Play Journal: Q1 2015

by Thom Kiraly

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.

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