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Can I stay with you in London for games this weekend, please? - Many a mickle maks a muckle

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July 29th, 2009


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11:47 pm - Can I stay with you in London for games this weekend, please?
The weekend before last saw Manorcon, the UK's biggest convention for games on the Fluxx-to-Settlers of Catan-to-Diplomacy axis. Sadly there seems to have been very little buzz about this year's event, so I fear I will just have to assume that it was glorious. It had a treasure hunt organised by Michael Colao, so for that alone I am disappointed to have missed it. Those who were there, please tell me more!

This weekend sees the Hide and Seek Weekender in London, which will (probably?) be the largest UK festival for pervasive, sizeable urban and other need-a-better-adjective-for-this-sort-of-thing games. While it's technically not the same as the Hide and Seek Festival in previous years, I can't really tell what the difference is. The programme has been released and it looks quite spectacular. Friday night, whose tone is set by the "Beyond Werewolf" subtitle, looks full of physically sedentary but intellectually frenetic delights; many of the weekend's games are rather more active and rambunctious. I will attend if I can find an appropriate gamer with whom to crash. Hint, hint. (Seeing as I would be travelling down on Friday, a quick response would be great...) If you're vaguely interested, a nice side-effect is that many of the games' rulesets are available at Ludocity, so you can get a better feel for whether you'd be likely to enjoy yourself or not. (Another hint: yes.)

I do still love Manorcon and the people who go there as much as ever, but the Hide and Seek event offers something that's new to me; the emphasis is a little less about playing games and a little more about playing. (I emphasise "a little".) That's not to say that Manorcon and the DipSoc posse at large fall behind on play; while it's tremendous to read this Hide and Week report from last year, which evokes as much general goodspiritedness as you might dare to hope for, what is Fort Gype if not the intersection of Mornington Crescent and foam furniture?

I have a very soft spot for games where changing the game's rules is a constituent part of play: four Nomics, all loved (though two love-hated) and lost, spring to mind. Likewise, while I sometimes refer to the Chairman's Game as being on the intersection between a game and a hazing ritual, the "you don't know the ruleset at the start" hazing ritual aspect of the enterprise is my least favourite part. When there is no formal (though, unspoken, there remain societal and behaviour-normal) limit to the boundary of what might be included in the game, then these other games are merely compelling structures around which to weave other forms of play. I prefer instances of both games towards the less competitive end of the spectrum, though tastes vary. Indeed, part of my fascination with puzzle hunts is that they form another such structure and the best can feature some exceptionally imaginative and unusual content.

I have told the tale of Somewhat Demiurgic Drinking Perudo previously - though I had forgotten I had done so! - and thus a link will save me repeating myself, other than to say it was the intersection of Perudo (a proprietary version of Liar's Dice), a rule-changing mechanic and drinking forfeits. As a teetotaller, and as someone with a lower opinion of schadenfreude than most people's already pretty low standards, you can correctly imagine that I am naturally ill-disposed towards drinking games. That first game of Somewhat Demiurgic Drinking Perudo freed the barriers, slightly, of what might be considered acceptable within the context of the game, and the whole enterprise remained within the barriers of good taste just enough to feel spontaneous, fresh and memorable.

We've tried to repeat the glory of that first great game over the years and the result always has been an imitation of the original; while some of the game's artefacts survive as lore among the group - for instance, to play Ironman Liar's Dice is to play without looking at your own dice, and to play Super Ironman Liar's Dice is to show your dice to others but not look at them yourself - I think the framework doesn't lend itself as well as that of the Chairman's Game. The logical sequels would be to play Somewhat Demiurgic Non-Drinking Perudo, which would seem unnecessarily tame in comparison, or Drinking The Chairman's Game, which is surely a recipe for disaster as the original game has enough tension already. (I can see jvvw's viewpoint that the ideal state for the latter being after one unit - i.e., a small drink.)

Still in context, I do remember one gathering of the Usual Suspects chez xorsyst where half a dozen of us went and kicked a ball around a park in the middle of the night, simply as spontaneous play in the same fashion. Our play didn't quite catch fire - not literally, though a fireball might at least have cut through the November midnight cold - but the spirit of it was there. Now I'm writing these couple of paras as a dog-whistle message with an audience of possibly two or three in mind, but all the reports I'm getting point to the Hide and Seek Weekender being an environment where sorts of play and fun like those - but, crucially, not those - might well naturally and organically evolve. Worth a try to see if magic might be cast, at least.

One of the most exciting items on the Hide and Seek schedule is a session (actually two sessions) of Projector Games, wherein some wondrous brainiacs have managed to reimplement some simple arcade games so that 3-4 dozen players may participate at once, competing as individuals. Their version of forty-player Bomberman looks particularly rum; I note with amusement that players are distinguished from each other by using depictions of playing cards as iconic avatars, of all the things.

