Damn the Man: Nostalgia Trippin’ through the Alternate 90s

Next Tuesday, June 20th, our game Damn the Man, Save the Music! launches on Kickstarter. Damn the Man has been in development for about two years, and it’s come a long way during that time.

Early versions of Damn the Man had a problem, and that was too much nostalgia trippin’ combined with too much showing off musical expertise. It was a really innocent player-level problem (everyone is excited about what they know and it’s fun to talk about favorite music videos), and I eventually found a fun solution: fake trends, fake music videos, fake band names.

It’s made the game so much more enjoyable, and it’s led to a lot of creativity and funny stumbling when someone can’t quite shake the name of a real person. Alanis Morissette becomes alternate 90s timeline Atlantis Moristand, and so on… Either way, it rebuts the idea that it matters that a particular Metallica album came out in 1988 instead of 1992. It doesn’t matter. Metallica is fiction in this world.

Remember Broccoli Chef, the beloved cartoon avatar of childhood? Of course you do!

Of course, we can’t remove a game about 90s music entirely from the real world. I mean, maybe it’s possible… but that would make Damn the Man a worldbuilding exercise, where a major feature of the game is coming up with an alternate 90s that’s totally different from our own. I do kind of want to play that game, but for Damn the Man, that level of worldbuilding wasn’t a core design goal.

It’s a precarious balance, and the answer wasn’t purely social or purely mechanical. I tried a version of the game that addressed the issue on a purely social level—Don’t do this thing!—and it just didn’t work. Players got flustered when they slipped up, and I don’t want anyone to feel ashamed because they’re excited to talk about Nickelodeon commercials. I also tried a version that addressed the issue on a purely mechanical level, but I don’t think that even exists. Roleplaying games are by their very nature social, which makes them unpredictable. A rule that says “you’re encouraged to make up fake 90s bands” doesn’t mean a player won’t ask, “Hey… does this game take place in 1994 or 1997, because that distinction may change what I want my character to wear?” It’s an interesting question. Based on your gaming group and what you know about their interests and attention, it’s the job of a GM to decide how to answer that at the table.

There’s going to be some unavoidable nostalgia trippin’ for many folks who play this game. For a lot of people (myself included), that’s a major draw! Ultimately the answer involved leaning players toward making things up on the fly while also addressing player-level issues as the GM. “We don’t have to break the scene to look up the dates of Clinton’s impeachment trial. Let’s keep the camera rolling.”

With that, allow me to share a personal favorite 90s song…

I was probably a little young to appreciate this song when it was first released, so I’m guessing I didn’t see the video until the early 2000s. But in the Damn the Man timeline, that doesn’t matter! In my alternate timeline 90s, the Bee Song was the smash hit of 1994. It sparked a tap dancing revolution. To this day, you can still see the little nicks and dents of tap shoes marking the lacquered hallways of middle schools around the world.

If you’re interested in thinking more about nostalgia, we did a Games People Play episode all about the “nostalgia game” this time last year. The podcast is currently on hiatus, but this stands as one of my favorite episodes to date.

Sneak peek of Damn The Man, Save the Music! Plus: Our week long sale!

We’ve been gearing up for our Kickstarter launch of Damn the Man, Save the Music! Our current projected launch date is June 20th and we’ll be dropping more art and text snippets in coming weeks. You can check out the game overview here!

The awesome record illustration and pattern shown above were designed by Baltimore artist Sarah Robbins, who will be doing some special poster art for the game. You can check out more of Sarah’s work here.

Our New Logo

Did you notice our brand new logo? We’re so excited to debut it! It was designed in house by Evan Rowland (our resident artist, and the creator of Noirlandia). If you’d like to read more about our logo creation process, check out our recent blog post about what the logo means to us and the process for designing it—as well as some of our initial drafts.

We’re having a game sale!

In celebration of Spring and our new logo, we’re launching a storewide sale. For the next week, get 20% off on all physical game purchases on our site. Just use the code HAPPYSPRING at checkout and the discount will be applied automatically. Happy playing!

And Now, Words of Wisdom from Lupin

This is Lupin. Lupin is Brian’s dog. Why does Lupin look so happy? Maybe it’s because his zombie apocalypse defense training is coming along so well. Hopefully you too will soon be able to implement this rigorous training program in your own homes. In the meantime, here’s some words of wisdom from Lupin:

“Don’t chase a squirrel unless you are prepared to catch it.”

With Love,

Evan, Hannah, and Brian

Make Big Things Has a New Logo

Make Big Things has a fresh look: we’re proud to debut our new logo, designed in house by Evan Rowland.

