These days, I’ve been aiming to try new and different things with game design. I think there’s a lot of potential to do new and weird things with games, and I’m not doing myself any favors by sticking to designing only one kind of game.
There are a bunch of challenges I’ll be taking on in the next few years. To help get me out of my comfort zone, I decided to make something I’ve never done before: a large-scale game, playable by anyone in the general public.
I knew this would be the kind of thing that I would endlessly procrastinate on, so I challenged myself. I live in Jersey City, and every year, we have the Jersey City Art & Studio Tour, in which artists all over the city show off their works in studios, galleries, and restaurants.
Now, I don’t consider myself an artist, and the question of whether game design is an art is one that I don’t want to get into here (those of you who want to read more on the subject, check out Eric Zimmerman’s spot-on take on the matter). But this was a public event with a lot of people milling about, checking out various sites. It was perfect for my needs!
So this is Circular, a game I made for JCAST 2014. It consists of 18 flyers that I hung up at various local galleries, shops, restaurants, and other public places.
Each flyer consists of a single instruction. If you can find all the signs, you will be able to piece together a single instruction you can execute to win the game. For this game, you were to mail a postcard to a specified address (a mailbox I had set up).
As you can see from the above image, there’s a twist: some of the signs lie to you. Other signs will point out which ones are incorrect. But you’ll have to see them all to get the correct set of instructions!
There’s no way a single person would have been able to win this game alone. The only way to win is to team up with others to figure out where all the flyers are. I’ll check the mailbox later this week to see if anyone won the game.
There’s another challenge too: I didn’t publicize the game. This was for a couple of reasons. First, I wanted the game to be a little cryptic. The core engagement of this game was not really to win it; it was the moment a person discovers the second or third sign, and realizes there’s a game going on. I wanted it to feel a little like knowing a secret; some kind of secret structure happening just under the skin of the festival.
So to me, it wasn’t really important that anyone try to win the game. It was more about allowing people to discover this secret.
The second reason was that Circular was more of a personal project. I am actually an incredibly shy person. People might be surprised to hear this, but before I started playing board games, I had a really hard time interacting with people. They freaked me out; I was never able to say the right thing. I was never socialized properly as a child, and had to learn people skills much later than everyone else.
Board games gave me a structure in which I could interact comfortably with people. At first, I was the kind of person who would finish a game and then demand to play another immediately (and okay, I still kinda do that). But I slowly started to open up to people. I started to see how to interact comfortably with others outside the structure of a game. It was an enormous confidence boost, and it made me much more extroverted than I ever was.
But I still have little tendrils of insecurity around people here and there. One of those leftover tendrils is the idea of repeatedly approaching people cold to ask for something. And when JCAST asked me to not hang Circular up on telephone poles, as I’d originally wanted, but to request permission from shopkeepers instead, I was filled with dread and horror.
In the past, I would have folded and let my shyness win. But I wasn’t going to let that happen this time! I went on with the game, and on Saturday morning, I went out with my flyers and tape, and started talking to people.
I was amazed that almost all of the shopkeepers I appreached were enthusiastic about the game, and happy to help. I’d like to thank all the stores, restaurants, galleries, and artists that let me hang their flyers: 9th and Coles, Fussy Friends, Torico Ice Cream, Gia Gelato, Tea NJ, Shop Rite Jersey City, E. Tittlemouse & Co, Another Man’s Treasure, Jersey City Art School, Modern Sage, Iris Records, Panepinto Galleries, Rustique Pizza, Basic Coffee and Deli, and Phil from Studio 134. This wouldn’t have been possible without your help!
Circular may have only been 18 flyers, but it gave me enormous courage and confidence to do something bigger, braver, and bolder next year!