What is Russia? What is Love?

A Cold War tabletop RPG about being spies and coming out

Created at the Carnegie Mellon University Entertainment Technology Center, "What is Russia? What is Love?" is a tabletop role-playing experience about being spies during the Cold War and harboring dangerous secrets. Designed to allow players to act through an allegory for coming out, "What is Russia? What is Love?" aimed to cultivate a sense of paranoia in players, making them fear cooperation despite needing it to complete their goals. To build a sense of paranoia, the players were told that one of them was a Russian spy attempting to sabotage the rest of the group.  This anxiety was built upon using a system of passing note-cards to communicate certain pieces of information as well as interacting with untrustworthy NPCs. By using an online server to distribute puzzles leading to information hidden in the building surrounding the physical playspace, players were required to sneak about the physical space to further the game, often times enacting their anxiety by hiding or manipulating the information they found.

Examples of secret notes

Part of the narrative planning for the game


Designed a tabletop game that provided players the freedom to further the story through combat, investigation, or world-building as they desired.

Manufactured in-game rules and structures to create an atmosphere of tension and paranoia

Used the physical space and mobile phones to have players move around the physical space, getting more aligned with their character and allowing the game ideas to not be constrained by the table