To us, this logo represents many things, including: the adventures that lie ahead, the games we want to build, and the discoveries that creativity reveals.

When coming up with our logo, we had a number of considerations in mind. One of the first things we knew was that we wanted to work with the motif we initially used in Questlandia and continued in Noirlandia.

The image of the person overlooking the horizon from Questlandia had been operating as our defacto logo for some time. However, we knew that our actual logo needed to be simpler and more fine-tuned to be instantly recognizable as well as understandable when being viewed on a small or large scale. It also had to stand on its own so that it’d look good on business cards and merchandise like T-shirts.

Make Big Things logo shirt, unisex sizes
Make Big Things logo shirt, women’s sizes

 

We went through multiple drafts and concepts. All along the way, we had to keep asking ourselves: does this represent what we want it to represent, or could it be saying something that we’d want to avoid? Take one of our first and then discarded designs, for example:

While we all liked this one, we realized that it could come off as though it were representing a person on a conquest. That was a big no-no.

While this draft truly represented “making a big thing,” we wondered if it came off as too all powerful-like, which was not something we wanted to portray.

With this draft, we considered the moon to be a nice touch, but eventually we came to the conclusion that it was a little too complicated when viewed on the micro-level.

Ultimately, we’re delighted with our final result, and we can’t wait to stamp this logo on all the future games and products we produce together.

And who knows, as the mighty Make Big Things conglomerate expands, maybe some day you will see our logo all over the world…

Society of Chefs Sunday, April 9: Maangchi

Society of Chefs Sunday, April 9: Maangchi

Last May, we hosted a game community social cooking challenge called Society of Chefs. The first recipe we tackled was Portuguese Custard Tarts, a tricky but rewarding pastry. The first event was a big success and this Sunday, April 9th, we’re hosting another one!

This month’s challenge

This month’s challenge is to make a Korean dish from Maangchi. Maangchi’s YouTube cooking channel boasts over a million subscribers and her clear, easy-to-follow videos have expanded the reach of Korean cuisine around the world.

You can pick any Maangchi recipe, or multiple recipes, to create this weekend! If you’re looking to narrow down the options try:

This month’s hosts

Your hosts this month are Hannah Shaffer, Taylor LaBresh of Riverhouse Games, and Brandon Leon of Stop Hack & Roll! We’ll be cooking up a storm on Sunday and we’d love you to join us! 🙂

The goal of the challenge

Society of Chefs has no winners or losers! The goal is to have fun, try something new, and to feel connected to people in the gaming community around the world.

We may not be able to cook in the same room together, but we can share in the experience of creating and enjoying food.

How can I prepare?

Watch videos in advance, purchase ingredients the day before, and let us know you’re participating! On twitter or Google+, use the hashtag #societyofchefs to start talking about your recipe.

How do I share?

On Sunday, let us know when you’ve started to cook! Post photos of the process, ask questions, vent frustrations, and share your finished photos online.

You don’t have to be a professional food photographer! Have fun, enjoy the challenge, and join us while we venture outside of our cooking comfort zones.

Here are a few more Maangchi videos for inspiration:

Laboratory Mayhem is like Magic: The Gathering, except it’s accessible to everyone and fighting capitalism

Four months ago, a friend of mine sent me a message that said, “Worker cooperative + card game. This is right up your nerd alley.” My friend apparently knows me well, because I was immediately excited by Lixivium Games and their new card game, Laboratory Mayhem.

The first thing that struck me about Lixivium is that they are a worker-owned cooperative: this means each worker has one equal share in the ownership of the business, and the workers govern the company democratically. Make Big Things is also a worker cooperative, and so it was amazing to find another burgeoning game company that shares our principles and structure. And Lixivium’s flagship project, Laboratory Mayhem, was a game after my own heart – a collectible card game like Magic: The Gathering, but more accessible in terms of game play and affordability.

Now, after years of work, the creators are bringing Laboratory Mayhem to Kickstarter. (Join me in backing it – there’s 48 hours left to go! It ends on Thursday, March 2, at 11:40 EST). Several of the worker-owners were also kind enough to sit down with me and chat about why they chose to form as a cooperative as well as their design process for their game.

A Laboratory Mayhem prototype: credit to Laboratory Mayhem’s Facebook.

Brian: So why did Lixivium Games decide to be a worker cooperative?

David: I think workers should always own their work (the normal relationship of owner and employee is exploitation). I also believe democratic processes tend to produce better decisions than autocratic ones, and thus should be applied in the economic sphere as well as in the political sphere.

