Larry Hosken: New: Puzzle Hunts Are Everywhere, even in Brent Holman's Memories (but not so much in writeups)

Veteran gamist Brent Holman Facebook-replied to my post yesterday about recaps, the internet, and memetic monoculture. His post deserves a wider audience than my Facebook friends, so I'm posting it here. There's a lot of wisdom in what he writes, reminding us of the difference between book larnin' and experience. And he gently points out that I got his idea backwards and then attributed it to him so... uhm, yeah, that's worth clearing up. Sorry about that.

Ladies and gentlemen, Brent Holman:

This is a thought-provoking post, Larry.

I could look back at the early Games I played and laugh at how easy they seem by today's standards, but that would be pointless: it didn't matter, because we were having fun. Would those same types of puzzles be fun for us now? Possibly, but likely less so than they were at the time. This isn't because the puzzles have changed, it's because we have. When we read about other events, in a small way we deprive ourselves of that type of personal evolution.

Most will agree that we learn best by doing. If someone in Anytown hears about Games and wants to learn more, wouldn't it be ideal if she could find a way to actually play instead of reading a bunch of recaps of other events? A real experience, no matter how simple, seems preferable to a second-hand experience, no matter how fantastic the original might have been.

Granted, with the limited and temporal nature of Games, this isn't always practical or even realistic. Someone needs to step up and run a Game before anyone can play. But it could be argued that the prevalence of event recaps on the web makes prospective GCs that much less likely to throw their hat into the ring for fear of retreading old ground. At the very least, it makes the playing field that much more un-level.

Imagine this scenario: if you don't read up, you've potentially already fallen behind before you've even started. If you do read up, you've potentially lost the joy and wonder of many new discoveries. Which would you choose?

I don't think a monoculture is the real worry. People who get bitten by the Game bug will take things in their own directions, no matter what other people have done in the past or will do in the future. That's just the nature of creativity.

To me, the interesting question is more about where the Game begins than where it ends up. Gamers (current and future) are information-seekers by nature, and the more there is to devour, the more they'll consume. This fundamentally changes the starting point. Technology (which has always been a big part of the Game) has made the truly n00b experience very difficult to come by, except possibly for the extremely disciplined who are willing and able to insulate themselves.

But to clarify a point from the beginning of your post, I wasn't really saying that the new players come in really knowing their stuff. Quite the opposite, in fact. They come in thinking they know their stuff because they've read up on previous events. In many cases it's knowledge without understanding, lessons learned without effort. They only have a history of success (or of reading about success) and not of failure. Any old-timer will tell you that you learn as much about puzzles by trying things that don't work as by trying things that do.

As long as there's information to share, people will share it. And as long as there's shared information, people will seek it out. That just means we're all doing what we're predisposed to do. Trying to stop that cycle would be a fool's errand. It's up to the creators to rise above that challenge and keep things new.

My most treasured Game memories came in the early days, when everything was completely unexpected. My lack of knowledge put me in the perfect frame of mind to be amazed. It's that sense of wonder and the joy of discovery that every Gamer relishes, so I can only hope that wherever any player's experiences begin or wherever they may end up, they'll be able to experience those same feelings again and again. But in some ways it's never quite as good as the first time, so you might want to think twice about trying to get started too far along the curve...

So, yeah. (This is me, Larry, again.) A word is but a pale shadow of the thing. A narrative is not reality. A Game write-up is not the Game.

It's like... you're talking to someone at a party about these hunts. And he says "Wow, that would make a great movie." And you have to say "No wait, hang on. It only sounds like a great movie because I left out this stuff. Because narratives don't really have a way to convey what we do. I left out... I left out... I left out the hour of frustration staring at that pile of flourescent-painted lumber scraps. I left out the argument over how to interpret those hummingbird flight patterns as ternary (and the dreadful moment of realization that the argument had gone on longer than the time it would take to try doing the ternary both ways). I left out the frisson of strange queasy joy and regret I experienced when I found that leftover piece of chocolate in my pocket at 4 AM and realized that I'd been forgetting to eat. I left out the things that make The Game The Game, because the English language is not suited to describing these things. You need... you need... You need to go read Eric Prestemon's puzzle-solving diary and pay attention to the times. And... and..." But by now your fellow party-goer has decided they really need to go talk to their friend over there.

I am a writer because I love language; and yet I know that language has limits. I love these puzzly-hunty things because they put us into a place that language can't describe well. I found out about these games because I found a write-up. You n00bs take note: that write-up didn't make me want to read more write-ups. It made me want to play The Game.

I should link to this from my write-up page.

Tags: puzzle hunts gc summit
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