Where does the boundary between imaginary play and real experience lie? Does the answer change for the young? This is, I think, the heart of Doll Bones. It reads like a love letter to a childhood that may not be possible anymore, in a time apart from video games and the internet, when three friends passed the time telling stories to one another in a years-long amalgam of LARPing and Calvinball. This felt real to me, this odd duck of a game that cannot be designed and instead grew naturally out of the tug-of-war of egos and inclinations. It reminded me of a space that only exists inside my head.
The story itself, a coming-of-age quest that straddles the real-unreal boundary, unfolds as one might expect: full of setbacks and secrets and revelations and things that appear supernatural from the corner of the eye. I appreciated that the problems faced by our heroes were the sorts of things actualy twelve-year-olds might face: how to ride a bus without parents, or how to maximally feed three people in a diner for minimal money. Yet, in dealing with these sorts of mundane problems, the story feels draped in a heavy blanket. By the time it is over it feels like it has hardly started. We are tantalized by potentials of haunted dolls and mysterious pasts but treated to bus rides and diners.
In the end the power of the story is its exploration of games, myths and storytelling. A slight in a story and bloom into a slight between best friends. A bad day at home can derail a plotline. Two imaginary characters can fall in love, but can the people portraying them? The best parts of Doll Bones were the ones that dealt with these kinds of questions in the Game of three eclectic children on the verge of leaving childhood behind.