The Movie Game

Daniel Solis has posed an interesting challenge. Design a game simple and compelling enough to survive a thousand years. The examples he gives are chess, tag, or card games. I think tag is probably a good example. Chess isn’t. Card games might qualify as a whole, but few card games have survived unaltered for even fifty years — if we’re going to allow a broad class like that we might allow “board games”. If I were going to try to pick a good example I’d start with Go.)

With an incredibly small number of exceptions (Go, and…) almost any game that’s been around for hundreds of years has evolved constantly over time — chess, tag, and card games all being great examples of this. Indeed, if you reduce chess to a level of abstraction more equal to ‘tag” and “card games” then it’s a “board game”.

In my opinion, the greatest innovation in games in recent times is the role-playing game. Clearly, role-playing games derive from childhood games of “let’s pretend” such as “Cowboys and Indians”, but the formalization of this idea (generally credited to Dave Arneson) has influenced almost all popular game design because it informs the design of almost any game.

(Back in college, I used to get into arguments with my friends in which I took the view that all games (at least those that weren’t completely abstract) were to some extent “role-playing games”, e.g. in Monopoly you’re “role-playing” a property tycoon, and that most games were more fun if explicitly viewed that way.)

The Movie Game (or The World-Playing Game)

So, with all this in mind, here’s my suggestion for a thousand year game, the Movie Game or, to be more explicit as to what I’m doing, the World-Playing Game. In a sense, it’s just a variation of the role-playing game and thus not new, but the idea is to turn the concept of a role-playing game inside out.

You take any number of players, but two or more are probably best. (In order for a game to be a thousand year game, I think it should work well for two players and preferably any number — Chess and Go work for two, Cards works for any number including one, and Tag tends to work well for three or more. Role-playing games themselves tend to work poorly for fewer than three players.)

You devise a character or group of characters and describe them in as much or as little detail as you like (using rules of some kind or not). Similarly you devise a world and a situation for them to deal with.

This is highly analogous to the requirements for a role-playing game however, unlike a role-playing game, it is much more amenable to working with shorthand — e.g. if you and your friends had all just seen a movie, or knew a movie well, you could take as your starting point the characters and conditions and the beginning of the movie, at the end, or at any time during. Hence the title “the movie game”.

The Movie Game can start as simply as “It’s the end of Pride and Prejudice. Go.”

One player takes the part of the protagonist(s) and the other players take the part of the world and any other notable characters. You progress the story just as in a role-playing game (world players describe the situation, character player describes what the character(s) do). At any time by general agreement control of character(s) can rotate to another player. (If you wish to formally resolve the outcomes of events, any acceptable set of role-playing game rules can be used.)

Play ends whenever (e.g. when the pub closes). The overall conditions can be reset or altered by general agreement.

Just as with role-playing games, I posit this as a game that has informally existed all these many years. It is a somewhat formalized version of the kind of conversation a group of people will tend to have in a bar or coffee house after seeing a movie together. It can also be thought of as a gentler way of introducing the concept of formalized role-playing games to new players.

That’s it.

Note: I suggest that this game can even make watching The Phantom Menace enjoyable.