Designing Games to Be Played Over 25 Years

Question: What was the first game that you designed?

\r\nKatie Salen: I actually designed a Hobbit board game when I was \r\nprobably eight years old, in my closet because I was slightly \r\nembarrassed at the time.  And so I had been reading the Hobbit and I \r\nthink at the time I was less interested in that it was a game and I was \r\nmore interested in drawing the characters and sort of imagining this \r\nincredible world that I’d been reading about.  So that was my first game\r\n that I designed way back when. 
\r\nThe first sort of digital game I designed was really, back in 2003, and \r\nit was the game called The Big Urban Game, that was commissioned by the \r\nDesign Institute in Minneapolis.  And it was a game that used these \r\ngiant inflatable game pieces that people raced around the city over the \r\ncourse of five days as a way to get the people of Minneapolis and St. \r\nPaul to think about the design of their city.  And so the digital \r\ncomponent of that game was a kind of Web site where people called in and\r\n voted.  And so that was really the first big game that I designed.
What are "slow games?"

\r\nKatie Salen: Metropolis Magazine, which is a design magazine, was\r\n having a 25th anniversary issue a couple of years ago and they asked \r\nmyself and Frank Lance, who I mentioned, and Nick Fortuno, another game \r\ndesigner in New York, to develop a set of games for the magazine.  And \r\nso we began to think about, well, "What is an element of games that if \r\nyou modified it in a way, it could have a dramatic affect on how you \r\nthink about games?"  And so we just picked the element of time.  We \r\nthought, well what if we moved away from this notion, and this was in \r\nmid-2000s when casual games were really blossoming.  And so the whole \r\nidea was people playing games in snack-like sizes.  So people would have\r\n five minutes, they could play a game, they would have a minute, and so \r\ngame design became about shortening the time it would take to play.  And\r\n so we were interested in thinking about, well what would happen if we \r\nelongated that notion of time and it was a game that might take 25 years\r\n to play... What would that game look like? What would that experience \r\nof play look like?  How would it change your relationship to the game?  \r\nAnd so the notion of "slow games" evolved out of that idea.
\r\nSo we had one game that was call, I think it was called, "The Last \r\nFax."  And so the whole game was to be the last person in the world to \r\nsend a fax.  We had a game that we registered a product bar code in \r\nadvance of something ever being invented, and the person that invented \r\nthe invention or product that got to use that bar code would win the \r\ngame.  So, there was no sense of when that bar code might come up in the\r\n queue of inventions. 
\r\nThere was a kind of cross word puzzle game where there was one clue a \r\nyear that was given.  And it took 25 years to complete the game.  And \r\nthen there was a game that had a drawing of, I think there was a donkey \r\nthat had headphones on and had some kind of crazy backpack.  And the \r\nidea was that you would take a piece of paper with that drawing on it \r\nand you would look at it, and then you would put it away and once a \r\nyear, you would take out the folded piece of paper and you would win the\r\n game if you had forgotten what was on the piece of paper. 
\r\nSo, we were working with the idea of sort of memory there that there’s \r\nalways these artifacts that are laying around your house and could you \r\ncultivate a game where the goal was to not remember a game piece rather \r\nthan remembering what the kind of answer was?
Are you still playing these games?

\r\nKatie Salen: We are, and there are very few people that are still\r\n playing them.  They were really conceptual exercises and not so much \r\nintended to be played, but the fax game still goes on.  Faxes, \r\nparticularly in real estate, very popular.  And the product code hasn’t \r\nbeen used yet, so that game is still open.

Recorded May 7, 2010
Interviewed by David Hirschman

The game designer was tasked with creating games to be played very, very slowly. When the last fax (ever) is sent, someone will be a big winner.

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