Everyone remembers the first time they were transported to another place and time via the wonders of visual magic. In a bygone era, it was the audience that ran from the theater when the first footage of a moving train was shown on a screen. A decade ago, it was the movie Avatar, during which many of truly believed we were in another world… and another body, perhaps. In recent times, it might be the moment we picked up something using an Oculus hand controller.
Since I was a kid, I have been keeping a mental catalog of all the seminal moments in visual history when something truly game-changing happened. It’s high time I wrote these down and got them out of my head, so here is a start at least… an excerpt of this (large) list of items comprising only those moments from this large list within category of AR/XR/VR. To be fair, the virtual reality phase of my upbringing is only the most recent phase. What might come after that… Artificial Intelligence? Cybernetics?
Only time will tell, but for now, please enjoy this (arguably opinionated) list of groundbreaking moments in VR.
Wonder.land (2016) Reggie Watts stand-up shows (2016) The Under Presents (2019) Hamlet 360: Thy Father’s Spirit (2019) The Tempest (2020) Krampusnacht (2020) Neverland Live! (2020) Finding Pandora X (2021) Welcome to Respite (2021) Collider (2021) Prison X (2021) A Christmas Carol: Scrooge’s Ghost Encounter (2021) Gumball Dreams (2022)
Anne Frank House VR (2019) Felix & Paul (2020) The Key (2020)
Ingress (2013) Pokemon Go (2016) Moss (2018) Wolves in the Walls (2019) The Room VR: A Dark Matter (2020) Down The Rabbit Hole (2020) Myst VR (2021) Gumball Lounge (2021) Madrid Noir (2021)
In a world where giant kaiju roam the Earth, battling for supremacy of the boardgame metaverse…
I read an article about the digital artist Simon Stålenhag (I recommend googling him!) that really got me thinking about the strange and gloriously meta worlds in which small things are huge and giant mechanical things are commonplace. My personal meta worlds are almost always populated by games, especially board games, so why not a universe of giant, kaiju games?
Here are several drawings that came to me during that weird liminal phase between dreaming about games and waking up completely. I drew them as soon as I got up so that I would not forget the strange visions I had. I think I must have recently see that horrible “Battleship” remake that looks like a cross between “Pacific Rim” and “Jumanji.”
Contact the artist for commission inquiries (hahahahaha).
Love Letters is almost the perfect game. You can keep a copy of it in your wallet or your car glovebox. You can print your own set of it on a letter size sheet of paper. They aren’t sticklers about people making their own playable copies. You can change just ONE card to make it fit a whole new book or movie, and the new card’s powers can completely change the feel of the game without ruining the gameplay. I’m just glad they made the game, turned a little profit and then showed you how to run with it on your own. No fuss, no expansion packs, no overpowering the game just to sell more versions.
Here is a copy I made almost 7 years ago with new art for Les Misérable fans. No new powers… just new art. For rules on how to play just Google “love letters card game”.
Zumfarter is a game I was developing at the start of 2020’s pandemic lockdown, just when everyone was learning how to use Zoom for the first time. Is it based on a true story? I’ll never tell. Here, let me set up the backstory….
You’ve all been there. The Monday, all-hands company meeting over Zoom. Everyone signs in and turns off their video and mutes their mic. Only, some people forget to mute themselves. Then it happens: the unthinkable. But, isn’t your mic off? You check, and it’s green. You double check on the bluetooth headset. It’s green. You triple check via the Participant drop-down. The mic icon is green.
You panic. You turn it off. You check to see who else had their mic on. A few did! There’s a slim but nonzero hope that no one can narrow it down to you!
Then again, the presenter did pause, clear their throat and say “oh my… tee hee… moving on.” The presentation continues, but you can tell from the heaviness of the atmosphere that something lingers. Nobody is concentrating on the topic. Everyone is looking at panel view, gallery view, trawling Slack for some real time water cooler gossip.
And when the video is disseminated to the team in the morning, everyone will have a permanent record, including that wonderful green border that highlights the quadrant of the attendee whose mic auto-activated… the “Spotlighted Squeaker” you might say.
So what else can you do but make a game out of it?
Below are some preliminary renderings of roles that might make it into the playtest version of “Zumfärter”, which will be a hidden identity game involving players taking clandestine actions while a presenter drones on. Meanwhile, the Management, IT, Slacker and Farter factions scheme to give each other the blame for a business meeting gone awry.
