True Tales of a Gaming Harlot: PARANOIA

Hey hey! You may remember I started this series with Dungeon World and with Dread, so I welcome you to the third part in this series detailing my new-to-me experience with Paranoia!

(not that I intend this to be the last of the series, but I have hit one of those lulls where my access to RPGs is limited by OMG LIFE so it may be awhile)

I’m going to point out that the version of Paranoia that I linked above may very well not be the version I played. I honestly don’t know. When I sat down to play, I was handed no copy of the rules, no character sheet, nothing beyond a d20 and a stack of chips, which represented my clones (sort of like 1ups in Mario Bros), in case — strike that, FOR WHEN I died.

Imagine that. A fully fledged RPG that can involve players who are completely ignorant of everything about the game and still be a great deal of fun. In fact, I’d wager that my ignorance of the rules was part of the game itself, part of the rules that one can never know all the rules.

I’m still guessing. I like the mystery.

Here’s the thing, though: I’ll probably never play Paranoia again. The game was fast, fun, creative, often silly, definitely competitive, and there is no doubt that I was good at it. I mean, really good. It’s a game of double-speak, misdirection, misappropriation, red tape, confusion and, well paranoia.

The problem lay in why I was good at that game. See, while I draw and I write and I play games because those are the things that become me, I do have a dayjob to keep me in houses, and I’m telling you with the utmost dead serious sincerity: every single skill I used to excel at Paranoia, I learned from my job.

Yes, it’s a government job, one I’ve been at for eight years, and navigating it has often required me to work with policy that often contradicts itself, work with people who will use any opportunity to throw you under a bus for their own advancement, a bureaucracy so criss-crossed with red tape that I’ve been mummified with it since the first week I arrived. You see, I cannot ever play Paranoia again because, Kord’s honest truth, I’ve been playing it as my full-time job for nearly a decade.

I realized this about halfway through the game. One of my fellow citizens looked over at me to witness me staring off into space with the barrel of my foam phys-rep of a gun pressed firmly into my temple. Citizen Yellow (as I had taken to calling her because I couldn’t bloody remember  her actual name and anyway she was going to die in all sorts of horrible manners so what was the point of names anyway?) scrunched up her face in concern, and mouthed to me “what are you doing?” Startled out of my reverie, I put my gun down and gave her the most woeful look, admitting quietly that I was ashamed of how good I was at this game because of how insanely well it paralleled an actual bureaucratic institution.

Well, ok, nobody dies at my work, so the game at least had that going for it. I was wildly vindictive in a way that I never experience at work, and took every opportunity to make sure my fellow citizens died horribly for their supposed treasons while I remained Friend Computer’s golden child. I mimicked every despicable behavior I had seen in 8 years with the department, and by the end of the game it earned me a slow-clap standing ovation. I want so much to be proud of my performance…

But I can’t. I just can’t be proud of the fact that I won a game that’s supposed to be an over-the-top exaggeration of  totalitarian paranoid government because it wasn’t over the top enough to be far from the truth.

That said, I don’t want to give the impression that it isn’t a great game. Despite my sadness at being good at it, it was a wonderful romp that encouraged engagement from all of its players only limited by the extent of their imagination (an act aided by the fact that we were never handed actual rules, which literally meant that if we could think of it there was nothing restraining us from doing it). I would DEFINITELY recommend this game as a great pick-up game for just about anyone.

Well, anyone but me.

How about you? Have any fun experiences playing Paranoia?

Part idiot. Part old man. All geek. Author and artist for the Vanity Games webcomic (, a retro-futuristic post-apocalytpic romp through a land of broken science and corrputed magic. A lover of all games, tabletop, board, video, or otherwise, and an avid consumer of nerd / pop culture.

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About J. J. Sloane

Author and artist for the Vanity Games webcomic (, a retro-futuristic post-apocalytpic romp through a land of broken science and corrputed magic. A lover of all games, tabletop, board, video, or otherwise, and an avid consumer of nerd / pop culture.
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