Greg: We were friends before we were coworkers, so we wanted all of us to be treated fairly. Same for everyone else who contributed to making the game later on. Giving everyone who contributed a say, and compensating everyone proportional to their effort, seemed like a no-brainer.

Brian: Do you think the fact that you are a cooperative has shaped the design of the game at all?

David: In so many ways. Many things from our game name to the number and types of alchemy available were subjected to lengthy discussion, rather than just having one person decide how it should be. Also, very importantly, game play is partly determined by the monetization plan. We were all on the same page to make a broadly accessible game, rather than maximizing profit (the typical decision in a capitalist-owned corporation).

Greg: Absolutely. To add to what’s been said, it’s been a huge factor in bringing in contributors besides us original five. Because we’re self-funded, company ownership is our primary compensation. A lot of our artists appreciate our intent and the spirit behind the game, even if it means they’re not getting sizeable up-front payment.

Myles: We’ve had a lot of practice on our communication skills over the years. When everyone has the right to weigh in, you have to be conscious about your design decisions and willing to defend them.

A prototype of Laboratory Mayhem being played at Victory Point Cafe in Berkeley, CA. Credit to Laboratory Mayhem’s Facebook.

Brian: I can’t wait to get my copy of Laboratory Mayhem. One thing that really appealed to me is how you worked to ensure every card had multiple uses so there are no wasted turns. What drove you to do this, and what’s been players reactions?

David: In any game where you draw cards, there will probably be some element of randomness, and our game still has some. But we really wanted to avoid situations where straight out of the gate you can’t do anything but wait, because you lack the cards or resources to make your first moves. This is a horrible feeling (essentially the game is decided/ruined before it starts) that all of us have experienced at some point playing lots of other games, and that’s why we knew we absolutely wanted to avoid it.

Greg: Games should be fun. But a lot of strategy card games have moments of helplessness, by no fault of the player, and that’s anti-fun. Being able to use any card three ways means you can always do something meaningful to advance your position, so no more feeling helpless, and a lot more feeling fun.

Andrew: Players have consistently given positive responses to being able to play the cards three different ways. I love watching new players realize that they can still play cards as rooms in the endgame – finding uses for cards in their hand even though assembling the card wouldn’t be useful in that situation. And when that extra room suddenly changes the endgame combat math, it’s even more dramatic and exciting!

Cards from Laboratory Mayhem. Credit to Laboratory Mayhem’s Kickstarter.

Brian: One comparison for Laboratory Mayhem seems to be Magic: The Gathering.  I used to be an avid Magic player, but in the last year I’ve somewhat given it up because I couldn’t keep up with always having to buy new cards that were coming out. Your Kickstarter says that all the cards needed to play the game will come in one box in order to make it accessible. Why was this so important to you?

David: For exactly that reason. We don’t want to squeeze uncomfortable amounts of money out of our customers. We want people to spend 30-100$ dollars per year on our game, rather than hundreds or thousands. It seems a fair price for the entertainment they will receive, and a fair price for the work we’ve put in. It should also eventually allow more people to play the game.

Greg: In addition to general good-will, we know a lot of our players will be folks who play Magic or other wallet-hungry CCGs. We don’t want to make anyone choose between our games, so by offering a complete set for a fixed cost, it’s easy to play both.

Brian: What can we look for in the future from your cooperative?

David: I think a second set of cards for Lab Mayhem would be a lot of fun: we’ve scratched the surface of our design space, but as designers, we can all see a lot of unexplored territory, and it beckons to us. Every one of the five founders also has more ideas for other games, so we might also try to put some of those out.

Myles: In the immediate future, watch for our upcoming stretch goals! We’ll also be reviewing the first set for possible tweaks before backers receive their rewards. Most of it will be wording cleanup and small changes, but there’s a chance longtime players will be surprised by a few new cards. (And if you want to be part of that redesign, check the new Kickstarter tier we just added.)

Thanks to Lixivium Games for taking the time to speak with us about worker cooperatives and their game, Laboratory Mayhem! You can back the game on Kickstarter here until Thursday morning, March 2.

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Creating an Art Board for Damn the Man, Save the Music!

Creating an Art Board for Damn the Man, Save the Music!

Hannah here, checking in with an update for our next game, Damn the Man, Save the Music!

After a post-Noirlandia recovery period, work on Damn the Man is moving forward. Evan was the forerunner on Noirlandia, and I’m the lead designer on DtM, so it’s my responsibility to keep the ball rolling for a late spring Kickstarter launch.

