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Play and self-loathing for the 22nd century

Play Journal: March 2019

I don’t have an April Fools’ thing to come at you with because life is enough of a joke for me to laugh until I’m dead, so let’s… just… GOOOOOO! So much stuff happened in March. I feel like a sober alcoholic listing all the things I’m grateful for, but whatever. It is what it is and what it is is beautiful.

Speaking of beautiful, Malmö Play Club is for real, for real back and I’m hosting a play session at Garaget in Malmö on April 14. Check the Facebook event or just show up at 4 pm, Sunday, April 14. Let’s play.

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Play Journal: February 2019

Welcome to March 2019, let’s talk about February 2019! 

I didn’t go to Knudepunkt, but I got to play a bunch of interesting things anyway. For example, February saw the resurrection of the fabled Play Club! I also went for a proper drift for the first time since December 2017.
A bit unexpectedly, two of the major entries here are chiefly concerned with performance art / participatory theater. Bear with me as I try to figure out what actually counts as “play”. I’m sure it’ll only take a lifetime.

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Play Journal: January 2019

I’ve apparently suffered some sort of serious brain injury and decided to stumble my way back to this blog. Seriously. It’s been four long years. Where were you? Was I you? Were you me? Anyway, welcome back to the play journal. This is where I write some thoughts on the playful stuff I’ve been up to recently. It tends to be too exhaustive so feel free to skim and skip and skidaddle.

As before, I write this mostly for myself while still trying to make sure it’s not altogether dull. My old play journal entries have been useful in more cases than I’d anticipated. Most of the time it’s because someone asks about some larp from a few years ago, but I’ve also rediscovered games I’d forgotten about. Writing about playful experiences is a way for me of putting the cart before the horse. The thing about doing that is that it’s incredibly useful if you’re looking to change directions. Or, to admit something of an indebtedness to Pascal, it’s at least a way for me to first kneel and pray as to make myself or someone else believe again. Here goes.

Dead Friend: A Game of Necromancy

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Short Games for Lonely People: the zine!

January 17 is Ditch Your New Year’s Resolution Day. Four years ago, I made the resolution to write one of my Short Games for Lonely People every day for a whole year. I made it past January 17, but called it quits halfway through the year. Making a resolution to write something every day for an extended period of time is a very bad idea. What happens when you get sick? When life get in the way, as it so often and so brutally does? Does your project fail if you take a weekend off? Silly, really. Don’t do it. Be nice to yourself.

In celebration of resolutions made and ditched, I’ve printed a few short games on some pieces of paper, stapled them together and called it a zine. I honestly didn’t edit or select games very carefully, but having been through what can charitably be called a “creative slump” for the last… ehrm… few years, I’d say that my new motto is that it’s better to do something half-assed than to do nothing at all for such a long time that you eventually convince yourself that you’re no longer able to do anything. Yeah, welcome back to overshare central btw.

Hit me up if you’d like one of these. I don’t plan to charge for them, but I also won’t pay for postage so send me some coin to cover that.

Impact font!

Level up.

So, yeah..

…it me

This is just to say

I have resurrected
the blog
that was on
the internet

and which
you were probably
hoping
was dead

Forgive me
it was too tempting
so beat
and so old

The Ones Who Walk Away From Videogames 

I already wrote this on Twitter AND Facebook, but I’ll put it here as well, for safekeeping or something.

In class today, I finally reached the point where I feel confident in considering Ursula K. Le Guin’s story The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas as essential game studies reading. I’ve been wrestling with that feeling for months, that’s how weird I am. TOWWAFO is a truly haunting short story asking that most uncomfortable of questions: What’s all this (whatever it might be) worth to you? How far are you willing to go to have it, to keep it?

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Play Journal: Q1 2015

Oh, hai. I didn’t see you there. Huh? What’s that? Three months? It’s been three months since the last recap? Really? OK. Fine. I’ll give you something to read.

Apparently going through a divorce, moving to a new apartment, and school kicking into high gear moved this play journal thing down a couple notches on my priority… ladder (do ladders have notches? am I just mixing metaphors here?). I won’t turn this into a update on my personal life, but I will say that the recent turmoil certainly has had its effect on my willingness to seek out opportunities for interesting play. More than anything, I’m still exhausted, but it’s getting better and I’m looking forward to a year of unique and challenging play.

