International Games Week October 29 – November 4

Game Profile (and update): Global Gossip Game

Posted on October 27, 2014

Hi everyone! I was going to write this as two separate posts - a game profile piece and a GGG update.

But then I thought about it a little more, and it occurred to me that it might actually be worth profiling the GGG itself... partly because a game profile of a game like Gossip seems so counterintuitive. I mean, what's to say? Games don't come much simpler - in fact it's so simple that some particularly doctrinaire folks refuse even to call it a game.[1]

And yet every year dozens of libraries (and a growing number of schools) and hundreds of people seek it out and enjoy it. So clearly something's up. What might that be?

Well, for starters, one of the reasons people refuse to call it a game is actually one of the most interesting things about it: unlike many games, where the pleasure comes from the exercise of skill, the entertainment of a game of Gossip derives entirely from failure. A game where the phrase survived intact from one end of a room to the other would be... well, flabbergasting, actually, and interesting as a curiosity, but also kind of boring in and of itself.

(On the other hand it would be interesting to see what kind of Secret Phrase could maintain that kind of longevity. It's certainly true that some things last better than others - and not solely on grounds of phonetic clarity. But I digress...)

Another (and related) reason that it's interesting is that there's no team and no victory: even traditional co-op games which do away with inter-player competition still set the players up as a team competing against the system of the game itself. Gossip, though, just has players and an outcome.

But I think that the reason it's such a tenacious meme is that it's iconic in the way it lays bare the fallibility of our communication and comprehension. Like a good short poem, it distils some central part of the human experience down to its essential nature - in this case, the way in which, even with the best intentions, we get our facts wrong. And it's inescapable that we are complicit in this - because that's the whole game!

And the fact that not everyone in a game of Gossip necessarily plays with the purest intentions, that some people intentionally change the phrase... well, that's not exactly unlike life either!

And that leads to all sorts of interesting conversations about information and language and culture and technology - about how they connect us, but how they can also misinform us. Several libraries (notably, often those with younger players) have reported that they have capitalised on the game in precisely this way, using the game as a prompt for talking about the important work that libraries do in not only gathering the words of the rest of the world but in curating them. But in an age where people talk with a straight face about libraries being superseded by Google, these are a pair of points that can be fruitfully teased out with old players as well.

Plus, of course, there are the epistemological questions that the game implicitly asks - it's pretty challenging to the notion of "received wisdom" when you look at it!

All this from just one simple game - and I'm only scratching the surface, in the interests of brevity... You can argue that I'm overthinking it, but as with literature, it's all there if you choose to see it - and it raises some very interesting and even profound topics.

Anyway! Time for the

Global Gossip Game Update

In short: I'm working on it. I'm just nailing down the last few timeslots, and then I'm hoping to have the instruction sheets and contact information out to everyone by the end of the week. Be warned, though - I'm presenting a panel at PAX Australia on Friday and then attending the rest of the weekend, so it might be early next week! If you want to see a preview of the rules for the day, you can do so here.

(The timeslots that are left are largely suited to Eastern Europe, Asia, Western Australia, and East Africa, if anyone in those areas missed out. And there's a little room at the end for Alaska/Hawaii etc. Anyone else... sorry! Next year... which looks like being awesome by the way...)

Till next time!

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