Earlier this year I attended my first experimental game design convention Now Play This. I was in the middle of the Practice as Research module on my degree; exploring how circus can be integrated with and inspired by pre-existing games. I’d made a board game for training my five ball juggling, a blindfolded circus obstacle course, and a very confusing circus Tetris (inspired by the recent realisation that, while sucking at every other video game invented, turns out I'm a Tetris 99 Badass).
Anyway, I turned up on a rainy grey Sunday afternoon ready to be inspired. I immediately felt like a child in a sweet shop. So many bright colourful things and I WANT TO TRY THEM ALL! But there was one exhibit that really caught my attention. And this exhibit wasn’t a game in the traditional sense… maybe you'd call it an interactive installation? It was titled ‘House Rules’.
Annoyingly I didn’t take a photo of the exhibit as a whole, but imagine a wall, with lots of mini pegs on attached to about 100 cards. I read every single one. And not just the ones on display, I found all the other stacks of cards hidden behind the display and sat myself in the corner for about an hour leafing through them. I couldn’t stop smiling. Here are some of my favourites:
Now you should know that I HATE reading rules. I adore tabletop games and the social connection they can facilitate, but I despise having to teach myself how to play a game from a rulebook. I want a real person talk to me and teach me what’s going on. Very conveniently my partner loves devouring a rulebook, and I live in a city with the most incredible board game cafe Chance and Counters. The lovely staff here will teach you how to play whatever you want.
The point I’m trying to get to is… when I’m playing a game and midway through I’m unsure on a rule, 90% of the time I would rather just make it up, guess or chose the option that sounds the most fun. I never want to get out the rulebook and check.
But the creations on these cards weren’t made out of laziness, they were conscious decisions to go off book. Reading all these cards really blew my mind in terms of the possibilities when you intentionally change the rules; when you play at playing the game. If you’ve seen HulaBalloo, you’ve seen in action how much this installation has inspired me.
I also thoroughly enjoyed how these contributions had a different take on it:
I felt strangely connected to all these strangers who’d filled out cards, but couldn’t stop thinking to myself: Why don’t I do this more?
As someone who was very much a teachers pet growing up, alongside having a crippling fear of conflict; challenging boundaries, rules and expectations as an adult is something I struggle with. But viewing situations from a play mindset somehow makes everything seem less stressful. So, if you’ve got this far on my post, this is an invitation for you to try changing the rules. Think play, and go make mischief. The world will be better for it.