I had a clear vision in mind for the art, but I wasn’t sure how to communicate that vision to Evan, who will be doing the cover and main illustrations for the game. I decided to compile an art inspiration board to share with Evan, to help communicate my ideas. I broke my research into three categories—Color, Linework, and Emotion. Some pieces had the emotional oomph I was going for but not the vibrancy. Others had the perfect palette without the right linework. Here are my favorite images from each of the three categories:

Color

I haven’t been able to find a single piece that captures my dream palette for the game as much as this image of colorful street art in Amsterdam. I don’t know who the photographer is, so I can’t give due credit for this beautiful photo.

I love this. I love the mix of the colorful street with overcast sky. It captures this amazing feeling of color where you wouldn’t expect it—maybe even where it’s not allowed.

Linework

Linework was the trickiest image for me to narrow down. I want the illustrations to feel loose and sketchy, but without overly heavy black & white shading inside the outer lines, and that can be a hard combination to find. This image gets close, and even the color feels like a nice match.

This is another example where I can’t find an artist credit. My search took me on a broken url loop from deleted tumblrs to password-protected blog pages and back again. If anyone knows who the artist is I’d love to credit this image, and to see more of their work.

Emotion

I noticed that a lot of the person-focused art I found had people interacting in ways that felt stiff and weirdly impersonal. Sometimes the distance was intentional—a piece created to make you feel lonely—but mostly I think it’s hard to create art with multiple humans touching or laughing or whispering to each other in a believable way.

I think this image is very sweet, and it captures what I’d hope to communicate emotionally in the game.

And look, the artist even signed their work! But I can’t read the credit line! I did a reverse image search and only found two results—both leading to uncredited pages.

Sharing these images with Evan and explaining why each one feels important has been a rewarding part of the design process. It’s hard to communicate an artistic vision when you’re not the artist, and examples can be so helpful.

If you’re interested in seeing more, here’s the work-in-progress pinboard I’ve created to share with Evan as I find new pieces that inspire my vision for the game.

This Board Game Cafe Wants to Make Gaming Fun, Safe, and Inclusive

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Board games are a great way to have fun with friends. They’re also an amazing way to get to know other people. Sometimes, though, they can also be an awful way to get to know other people.

Recently, I found out about Bonus Round: Chicago’s first board game cafe on Kickstarter. (Hooray! They passed their funding goal and now they’re trying to reach their stretch goals.) What struck me about Bonus Round was not just that they wanted to make a space in Chicago for board game players and board game designers, but that they were dedicated to forging a space that would reach people who have been traditionally excluded and/or burned by board gaming culture. I reached out to Bonus Round to hear more about their story, and they agreed to an interview. I’m excited about the work they’re doing, and I hope you’ll join me in supporting them on Kickstarter, whether you’re in Chicago or another city!

Your Kickstarter seems to really focus around building a welcoming board game community. Can you tell us a little more about what this means for Bonus Round?

Building a community and making sure it is a welcoming one are definitely two of our biggest focuses. Board gaming is a group activity and what we’re creating revolves 100% about building a space where people can come together to enjoy games regardless of their level of experience or background. Unfortunately there are a lot of brick and mortar game stores around the country that don’t have the most welcoming environments to outsiders (particularly women) and so part of what we’re trying to do is encourage people who don’t normally play boardgames for whatever reason to take a chance on them. We want to introduce new people to board games.

The Bonus Round Kickstarter video.

I love that your Kickstarter states that Bonus Round will have “a safe and welcoming environment with a posted and enforced anti-harassment policy.” Can you tell us more about why this is important for your vision for Bonus Round?

Yeah! So for me this is pretty simple and it seems like our policies ought to just be common sense for a lot of society. In a nutshell it comes down to “Don’t be a jerk to others.” & “Your enjoyment of the space and what we’re doing shouldn’t infringe on what anyone else is doing.” Some folks have been burned before, and we want to do everything we can to prevent that from happening at our cafe. Having a posted policy on the wall shows people that we’re serious about it and that if someone is causing problems that we’re gonna be there to stop it. Incidents are gonna happen and tensions can get heated during an intense game but at the end of the day we want to make sure that everyone is being given the same amount of respect.

Your Kickstarter says that you want “to be a corner stone meeting place for Chicago’s game development community,” somewhere that game designers can playtest with the public, build relationships, and exchange ideas with each other. As a game designer, I love this! What gave you this idea? And how do you see this idea coming to fruition?

