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Murder Mystery Game: what it is, how it works and key elements

MURDER MYSTERY GAME: WHAT IS IT?

A Murder Mystery Game, a derivation of the murder mystery fiction genre born in the first half of the nineteenth century, is an entertainment event where the players, in addition to being diners, take on the role of investigators to solve a mystery or a murder.

This kind of game gives to the players the opportunity to live the experience of a police investigation in first person. The solution of the mystery behind the crime will be therefore a real intellectual challenge between the players and the perpetrator.

MURDER MYSTERY GAME: HOW DOES IT WORK?

There are many kinds murder mystery games which involve the use of props or even entire theatrical companies in the role of witnesses, suspects and investigators.

All these types of “murder mystery games” do not allow a univocal definition of the game, so there are dozens of versions: for example, some focus on the interpretation of the players, following a live role-playing model, other focus on deductive reasoning and on solving puzzle and riddles or on finding the clues.

In the most popular versions, the players are tablemates who, during a dinner for example in a restaurant, attend a series of theatrical scenes and, on the basis of them, must try to solve the mystery.

The classic murder parties, on the other hand, require the players themselves to play a role, perhaps as invited to a party by a mysterious landlord who will then be found dead. This type of games are more like the so-called L.A.R.P. (Live Action Role-Playing).

Another type is that of the Crime Dossier Game, in this case the tablemates during dinner receive clues as if they were policemen dealing with the file of a murder case.

At the end of the event, after analyzing the evidence, listening to the testimonies and questioning the suspects, the players will have to answer some fundamental questions that obviously vary from history to history, but the three most common are:

Who is the murderer?

What’s the motive?

What’s the dynamics of the murder?

THE GENRES OF CRIME STORIES

Murder

Before analyzing in detail the key elements of an investigation of a crime, it is important to mention the many types of detective stories that exist in fiction.

Choosing one of these sub-genres already introduces a first element to compose the plot of the story.

Let’s see some of them.

A whodunit (a colloquial elision of “Who [has] done it?”) is a complex, plot-driven variety of a detective story in which the puzzle regarding who committed the crime is the main focus. It’s the most traditional type of crime story, where the audience is given the opportunity to engage in the same process of deduction as the protagonist throughout the investigation.

Another genre is the Hardboiled: unlike the classic thriller, in this case the criminal reality is represented in a crude way and the investigator is a dark character with a dark past who prefers action and does not like too complex reasoning.

In the historical thrillers the plot takes place in a setting located in the past and it pays attention to the manners, social conditions and other details of the depicted period.

In the “locked-room” or “impossible crime” mystery the crime (almost always murder) is committed in circumstances under which it was seemingly impossible for the perpetrator to commit the crime or evade detection in the course of getting in and out of the crime scene. These crimes are a hard challenge even for the most expert detectives.

KEY ELEMENTS OF A MURDER MYSTERY GAME

Forensic investigator working at a crime scene

A thrilling crime story, as well as an effective interweaving of the plot, is always characterized by a series of key elements (repeated more or less constantly in the plot) and by an engaging setting.

The Setting

The research for the most suitable narrative contexts for the setting of the plot must not be superficial but rather rich and detailed, in such a way that it is able to engage the players and immediately catapult them into the proposed story.

Therefore a well-finished setting is essential to make the players experience the atmosphere of the proposed story.

There is a huge variety of settings: they can range from historical ones, for example in the Victorian Era or during the Parisian Belle Epoqué, to the dark atmospheres of hardboiled crime story, perhaps set in a gloomy Los Angeles of the 30s, passing through the thick fog that envelops the small villages on the British moorland shocked by an elusive serial killers. The limit is obviously only the imagination.

The Investigation

A murder has been committed. The police are still fumbling around in the dark and only a small group of detectives can solve the case: you and your friends! How will you set up the investigation? Which elements will you consider important and which not? To solve the mystery it’s important to outline the facts well, build a clear context and define how the investigation can be articulated: which witnesses will you be able to hear? What elements of the crime scene are important? What possibilities and what limits do the players have in carrying out the investigation?

The Crime

Defining the nature of the crime that happened is crucial: is it a murder? Was there a theft? Usually the crime took place before the game night and there are some pieces that have never been fully clarified. The task of the players will be to fill in the gaps through deductive reasoning in order to unmask the culprit. However, it is possible that the crime was committed during the game night, in this case it is necessary to take into account not only past events but also for example the conversations between the guests during the dinner, since the culprit is hiding among them.

The Victim

The victim or victims are the focus of every murder mystery game. Knowing who the victim was, knowing her relationships with third parties or her secrets is very important to unravel the mystery about her death. Usually the victim has unclear links with the murder suspects and being able to reveal the nature of such relationships can certainly help in the investigation.

The Detective

He is the second central figure of every crime story. The players could be the detectives or they will help the detective to solve a case, other times they will compete with him for who gets to the solution first. There are multiple types of detectives: from the classic and famous Poirot and Sherlock Holmes to the most tormented detective figures typical of American literature of the 1920s, in which the detectives are more inclined to solve problems abruptly rather than indulge in reflective and cognitive thinking.

The Suspects

Only one of the suspects could have committed the crime. Which one is the killer? There are any accomplices? Generally the suspects of the murder are people who knew the victim, and they probably had had some quarrel with him or her in the past and have secrets that they would never want to be revealed. Therefore the task of the players will be to read or listen to the testimonies, verify the alibis and confessions of the suspects knowing that obviously not all of them will tell the truth.

The Culprit

The perpetrator hides among the suspects. The murderer is the character to be discovered, the mysterious figure around whom the whole investigation revolves. He always has a motive that led him to the murder, being able to discover the motive is a crucial step in solving the crime. The motives can be of various kinds but generally they can be traced back to money, love, revenge, madness, jealousy and power.

The Clues

The evidence are the pieces of the puzzle to be completed. Every clue is like a little compass heading toward one of the suspects. No assassin or thief is skilled enough to leave no trace: finding these clues and giving them meaning, is the task of the players. The clues can be of many types: audio, video, images, texts, objects, footprints, dialogues, etc. There are many places to find them and they will certainly be present at the crime scene. In a murder mystery game, the clues can be delivered as props, such as a gun, or as part of a case file, such as photographs and reports.

The Epilogue

The conclusion of a murder mystery game is its revealing moment as the players will have to indicate the outcome of their investigation by answering the fundamental questions: who is the culprit? Why did he act? What was the dynamics of the events that led to the crime? Often in the movies or mystery books at the end of the story there is a twist, in a murder mystery game instead the final moment is unitary and leaves no room for something later but represents the crowning of the intellectual challenge that accompanied the development of the whole investigation. It represents the peak of the game experience, the final moment where the mystery is unveiled and solved and the players discover if their hypothesis are correct.

WHY PLAY A MURDER MYSTERY GAME

Murder mystery games have always been very successful and this is due to several factors. Spending an evening, perhaps in the company of your friends, investigating a mysterious crime together, is a smart way to have fun and develop socialization. The charm of a well-rendered setting and a compelling storyline stimulate creativity, lateral thinking and problem-solving skills.

Do not miss the opportunity to become a Sherlock Holmes novice, play a murder mystery game and test your “little gray cells”!

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