While thousands of artists and creators strike in a joint worker action between the Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, an independently created tabletop game hopes to raise funds for picket line stalwarts.
Likeness Machines is the creation of designer and union advocate Pearse Anderson, who is crafting something of a niche by following up Starbucks lampooning Cosmic Latte with a quick, tarot-based RPG about an actor hoping to make it big and the nascent AI training tirelessly to eventually replace them.
The plot of the one or two-player biography game directly satirises Hollywood’s growing fascination with AI-based technology such as ChatGPT and its supposed potential to replace writers and other creative positions within an already precarious and exploitative industry. In fact, AI adoption is one of the major sticking points striking film and television workers want addressed from their list of demands.
Using a tarot deck and something to journal with, Likeness Machines guides players through the creation and early career of a budding actor. Depending on the suit and orientation of each drawn card, players will chronicle the troubled rise of their career via their recorded performances. Players journal an interpretation of the card before setting it along a growing timeline of concerts, interviews and brand deals.
Simultaneously, an Awakened metre ticks down to the birth of an artificial intelligence specifically trained to perfectly mimic the player-character’s on stage persona. The game ends whenever one of three tarot cards are drawn - the Empress, the Emperor or Death. Each of the three mark the end of the actor’s career and the circumstances surrounding it.
Rather than just creating interesting prompts and situations, Likeness Machines satirises the professional world that studio executives seem hell-bent on creating. The politics of the game are worn on its sleeve and unafraid to crop up in the design. Players will directly confront existential threats, being treated like an outdated piece of tech and what it means to lose control of something you helped create.
Fuck it, a brand new tabletop roleplaying game about working as an actor while you are overtaken by an AI replicant built to please a greedy studio executive named Zaz Love. All profits going to entertainment community fund for @sagaftra/@wgawest/@wgaeast. Link to download pic.twitter.com/fYRGaQpeFR— Pearse Anderson (@PearseAnderson) July 17, 2023
“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 organising happening across the country,” Anderson said in an email to Dicebreaker.
Likeness Machines is free to download on its Itch.io page, but Anderson urges anyone who tries it to consider donating towards the Entertainment Community Fund, along with SAG and WGA-approved emergency strike funds. These mutual aid initiatives help keep workers fed and housed while on strike - a tactic Hollywood execs are already actively exploiting. More information on the specific fundraisers can be found here.
Hobbyists are already concerned with how WGA/SAG-AFTRA’s massive, ongoing strike might affect RPG actual play series such as Critical Role and Dimension 20. While that threat seems distant, for now, using RPGs as a tool for advocacy, education and activism produces some very cool art that hopefully stays in the realm of satire.