i've attended two theater pieces this year (thanks to [livejournal.com profile] _tove alerting me to them) in the category of "immersive theater," i.e. theater where the audience shares the "stage" with the actors, and multiple concurrent things are happening:

Her Things:
Her Things is an immersive theater and art piece -- a live video game, really. Participants will be invited to rifle through the objects and papers of "Poor Willa," a recently deceased turn-of-the-century recluse, to discover her story and more about her fate. Participants will be allowed to fully explore the space, touch and read artifacts in search of clues, interact with actors, as well as bid on certain objects by sharing their own memories as currency.

The barrier between spectator and actor is dissolved. TAMARA has been described like an elaborate movie set, with each audience member poised as a camera. The audience certainly has choices to make, journeying from room to room in Rodef Shalom Congregation, a magnificent stand-in for Il Vittoriale degli Italiani. As characters leave a room, which will you follow? Or will you wait and see who shows up? As in life, each is the star of his own story and the stories intersect (think Downton Abbey) with the audience free to drop in on their most dramatic moments.

the approach Her Things took to storytelling reminded me of Gone Home's: allow intimate interaction with the physical space to uncover a story piece-by-piece. it also included and encouraged interacting with the characters, meaning there was a lot of improvisational dialogue. this approach made sense for the "single room" stage, where all participants could observe all action simultaneously.

Tamara, on the other hand, took an approach to storytelling which seems like it should be possible in digital games, but i haven't really seen it. i think it's because what it did was, to put it controversially, anti-interaction. it wasn't about giving the viewer control over the course of the story -- it was just offering a finite choice at each character exit: stay or follow? so you could tailor your individual perspective on the story, but the play had a static script. it was a concurrent program, but not a reactive one.

i believe i've seen interactive fiction authors discuss the desire to make, if not the actual existence of, games that work this way, more or less -- at least following the general idea of "the player can switch between the perspectives of different characters throughout."

incidentally, i liked the experience of Tamara much, much more.
i've noticed some similarities in
1. playing games that involve a lot of long-term caretaking, specifically ones you play on devices that are more or less always on your person, such as Ingress and Kim Kardashian Hollywood and the iOS Sims game
2. Quantified Self sorts of ideas: making numeric systems out of personal self-care (exercise, work, sleep, etc.) through, effectively, body augmentation, and using those data to arrange goals and analyze progress.

for example, the process of tracking self-powered movement (walking, running, biking) with endomondo on my phone leaves marks in a digital space, which i then track and do some analysis on in a spreadsheet; in Ingress, my physical movement through space, punctuated with some calculated button-pressing, leaves marks in a digital space measured by the game's objectives. none of these activities is ever about "winning" in a "finishing" sense; it's all about maintenance and learning new strategies and building new habits.

all of these things use time as currency. in the kardashian game, taking actions requires energy points, which regenerate with time. in ingress, the same thing happens with XM, although you can also get more by moving through space. in the sims, you make progress in the game by completing actions, which take various amounts of time during which the sim doing the action cannot do anything else. (every action is atomic; there is no multitasking. even long-term tasks like baking and gardening completely occupy the sim's faculties to the point where another sim cannot, say, talk to them during this process. this is mitigated by the fact that you control a small army of sims and can be clever about dividing their labor.)

if ingress is Augmented Reality then so is QS. these are both ways of giving us access to the same space we didn't have before; ways of superimposing new layers of information on a structure that lies unchanged.

sometimes i refer to games/activities like this as "gardening projects." they are played with spurts of concentrated, calculated action, followed by periods of inattention and patience. you can only influence initial arcs of progression, nudging things in certain directions using predictive intuition, rather than directly control their course.

imposing a quantified/gamified structure atop my own life has been helpful to me in the past. in the months after my mom got sick, i had a spreadsheet i named "LIFE RPG" where i gave myself points for daily aspects of life: cleaning, socializing, working, exercising, and creating. they were instructions that felt external and thus trustable. it made an answer to that sinking feeling accompanied by the question, "what am i supposed to do?"
let me tell you about some video games

naya's quest (browser, free, a coupla hours i guess), terry cavanaugh's new puzzle game about reasoning about nonsensical* isometric 3-space. it has a fantastically just-vague-enough-to-be-spine-tingling little running narrative and a lovely crescendo of "OH MY GOD WHAT IS HAPPENING TO MY BRAIN" at the end. (*well, there's a consistent logic to it, but it took me awhile to convince myself of that fact.)