Speaking of unique (great segue, Thom), I’m doing a crazy and stupid thing in writing a Game for Lonely People every day of 2015 over at Short Games for Lonely People. I’m now one fourth through the year, and I’d love it if you kept me company by, from time to time, reading some of the stuff I squeeze out of my thinkyhole. You’re free to enjoy it. You’re also unfree to enjoy it.

Short Games

Final notes: I could have written more on Knudepunkt, but for reasons known to me, this year wasn’t entirely focused on play for me. Instead, my big takeaways from KP 2015 was friendships and how to relate to people I know and care about.
Also, I did a 24 hour version of A Drift. In Berlin. Using silent disco technology. It was amazing. In fact, it was so amazing that I’m writing a journal entry just for that one game. Don’t know when it’ll be up. Will tell you when it is. If you ask. Nicely.


LIVE ACTION STUFF

Living Stones at Malmö Museum – These can be found in a sort of hidden room far into the museum. They occupy a corner of a large room, making up a beach to the blue carpet/water of the rest of the room. I really didn’t see that the stones actually were pillows until my kid picked one up and threw it at me. I tried the stones out for a bit, but the real joy was watching my kid play with other kids. I almost only see my kids play together with each other, so seeing the interactions and attentiveness to others was a real treat. Too bad these stones cost a copious amount of money, otherwise, I’d fill my living room with them.

Malmö Play Club Session – Not much to say. A Play Club session is always a Play Club session, and never not interesting. Here’s what we played:
Bomb and Shield
Vampire
Silent Bird
Build Up/Knock Down
Sound Shower
Rain

Action Breaks – As part of a programming course I’m taking, we have what’s called an “action break” every time we have class. The conditions are simple: The winners of the last action break come up with a game that has to 1) be winnable 2) not take place in the classroom 3) involve moving around. Here’s what I managed to be part of:
Murderous Handshake
Everybody’s It Freeze Tag, Foosball Tournament, Ståtroll (Danish name for a variant of Freeze Tag).

Soccer – Took the kids shopping for groceries at the mall and brought a ball along for after we were done. Just bringing a football to this sort of place, even though we played with it outside, at the designated area (poorly) built for play, radically changes it. Play is appropriative, right? Yeah, it served as an invitation to other kids to join, and before we knew it, a game was under way.

explosion

Columbian Hypnosis – Played this with a classmate. I’m slowly realizing how much I absolutely enjoy the kind of push and pull this sort of game affords. Yes, one person leads, but the person following is in a strange power position as well, regulating and signalling whether or not the hypnotist should push harder or cut some slack. We’ll get back to this stuff later.

Playing in the park – Went with big M to play in Folkets Park (literally “The People’s Park”). We played in a piece of wooden playground equipment shaped like a car + caravan, and the kid who was driving was really all enthusiastic about it. Me and my kid sat in the back of the car, shouting destinations to each other, joking about where we were going.
All of a sudden, our kid driver turned around and announced: “We’re here!”
I asked: “Where are we?”
He answered: “Folkets Park”, which was of course true, but not an answer I was expecting.

MovingBaby

Easter Egg Hunt – Apparently, this is now some sort of tradition in Malmö — letting people join a little treasure hunt and go look for easter eggs. It was just enough fun for my 3,5 year-old to enjoy. There were four stations, each with its own question to be answered on the treasure map sheet we received at the outset of our hunt. At each of these stations, there were people in animal suits (bunny, chicken, cat etc.), but the kids didn’t actually have to interact with these characters unless they wanted to. Oftentimes, I think that people designing these sorts of experiences go for high interaction and full-on spectacle, even though that might not be suitable for the target audience. In this case, I’m really glad that interaction was not mandatory, because the animals were sometimes a bit freaky (read: I thought they were amazing while my kid thought they were a bit too weird).

A Drift, 24h Berlin run – There is no way to keep this short, so I’ve broken it into its own post. I’ll put a link here once it’s done.

Tempelhof-square

Knudepunkt 2015 – Like I said in my stupidly long intro, KP2015 did bring some play experiences, but it was more of a year of recalibration for me, as it indeed seems to be in all areas. Here’s a quick summary of what sort of trouble I got myself into:

Universe Building Workshop with Jakob la Cour
– Played around with ASMR and how it could be used to create a sense of space and place. The focus was relaxation, but I think we went much more towards titillation and subtle excitement. Some of my absolutely strongest triggers (good ones) were hit, but I really didn’t mind.

