on games that just fizzle – a chronicle and reflection

For the past few weeks, we’ve been trying to get a feel for what Ivanhoe is and what one does when playing Ivanhoe. Francesca has already posted on the question of whether we are gaming or actually running simulations, so I’d like to focus on something else: the various media through which we have tried to play Ivanhoe games and how those games gently fizzled out.

Our first game was a short-lived chaos of editing and creative additions to Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” carried out through a wiki. The medium, I think, determined much of how we played. We had a clean copy of Poe’s text, and then with various perspectives and goals we quickly turned the story into a perhaps painfully complex, psycho-analytic thriller, or a deeply tragic therapy session. Or something else. By the end I wasn’t sure, as our interventions directly altered and sometimes made incoherent the additions and edits of others. I think it was in part this experience that lead to some of Francesca’s questioning, though that concerned our more recent games as well. The wiki, as a platform or tool, or place of engagement, created only a single space within which to work, a single page, a single text which shifted and changed, where there was no sanctity to any move. Any text could be edited, and with every addition or edit the immediate horizon of the text’s interpretation changed. And the game fizzled out.

In meetings shortly after that game gave up the ghost, we discussed other media through which to play Ivanhoe – tumblr, twitter, and the ever-humble email. As well, we looked at reasons why the first game fizzled, especially at the lack of commitment to and interest in Poe’s text that some felt. We gathered then to discuss topics or categories for new games that would be played with smaller groups, three or four people only.

From there we began four games: an email game related to science-fiction, an email game on “citizen journalism,” a twitter game on the second amendment, and a tumblr game on Wallace Stevens’ “Anecdote of the Jar.” Only the first two truly took off, while the latter two are, I hope, waiting quietly for their time in the spotlight. But those first two did take off, with flurries of posts, enlightening creativity, and clear evidence of interest and commitment.

Then they fizzled.

And I think that’s okay, for a couple of reasons. One, as we’ve been told, many of the early games fizzled after a certain point, where players lost interest, got busy, or just couldn’t quite figure out what was left to say or do. No golden move was made that wrapped up all the various interventions from each player in a perfectly elegant fashion. Two, as an experiment, as a endeavor to figure out how different media affect the style of game play, both email games were clear successes. We know now that people are far more likely to play regularly if they receive notifications in their inboxes, places in which they dwell throughout the day. We also know that the discrete, differentiated character of emails encourages moves that perhaps stay more coherent and consistent within a single role per person and provides for some degree of protection for each intervention. An edit or intervention in someone else’s move shows up necessarily as another move, another intervention, while in a wiki it could, unless one looks at the version control, show up not at all.

We’ve learned. We’ve gained some knowledge about what features, like a notification system, might need to be built into our own project. As we move forward in the next few weeks, storyboarding and wire-framing, I look forward to seeing what else reveals itself about the Ivanhoe game.

I am a digital humanities developer in the Scholars' Lab and a Ph.D. candidate in philosophical theology, writing a dissertation looking at vulnerability at the intersection of theological anthropology and neuroscience. After years working heavily in theological ontology and metaphysics in contemporary theology, I find writing code to be a wonderfully concrete breath of fresh air.

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