Larry Hosken: New: Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, with no hidden niches

There was this conversation at the GC Summit. Brent Holman of Shinteki/the Scoobies said something. It troubles me. Maybe it shouldn't but...

We were talking about making these puzzle-hunty games accessible to nOObs. I guess we were all thinking about phenomena like the Green Game. That's how the culture spreads, right? NOObs play games, then they're not NOObs anymore.

Maybe that's not true anymore. Brent organizes a lot of games, right? And he pointed out: When these people show up, they've read some stuff on the internet, right? They know their codes, they know what to do, they know all this stuff. [Updated: Brent replied to this post to gently let me know that I got his point backwards. And along the way he also shared some genuine wisdom about games and life. Go read what he had to say.]

That makes me worry about monoculture, right?

Part of what makes evolution works is that there are places that are tough to get to. There are islands, hidden valleys. Occasionally a macaw will make it to one of these places, and this colony of macaws will spring up. It's separate from the main macaw population. It's under different pressures, evolves differently. They explore a different part of the possible genetic space. Occasionally some of these weird colonist macaws make their way back to the main population. It's where diversity comes from, it keeps the species strong. If all your macaws live in just one place, if they don't have any kinda-tough-but-not-impossible-to-reach places around them.... If they don't have these weird little niches to go and stew for a while... You lose diversity.

Memes are similar, right? A lot of weird stuff happens on Japanese TV. We in America don't know much of it, because there are these semi-permeable information boundaries. Occasionally something wonderful and strange stumbles through the boundary, and the world gains another "Iron Chef". The language barriers, the copyright hassles—they create these information islands. Strange things thrive there, and occasionally one comes back.

I read about puzzle-hunty activities in different places and they are different.

Ravenchase all Poe-like and artistic.

Hot Springs Arkansas with less find-the-information-in-this-diagram and more cleverly-navigate-this-physical-challenge.

Competitive New York City's Midnight Madness where you can interfere with other teams in ways that fit the game.

What would have happened if those people had read my write up of Justice Unlimited and thought "Oh, so that's how we're supposed to do it."? When we share what we do, we're being generous with our ideas. But we're also influencing people. We inspire them, but we inspire them to react to what we've done.

OK, I'm not terribly worried about a monoculture. For example, I think that D.A.S.H. is an awesome idea.

And within the bay area community... you couldn't even call that a mushy homogenized monoculture. Sunday, I asked a playtester, Peter Kimball, about his previous puzzle-huntish experience. He said he'd playtested one Game, that it was Paparazzi. Imagine if that was the only Game you ever played. "So, this is what it's like? Getting driven around in a limo to a swank nightclub? Awesome!"

And it's not like everybody follows everything that's going on. I think I looked at two puzzles from the recent MIT mystery hunt. I could read more. They nicely put everything up on the internet. There's no, uhm, memetic barrier there. Except for that thick one around my brain. I guess as long as we have those, there will still be variations.

And maybe there are hidden niches after all. You still hear mention of dorm Games at Stanford. They don't invite us old duffers to play, there's no long reports posted, just a microblog mention of a treasure-hunt-like game. Maybe in a few years something new, wonderful, and strange will burst out upon our scene.

Tags: puzzle hunts gc summit
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