Movement Workshop with Gabriel Widing
– Any sort of workshop Gabriel put together will probably be worth attending, and this turned out to be true for the movement workshop as well. The whole thing was rather simple; Gabriel had prepared several scores for the group to work around, all exploring different ways bodies can relate to each other. Some relations slanted towards the physical, some towards the social. One score stood out to me as interesting in terms of power (back to the pushing and pulling mentioned above). Everyone mills about in the room. Once they lock eyes with someone, they approach each other, and when they meet one must kneel before the other. There’s no talking, so this agreement must be made in silence, using looks and body language. What’s interesting is that the exercise would suggest that the person kneeling is somehow the victim of the person still standing. However, they do not break eye contact or move away from each other until the person kneeling gets back up. Thus, the person kneeling is in control and the submission has become an interesting power dynamic that recognizes its own artificial premise, while still maintaining the actual physical and social relationship that the participants have silently agreed upon.

nailpolish

Control Box Workshop
– A workshop exploring submission (I know, that again). One person is in a square made up by tape on the floor. As long as they’re in there, they follow instructions given to them by everyone who is not in the box. Their only permitted autonomous action is leaving the box.  Naturally, I wish people pushed harder when it was my turn, but there was no way to communicate this.

Masquerade (at the party)
– I didn’t prepare a lot, but in keeping with the theme — Deadly Sins and Heavenly Virtues — I went as charity, throwing (fake) money at people and being all… charitable. I wore a bird mask and hung out in the sloth room. I also danced at the Danceoke.

Improvised Ritual (at the party)
– Stumbled into a proper Norwegian improvised ritual during the party. It was really intense at times and got just as scary as I think it was supposed to. I can’t really imagine what it looked like from the outside, but being in it felt good.

Ninja (at the party)
– Jumped into a game that just started, wearing my mask and everything. Did not do too well.

Warlarp
– Last day of Knudepunkt, I joined a drop-in boffer battle in the style of the Danish “Warlarp”. It’s basically a boffer game, so the focus is on hitting people a whole bunch, but you have to move in formation and stay with your group. Everything is based on Warhammer in some way I do not fully comprehend or care about, but I had a lot of fun just running around beating people up and dying in very dramatic ways.

Daycare Play – Went to the open/drop-in daycare in my neighborhood and was served amazing food by two of the finest chefs imaginable. food
Built stuff in play-dough. Made this little fella:playDough Also, a lot of other fun stuff kids come up with at daycare. Like, jumping from too high up, kicking someone who’s not actually in the kicking game, and throwing food all over the place. It was the kids doing those things, not me. Just to be clear.


PC/CONSOLE STUFF

P.T. – I finally got around to playing this hype monster, and I have to say that I was not disappointed. Do believe the hype, people. First observation: isn’t it funny how a horror game so successfully plays with the corridor trope? I mean, though not a horror game, this was the strength of The Stanley Parable as well; the illusion of choice as represented by rigid architecture. Horror often works on the same level, giving players just enough pull on the world for the pushback to really hurt once it comes.
Second observation: P.T. managed to lull me and Mikael into a sort of ritualistic and occult behavior when we tried to solve the last of the puzzles. I’ve been told that Blaise Pascal said something along the lines of “First you go to church and you kneel in front of the cross, then you start believing in God”. I think the same went for our strange quest for the esoteric knowledge in P.T.: repetition and practice brought about mystic belief in our nonsensical play. Immersion really was the excrement of action.

Portal 2 – Played through the extra co-op level that I had not yet tried, and started going through some of the user-designed ones. There are some real gems there, lemme tell ya. If you’re into Portal 2, you need to do yourself a favor and download a bunch of user-designed levels to try out.

Interruption Junction – Maybe not very game-y, but still sorta interesting. Not much to say about it, though. Well, I guess I could say that… [INTERRUPTION!!!]

Tired

Mighty Jill Off – I played through this game a couple of times for school. We were assigned to play any two games and blog about them, preferably in relation to each other. I wrote about submission, negotiation, and masochism in Mighty Jill Off and Super Hexagon. I don’t think I’ll publish those texts here on the blog any time soon, but there’s some incredibly interesting and potent ideas in the mix of BDSM and game design. I mean, just read this book. This is where we get back to the push and pull, and what I think Anna Anthropy does so well in several of her games. The designer becomes a guide in our submission, but rather than ending up stuck in the proceduralist rhetoric argument, the player also has a say in the negotiation of her submission.