Being a watering hole for local designers, publishers and developers of games has always been something that we wanted to aim for with Bonus Round, but we always figured it would be something a bit further down the line. We’ve been doing pop-up events for a solid year and a half now, and somewhere along there designers started hitting us up to see whether they could bring their games out to show off or playtest. People don’t seem to realize just how many board game industry folks live in or around Chicago, and it blows me away how much support they’ve shown for Bonus Round! In the future once we have our doors open we want to have monthly gatherings at the cafe where insiders can get together to share war stories and ideas. Additionally we want to have regular nights at the cafe where developers & publishers have a chance to get their games playtested with the public. Playtesting can be a really long and drawn out process (not to mention costly). The funny thing is that the public are usually pretty enthusiastic to try something new and give feedback, but outside of conventions there isn’t much of a place to bring everything together. I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out here to Ben at Argyle Games as well as Jeff & Andrew with Road To Infamy Games, they’ve all been really supportive of what we’re doing.

When did you decide to take your dream of a board game cafe and make it a reality? And why did you decide to turn to Kickstarter?

Okay so the moment that Courtney & I decided that this was what we were going to pour ourselves into was probably about 4 years ago. I was managing a record store in California at the time, which was a great experience that I learned a lot from, I was enjoying working there but ambition was getting the best of me and for the longest time I had wanted to create something myself. So that was all going through my head and a year or two prior to that even we’d gone to Toronto on our honeymoon and visited Snakes & Lattes, who have been at the forefront of this board game cafe movement. Eventually it all came together and we knew we had the skill sets to do this already; we just needed to put in the work and get all the money together. It hasn’t been easy for a moment, and it has been really trying at times, but we’re not far off from being able to break ground and get our doors open. We’ve always been pretty active on Kickstarter and done what we can to help fund projects which we care about and want to see come to life, it made sense that once we got to the point which we’re at now that we’d turn things around and create a campaign of our own. I feel like I could write a book about everything that has happened so far with the cafe, our trials and tribulations, but I couldn’t be more proud of where we are and those struggles have definitely helped me appreciate it.

You say that your staff will be trained to help customers learn the board games you have at your cafe. I think that’s fantastic. Why’s that important for your vision of Bonus Round?

Internally teaching board games is perhaps the one topic we talk about the most, there are so many finer details that don’t even surface until you really start thinking about it from a variety of perspectives. There are two big reasons (among many) why I think teaching and doing it well are important for a board game cafe:
a) Our target audience consists of a lot of people that have NEVER played a modern board game, the last thing they might have played is probably Monopoly or Clue at a gathering with extended family. The thing is board games have come such a long way from that and are an incredible way to enjoy some genuine social time with others. So with all that said we’ve got a lot of newcomers coming out to our pop-ups and when you’re learning something new, whether it is rocket science or board gaming, you’re in this space where you might feel like everyone but you knows what’s going on. A few laughs and some encouragement go a long way towards getting people to open up. I’m getting a little rambly here but one of the reasons teaching is important is if you do it well then people can’t wait to join in.

b) The second reason is way more straightforward. Nobody wants to sit down with their friends and have to scramble through a rule book for 30 minutes before they can even start enjoying the game. We cut that whole process out and get people right to the fun part by figuring out what the “teach” is for a game, what are the essentials that people need to know before they can take their first turn or roll some dice? In many cases some rules of the game can be introduced after everyone has had a turn with almost no impact on how the game was played up until that point. Each game has its own approach but we take the time and figure it out so that our customers can just focus on having a good time.

Has your Kickstarter campaign allowed you to reach new audiences?

We’re not using Kickstarter just for the money, Kickstarter helps build a community around your project from day one. Since everything else we’re doing is so community oriented it makes sense that we’d go to Kickstarter. It has definitely helped us garner some more attention, but for me the most exhilarating part of all this has been how much people have come out of the woodwork to share what we’re doing with their friends and family. People that might’ve only ever come out to one or two pop-up game nights have taken the time to say how thrilled they are for us. That said, I want to see that audience grow even more and I can’t wait for us to finally have our doors open!

Bonus Round on Kickstarter

Image via Bonus Round Kickstarter page.

Speculative Game Design: Sex and Death in It Follows

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Games That Will Never Get Made

There are as many weird, unborn games on this planet as there are grains of sand, and I would love to design them all. I want to design the beautiful, iridescent glassy games and the lumpy ugly games. I want to dump my beach of games on unsuspecting players and I want to sunbathe on the sandy mass of unplayable games I’ve created.

I want to design games about making Frozen a better movie, and 90s Adam Sandler dating simulators, and games about ghost sex. But there are only so many hours in the day, and that’s where speculative game design comes in.

