Category: Games and Art


Play the Food Guessing Game first and then return to this post to read about it.  I look forward to your comments!

For this assignment, our instructors asked us to pick a topic we are passionate about and make a statement about it through a playable game or a self-explanatory art piece with game mechanics.  They also wanted us to make it in a medium that we’re comfortable with, to give them a sense of how we prefer to express ourselves.  The topic and medium came to mind right away: food and video.

People tend not to think too much about what they eat and why.  For me, thinking about the what and why of food, along with the short-term and long-term consequences, is a daily habit.  In a nutshell, I’m pretty dedicated to an organic, mostly vegan diet for a range of reasons that I won’t get into right now.  I originally wanted to make a game that encouraged people to eat healthier but I couldn’t come up with a way to do it that didn’t seem didactic.  So I decided to interview random strangers about their favorite food and make a game out of it.

I enjoy meeting people through video, getting them to talk about something they love – seeing their eyes light up, observing the transformation in their mood as fun memories surface in their mind, and leaving them in a happy state of being. I originally wanted people to describe food in an abstract or poetic way so that I could have the player guess between a food and something else, like an item of clothing, a place, etc.  But if food is described too abstractly (as in the beginning of the cheesecake example), then the player has no idea what the person is talking about.  I think the videos that I included in this piece strike a pretty good balance between making the player think and eventually giving them enough clues so they can guess the correct food.  (Note: I shot this pretty informally on a windy day, so it’s not quite up to my usual quality standards.)

The first version of the game showed the player the first part of the video and then displayed a message asking whether they wanted to guess or hear more of the video.  The player had to guess by typing in the name of the food, which would then prompt a display with the answer and give them a point if they got it right.  They would have to do that with each of the four videos.  I game-tested this with a couple people, who found it too hard to guess exactly what the food was or spell it properly (for instance, enchilada).  It also took longer to play than I had wanted because of the sequential nature of the video playing, and the experience of playing it in this way didn’t highlight all the things that I wanted the player to experience.  Plus this first version was built in Processing, which does a bad job of playing videos.

This version of the game is built in Flash, because Flash does a much better job of handling video clips and I wanted to learn Flash and ActionScript.  Craig Kapp, an ActionScript expert and collaborator on another project, taught me how to program this, and I’m proud to say that I figured out how to make the final confirmation screen on my own.  The game begins by asking the player to pick and drag their food choices for each person.  Game tester Sebastian is the one who had suggested this initial step when I explained that I wanted to play on people’s natural tendencies to stereotype others or size them up at first glance. I also thought it would be a quick and fun entrée to the game to have people think about what these four people love to eat based on just an image.  I noticed that game players actually talked through their logic for choosing foods for people, in order to justify their initial choices.  Only after the player fills each person’s box with food are they allowed to watch each person’s video to hear the food descriptions.   This phase of the game tests the player’s listening skills, patience and memory, because half of the food choices are blocked, and also provides a way for the player to “get to know” the person who was interviewed.  The player then gets the opportunity to guess again by dragging food choices.  This cycle continues until the player gets all four choices correct, which prompts a confirmation screen along with the names of the foods to supplement the food images.  There is more I could do to refine the game but I’m pleasantly satisfied with where I got it to today, and am thrilled with the positive feedback that it got.

I really enjoyed making this game.  From the people I interviewed, I realized from chatting with them after I videotaped them, how much their favorite foods remind them of home and are tied to childhood memories, and it made me think of foods that I loved as a kid but rarely eat now. Even though I advocate for healthy eating, I think there’s room for indulgences in these favorite foods once in awhile, especially because of the memories and comforting feelings they carry with them, and spacing them out makes them more special anyway.

This week’s assignment was to choose a known game and change the rules such that it manipulates the behavior of the players. We were also supposed to document the reactions and refine our rules to produce multiple iterations. I decided to go with an experiment that I’ve been thinking about for awhile: taking the easy, well-known game of Tic Tac Toe and adding hugs and kisses to the game playing. I’m calling it XOTTT. I wanted to see how comfortable people are with hugging and kissing each other, and how it makes them feel to do this while playing an otherwise boring game that almost always results in a draw. I also want to encourage the idea of “give-and-take” to soften the adrenaline rush of competition and to promote a feeling of equilibrium and harmony.

About a year ago, I posed this question in a facebook status update: “in xoxo, which is the hug and which is the kiss?” The debate that ensued was amusing. While most people think the “x” is a kiss and the “o” is a hug, some insisted that it was the opposite. I won’t go into details, but I decided to go with the mainstream and map the “x” to the kiss and the “o” to the hug for my game (if I didn’t do this, then the players would likely debate it). I incorporated this mapping into the Tic-Tac-Toe game by requiring the player who blocks the other’s row to give a hug if they are “o” and a kiss on the cheek if they’re an “x.” I ended up adding one more rule when I observed players letting each other win in order to avoid having to hug, and especially kiss.

My first game-testers were Toby and Gaby. For the first game, I gave them my rules but told them that they could play either “x” or “o”. Toby chose the “x” and began the game. Gaby chose to let Toby win a row so she could avoid having to hug or kiss him. Toby did the same. When I asked them about their experience of the game, they felt there was confusion because there were too many possibilities and no particular consequences. So then I had them play the game with two tweaks: the choice of “x” and “o” needed to be random (and thus they didn’t have control of who was the hugger and who was the kisser) and they would have to stick to my original rules. Because the game naturally produces a draw with intelligent players, there was a nice balance that emerged of hugging and kissing after blocking the other, that was of course accompanied by some blushing and awkwardness. The game purpose shifted from not letting another person win to going with the rules and the flow and surrendering to this give and take of affectionate actions. They said they enjoyed this second iteration and that they got the purpose.

The second game-testers were Poram and Leo, both from China. For them, I kept the game rules the same as the second iteration and I observed even more awkwardness. In fact after the first hug exchange, they decided to let each other win their rows to avoid having to do it again. No kissing-on-the-cheek happened in this game. They explained to me that hugs and kisses are far from the norm in Chinese culture, and if I had asked them to play this last year, i.e. shortly after arriving in the US, they would’ve freaked out and said no. Leo said that this was the first time he’d hugged Poram, and they laughed. It would be interesting to test this with other nationalities, like Italians who generally seem to be very comfortable with hugging and kissing.

The first two sets of game-testers were male-female combinations, so now I wanted to find a male-male combination. I found Fred and Peter (one American, one European). After I told them the rules, they verbally strategized to avoid having to block and then hug/kiss. Unlike the others, they didn’t even play out more than one row, so it was a super-fast game. I wanted to avoid having players dodge the hug/kiss layer, so Peter suggested that I add one more rule: if a player dodges a block and lets the other player win, then that player (the loser) has to kiss the winner on the cheek. No escaping now!

I tried this last iteration out on Nien and David and they allowed me to record it via my laptop.  David blocked Nien twice and initiated hugs.  Nien didn’t want to have to block David and initiate a kiss, but when he let David win, I reminded him that he had to kiss David on the cheek anyway. Clearly they were uncomfortable, but I appreciate that they went along with it and had fun with it.

David & Nien playing XOTTT from Nisma Z on Vimeo.

I think this game could be utilized for a sociological study involving people of different ages, cultures, relationships, and so forth, or as an icebreaker in different group contexts.  My hope is that the game serves to enhance friendly, warm feelings between people, even if it means overcoming awkwardness.