I'm a real sucker for games that are unusual in some way; I adopt an extremely broad definition of 'game' and love to see something that takes a sideways approach. In the past I've heaped praise on slingshot for their innovative live action games. Today I'd like to talk about GISHWHES, which I only heard about this Friday.
I'm sad to say that this is over now and I barely got to take part, I wish I'd heard about it last week and could've entered properly, but it happens every year and I've got plenty of those let in me so it's all good. GISHWHES stands for 'Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen' and lives up to its title. On the surface it's a simple notion, a huge scavenger hunt run via the internet. The notion is that teams compete to collect images and videos of things and send them in to win prizes.
Beneath the simple premise lies the heart of a well designed game. A mundane hunt would consist of grabbing physical items and bringing them back to the huntmaster, but there's no way that the game would get enough players if people had to mail in their finds. The hunt has also shattered several world records in the past and aims to break more with this one, which adds a wonderful semi-cooperative element to an otherwise competitive game. It avoids the usual spoiler effect where a losing player will sabotage the game for everyone to create a net loss by having such acts not hurt group scores and by making the group achievement so amazingly cool that everyone wants it more than they want their individual wins. There've got to be ways to take that lesson for traditional game design. Joining so late in the day I didn't even sign up for a team, but that didn't stop me wanting to contribute to an attempt to break a world record for "largest photo album of people hugging".
Obviously I was busy playtesting, but as you can see, I found a way to combine the activities. Photos and videos from the playtest will follow in future posts (can you tell I got a new camera for my birthday recently?) The hugging record was also a fairly inspired game design choice, in a lot of games the less skilled player can have no chance of enjoying the game. I know plenty of great games in which few people will enjoy their first game and need to "get it" before they can join in the high level play. By making the hugging the second highest scoring goal, but probably the single easiest one to achieve the game lowers its barrier to entry to the point that anyone could take part. Sure we won't win, but we had fun not winning, there's a lesson in that for traditional game design.
You'll note that I said "second highest", it's important for a game to offer a challenge too. If someone's experienced and willing to put a lot of effort into a game then the game should reward them for it, the rewards don't have to be linear, but giving the opportunity for a serious feeling of achievement is vital. GISHWHES understands this design lesson, but it's tough to pick a top tier reward here. Wherever you might pick in the world, there's a danger that there's already a player there. If something is hard to photograph it's probably because it's dangerous and/or illegal and you don't want to encourage that. I felt that their solution was elegant:
"Get Alexander Misurkin, Pavel Vinogradov, Chris Cassidy, Fyodor Yurchikhin, Karen Nyberg or Luca Parmitano to take a photo of themselves holding up a sign that says, “Hey (INSERT ANY USERNAME FROM YOUR TEAM)! GISHWHES does space too!” or a similar slogan. As a side note, the preceding individuals are all currently on the International Space Station orbiting planet Earth. 334 points."
If you follow this blog you'll also note that I write about the social responsibilities of game designers. With everyone involved there are more eyes on this game than most traditional board games so that responsibility is magnified. While it's not good for a game to become preachy or to sacrifice fun for the sake of sending a message, a small change to a small part of the game is a cool way for a designer to add another few drops to the torrent of people trying to make the world a more awesome place.
"Russian courts have recently imposed a 100-year ban on Gay Pride parades. Let’s support our Russian LGBT Community! Take a photo of two people of the same sex kissing, while holding up a sign that says: “GISHWHES supports the LGBT Community in Russia! 77 points"
It's also cool to see how their team mechanics worked. I didn't get to look at this from the inside, but I got the impression from the updates and details that I saw that teams were randomly assigned on an international level:
"Be nice to other teams. We are a global community, not a compilation of global cliques warring against each other. This is not the Hunger Games. Though if it were you’d want me on your team because I can throw a wicked asparagus spear…"
There was also a quote about "What if I don't like my team?" which boiled down to "This is an awesome opportunity in your life to expand your horizons and interact with people you wouldn't normally. Try to work past your differences and have a great time." but I can't find it now, perhaps it was removed from the Q&A once the game ended. Ach well.
The point is that this team assignment did some cool things. It got people who didn't usually interact talking and broke down barriers. It also had a nice game balance effect whereby you didn't get highly motivated well funded people joining as deliberate teams, which could sour the competition for people playing for fun. In traditional games there's often not a lot of thought to how positions around the table, turn order or teams are formed, but there's definitely room for improving things in that direction. Sometimes there's a right way to put a team together.
That's it for now. I'm going to go find some video editing software to see if I can throw some sort of "People playing my game" montage together from these three. An' maybe hug people more, I'm not sure it would strictly make me a better designer, but it feels like a good lesson anyhow.