When I first saw It Follows, I was obsessed with the idea of making a game inspired by the movie. It had so many elements I’d want to see in a tabletop game. It used weird metaphors to talk about sexuality and shame, it kept an ambiguous moral stance, it was tense, it had a typewriter! So many elements of a good game!

Someday maybe I’ll make an It Follows game. But I can’t right now, so here are thoughts on what that game might look like if it were to exist. The ideas and mechanics here are under-considered, inconsistent, and half-baked. If that bugs you, welcome to the first stage of game design. If that excites you, or if you like any of the ideas below, feel free to run with them. I’d love to see what you create.

The Movie

It Follows was a one hour, forty-seven minute roller coaster of foreboding-entity-sex-horror that hit all my panic buttons in all the right ways.

I hated the movie, and I loved the movie. I had so many questions, and I appreciated those that went unanswered. It Follows genuinely scared me, and I spent a week glancing over my shoulder expecting my own freaky sex demon to pounce at any moment.

This post will have spoilers, and I’m including advance warning for adult content, nonconsensual ghost sex, and dubiously consensual people sex.

The Plot

After an unsettling interaction with her new boyfriend at a movie theater, Jay and her paranoid bf have sex in his car, during which he chloroforms her, ties her up, and takes her out to a remote location strapped in a wheelchair. He then gives her a “welcome to your new life” monologue:

From this point forward she’ll be pursued by an evil entity. The entity gets passed from person to person by fucking. Now that she’s got it, it will begin walking towards her. It always moves at a walking pace. It can take on the appearance of any person, even family and friends. If it catches up to her, it will kill her. And after it kills her, it will continue down the line, pursuing every person who has ever passed the entity on until…who knows. The only way to get rid of the entity is to fuck someone else, which is no promise of safety. Also, if things weren’t bad enough, no one else can see the entity. The burden of proof is on her alone.

Though disbelieving, Jay quickly comes to realize that she is in fact being pursued. There’s a decrepit old woman shambling towards her on her college campus. A lady with one flopped-out boob finds a way into her house. A too-tall man finds his way into her house. It’s all very spooky, and Jay runs away.

Jay’s friends (some of whom are still skeptical) drive her to a beachside cottage to get away, and to get some space to think. The ghost demon finds its way there, and eventually grabs hold of Jay. If there was any doubt that was telling the truth, her friends literally get to see her hoisted into the air by an invisible entity. Jay flees the scene in a stolen car and crashes into a cornfield.

Jay wakes up in the hospital and has sex with her douchey friend Greg in a hospital bed. This breaks the heart of her too-sweet friend Paul, who’s had a longtime crush on Jay, and wants nothing more than to take that sweet, sweet ghost away from her. Greg contracts the ghost, doesn’t take the responsibility seriously enough, and gets fucked to death by the ghost—who has taken the form of his mother—later that week. Jay flees and enjoys some r&r at the beach. She sees three dudes float up in a small boat, a ways from the shore. After a moment’s consideration, she strips down to her underwear and swims out to the boat. We don’t see what happens next, but the outcome is implied.

Finally, Jay and her friends devise a strange plan to kill the ghost involving an electric typewriter, some lamps, and an indoor pool. When the ghost reaches the pool, it has taken the form of Jay’s deceased father. Together, the group tries to electrocute the ghost, but bad things happen and their effort fails.

After lots of dodging his advances, Jay and smitten Paul have sex. Paul then drives downtown and solicits a prostitute. The final scene shows Jay and Paul, walking down a quiet suburban sidewalk hand in hand, with a figure walking slowly in the distance behind them.

But What’s It About?

On the surface, It Follows is a movie about being pursued by a spooky ghost. At a deeper level, it’s a movie that explores complex themes about sex and shame—particularly that special brand of millennial sex shame born from abstinence-only sex education. It’s also a movie about sex and death. The eventual death of this entity? Death from sexually transmitted disease? Everyone’s eventual death?

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We can take a guess that, if everyone in the ghost’s fuckline didn’t fuck anyone new for the rest of their lives, the ghost would eventually kill them all off and then it too would perish.

Or would it? We don’t know.

When in human history has abstinence solved all of our problems? When in human history has having sex solved them?

If we keep going, It Follows is also a movie about mommy issues, daddy issues, who we value in sexual relationships and who we don’t, and who wants to help us heal versus who just wants to get in our pants.

Finally, and this I think is one of the most compelling themes, the movie forces us to think about the inevitability of the diseases we as humans share. But I’ll return to that part later! This was supposed to be about game design, right?

