A long time ago, I asked Andy Patton to talk to me about his game Speak Easy. Now that he’s hit his Kickstarter goal, (We backed him, and so should you!) I’d like to share some of the thoughts he had about the game.
Speakeasy is a Prohibition era role playing game that involves players dividing into two teams—the Mob and the Feds—and wheeling and dealing over the course of three hours to make sure their team comes out on top. To describe it to people I usually ask them if they’ve played Mafia, then say it is like that (minus the problems of Mafia) on steroids.
That was actually the genesis of the idea that grew into Speakeasy—I wanted to make a game that was based on the “each player becomes a secret character” motif of Mafia that fostered interaction between the players as well as putting them in situations where they have to make ethical decisions.
In the game each player is given a secret role with its own covert powers and objectives. They are also given secret passwords which players sprinkle into conversation to identify themselves to teammates and hide their identity from their enemies. Then the task is to figure out who is who, who you can trust, learn enemy passwords, and score points for your team by accomplishing your objectives.
When I tell people about Speakeasy (or, for that matter, any of Waxwing’s games) they are sometimes confused at first about what exactly it is we do. If I were to say “We are a video game design company” or “I make board games” people would instantly understand, but our games fall into the mysterious, nascent category of games known as “pervasive games”.
The term “pervasive” refers to the idea that when people play games they are entering a “magic circle” where the rules of the real world are suspended for a moment and the game rules hold sway. Twister is a perfect example of this. In normal life you would never strain to place your right foot on that red circle which happens to be so close to your friend’s head (or a stranger’s!), but within the magic circle of the game of Twister, that is not a strange or offensive behavior. Pervasive games are games that expand the magic circle, whether socially, temporally, or spatially. Instead of the magic circle extending to the edge of the Twister mat or the Monopoly board, now the game “pervades” the real world.
This is exactly the characteristic that makes me love pervasive games. Suddenly the game can happen anywhere, anyone can be playing, and the game can last for hours, days, weeks, or forever.
Pervasive games like Speakeasy are games where truly anything can happen because there are no game pieces, just people, who are themselves living in the midst of a story and have their own personalities, ideas, and preferences. For example, in Speakeasy some people like to inhabit their role completely and become their character for the space of a few hours. Others, however, keep the edifice of the game more visible, stepping in and out of character as suits their personality or strategy.