So… Kickstart it? Eventually someone else is going to have the same experience… I mean someone’s friend is going to have the same experience and rake in the big bucks. So, in the meantime keep an eye out for a playtest copy. I will try to construct several decks and hand them out.
What do Led Zeppelin, George Carlin, the J Geils Band, and Yes have in common? Let’s dig into your vinyl collection and find out in this bingo-inspired game for music enthusiasts.
So what do those bands have in common apart from sharing the same label (Atlantic) at one point and being in my vynil collection? They all appeared on the same inner sleeve. Remember those printed ads for Decca and RCA and ATCO on the inner sleeves of album jackets?
First off, do you remember vynil albums? Ok good.
Some of us may remember that back before the 80s the inner sleeves didn’t have lyrics. They didn’t even have weird unrelated art that the amateur photographer sister-in-law of the bass player somehow managed to get the band to use even though it barely relates to the album’s theme. Nope, they either had crappy plastic inner sleeves that scrunched up when you slid them back in, or else they had a paper ad like this one here…
I used to be annoyed by them. I mean, who is Robertino? And is there really enough of him to warrant a ‘Best Of’? Does Roger Williams really remember me? You don’t have to be Jewish? (to what?) Shani Wallis is a Girl? Bobby Helms is the Man? Burt Bacharach is the Man?
Actually, Burt Bacharach IS the Man!
One thing I did love was the smell of those thin, aging paper sleeves. Nothing like it! If I worked at a winery I would probably design an oaked chardonnay just so that I could give it tasting notes like: “The nose opens with notes of cardamom, currants, barn loft hay, and 60s record sleeves.
Sleeves are a lost art. I remember one of my favorite albums of childhood was Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly” simply because it had a piano-shaped gatefold outer jacket. A piano-shaped jacket!
And while we are on the topic of sleeves (and before I make them into a game… like I do), does anyone know how many of my records are missing inner sleeves! Half of them! It’s a travesty! Who’s collection did these come from? Oh, right: my parents. That explains all the first edition Beatles and Nazz. But if it weren’t for their Nazzes (Nazzi?) I would have never discovered Todd Rundgren! But hello, it’s me the Gamurgist, so let’s…
FIND THE GAME IN VYNIL ALBUM INNER SLEEVES
Grab one of those old inner sleeves with the advertisements, like the one pictured here. Pick one with sixteen albums on it, if possible. If you don’t have one, feel free to use any of the examples at the end of this article. Then grab a handful of marbles or pennies or, better yet, those plastic, yellow 45 adapters and let’s play some bingo!
Now, go look through your collection and put a marker down for any of them you own. If noone playing wins, feel free to widen the rules to include ANY album by the band pictured. If that fails, move on to solo albums. But if you try using cassettes or CDs I will come over there and slap the Divine Miss M right out of your Sticky Fingers!
So, where was I? Well, I own Yes, the Bee Gees, Zep, J Geils, ELP, CSNY (and CSN, SNY, CS, Y, CSI:NY) and of course the Rolling Stones. But none of them give me a bloody bingo!
You get the idea.
If you win a bingo on any horizontal, vertical or diagonal line, send me a photo of your winning sleeve. The sample bingo boards below should give you hours of playtime, depending on how large your collection (or memory) is. In the collection of bingo cards below I’ve included some large boards, several small boards, and maybe one fake board if you can figure out which one that is. Also, let me know if you figure out what the Mystery Photo is.
PICTURE ME AS A TEENAGER AT STRATEGICON. Before I started working at gaming cons I used to go to as an attendee with a HUGE stack of games.
I would pick a central table in the Open Gaming room, pile my games up to a ludicrous height, and sit there waiting for looky-loos.
When a curious gamer stopped by I’d say, “Wanna play a game?”
When they started looking at the stack, I’d say, “Oh, not one of these games. Two of these games. Pick any two and I will combine them into a playable, never-before-seen NEW game.” Then I’d assure them that I didn’t have combinations in mind and that these were random games I picked to bring that day.
It’s been an itch I’ve always needed to scratch, making new things out of other things. Which is not to say that games, as they are designed and intended, aren’t great on their own. Many of them are! But there are also so VERY MANY games that are not quite ready for prime time. And yet there they are… begging to be improved.
My approach to combining games is to take two games and — before I even acknowledge the insanity of the random combo — reciting the mantra “There’s a game inside of everything.”
Inside the meeting point between two games — that congruent point where the two of them clearly share a common idea of theme.