Quake Live – Another game I played it as part of our Digital Game Theory course. There’s only a few people taking the course, so we have a lot of room to improvise and come up with stuff to do. This seemed mostly to serve as a team-building exercise… not that I mind.

We tried getting around the subscription required to host matches by finding matches that looked good and then shout the details at each other until everyone joined the same game. It took us the better part of an hour to get everyone (10-ish people) connected, first to Steam, then Quake Live. I was not on my A game, and I was far from the best in class, but it was damn fun.
We also got to try out our new Game Lab, which turned out to work like a charm and have some proper gear for playing computer games.
Finally, this game gave us the chance to shoot at our professors, which is always a welcome addition to any educational setting.

Nidhogg – I stayed behind after one Quake Live session and coaxed a classmate into trying out some of the variants. Baby mode was ridiculous, and low gravity was great. Never found out what the spine sword did. Nidhogg, great as always.

Micro Machines V3 – When we’re not playing Quake Live or DayZ in class, we meet up to play old PS1 games. Micro Machines was hectic and entertaining, and I’m very happy we tried the multiplayer mode with six players. I really don’t care for the retro obsession some people have, but when it comes to learning from past mistakes and successes, I’m all for it. Here’s a game that did a lot with what was available in terms of hardware. A maximum of eight players for a racing game on a PS1 is not bad, considering how this is to be communicated and designed. Current designers of local multiplayer games could do worse than look to Micro Machines for inspiration.

MicroMachines

Hercules – Herculadedrik! That’s all I have to say.

Three Body Problem – Found this while browsing A Game Design Vocabulary and felt like trying it. It’s really quite good. The difficulty is rather high, but still presents a challenge even after you’ve figured out what it’s all about.

Glorkian Warrior – Got it in a Killscreen bundle. Tried it a couple of times. It’s alright. There’s some sort of tie-in to some thing I don’t know about, so I figure that most of the appeal is lost in me just not getting it.

Tunnel

Drosophilia – The more Twine games I play, the more I want to make them. Anthing Pippin Barr is involved in will always pique my interest. This is no exception.

DayZ – Also a game played in class, DayZ has become something of a focus for me this semester. Along with a classmate, I developed a theory that the whole apocalypse scenario we find ourselves in when playing DayZ was actually brought about by an insane case of hypermetabolism spreading across the world. It wasn’t a mutated rabies virus, or a case of bad mojo, or a toxic spill. No, it was just the fact that absolutely everyone had to eat and drink ALL THE TIME, and once they eventually die, they still have to eat, hence the zombies. The zombies are afflicted like everyone else — doomed to consume.
Is DayZ, then, a critique of our world of mass-consumption and mass waste in the same vein of Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead?

— What are they doing? Why do they come here?
— Some kind of instinct. ”Memory of what they used to do. This was an important place in their lives.

Probably not, but entertaining that thought is entertaining to me, so I’ll keep doing that.

Apart from the hypermetabolism and the Zombies (which I would argue is a nuisance, rather than anything important to the game), DayZ offers a world where life is, at best, ”solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”. This is both due to the game’s own rules (you starve, thirst, freeze etc) but also of its encouragement of it due through scarcity in resources that can potentially alleviate some of the threats facing characters in DayZ. This was the case in my killing Espen (my professor) while he logged out. To be honest, I thought he wasn’t done logging out and that, rather than an execution, it would turn out to be more of a ”fair fight”… in the same way a hunter using a rifle to kill an animal on the run is a fair fight, I suppose. I turned out to arrive late to the party and my kill landed me nothing more than a bit of loot (which could have been better, Espen!) and some ill-ish will. It was a conscious and very deliberate choice to do this, and the game is practically made for it. People have called DayZ a ”human nature simulator”, but I think that’s going a bit far. Humans can be cruel, sure, but rarely without some sort of reason. The player’s reason has a higher threshold when it comes to figuring out how much is too much, especially since it’s based on the game context and that DayZ presents a world and surrounding conversation focused on killing for sport, entertainment, or resources. When placed in this world, where life is cheap with or without other players going after you, I feel it’s much more legit to kill your friend (or professor) than in some other games. I also had the chance to force-feed my professor’s avatar some old tuna, which is always nice.