A considerable technical achievement and the principle of "more players = more fun" is a sound one. Arcade games like Gauntlet made a big play of their four-player nature, with six- and eight- player games rarer still. What Projector Games are doing might yet have a business model to put a further dent in the ongoing struggles of amusement arcades. As a sidenote, dr4b has suggested Sega's new Block People arcade game has more "OMFG THAT'S SO COOL!" value than any game since DDR a decade ago, and I can see why. Executive summary: "arcade Lemmings with physical Lego".

Will we ever get to play Block People, though, in a country where - stereotyping - arcade dwellers are likely to steal or at least disarray the physical blocks so crucial to the game? Odds against, surely, though it might have made an appearance at Insert Coin 09, a UK amusement arcade convention that clashed in the calendar with Manorcon. I can see the attraction of paying once to attend a weekend of interesting arcade games on free play, with the sorts of tournaments, vendors and events that you might naturally hope for. The event possibly didn't receive a massive amount of buzz, but what there was has been strongly positive, so we can consider even the first event to be a good start. I'm glad the event exists and I hope it goes on to bigger and better things very soon. So many game events, so little time. Oh, and the UK Pinball Show was the weekend just past.

It's exciting to see the different sorts of games start to interact with each other and different conventions take a broader look at the world of games. The UK market leader is Birmingham's every-June UK Games Expo featuring RPGs, CCGs, miniatures war games, board games but also the "Living Dungeon" live action not-quite-role-playing RPG and some degree of exposure to console, LAN and online games. Even the board game section started to segment slightly with a greater degree of involvement from abstract games, i.e. yer mind sports, as well as Manorcon fare. The terribly-titled GAME 2009 (Manchester, October) seems to have a similar vibe, though probably only about as much content as UK Games Expo did in its own first year. It has some good people involved, though; in an interesting tweak, it even has a local (and yet unnamed, but probably guessable) chess IM putting on a simultaneous display. (£5 per player, paid to the IM. Fair deal.)

Talking of Manchester and video games, the Urbis exhibition centre features Videogame (sic) Nation, which does what it says: video and computer game history, going up to the current year, with a strongly British slant. Iain suggests it's worth the three sovs charged and I trust his opinion; some of the special guests look like being worth an extra fiver to see as well if you're in the right place at the right time.

I fundamentally approve of exhibitions regarding video and computer games; there was one at the Dorman Museum in Middlesbrough a few months back, entitled "Pong to Kong". It was entirely decent, and well worth zero pounds admission fee, though not particularly large and not so spectacular that I am kicking myself for not blogging about it until after it has closed. (Ahem.) Lots of old machines and games to look at, but very little to actually play, and a couple of machines with MESS set up (because the exhibition clearly do own the ROMs...) would have gone a long way. The highlight was a collection of old video game TV commercials, but most of them were credited to - and available from - the TVspil.dk archive. Sadly the exhibition has moved on - not sure if it's a travelling work or not - to be replaced by Clothing Connections. Less to my taste, oddly enough.

So all manner of exciting gaming developments there and it's a thrill to see tentative steps towards convergence between all the different genres, and media, of the gaming world at large. I have a nasty feeling that there are actually very few people who care about this crossover and convergence - if the Mind Sports Olympiad has taught us anything, it's that there's sadly less crossover between fans of different mind sports than you'd hope - but it's all play expressed in a wide variety of forms.

The 2012 edition of the Olympic Games, in London, is set to be accompanied by the Cultural Olympiad, doing all manner of... cultural... things. The definition of that is deliberately vague, which you might interpret as laudable inclusiveness or confused uncertainty. Recently, Roger Mosey, the BBC's "director of London 2012", asked what the Cultural Olympiad should include; it seems that he's either as open-minded or as unclear on the matter as the rest of us. Given that he asked it on the BBC Sport web site, he didn't get a great deal of constructive suggestion.

However, he did get one jiggery_pokery (hello) mentioning the first World Mind Sports Games in Beijing in 2008, not least because it could take advantage of the physical Olympic Games infrastructure. Should a World Mind Sports Games event be funded by the Cultural Olympiad? I think so; Mosey responded "interesting - I'll pass that thought on" and I live in hope that he really does, and that (as seems likely) he has the ear of someone relevant. Arguably I should have revealed my former professional interest in the field, but I'm completely - involuntarily? - out of the loop with the Mind Sports Olympiad these days. Does anyone know if this year's event is even happening?

As much as the Cultural Olympiad is set to include (and, indeed, already includes) participative sport events, I would love to see the Cultural Olympiad feature a celebration of play. More to the point, I would love to see what all these wonderful playful people - and here I'm pointing back to the top of this post - could do if they were able to get their hands on some Cultural Olympiad money. Hint, hint, hint.

Please redirect any comments here, using OpenID or (identified, ideally) anonymous posting. Thank you!
Current Location: not London
Current Mood: hopefulhopeful

 


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