Inside the spirit of one game and the form of another — where one game becomes the feeling and the goal and the other game becomes the format or the arena of the new game.
Or even inside a mundane daily activity combined with a game’s components — like cooking while standing on a Twister mat in the kitchen.
Or perhaps just a one-of-a-kind, lightning-in-a-bottle moment where you find yourself itching to do one game while in the middle of another.
The goal of this website is, among other things:
To discover the game inside of anything. To dig into what makes us struggle to win when there is no Victory Track. To delight in whimsy when confronting the mundane. To gamify, heighten, find the nugget of truth, and codify the rules of engagement for any moment of life. And to bring together like-minded jokers in the pursuit of adventure.
Back to that fateful day at Strategicon ’90 where one of the first requests I ever got was Wiz-War plus Risk, which is insane… Impossible, one might think. But in the words of William Shatner, “I think I could do it!”
And we tried it and it was playable! (the rules are somewhere else on this site)
Truth be told we played it for almost an hour until, I think, the Red Wizard holed himself up in Madagascar with three Magic Stones, a Sudden Death, Amplify and half a dozen number cards.
And there’s a lesson somewhere in that. It’s probably: “Don’t dare me to combine two games unless you are prepared to sit down and play the monstrosity for an hour.” But it could just as easily be: “There’s a game inside anything.”
And to combine games.
Don’t make me prove it unless you’ve got an hour to kill!
Like metallurgy, it has to do with making alloys of games. Coming up with something new from two previous game ideas, or creating something out of a game mechanic and something in nature or culture.
Like thaumaturgy, it is a magical art. It creates magic and quite often has to do precisely with the themes of then magical world.
Like dramaturgy, it is literary in nature, it often invites acting and make believe, and it is enjoyed by both the spotlight-seekers and the engaged viewer.
Gamurgize/Gamurgization: 1. (To) turn something into a game that is not normally considered game-like.. 2 . (To) find a way to combine two unrelated things (or games) and create a game out of both which honors both ideas.
BUT WHAT ABOUT “GAMIFY” & “GAMIFICATION”?
If you look at the online definition for “gamify”, It’s all about video games. And don’t get me wrong, I love video games, but that’s a whole different website. But let’s not stop with the definition.
For extra credit, whatever new game is created needs to be fun or at least educational. It should to speak to the individual elements that were combined. It should evoke the feeling or the experience of playing both elements.
By that time I had been playing and creating games for over 20 years. As I looked back on all the types of games I had created, one thing was pretty clear: I liked to combine games and I liked to make a game out of either A) the last thing you would expect, or B) something I was dared to use as source material.
In 1989 I made a game in which playdough creatures ran around a pit made out of a trash can lid with a hole in the middle. The players had to maneuver around the pit wielding light sabres and the attacks themselves involved squishing and cutting the playdough creatures in half.
In 1991 I made a game in which my sister’s Barbie doll accessories were used as weapons to fend off waves of (again, playdough) zombies using a copy of the board game Mall Madness.
I even made a copy of Settlers of Catan — at six-times size! — in which each player wasn’t just a different color, they were a different set of 70s childhood toys. There was a Tinker Toys player, a Lincoln Logs player, one with Legos, one with Erector Set, one using a Richard Scarry Playskool set and one using Micronauts.
By the mid 90s I was making games for one-off uses mostly. If anything survived until a second playing, it was a miracle. And generally speaking, I was much more in favor of NOT replaying games. Why do the same thing a second time when you could make something brand new again. Not that I threw anything away… I just became a game hoarder.
And not just a physical game hoarder, but a digital hoarder as well. My ideas were filling up hard drives (they were smaller back then), so I figured i would start a website to feature my game ideas.
The first website name I came up with was “Gamergy”, a combination of “game” and “synergy”. And since I was on AOL at the time (as was everyone else) I tried reserving an AOL site with the name “gamergy”. Not allowed. So I tried “game mixer”. Also restricted. Who was taking all these names? I tried “game synergy”, “game combining”, “game bartender”… none of them were allowed. Eventually it became clear that AOL was barring anyone from creating any sites with the prefix “game-“, probably so that they could use them at some future date.
But “gamurgy” worked. I reserved, and then poured all of my ideas onto “members.aol.com/gamurgy” on December 31, 1999. Somewhere out there the internet remembers my AOL member Hometown Site. But good luck finding it.
If I can find a printout or an ancient floppy with the files, I will upload them again to gamurgy.com, but in the meantime it’s all new games, baby!