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4:37pm on Tuesday, 18th April, 2017:

New Games


I read More New Games recently. This is the follow-up to The New Games Book, which I had anyway.

The New Games movement was active in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It was all about using games to bring people together, beginning as it did in the counterculture capital of the world, San Francisco. Its motto ("Play hard, play fair, nobody hurt") summed up its philosophy: play should be physical, simple, adaptable, require little or no equipment and be non-exclusive. Challenge was important, and although competition could deliver that challenge, the view was that playing is what's important, not winning or losing.

The games that grew out of (or were discovered by) the movement were of the kind you might find in school playgrounds. Some of them are actual schoolyard games, such as British Buldog; others would go down well at a children's party, although these are games primarily intended for adults.

After reading a hundred or more sets of rules, it's clear that a good many New Games are variations on the same few themes. That doesn't mean they're not fun to play, though.

New Games don't have much of a profile now; it's really only game designers who are interested in them (because, hey, they're games!). The movement began to decline for a number of reasons, in part because the hippie-era value system that gave birth to it lost its appeal, but also because people may indeed have played hard and played fair, but they nevertheless got hurt — and sued for damages.

I first heard of New Games when they were coming to prominence. I used to subscribe to postal games zines, and there were some mentions of the movement there. My view was in line with the consensus: these may be fun for an afternoon, but you're not going to want to play them regularly. Yes, it's great if 10,000 people gather in a park to play New Games, but it's only ever going to be a transient event like a carnival; the games that gamers play together have more substance to them, so you keep coming back.

Put another way, every weekend for maybe ten years my dad, my brother and I used to play board games — sometimes two or three in a session. I can't imagine we'd ever have included any New Games in our repertoire.

The thing is, New Games are games-as-experiences. Now I don't mind games-as-experiences, but experiences are necessarily brief. If you know that you have a quarter of an hour for a game before doing something else, then a game-as-experience is really going to hit the spot. However, no-one is going to play a game-as-experience every evening for two to four hours instead of watching TV. Rollercoasters are experiences, but if you ride one 14 times in a row without getting off (as I have), you soon learn that the experience loses its lustre.

This is one of the things that concerns me about virtual reality. So much work on VR games is about an experience, but how long is that going to last? Yes, it could well be exciting and exhilerating, but only occasionally. If VR games were more about the games than the interface, they might do better. It was like this with the Wii: developers couldn't get past the fact that it had motion detectors in it, so every Wii game was about waving around parts of your anatomy. For the Kinect, it was even worse. Just because you have a fancy interface, you don't have to make the game be about the interface. VR could bring a lot to games, if we can get over the games-as-experience barrier. 3D movies no longer play to the interface by sticking things out of the screen at you or attacking you with bees; they're just like regular movies but enhanced by 3D. Perhaps VR can mature, too?

Oh well.

Let's have a big hand for New Games, all the same.

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