Friday, July 18, 2008

How I Spend My Free Time

People who know me know at least two things about me:

1) I like to drink.

2) I have a bizarre obsession with coming up with games that have strangely intricate and unnecessarily complicated rules. I'm sure that my parents remember coming into my room to call me down for dinner only to find me kneeling in the middle of my floor, surrounded by pages and pages of un-lined computer paper, each page filled from top to bottom with (to what them must have seemed like) random words and numbers usually scribbled in #2 pencil.

"Watcha doing, Joel?"
"Umm.... nothing. I'll be down in a minute."

It wasn't that I didn't want to tell anyone what I was doing, it was just that it would take so long to explain that I had "invented" a new sport called Deathball that was roughly a combination of rugby and polo if polo were played on various carnivorous mammals instead of horses and that, after a grueling overtime victory against Kenya, French Guyana had an outside chance at winning their group and advancing to elimination play if only Ukraine can score an upset win over powerhouse Mongolia. (They were the first to play the game back in 1258 after the sack of Baghdad.) See? I bet that even you at this point are inclined to say, "Uh-huh. That's great, Joel. I have to go put on the water for the pasta, now. You have fun."

This habit of mine has gone through various permutations over the years, but it has never really gone away. Partially, it is a substitution for video games, as the last system that I actually bought was a Sega Saturn, and that I haven't actually been able to use a controller since Sega Genesis. (Who needs all those buttons, anyways? Does XBox really have to have an L1 and an L2?) But it is also a way for me to channel my particular brand of OCD and other neurotic tendencies. Yeah, I could stay up all night worrying about the effects of Global Warming. Or I could stay up all night deciding whether or not Rousseau can hang on to defeat Descartes in Ultimate Philosopher Championship in order to win the French Division and advance to meet either Locke or Hume in the prestigious Elizabeth's Cup. You tell me which is better for my mental health and longevity.

Occasionally, others have gotten involved with these games, or at least been made aware of them. For example, in college there was the iTunes Game. The rules were simple: I would put my iTunes on random shuffle, and each time a song got played, it got 2 points. If I skipped a song, it would lose a point. And if I absolutely had to listen to a song at that moment and broke the randomization in order to play it, it got 3 points. I would keep track of the scores on a spreadsheet and at the end of six weeks, the top 24 songs would compete against each other in a single elimination tournament. Simple, right? Well, as it turned out, a little too simple. Eventually, my friends started to figure this out and started to mess with my rankings! (And hence, my ability to sleep at night.) I would go to the bathroom and come back to discover that Heavy Metal James had played "Kill You Tonight" by Type 0 Negative, like, five times. Or that 'Viva had gone through the shuffle mix and removed all of the Modest Mouse songs because she was rooting for Daft Punk's "Around the World" to make the Final 24. After that, I decided to make my private games much more convoluted, esoteric, and arbitrary in order to make it that much harder for other people to understand them, and, therefore, mess with them.

I tell you all these things because sometimes the internets provide me with new opportunities to invent games, opportunities that I never would have come up with on my own. On USAToday.com they have the "Presidential Election Electoral Vote Tracker" that "gives you historical election data and lets you look at possible outcomes for the 2008 election. Create various scenarios, save your choices and send them to a friend." Basically, it's a map of the United States with each state designated with the number of electoral votes it gets this Fall. You (!) get to color in each state according to who you think will carry it in November, thus have power to create a near infinite number of different electoral outcomes. (I've found 2 so far that result in perfect 269-269 ties.)

Of course, I've taken this several steps further and created numerous other games with this map. How about some Electoral Tic-Tac-Toe? Or how about trying to see if you can get Obama to win without having any of his states actually touch each other? (I can get him to tie, but not to win.) I've also played a little bit of Electoral College Risk, where every large state gets to "invade" the smaller, weaker states around it. Hell, why not try recreating the Civil War. Could the South win today with all the huge electoral power of retired Jews and Cubans in Florida? Try it out for yourself and see! The possibilities are endless!

What's my point, you ask? Well, none, really. Except that this game is awesome. Oh, and this fact: If Obama can carry every state that has voted Democratic since 1992 plus one big one or two or three smaller ones, he will win the Presidency. That may be a rather big "if" in that sentence, but at this point it is looking good. According to electoral-vote.com as of today, Obama has 312 votes to McCain's 199. Sure, the election is a long ways off, but you should play that vote tracker game for yourself. (The actual one, not the one's that I made up. Unless you want to.) I think you will find it really hard to come up with a realistic way for McCain to win a victory. (Short of the expert opinion of Obama being suddenly eaten by giant pill bugs.)

And while you're doing that, I'll be busy trying to find a way to pitch the video game version of "Ultimate Philosopher Championship" to Sony for exclusive use on the PlayStation 3.

1 comment:

jim v said...

Deathball! I haven't thought about that in years. Since I only have a rudimentary understanding of the game, I am not sure I could truly be considered a "fan", but I did enjoy the occasional match from time to time. I add that to this list of complex rules I have learned including Warhammer, Warcraft and Grand Canyon Sand Moncola.

Great idea for game play on the electorial map. But why stop there? To make it really interestisting let's pull out the globe. I am sure we can decide how electorial votes every country every country should get. We will have to limit China to a couple hundred, and Vactican City will only be allowed one (but we will allow the Pope to decide that - enev if that does blur the church and state question). Heck, why stop at the globe? I bet someone has some old Starfleet Maps around. We'll even include the Galactic Alliance from Star Wars. Can you imagine a truly Universal Election? I would like to believe that Obama would easily win on a stage that big, but we can't underestimate the power of the Darth Vader / Cheney contingent. Most likely the whole thing will come down to a winner take all, one on one, McCain vs. Obama battle of Ultimate Philosopher Championship. But to be done right, it needs to be on the Wii, because Playststion 3 is not kewl enough.