DayZLastly, I had the great idea of dropping all my gear (except the gloves and shades, of course) as I was dying. I thought I could just return and pick it all up after starving to death. I was wrong. Of course I respawned at the other end of the map.

Pac Man in Google Maps – Tried it at ITU, and it worked fine. Tried it where I grew up, and there were not enough roads. Go figure.


MOBILE STUFF

Solipskier – Played this with big M on the iPad. It’s a bit difficult for a three-year-old to figure out (we don’t let the kids use the iPad a whole lot), but it seemed to please the little one, so I was ok with it. Such a soft and nice experience, just like skiing isn’t at all.

Super Hexagon – I’ve felt like firing this up more often than previously. Mostly to deal with anxiety and amusing stuff like that. Also, like I mentioned above, I wrote a little something about it in relation to Mighty Jill Off. The best, as always, is firing it up and defeating the hardestestestest level in one try.

SuperHex

Moneygrabber – Spent way too long playing this. Way too long. Started thinking about spending actual money on it, at which point I uninstalled it.

Crossy Road – Tried it out in order to have tried it out and it totally worked as I have now tried it out. Great success.

Subterfuge – Interesting concept, but I’m not sure I have the wherewithal to internalize a game system of this kind right now. The negotiation seems nicely built into the interface and even with a somewhat complicated game system, I feel I get a good overview of what’s going on.

Sunburn – Solid design, but I get bored with these things very easily, so I don’t know if I’ll actually pick it up again. That’s actually a bit sad, when I go “this is good… but I don’t care”. It happens a lot with games.

Pinna – Taps into some sort of obsessive thing I have for simple/stupid games, but ultimately rather empty. Again, I guess it’s sorta good, but oooooooh my how I have other things to do, or better things to distract myself with.


TABLETOP STUFF

Hit the Hat – with big M. Same as always, the game rules don’t actually matter much. It’s much more important to just play around with the stuff in the box.

HitHat

Torchbearer – Out of respect for the game, we opted to go with pregens and just jump right in the first time we played. I played Gerald the Halfling burglar and I did not fare well in the dungeon, as expected. The second time we played, we created characters and got to the same part of the dungeon as our pregens had during our test run. Finally, the third run saw us delve deeper into the dungeon (big mistake, but hey, a poor murderhobo’s gotta do what a poor murderhobo’s gotta do). Perhaps we played out our characters inner lives a bit too strongly because what ended up killing us was not primarily the dungeon but conflicts within the murderhobo party. In short, my elf went down into a dungeon, hit some skeletons with his dagger, pushed his buddy into an ancient marble coffin, opened a door, and falling asleep in his own puke because the door was rigged with a horrible trap. Ah, Torchbearer, your rage is so measured and subtle.

Thom’s Top Ten Play Experiences of 2014

It’s been a hell of a year. That’s not just the hook of my favorite end-of-the-year song, it’s also true for my 2014, in several senses. Part of me is just glad I made it through at all. Looking back, my first impression was that 2014 didn’t offer as many cool play opportunities as 2013, but in assembling my short list (28 items!), I realized other stuff often got in the way of my enjoyment of them. This often interfered with my post-event appreciation rather than my actual in-play enjoyment, and I hope that in writing this list I’ll be able to look more soberly at what I’ve been up to.

Like last year, some of the stuff in here will be recycled from previous Play Journal entries. Like last year, you will be OK with this. Lastly, like last year, these experiences are presented in no particular order, so it’s not a countdown or count… up.

Very little of what made my year in play great would not have happened or been as exciting, enjoyable, and beautiful without all of my fellow players. Thus, I want to thank everyone who played with me in 2014. It means a lot to me that I get to keep exploring this thing (whatever it is) alongside some of the most amazing people I’ve met. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

w00t 2014 (May 30 – June 1)

The Copenhagen play festival returned for its second year and this time I participated not only as a player but also as a designer. More about the designer part later.

w00t 2014

This festival was just as good as I had hoped. Unlike last year, I was also able to attend all days this time around, which meant I didn’t miss as many cool things. The whole affair was a bit more polished and well-oiled than last year’s event (doesn’t say much, as that was held in what was basically a huge sandpit, but still).
Like I mentioned, bringing and playing something I designed was a big thing. That deserves its own entry on the list, however, so look further below to find that.