While it may not seem like it at first blush, It Follows is perfect game design fodder! Board game, LARP, RPG, you name it. Not only does the movie cover multiple, complex emotional dramas that could be used to frame the theme of a game—it also offers a complicated problem to solve. Game designers love coming up with solutions to complicated problems.

There are so many different possible games here, and I’ll walk through just a few of them. Will any of these games ever get made? I have no idea! But I think there’s value in speculative iteration. Plus it’s free and fun.


Game #1: Trouble Down Under (RPG, resource mgmt board game)

So, you’ve got a sexually transmitted ghost? Who you gonna call? The person who gave it to you!

This is a roleplaying board game about making lemons out of lemonade—part story game, part resource management. You’ve got a ghost, but you’re fortunately working with a competent group of people who have devised a solution to this problem.

In this game, you enter into a consensual business arrangement with the other living people in the ghost’s fuckline. Knowing that their well-being depends on you staying alive, this group of people plan on pooling their resources to send you across the world to say, Australia. They’ll support your monthly living expenses while you’re there, and they’ll try their best to monitor the ghost’s trek across the globe.

The distance between Detroit, Michigan (where the movie takes place) and Perth, Australia is 11,170 miles (or 17976.372 km). If the entity travels at an average walking speed of 3.1 miles per hour (and doesn’t need to eat or sleep, and can walk under the ocean) it should take it around 150 days—or 5 months—to reach the western coastline. 5 months in Australia isn’t too bad! That’s enough time to settle down, maybe find a job, make friends, and explore your surroundings. You can’t ethically have sex (in fact, the terms of your business arrangement strictly forbid it), but you can certainly get kissy, and the game can take advantage of this temptation with story prompt cards that introduce unexpected social challenges.

After 5 months is up, your benefactors put you on a plane back to the US, and the ghost pivots on its gnarly heels and starts walking again.

Similar to games like Sheriff of Nottingham, which gives everyone a turn in the Sheriff’s seat, the role of the “ghosted” gets passed from player to player after every round. During each round of turns, one player plays the ghosted, navigating day-to-day life in Australia, and the other players play the ghostees—collaboratively managing their finances, tracking the ghost, and trying to work together without blame to keep this wacky system functioning.

There are great opportunities for resource management on both ends, plus rich story game drama. Do the ghostees monitoring the entity in the United States live communally? How do their day-to-day responsibilities impact their ability to keep track of the ghost’s movement? Out of this group, who still fucks each other, who loathes each other, and who’s all about the hatesex? Calling back to those temptation cards, there’s ample room for underhandedness and deception here as well. The only way to keep this system working is to keep it in the family, and the minute a person fucks someone outside of the circle, the system starts to break apart. Can our Australian ghosted resist temptation down under?

Combine this with dice-based randomization that tells you whether you’ve lost track of the ghost on any given day, and I’d play this game all day.

Game #2: I Came Here to Fuck a Ghost Up and Chew Bubblegum… (Story-driven card game, roguelike)

You’ve got a ghost and you’re running out of all the fucks you have to give. You know you’re going down, so why not go down doing some science?

Game #2 takes a MacGyver-style approach to dealing with ghosts. It’s a game of weird traps, shitty science, and taunting death. It’s pretty gonzo, but so is trying to lure an evil sex demon into an indoor pool filled with electric typewriters and table lamps, so the precedent has been set.

This game assumes that you’ll die at least a few times, and when you do, you’ll pick up where you left off, playing as the next person in the ghost’s fuckline. You’ll carry with you what you learned from your last ghost-killing attempts, and that information will get you one step closer to freedom.

I can see game design elements from Machine of Death working nicely here: drawing cards with bizarre, unrelated objects, and having to construct a plausible ghost plan. For example:

We draw three cards from the deck—candle, field, and mix tape.

Using these cards, we piece together our plan to lure the entity. We’re in the middle of a drought, so lighting a candle in a dry field will certainly start a fire. We lure the entity into the middle of the field, and we test to see if different types of music have any impact on its attention span.

I don’t know what determines the likelihood of success here. Machine of Death trusts you to set these parameters yourself, and players determine the difficulty of any given challenge. Here, I think it’s dice randomization that determines success versus failure, but the range of numbers needed for success increases every time you gain new information about what works and what doesn’t.

You roll. Fire fails. You roll. Mix tape succeeds. What could it mean? You narrate that the ghost seemed momentarily distracted by Siouxsie and the Banshees. Just a fluke, or an essential revelation? Only time and repetition will tell!

