quirky bunch, as they have arrived with a mission to spread civilisation (as they understand it at least), had science-fiction level technology complete with teleportation and advanced AI and a society based on services, not ownership. They were also highly emotional and were expressing themselves through art and performance, which was central to their way of life and highly valued.

That last characteristic quickly became the main point of conflict, as one of the Occupiers used a holy rock of great cultural and religious importance as medium for their artistic expression – a sculpture. All three characters, a highly revered old sailor Grandma, a spirit-shaman called Kwasu and a local cop Soaring Seagull were present at the site, lamenting the damage and trying to figure out whodunnit. As the Occupiers were called to the scene, the outrage of Natives was met with a complete lack of understanding from the Occupiers, who, concerned that the quality of the art is what really bothers the Natives, offered to redo the piece. Only due to the attempts of the Natives to communicate using Occupier terms and concepts, the author was revealed and served a summons for a trial of skills. As the natives were pretty careful about their behaviour, all except Grandma were awarded a coin. We decided that “Art is more important than spirits” is the new rule.

Before we went into the trial, Grandma and Kwasu sat vigil at the holy rock and discussed what it means for the Natives. Seagull and the Occupier sat this one out and the scene ended in Indifference.

The next scene started just before the trial of the sculptor, who, as it turned out, was an Occupier doctor, who has helped Natives on numerous occasions. Eager to solve it diplomatically, Kwasu and the doctor agreed to take holy drugs and talk to the spirits, but the doctor did not see the spirits for what they were – dismissing them as mere hallucinations. Disappointed, Kwasu decided the trial is going to be a race, between the doctor and Grandma, serving as champion of the people. To the dismay of a gathered crowd, the doctor brought a shiny high-tech sailboat with AI at the helm. After Soaring Seagull defused the situation calling for peace and orderly conduct, the race begun. The dice have shown a clear victory of Grandma, who braved the waves recklessly while the AI prioritised safety. In the aftermath, the doctor apologised to the spirits suitably, albeit at the condition that the Occupiers be allowed to vaccinate Native children. In a shocking turn of events, the Occupier judged Grandma unfavourably twice, taking her last remaining coins. Soaring Seagull was chastised for breaching the first rule, and Kwasu second, both coming out with no changes. We chose “The Law is more important than facts” as the third rule, to take note of the doctor’s dismissal of the spirits.

In this scene we knew that Grandma is due to Run Amok, but it was time for the Occupier to set the scene. It begun at Grandma’s house, with an excited tourist who followed the trial race on TV, asking politely for a photo. Grandma refused to have any likeness of her depicted in any way and stormed off, smashing tourist’s camera on her way. Seagull arrived and tried to game the system by claiming the smashed camera is an act of artistic expression, but neither the tourist nor Occupier security forces bought the story. We were just about to wrap the scene up when we learned Grandma took a chisel and destroyed the controversial sculpture and a lot of the holy rock along with it. Occupier security tried to escort her, but she lashed out, killing one Occupier before she was gunned down. Judgment was very quick – with three Coins for Running Amok and character Death paid, the Occupier was left with no coins, Kwasu with 7 and Seagull with 5. We went straight into the game’s finale.

Turns out, Grandma being shot was transmitted throughout the Occupier’s media, and that very escalation ended the Occupier’s mandate to continue their activities. They departed the islands leaving behind only a tiny embassy. Grandma was remembered by her many descendants and ultimately transformed into a symbol of resistance. Kwasu, who was assimilated into Occupier’s culture, abandoned shamanism and became an artist with a mission to propagate artistic expression as new way to express spirituality. Finally, Soaring Seagull, despite not being assimilated, left with the Occupier, as he knew he would be ostracised for his actions. He died forgotten in a foreign land. Overall, the Natives may have kept their autonomy, but lost their traditional culture – they modernised, slowly adopting customs of their former Occupiers, to the point that many years later in place of the holy rock stood a hologram of Grandma – the one she never wanted taken.

I have to say that the game has been quite lighthearted and fun, with occasional jokes, a relaxed atmosphere and positive engagement from all players. It was only during the epilogue that it hit me. I initially thought my character is going to be assimilated, as I purposefully made the detective quite open to interaction with the Occupier. The assimilation of the shaman was a complete surprise, as nothing in his behaviour during the game foreshadowed it. I guess the game doesn’t care about how the Natives see themselves, only the perspective of the Occupier is important and consequential. And so, despite preaching against every Occupier value and custom, Kwasu was not a threat to them, and so, was viewed as sympathetic. I also became quite apparent that in this particular scenario the Occupier did not do anything very drastic upfront and did not follow up with enforcing their way very often. This both opened up an opportunity to strip them off coins and left us with little time to resist change. If not for Grandma’s player aggressive incursions, we could have ended with everyone alive and culturally independent.

I hope I can see a game from the Occupier’s perspective, as well as when the Natives are being more forcefully oppressed. I don’t think these situations would be as relaxed as the one we’ve experienced.