868-HACK (iOS, $6, infinity time, but maybe 15-30 mins to get a grasp on what you're supposed to do) - this game has such a great combination of roguelikeish randomness and predictable, strategically defeasible behavior. manages to create that oh-shit-oh-shit feeling of timed games (specifically tower defense style games) while being turn based, so allowing you to be as contemplative or as reckless as you want. i play this regularly now as comforting downtime.

imposter syndrome (browser, free, 5-10 minutes) - the only IFcomp game i've played so far, definitely kind of heartbreaking/triggering (TW public speaking nightmares, internet harassment, sexism) - what i liked mostly was (1) the multiple endings (2) the scifi elements of it are kind of the dystopian inevitability of something like this short story i wrote once.

Object Jam

May. 22nd, 2013 11:21 am
A couple weekends ago, I wrangled a few friends (Rob, Tom, and William) into joining me for participation in OBJECT JAM, a neat little game jam proposed by someone on Twitter, wherein you invent games for physical objects (rather than for computers or consoles). I was thinking of it as kind of a retake of the kind of game a lot of us grew up playing, either with play-designed objects (toys) or by finding whatever was lying around on the floor or the ground. But most of the (visible) participants in Object Jam are people who've by now played (and made) a lot of video/computer games, as well as, y'know, grown up and developed different tastes and attention spans from what we had as five-year-olds (perhaps).

The result was one of the most fun 6-ish hours I've spent in the past few years. The best part about it to me in contrast to a workin'-on-computers game jam was that we were effectively all making games for each other and then playing them with each other. This jam felt fundamentally social. It's pretty easy to come up with some idea and post it on twitter, but actually assembling the pieces, testing it out, noticing some imbalances, and iterating on the design of something you wouldn't otherwise take so seriously... brought a lot of depth to it, made it into a bonding experience. There's probably nothing that makes me happier than making, sharing and discussing things with people that I like. The making doesn't even have to be collaborative; maybe even better if it's not.

Now some games! First, here are ones that I designed, implemented, and playtested:


Game for piece of paper and n players (tested with n=2). Take turns folding the paper, not necessarily in half, until you can't fold it anymore (it does not lie flat).

PLAYTEST NOTES: We conjectured that this would be better as a collaborative game, "improvisational origami", where the goal is just to make something pretty. I tweeted that idea as the primary version of the game and described the above as an "adversarial variant."


Game for n players and n books. Players gather in a circle. Each player takes a book and opens to somewhere near the middle. Take turns reading the last full sentence on the left page, then turning the page. Stop when someone reads a sentence that's 3 words long or fewer (or when bored).

PLAYTEST NOTES: Science fiction books work well for this.


Game for chair and two players. Player One sets up the chair. Player Two must sit in it (butt touching chair, weight resting on chair) and maintain stability. Alternate until Player Two falls over and gets hurt.

PLAYTEST NOTES: this game is dangerous and surprisingly fun


Game for post-it notes, William's house, and various objects within said house. Sorry, this one is not very cross-platform, but you could probably come up with something similar for the rooms and objects in your house. I put post-its on game-relevant things and announced the convention that pink = takeable, yellow = openable, and orange = information.

PLAYTEST NOTES: This actually worked pretty well for three separate playthroughs. Tom took a Vine of Rob playing.


Here are some games I came up with but didn't actually playtest:


Game for any board game and 1 player. Set up the game. Read the rules aloud. Sit still & meditate upon the board. Tidy up after.

NOTES: Twitter liked this one, and one game designer I follow made some good suggestions for a multiplayer variant. I especially like the analogy between rules reading and guided meditation.


A sort of minimalist betting game for n players with pocket change and 1 bowl. Players deposit all pocket change into a bowl. Everyone writes down a guess for the total amount of money in it. Reveal guesses. Closest answer gets the change, may trade for bills with other players. (anticapitalist variant)


Everyone secretly picks a spice from the spice cabinet and adds a couple of shakes of it to a communal bowl. Then, the bowl is brought to a gathering spot and passed around. Players may smell and taste the contents. Winner is who correctly identifies the most spices in the bowl.


Others' games:

  • TETRAHEROES made by Tom7 and William is a large-scale object adventure game built on the grass rug in William's living room. Here is a video recording of Rob and me playing it, which is pretty much my favorite thing on the internet right now.
  • a game by a dog!
  • full list of games tagged with #objectjam on twitter


Related thing: pervasive games
yesterday i learned two new games.

1. "google ghost": designate one person to type things in to a google search bar. go around in a circle. the first person says a word, with optional space character after it. then you proceed around the circle, each person saying a character (usually a letter or space). the typist enters each utterance into the search bar, and as soon as google suggest has no suggestions, the person who said the last character loses and picks the next start-word. the best part is hearing all of the pruned-away suggestions every time someone picks a branch.

2. "add-on": another climbing game, sort of like the dual of climbing-horse, where people take turns making moves and simon-says-style repeating all previous moves and adding one at the end. have not actually tried this one yet.



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