This one’s a lighter collaborative game, with everyone working together in the same place, supporting a collectively owned protagonist and her friends in their quest to bring this ghost down. It’s story-driven card game the way Gloom is a story-driven card game: you can dive into roleplay, or you can play it straight. It’s up to you and your friends.

Game #3: What Is sex? What Is Death? What Is This Game? (Freeform LARP)

Game #3 is the most ill-defined of the three games, but maybe my favorite. This game is about immersive exploration of the questions the movie left unanswered, and exploring some of the movie’s more abstract themes.

I haven’t done a lot of live action roleplay, so I’m going to draw inspiration from one of the few LARP experiences I’ve had, the freeform game See Me Now, from Sara Williamson and Liz Gorinsky. See Me Now is a game about friendship, growing up, and gender identity. It plays out through a series of nonlinear scene cards, where players pick a scene card that interests them, then act out the scene. A GM-like facilitator helps guide the action, asks questions, can call for internal monologues, and keeps things moving smoothly by cutting scenes at appropriate moments.

Before I get to the scenes I’d love to see in the It Follows LARP, I’ll run through some of the backdrop that I think makes this game really cool—stuff that’s part of the movie, but isn’t really front and center.

Ambiguous Time & Place

Not only does the movie take place in an ambiguous time period, it maybe doesn’t even take place in our world. The main nod at this possibility comes in the form of a bizarre, shell-shaped plastic compact that one character carries around obsessively, that seems to be some sort of e-reader. Maybe it doubles as a shell phone? It’s really cool, and I want one, but this isn’t a thing that exists in our reality. And that weirdness offers a darkly ethereal backdrop for a LARP!

it-follows-shell

Lack of Adult Figures

There are almost no adult figures present in the movie. It’s a very Miranda July world, but with a different pace and a more definable threat. What does it mean that there are no grownups here? Do we leave them out because we know they’ll deny our reality? If we come to an adult for help we could be grounded—locked in a room, which would mean a non-metaphorical death sentence. A world where adults are almost entirely absent, but occasionally appear as an outside menace, also makes for a great LARP backdrop.

Now, within this unsettling, grownup-less world, we’re free to explore scenes about…what? Here are some of the scenes that I’d be excited to see:

1. The movie doesn’t answer the question of what type of sex it considers valid for ghost transmission. Just penetrative sex between a penis and a vagina? Can the ghost be caught in a condom? Is the ghost nullified by birth control? Does this entity only pass from cisgendered men to cisgendered women (and the other way around), and if so, is this actually a game about hetero blight? I want to see scenes of rampant sexual experimentation spanning the entries on urban dictionary while panicked ghostees try to figure out whether or not they’ve got the ghost.

2. I love that folks jump in line to take the ghost away from Jay. The first person, douchey Greg, takes a risk because he wants to fuck Jay, and he doesn’t believe the threat. The second person, sweet Paul, takes a risk because he wants to fuck Jay and he loooves her. And his love is so good, and so pure, that he heads right out to pass the ghost on to a sex worker. I want to see scenes about who we value in our sexual relationships, who we don’t, when we deem someone “worth the risk,” and all the collateral damage that ensues.

3. Finally, It Follows may be the only movie I’ve ever seen that has friends almost openly and honestly talking about sexually transmitted disease. It’s one thing that the movie can’t really explore in-depth, because everyone’s too busy running for their lives, but we could perhaps slow it down and leave time for it in this in a game. A scene with a group of teenagers blamelessly supporting a friend through the uncertainty of a life-changing health crisis.

What’s Next?

By premise alone, It Follows walks a razor-thin line between drama and parody. When I think about creating a game inspired by the film, there’s a risk of slipping too far into gonzo territory, which would be both dismissive and dangerous.

The film addresses some intense themes: voyeurism, stalking, abandonment, nonconsent, treatment of sex workers, disease. I want to explore the absurdist elements of the plot, but a game that makes a complete joke out of these themes would be a disaster.

We deal with this often in games that talk about things like racism, sexism, or body-shaming, and the line can be blurry. Games like this require a great deal of nuance and self-awareness on the part of the creator, and if that isn’t hard enough, they require players who are able to recognize that nuance and step up to the task of treating the themes with respect while also recognizing the humor.

If you’re interested in that challenge, my mind goes to a few other films that walk the line between the comical, the devastating, and the grotesque: Happiness, American Beauty, maybe Heathers? Unlike those three films, I’d say It Follows plays it pretty straight. While there are funny moments, it’s not a dark comedy—it’s just dark. But there’s so much to explore in the concept of a demonic STD, and some of those things are quite funny. I hope to someday take that on in a game I create.