These are cool things I played at w00t 2015:
City Dash – This was great fun, even though our team spent a quarter of the game outside the actual play area. I’ve missed playing a larger street game where you simply get to run your ass off and collect points. I think there’s a view that many street games are only that, but it really isn’t as common as one might get the impression of.
The Avatar Controller – The more avatar play I can get AFK, the better.
Political Volleyball – Brilliant and simple concept. Just like volleyball, but spectators can vote for rules changes through Twitter. The twist is that they’re only voting for the names of the changes, so they don’t actually know what’s going to change.
Push Me, Pull You – The visuals drew me in, and this ended up inspiring a design I was involved in during my fall semester at the ITU in Copenhagen.
Sync – Another clever Local Multiplayer nugget. It’s basically this in the form of a videogame.
Triolectical Football – This is a must-try for… anyone interested in… sports, soccer, politics, art, play, games, architecture, warfare. Yeah.

Finally, I hade the great pleasure and honor to play some games with Bernie DeKoven, who was the festival’s guest of honor.Some people look at cool indie people making strange stuff and wish they were more like them. Me? I want to be Bernie.
Adding to the experience was the fact that I got to play with and see a dear friend of mine play all of these simple and coliberating games, building a shared understanding of what I’ve been getting into these past years.

 

Rain Game at Knutpunkt (April 3)

With 20 people, this is a cool game; with 350 people, it deserves a place on this list.

rain game

Sometimes, I have to argue that things I do are actually games. This is one of the most tiresome debates concerning games one can get into, so I try to avoid it. As long as the play is good, I probably don’t give a shit whether or not you think it’s a game. Rain is one of those games. It’s as much a ritual as a game, and that’s sorta the point. It brings a group together by sound and imagination, and it’s a beautiful thing.

In a car on my way from Halmstad to the Knutpunkt venue, one of the organizers asked if I had some game I could play as part of the opening ceremony. Of course I had a game!
For those who are unaware, Rain, asks players to close their eyes and imagine the last of a summer’s rains. The person leading the game starts rubbing their hands together and other people copy that sound, creating an impression of a growing wind. The sounds then move through snapping fingers, clapping hands, and slapping thighs, all the way to stomping on or slapping the floor. The person in the lead then slowly brings it all back down again by repeating the sounds in reverse order. My favorite moment is the transition from snapping fingers to rubbing the palms together. It really evokes that feeling of a heavy rain that’s just moved on.
As always, a lot of this is autosuggestion, and I did notice some people totally not getting into it, but I was blown away by both the game itself and the response I got from people afterwards. All through Knutpunkt people came up to me telling me that it was not only “fun”, “cool”, or “interesting”, but actually “beautiful”. Very little of those things were thanks to me, but I’m happy I was part of it.

 

A Drift: Gothenburg/Malmö/Copenhagen/Kraków (playtests, CPH, Malmö, Kraków)

The one game design I’m really proud of this year, A Drift was also my first opportunity in years to work with a close friend of mine.

a drift

I’ll try to not make this a postmortem. Some discussion about the process of designing A Drift is required make some sense, though. For the first time in years, I teamed up with my friend Mikael Vesavuori to make something. Joining us was also Niklas Persson, a welcome and balancing addition to the dynamic duo me and Mikael make up for better and for worse.

The idea was to make a street game to be submitted to w00t and Otherplace and for it to be minimal and not site-specific. What we came up with is pretty close to being a more structured and meditative version of Follow the Leader. I used to be uncomfortable with that comparison, but it does fit well and I’m proud we dared to keep it simple. Players team up, put on headphones playing an ambient soundtrack, and take turns leading each other in an exploration of the city.

In total, I did six proper runs of the game in 2014, and I can remember surprisingly much about them. Since every action builds on, or at least springs from, the last one, a sort of associative map is drawn through the city. When I recall the playthroughs, I follow these maps and go on a trip of silly and beautiful memories.

