Saturday, October 28, 2006

Alternate reality basements

Last month, I visited my parents' home in New Jersey. It's actually our childhood home, where my twin sister and I grew up from age 8 to 18. (A small Flickr set of the best affordances of that house, including the rusty hooks in what we called "dead man's alley", is here.)

I was really stunned and amazed and happy when I went to do yoga in the basement to find remnants of the first game i ever designed, 21 years ago at age 8, on the tiled floor.

The basement tile in our house was (and still is) amazing, made up of giant squares in a dozen vintage colors in odd patterns on the floor. Very quickly after moving in, my twin sister Kelly and I spotted the most playful affordance of these tiles and started designing life-size board games for the basement. (This was the summer after third grade).

Each giant block, made of up four tiles, represented one square, of course. Our first, and to this day my favorite, monumental work in this genre of basement gaming was called PROM DATE. You had to get a date and stuff before landing on the final square marked PROM.

My sister and I tried to make the games as unobtrusive as possible (so that our parents wouldn't yell at us and make us stop.) So to mark out all of the spaces, we used transparent scotch tape to show borders of squares and to label the spaces. (Strips of tape could be used to form transparent letters on top of the tiles.)

The effect was that it looked like an ordinary basement floor until you looked closer and from the right angle. Then, you suddenly would realize that there was all of this secret marking that told you how to play a game.

Although we would peel up the tape after a game was played out, in order to get ready to lay down the new one, sometimes the stickiness stayed behind and collected dirt and grime over the years. In front of my feet here in this picture taken in 2006 is four letter's worth of grime collected since 1985 on what used to be the final space of "PROM DATE". The letters, of course, spelled PROM.(Click on the photo to see my flickr annotations of which grime meant what originally!) I was so so happy and amazed to find these traces of the game still present. I can hardly imagine a more moving artifact from my childhood.

So I guess that two decades ago at the age of 8 I was designing "transparent" and "ubiquitous" games already. That makes me happy. Don't be looking for the alternate reality game "prom date" any time soon though. ;)