Last month, the Museum Of The Moving Image in Queens was briefly taken over by IndieCade East, one of the premiere festivals for independent games, both video and otherwise. Saturday night, at the midpoint of the festival, IndieCade East rolled down its sleeves, cracked open a few beers, and let loose with a night of unapologetically weird and out-there games.
The night was programmed to be a mix of live-action games and local multiplayer video games, but I gravitated toward the live-action experiences, since I knew I was unlikely to get them anywhere else. Acting as the emcee for the night, the event’s organizer, Greg Trefry, introduced the crowd to a series of bizarre games that had me breaking uncooked noodles, gambling away huge amounts of fake money, and ultimately being bested by a looming figure who was more Google Glass than man. Here are the highlights of what I found and a few suggestions for those who’d like to try it at home.
Art Boy Sin
Makeshift poems papered the museum’s walls that night, courtesy of those playing Art Boy Sin, a self-described mashup of street art and kitchen magnets with words on them. Using computer paper (each sheet featuring a letter or a punctuation mark) and tape in lieu of magnets, the player-poets create unexpected works in the same way they would piece together a magnetized sentence while killing time in the kitchen before dinner. The novelty of Art Boy Sin comes in when you hunt down the photographer, who has to snap a Polaroid of your masterpiece to preserve it before other poets repurpose its letters for their own work. Photos of finished poems get tacked on a scoreboard, which passersby anoint with hearts, just like on Instagram. And much like my own experience with Instagram, my poem of “I FLEX, SUN” went unnoticed by the masses—plus, I couldn’t get ahold of the photographer before my work of art was reduced to “I FLE, SU.” Either way, I doubt I could have bested this future laureate’s lauded interpretation of QWOP:
Play it with: Kitchen poets seeking mainstream recognition.
Brendon Trombley has taken one essential ingredient of flag football—snatching a flag from your buddy’s waistline—and shaped it into Pickpocket, a sneaky game of subterfuge and yoinking. Every player is given a cloth flag to tuck into their pockets. Then, everyone is told to subtly steal as many flags as possible. To keep the affair from devolving into an all-out snatch-fest, the steal only counts if your target doesn’t take notice. Stalking after strangers to steal their unguarded flags is a thrill, but swatting away artless hands groping at your own flag is even better. This is largely because you get to wag your finger and say, “No, no, no!” when you catch someone in the act. At one point, late in the night, I had stolen two flags, which I thought was pretty good, until I spotted a guy wearing Google Glass with at least 40 flags lining his waist like a skirt. When I looked down, all my flags were gone.
Play it with: The reformed middle-school shoplifter.
In the middle of the main floor, there was a squared-off section reserved for the more physical games of the night. Trefry, the emcee, was on hand to explain and run the games throughout, but the space got off to a rough start with Bottleneck, a painful mess meant to simulate traffic congestion via actual social congestion. Once a large group is assembled, each player is given a card that lists an occupation, a type of car, and three esoteric skills, like being able to “synergize monetary earnings.” Players are told to form a group of four where everyone shares a skill, but no one has the same occupation or model of car. The idea of physically and emotionally recreating a traffic jam is interesting, but in practice, screaming “Can you synergize monetary earnings?!” to 15 people in a row is more stressful than fun.
Play it with: Coworkers who you’ve always wanted to yell at.
Tenya Wanya Teens
Hidden away in one corner of the floor, I found Tenya Wanya Teens, a tongue-in-cheek, fiercely competitive arcade game about the trials and tribulations of adolescence from the mind of Keita Takahashi, the creator of Katamari Damacy. The hardships in question include regularly taking a shower, solving math problems, farting on skunks, and so on. To play through puberty, players use a custom controller with 16 colored buttons; each color corresponds to a specific action. The game quickly adds new activities to the mix and makes you memorize which color does what, like Simon Says. To fully simulate the creeping anxiety that is early adulthood, the colors spontaneously reconfigure themselves on the controller. Towards the end it started to feel like I was staring at the ludicrous Steel Battalion controller, but instead of piloting a death robot, I was just trying to make a skunk smell my gas, because growing up is hard.
Play it with: Fearless pre-teens in need of a reality check.
Back at the main floor, I found a space cluttered with cardboard boxes stacked in deliberate towers. Despite an aversion to today’s undead-obsessed culture, I felt a sense of journalistic obligation to try out Zombie Ward. It’s a party game about surviving the zombie apocalypse in one isolated ward of a city. The game begins with a single zombie in a group of human survivors. The zombie gets to walk a few steps to infect a human, and then the humans get to take a few steps in the hope of escape. Hidden among the boxes are Nerf guns with which the humans can fight back. I was lucky enough to find a gun in the first round, but true to the apocalyptic vibe, the gun jammed, and I became zombie meat. There is no happy ending to this story, just more zombies and people pretending to be zombies.
Play it with: The Walking Dead superfan looking for something new.
Rock-paper-scissors lends itself surprisingly well to the seedy trappings of an underground brawling—especially when you add wagering and a rowdy crowd into the mix. Wrong Bet turns the timeless game into a raucous event that places more emphasis on its gambling spectators than the contestants who are facing off. The people dueling can’t see their game of rock-paper-scissors, and they must rely on the advice from a crowd of gamblers—who bet with pretend money—to make their next move. As a gambler, you can play it straight and shout out good advice to the pony you picked, but tricky players will shout misinformation at an opponent to trip them up. Despite my deep understanding of Wrong Bet’s psychology, I managed to part ways with my fake $6 as quickly as I lost my real $27 at a sad, dark casino down by JFK, which is to say I lost it immediately.
Play it with: Gambling addicts. This is their methadone.
The most fun I usually have with uncooked spaghetti is putting it in a pot of boiling water, waiting 10 minutes, and then eating it. So for me, Spaghetti Standoff was a revelation. In this game, players form a circle, and each person connects to the next by holding onto one end of a thin uncooked noodle. The goal is to break everyone’s spaghetti without using your hands or feet—and while keeping your own noodle unbroken. What ensues is a brilliant game of strategy and calculated movement. Play too cautiously, and an aggressive foe will strike you down, but move too fast or attack too zealously, and your spaghetti snaps of your own doing. After the game wrapped up, a Québécois developer put it best, and in the process spoke a beautiful universal truth: “Nobody breaks you. You break yourself.”
Play it with: The French-Canadian pasta philosopher of your choice.