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New Leaf pt 3: Now Let’s Attend Now Play This

(Currently in London, this is my travelogue New Leaf collecting some anecdotes as I pursue games and play.)

I’ve not been sleeping well, due in part to jet lag and I’m sure to excitement. Fell asleep with only four and a half hours of rest ahead of me and then woke up completely after two. Lay there with my eyes open for another hour and a half before calling it good.

I set off to and arrived at Now Play This at Somerset House in Central London. The radio in the cab told us terrible news about the world but we asked the driver to leave it on as we purred and dodged our way into the city. It’s good not to turn away.

Friday at Now Play This was wonderful. I very much enjoyed Giraffe Volleyball Championship 2016, for two players, each with a joystick to run back and forth and which to control how tall your giraffe’s legs were at any given moment, and each also with a button to extend your giraffe’s neck, the better to bump the ball. Alyx and I had a spirited head-to-head competition, though the game started glitching a little toward the end. I feel like that helped me appreciate it even more.

Joy Is Here is a room-sized word search (Thanks Aida Gomez!) which attendees filled to capacity and circled every word with chalk, even individual letters and some words that might not have been words. Ann and I cleaned it in order to reset it. I pulled in passersby to assist, feeling a bit like Tom Sawyer with his fence painting. “We’re wiping the walls! Want to play?”

A Spanish game-maker named Luis Díaz and I were interviewed on stage in front of an audience by none other than Jordan Erika Webber (who writes about games for The Guardian and talks about them weekly on British television). It was initially stressful and then really fun. Luis and I were a good pairing, he was testing his first tabletop story game and I’ve been making these things for a while, but then Luis comes from a strong background of digital games and I’ve barely looked at them. I was hoping to speak with Jordan before I had a mic in my hand so I could better prepare myself, but suddenly interview time had already come and I was sitting on the stage. Since Majestic Dinosaurs is such a lean game I didn’t want to give too much away, but Jordan helped me find a way to talk about it that both explained what it was and left enough of a hook for interested players to come back for more.

Tatiana Vilela gave a micro talk about two stances she uses to create a game: God mode and first person. When you design a game using God mode, you look at all the mechanics laid out in front of you; a top-down, unemotional, comprehensive understanding of all the nuances the game will offer. When you design a game in first person mode, you imagine as vividly as you can what the experience of playing the finished game will be, and then you make the game that does that, bit by bit. She had a lot more to say, and her micro-talk was one of my favourite parts of the whole weekend.

Very much enjoyed Shailesh Prabhu’s new sport Dariya Kinare (which translates to On The River Bank, but don’t call it that obviously) which we played in the stone courtyard with the fountains switched off. I’ll definitely play this back home, a simple game of two teams, a cricket bat, and a large foam ball. The teams switch off between being the pack of hunters and the solitary prey (the team being prey takes turns, like being at bat). No one can move unless the ball is moving, but when the ball’s in the air, everyone can move around the field which is perhaps 20 meters in diameter. The hunters try to hit the prey with the ball, and the prey tries to knock the ball out of the field. If either of those things happen a point is scored for the successful team. While we played, Josh and I were very careful to at no point smash into one another and send both of us sprawling onto the cobblestones. I’m sure we would’ve been good sports about it, had it happened, but I’m glad we avoided it.

The organizers and I decided that Majestic Dinosaurs should run each day in the early afternoon, in the Library, which is the biggest space available. (For context, it was also where the micro-talks and interviews happened.) The audience were interested and rapt listeners, but when it came time to get up and roam around a little, most opted out. We had a few though, and that was fun and silly.

I did, however, get to enjoy watching a young boy go down the list of dinosaurs and portray several in a row, coached by his mom. She and I talked about media to help kids learn to be kind and I was glad to be able to point her towards Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.

Had an amazing time playing The Poem Game by Liliane Lijn. She designed it in 1970 and I was glad to play it with her and 8 other clever folks. I’ve played several games with words on cards, but this one was very powerful, with several excellent plays by Josh (who had stayed on his feet during Dariya Kinare), and Laura (not the one from Novelty Automation, the Pterodactyl one), and many others. Sharpen That Spark, Chaos. Flame-Self Eliminate Breath.

Late into the night I found myself playing one of those sprawling strategic games which reward system mastery and good luck, of which I was armed with neither. The game dragged on much longer than the anticipated 75 minute runtime as I made several costly missteps, having to circle back and re-strategize after exiting at the same station that I’d just paid to enter. The game was the London Underground. Not as good as you’ve heard. I was glad when I was spat out the other end into the cool night air.

Did a cosmetics bag suddenly toppled over at 2 in the morning, causing a little bottle of nail varnish to smash on the floor while I was trying to write in the living room? Yes, it did. After discovering that someone had in fact not broken into the flat that I was presently alone in, I did my best to wipe up the golden splotches and broken glass without falling asleep in the midst of it.

(I’ve fallen behind and am playing catch-up! The above occurred on April 7th, 2017.)