A Drift - playtest note

Riding a tram in Kraków without a ticket, saluting a building, walking backwards across a busy square, hugging an apartment complex, staring at a mall, staring at hot dogs turning round and round on a grill, drawing on pavement with a piece of chalk, venturing into the tunnels underneath Copenhagen, hiding from a heavy summer rain only to emerge and witness the most intense rainbow I’ve ever seen, mimicking other people, kneeling before a couple getting their wedding photos taken, using a street sign ask monkey bars, resting on warm asphalt while looking at nothing but sky…

When you give people the tools to play, they do. That’s a good thing about people.

 

Service at Knutpunkt (April 7)

The one game I attended at Knutpunkt ended up being totally worth it. A mix of ethical dilemma, tense play, and an incredibly satisfying ending secured it a spot on this list.

Service

With some games, you can see the emotional train wreck well before you’re sucked into it. In other games, you think you see a train, but actually it’s a flying saucer, and a Ninja stabs you, from behind, right in the feels. Service did that to me and that’s why it belongs on this list.

I didn’t really know what to expect, more than a larp about the call to military service, made by my buddy Shoshana. Service turned out to be a moral dilemma game, rather than some sort of military simulation. However, contrary to many other wicked problems, the person who was to be singled out among the new recruits was going to be spared (at least for now).
Working through the moral dilemma made up the bulk of the game, and I found it satisfying and was feeling surprisingly emotional by the end. One of the best parts was engaging with a player who was playing an introverted character, steering him into the game to keep him from just standing in a corner waiting it all out. It was obvious he was working through some dark thoughts in his mind and I wanted to see what they were. He let me, and they weren’t pretty, which was… beautiful. He gave me a chilling monologue about how he longed to feel his face sink into the cold mud as he died. Good stuff.

There are two things I think deserve a special mention: the character sheet and the end of the game.
The character sheet was nice because it worked both as an in-game prop (a draft notice) and a way to flesh out who you were playing. It was also part of starting the game. Everyone lined up and then, in turn, read their names out loud to proceed to the briefing room (where the rest of the game took place).
The end, then, also involved a slip of paper. Every player was handed one, lined up and, in turn, read their name and what the slip of paper said. They then exited the room and thus also the game. My slip of paper is the one you see below. This is what happened to my character in the the war. Medal of honor. Congrats.

I found myself in a strange state right after the game. Both the game itself and my character’s particular ending had gotten to me and I wasn’t really done dealing with it when I stepped out of the room. Other players, however, were super excited and immediately started shouting and laughing once they were out of the game. For some reason, this threw me off big time. There was a sort of dissonance where I was still internally processing what I had been through while others did the same, but with each other. This was unexpected but not entirely unwelcome. Though my overall reaction to the game still puzzles me. I wasn’t expecting as much as I did receive.

 

Malmö Play Club Club (March 22)

Malmö Play Club in general had a given spot on last year’s list. This year, we stepped up our… game by throwing a Play Club Club, and it was incredible.

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Malmö Play Club decided to throw a nightclub but replace the alcohol with play and guess what… it worked beautifully! Four straight hours of play mixed with Danceoke (a first for many, including me) proved to be a great combo. This was the first time that Malmö Play Club charged money for an event and our fears that we would scare people off by doing so were swept away by the gusts of love and play that participants brought. I hope we will dare to bring the Play Club Club back in 2015.

 

Camel Cup (July 19)

Tons of laughs and just as many friends to have them with puts this board game on the 2014 list.

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This may seem like a strange thing to put on my top ten list. Most of the other stuff is part of something larger; some transformative social experiment or interesting play shenanigans. Camel Cup? Not so much. BUT! I don’t think I had as much fun or laughed as hard while playing a game as when I played Camel Cup.

The context played a part, of course. I played it at one of my favorite gaming conventions, Container. Container is a special kind of beast. It stretches over 10 days, which means most people who want to make it there can actually sync it with some vacation time and go. The venue is an old place out on the countryside outside Jönköping. We all sleep in a big barn and the whole deal costs around 200-250 SEK, but you fix and cook your own food. Many of my closest friends attend and I’ve been going for the last seven years. Down the hill from the barn, there’s a small lake, and swimming is the perfect way to wind down after a game — even if the game happens to end at 5 in the morning. It’s basically a nerdy summer camp for (mostly) grown-ups.
Bringing a game like Camel Cup to a group of people like that means things will happen. Good things, like shouting and laughing.

 

De Usete (November 21)

Animal masks, fake drugs, live music, international conspiracy. What’s not to like?

