Something curious happened in the final few days of Operation LAPIS that piqued my interest greatly. As I implied in the previous post, the Recentiī were faced with large (and intentional) moral dilemma. After defeating Marcus' first batch of guards, another group shows up. However, seconds later their companion in Egypt, Tertius, shows up to lend a hand... quickly followed by the enigmatic Sinistrus to further complicate matters. The take away is this: the door to the final chamber is about the close and Tertius is hopelessly outnumbered. The Recentiī can either proceed forward, hopefully in a dramatic Indiana Jones style duck and roll under the door, or they can stay and fight a battle in which they surely will lose. The side effect of the latter decision is that they, too, will lose access to the final chamber and risk not discovering the fate of the Lapis Saeculōrum.
So what's a team of operatives to do?
Well, initially the teams all got together and decided that the strongest fighter (Bellātor) and maybe one other would stay with Tertius outside of the chamber while the other Recentiī would duck under the door and try to uncover the Lapis. However, from my perspective, that proposal presented a little bit of a design challenge -- the plot almost demands that all five Recentiī go into the final chamber for a variety of reasons. In game terms, while I like to describe that it's a "sandbox" to the students, in reality, it's a series of mini-sandboxes on rails. This was one of the times when the cart was moving.
Through a series of fun posts back and forth as "Demiurge Omega" and "Sinistrus", I dropped a bombshell on the students: their former companion from Pompeiī, Sextus (and brother to Tertius), was dead. He was killed by Sinistrus and with the way things were going, he was about to do the same to the Recentiī and Tertius. To illustrate his point, Sinistrus linked an exemplum for them -- the scene from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace where Darth Maul kills Qui-gon Jinn. Most of the operatives knew exactly what Sinistrus was implying. The immediately likened themselves to Obi-Wan; powerless to stop him.
That's when things got very interesting. Quite a large number of students displayed genuine concern for what was going to happen to Tertius. Was he going to die? Why would he stay and fight against Marcus and Sinistrus only to buy them some time? Was there anything they could do that would save him and allow them to gain access to the final chamber? In fact, on the next day when they had already gained access to the chamber but the text told them that they could still hear the sounds of fighting on the outside, students again asked what was going to be the fate of Tertius.
I shrugged and simply said, "I don't know... all we have are his final words before the door shut: I'll buy you some time. Go! The Lapis is more important!"
What does it mean when a group of students cares so much about the digital characters that they meet in a Latin I course? I'm not sure I know the full answer to that question right now but it sure as hell gave me chills as it was unfolding before my eyes. I think part of the answer does indeed lie in the power of play -- the very thing that we've been hoping to tap into since the very beginning.