Larry Hosken: New: Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even Hypothetical Magazine Articles

This afternoon, I talked with a couple of people about puzzly treasure-hunt game thingies. Now this conversation was kind of important, so I'd planned for it. I'd sketched out some talking points. Now you're thinking That sounds sinister—"talking points." Larry has a hidden agenda. I guess it would be sinister if I had stuck to those talking points. But instead, I followed the flow of the conversation and didn't think to mention any of the stuff I'd been thinking about aside from a tangled breathless rush at the end. We sneer at politicians who stay "on message", totally ignoring questions. But we should respect that skill—ignoring questions ain't easy. We should respect that skill, but perhaps not admire it.

But I have these things on my mind, and since I failed to shoehorn them into that conversation, I suppose I'll blog them here.

A while back I was reading something in some blog tangentially-related to our puzzle-hunt games—some ARGer or some transmedia specialist, something like that. And they were saying our work [ARG or transmedia] defies categorization. And that sounds cool, but actually it's not so much.

There's a whole industry around making movies. If you make a movie, perhaps many many people will see it. There are established theaters in cities, where people gather to see movies. There are agreed-upon standards for movie advertising posters, companies who distribute movies. Because you work in an established category, people know how to help you. It also helps your customers. Not only can they find your product easily, but they also have some idea what to expect. If someone asks you "Do you want to see a movie?" you know that you'll have time to grab some dinner beforehand, sit and watch a performance for a couple of hours, then go home.

You know, I tried to buy some Google search ads for the 2-Tone Game. The way that works, you choose some terms that you think people will search for and then provide an ad to show. So what search terms did I want? [puzzle game], maybe? But people searching for that probably are looking for Bejewelled. Aside from puzzlehunters, nobody knows to look for the 2-Tone Game, because nobody knows about this category of event.

If someone asks you "Do you want to participate in this uncategorizable thingy?" you don't really know what you're getting into. So... after this "Bay Area Night Game", will there be time for dinner? What should I bring? And the Bay Area Night Game is well enough established that I think... I think I'd know what to tell a player. It's a category now. There's a template, you can describe it. To a player.

But I've been thinking about the DIY nature of this puzzly treasure-hunt activity. That's what I first loved about it, that's what I still love about it. And the thing is—we have all this information out there for players but the instructions for GC are still pretty sparse.

What is the "template" for GC'ing a game? What are the steps? There's more to say to GC than there is to a player. It's easier to tell someone how to watch a movie than how to make a movie. It's easier to tell someone "It's a party, bring something to drink," than to tell someone how to host a party.

So that's when it struck me—there are those magazine articles on how to host parties. Like, I guess they're in magazines like Good Housekeeping. You know, with titles like "How to Host a Tiki-themed Party" all with sentences like "A pineapple makes for a festive centerpiece." Like, we could have an article like that on how to host a BANG. And you're thinking "Wait, there's no way an article could capture all that. There's creativity in running a game." But of course, there's creativity in hosting a great party. Like, you put the pineapple in the center of the table and you realize That is not a festive centerpiece; I need to figure out some stuff to add, and then add that stuff, pronto.

So if the "How to host a BANG" article just said "Traditionally, there is a Morse puzzle, a Braille puzzle, a Semaphore puzzle, and a Binary puzzle, put you can make up any kind you like."

So this article would do a so-so job at explaining how to run one of these events. But the article's existence would throw some interesting subtext at the reader: there is this thing called a BANG. It is a category of event. And you might want to host one. And if you hosted one, your guests might enjoy it. If you read an article about how to host a tiki party, you probably have some ideas about whether hosting a tiki party would go over well with your peer group.

So where am I going with this train of thought? A plan to subvert the households of America by planting a "How to host a puzzlehunt" article in Good Housekeeping?!? To spread Game culture with a magazine article? Wow, once I write it out like that, it seems like a terrible idea. Maybe it's just as well I failed to steer that conversation this afternoon. Anyhow, that's where my head's been at lately, Game-wise.

Tags: puzzle hunts entertainment industry
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