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I wrote a pretty extensive analysis of my experience playing De Usete, so if you want to know more about the details, you should click here. In retrospect, the mood I brought to it ended up being perfect for the sort of game it turned out to be. This mood was, however, brought on by personal events I’d rather skip discussing like this (though I, of course, trust you to keep secrets).

In summary: anytime you give me the opportunity to wear a mask as part of a game, you’ve already got my attention. If you already throw in some amazing co-players, it’s a done deal.

 

TWD S02E03 (May or June)
What. The. Actual. Fuck? A digital, single-player game? On the top ten list?
Yes.

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Many people have lauded the third episode of The Walking Dead’s second season, and with good reason. The drama is tight, the writing is good, the missions are interesting and varied, and the finale is quite the thing. I think that there’s no question that it’s the strongest episode of the entire season.

What I liked most about it was how the in-game space works in parallel with the narrative choices in that they’re both very constraining. Oftentimes, adventure games need to spend some time explaining why more options aren’t available or viable. Putting the main character in a sort of prison takes care of that problem, and actually focuses it on the one goal of the episode: escaping.

This is also an episode where Telltale pulls very few punches, literally. The scene where Carver pushes Carlos to hit his daughter is absolutely painful. You may also be asking yourself: did Thom stay and watch Kenny kill Carver? Yes, he did. And he wants you to know that he appreciates how quickly Telltale made him regret that decision.

The ending is a chaotic and wonderful mess, and once again the particularities of my own playthrough puts its own color on it. Having watched Kenny completely bash Carver’s head in, I joined the others in the attempted escape. When presented with the episode’s final decision — whether or not to chop off Sarita’s hand right after she’s been bit — I opted to go ruthless and hardcore and start hacking away. Once the hand was off and Sarita’s scream carried over into the end credits, I turned my head slightly only to see someone standing right. fucking. behind me. Turned out, V, who had already played through the episode, had walked up behind me not considering the fact that I was wearing headphones and playing the most intense scene of the episode. Then and there, I deducted a couple of years from how long I had previously thought I could expect to live. It was a good scare, though.

 

Mutant: år noll (June-December)

Yes, the game has flaws. Yes, these flaws are to be found in both system and setting. Still, the Mutant sessions delivered some really good and brave play.

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I constantly feel like apologizing for this game, but I won’t. I’ve already written in the journal about how the system doesn’t really hold together, nor push the sort of play the designers seem to be looking for. I’ve also told you (even if you didn’t listen) about how the setting is a mess and encourages character psychopathy. These are problems, sure, but what we managed to squeeze out of this game turned out tasty and refreshing.

Having realized that simply playing according to the system would kill our fun, us players decided to set, and push hard for, our own agendas. Where this turned interesting was when we managed to work ourselves into conflict with each other. The sincere and vulnerable moments that resulted were some of the better roleplaying experiences I had in 2014. In the end, my character and the character he was most attached to went separate ways in a heartwarming and heartbreaking manner. In the zone, this meant that my character gave the other guy the one true gift you can give someone in the zone: a bottle of antidepressants. Godspeed, Mubba. May there always be something beautiful in your life, making you painfully conflicted about whether or not to crush it and watch it squirm.

 

BONUS: playing with my kids
Still not that complicated, really. 

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This will probably be a recurring item on my top ten lists, so I’ll treat it as a bonus from now on. Getting to follow the development of not only one, but two, kids’ play is often breathtaking. The fact that they’re, in fact, my kids probably adds something to the equation, but never mind. Now that I’ve got two of these creatures, just watching them play together is utterly fascinating. I’m happy I get to do it.

Short Games for Lonely People every day of 2015!

On a dare, or impulse, or because of some ancient curse, I’ve committed to writing a Short Game for Lonely People every day all the way through 2015. This means I will stop posting them here on Instagib and instead urge you to check out http://shortgamesforlonelypeople.wordpress.com for the latest games.

I’ll still post other things (mostly play journals) here on Instagib, so don’t worry.

Also, please check out my friend Josef’s blog. He’s doing the same thing I’m doing, but with poems over at: 365days365poems.wordpress.com

For some amazing reason, I’ve put together this creature to be used as a mascot for the SGfLP project. I think you will get along just fine.

knight's-head

Tomorrow, I hope to be able to put up the 2014 Top Ten Play Experiences list, so check back if you care about that sort of stuff.