Episode 9: The Phobia Game

Listen to the episode above, or via iTunes.

Hannah and Alanna talk phobias. Babies, bed bugs, and the gut-twisting horror of clowns. Can you design a game around a topic you can barely engage with? We give it a whirl!

Intro Segment & Media Check-in

Alanna: Buffy episode – Nightmares (Season 1, Episode 10). Things get weird at Sunnydale High when nightmares start to become reality.


Hannah: Buffy episode – Bargaining, Part 2 (Season 6, Episode 2). Her friends try to resurrect Buffy after her death. When they believe the resurrection spell has failed, Buffy is forced to claw her way out of her own grave.


Hannah: Heffalumps and Woozles from Winnie the Pooh. Perfect representation of being chased by your own phobias.

Defining The Phobia Game (5:12)

Where do we draw the line between a fear and a phobia? A fear that butts up against a social norm? The word irrational keeps coming up in our conversation, even though we don’t like that label. Who has say over what’s a rational vs. irrational fear?

  • Hannah defines it as “an experience at the crossroads of a fear and an anxiety.”
  • Alanna calls on the Merriam-Webster Definition: “An extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something.”

The Players (11:00)

Everyone’s a player here to some extent. Some people are playing on casual mode, some people playing on hardcore mode.

  • You can be playing on easy mode in one category and iron man mode in another.
  • We talk about our own hardcore mode phobias. Conversations about bed bugs, non-arachnid creepy crawlies, pregnancy, and clown phobias.

The lucky thing for me is that one does not encounter too many clowns in the wild. – Alanna

Parts of the Game We’re Most Interested (25:00)

Alanna finds the gap in understanding fascinating. When something that impacts your life begins impacting others as well. What happens when you can’t attend a friend’s performance because of your fear of clowns?

  • A game that tests the limits of other people’s empathy.
  • Phobia blackjack. The risk of overplaying your hand. What’s the card that will push you over?
  • Phobia Jenga. Increase the intensity bit by bit until the tower comes crashing down.


The closest we get here is a deck-building or card passing game with different win conditions: I don’t want to be caught with the bed bug card, you don’t want to be caught with the clown card. But when the clown card is in my hand it has no special meaning to me.

Trying to explain pregnancy phobia in a game. Elements of parasitism, reverse Operation game (putting things into a body instead of taking them out), having to deal with cards you didn’t ask for.

The clown game would be like…someone’s just smiling the whole time but they keep handing you cards that say, ‘I’m actually going to kill you.’ – Alanna

Finally, the razor thin line between a phobia and a fetish.

Episode 8: The Party Game

Episode 8: The Party Game

Listen to the episode above, or via iTunes.

We’re joined by special guest Stephen Dewey, designer of the Ten Candles roleplaying game, to talk parties! Episode CW for discussion of alcohol and Stanford rape case.

Intro Segment & Media Check-in

The Players

  • The party shark, the party jellyfish, the party sea cucumber
  • And the aquarium keeper herself!

Parts of the Game We’re Most Interested In

  • The art of hosting
  • The delicate game of bringing someone else to a party
  • Alcohol

Designing the Party Game

  • Why don’t parties, like game conventions, have community guidelines?
  • Hidden objective games
  • The game of Clue, and moving from room to room
  • We almost argue about LARP vs theater
  • Cats at parties


I had to cut down the episode for time, which means that Stephen’s final analogy about the game Two Rooms and a Boom didn’t make it into the final version! Not only is it a party game, but it’s the perfect gamified version of a party. In Stephen’s words:

  • You have to move around and talk to people. Even if you don’t want to, that’s just how you do it.
  • Everyone has their own hidden objective. You have no idea how any individual person is expecting the night to end.
  • You may have friends, but not know where they are. Even if you find them, they may go off to another room leaving you behind. 

Stephen’s Work

Stephen was a fantastic guest. Support the heck out of his work!

Episode 7: The Crying (Not the Movie) Game

Episode 7: The Crying (Not the Movie) Game

Listen to the episode above, or via iTunes.

We talk about who’s allowed to cry, when and where we’re supposed to cry, and the trouble with onion memes.

Intro Segment (4 min)

The Players

  • What’s normal? How much crying is okay?
  • The players as defined by Hannah: People who cry often, people who don’t
  • The players as defined by Alanna: People who accept crying, people who don’t

Parts of the Game We’re Most Interested In

  • The mystery of crying and vaginas
  • Ghost crying
  • Onions and “I’m not crying, you’re crying.” Distance through memes.

Designing the Crying Game

  • Reflexive crying, empathy games
  • Bad Habit, a game about nonsuicidal self-injury, from Games by Playdate
  • Actual Sunlight, a visual novel about suicide, from Will O’Neill
  • Conditional statements (“IF” this, “THEN” crying)
  • Resource management, emotional jenga
  • Suffering consequences from stockpiling resources
  • Sheriff of Nottingham board game
  • Designing a game about crying by designing a game that makes you cry
  • Managing emotional and social dynamics at the table
  • Public versus private play
  • Finally, Girl Talk and zit stickers

Episode Note

Like most of our episodes, this was recorded weeks before it aired. Between the time we recorded and the time the episode was edited and published, 49 people (predominantly queer people of color) were murdered in a dance club. This week has been a time for grief, and while editing the episode, it was hard to connect the crying we talked about a few weeks ago (crying about ghosts, crying over board games) with the crying I’ve done this week—an unstoppable, body-shaking sort of crying. Crying over loss of life.

I did a lot of public crying this week. Maybe you did, too. If you didn’t, that’s okay.

I guess I’ll end with a piece from my favorite Carl Sandburg poem, The Right to Grief. It’s feeling especially salient today.

TAKE your fill of intimate remorse, perfumed sorrow,
Over the dead child of a millionaire,
And the pity of Death refusing any check on the bank
Which the millionaire might order his secretary to
scratch off
And get cashed.

Very well,
You for your grief and I for mine.
Let me have a sorrow my own if I want to.

I shall cry over the dead child of a stockyards hunky.
His job is sweeping blood off the floor.
He gets a dollar seventy cents a day when he works
And it’s many tubs of blood he shoves out with a broom
day by day.

Read the full poem here.

Episode 6: The Nostalgia Game

Episode 6: The Nostalgia Game

Listen to the episode above, or via iTunes.

We tackle reveries, reboots, and making American great again in…The Nostalgia Game! Who benefits most from the game and who gets left behind?

Intro (6 mins)

  • Hannah: faux nostalgia and Garden State (2004)
  • Alanna: falsifying memory and the animated Anastasia (1997)

In a way nostalgia is the manic pixie dream girl of memory. —Alanna

Main Topic

Additional Sources

Episode 5: The Standardized Test Game

Episode 5: The Standardized Test Game

Listen to the episode above, or listen via iTunes.

We’re joined by special guest designer Evan Rowland, co-founder of Make Big Things, to discuss the complex and controversial history of standardized testing in the United States.

Intro Segment (5 mins, 55 seconds)

Main Topic & Sources (5 mins, 55 seconds to end)

A test score that accurately measures what it seeks to measure and yet is used to deny students opportunities from which they would benefit may lack consequential validity.

Additional Sources:

Episode 4: The Grocery Store Game

Episode 4: The Grocery Store Game

We’re joined by tabletop game designer Joshua A.C. Newman to talk about…grocery stores! We cover self-checkout machines, queuing theory, toilet paper preferences, and panic attacks in the spaghetti sauce aisle.

Intro Segment (9 minutes)

Main Topic & Links (9:10 to end)

Support Joshua’s xenoglyph creations on Patreon here!