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J Li
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It just occurred to me yesterday:

Night Forest as a pre-larp workshop! Like, have your characters going around being nostalgic and reflective, I think it could be a fantastic way of making subconsciously compelling nuanced background memory content. Especially if you blur the line between is the character sharing a real or fictional memory.

On Game Contest Theme Design

I was looking at the topics for Game Chef this year. Each time, to explain them, Game Chef uses a paragraph about the ingredients for the 2004 contest, which we all agree was a seminal year that led to a bunch of fantastic and well-loved games.

For example, the 2004 ingredients were ice, island, dawn, assault, which ended up inspiring games like The Mountain Witch (climbing icy Mount Fuji to assault the witch’s fortress), The Dance and the Dawn (try to find your true love at an island social gathering, hoping that — when dawn breaks — you don’t end up with the one that has a heart of ice), and Polaris (arctic elves struggle against themselves and a demonic assault, with the dawn finally coming for the first time in hundreds of years).

Thinking about that list, we see the way in which those games are both rich and very different from one another.


I was struck by the question, what do contest ingredients DO? Ie, how do they behave as a design mechanic relative to creativity?

For example, if we look at ice/island/dawn/assault, something stands out: there is a location-type, a time, an action, and an atmospheric noun. If I take any 3 of these, it already starts to tell a story on its own.

But not all ingredients behave the same way.

This year it's yarn/echo/smoke/cut.

This is a set with very different behaviors. Let's talk about the affordances:
- There are 2 atmospheric nouns (echo & smoke)
- There's a concrete noun (yarn) that can have multiple meanings, one of which is a physical object and one of which is more abstract
- There are 2-3 verbs (cut, echo, maybe smoke).
- 3 of the items (yarn / echo / cut) can refer to either content or mechanics. (Or, I dunno, pot is legal now so smoke can be a mechanic too...)

All told, this is a set that is set up to offer a very wide range of options while still employing those 4 ingredients. This is a great feature to have for a contest with massive participation.


I've been thinking a lot about the design of game contests because of Golden Cobra. One of the things I've been pushing for within the organizing team is for us to answer the question of, "What do we want this contest to do?"

Do we want to encourage a maximum number of designers?
Do we want to empower new and/or underrepresented designers?
Do we want to encourage high quality designs?
Do we want to encourage boundary-pushing, cutting-edge designs and/or find solutions to key design challenges?
Do we want to increase the total volume of interesting games?
Do we want to grow the audience of games?

In practice, each of these goals requires very different optimizations. For example, we had an interesting discussion this year about whether to ask designers to do a playtest (and submit notes): Would the benefit to design quality and education outweigh the increased barrier to entry for new / geographically isolated designers?


One thing that I do believe is that design is technology. Specifically, the design of anything, be it a game or the game contest itself, should create a fundamental structural efficiency toward generating a desired output.

Let me demonstrate what I mean:

The core, simplest structure of a game contest-- "Hey everyone, submit to a contest, we publish some winners"-- is optimized to create more total games. The core technology is the very simple one of offering challenge and publicity to incentivize people to do the thing.

The 2004 ice/island/dawn/assault (atmosphere/location/time/verb) ingredients were optmized to inspire content. People could look at it and go, "Oh hey, ice-dawn-assault, I can already think of 3 games there!"

The 2017 yarn/echo/smoke/cut ingredients are optimized to generate a diverse range. You have to think a lot harder-- you can't just pick yarn-echo-smoke and immediately know what's going on, it'll take some time. But, on the other hand, the games that do come out are likely to be incredibly unlike one another. It handles a higher volume of submission.

In Golden Cobra, we've loved adding a format constraint-- under 2 hours, in public, within 2 pages, etc-- in order to increase audience accessibility and also push the boundaries of how games are used.


As game designers, we're some of the best people in the world at designing these structural components (mechanics) for encouraging specific types of creative output.

I would love to see us increasingly employ that level of sophistication in the design of game contests.

I believe that we can come up with some of the most beautifully-crafted, nuanced, rich, and effective design contests of any industry in the world.

I believe that we absolutely can fulfill multiple mission statements at once-- maybe not half a dozen, but definitely 2-4.

I believe that we can be more proactive than any other industry at directly turning status and influence into furthering these clearly stated missions (and we may already be).

We'll be like, this is the contest that's great for new designers. This is the one that that always puts out thought-provoking new mechanics. This is the one that helps me make great games. This is the one that makes me feel like a designer-citizen in society.

So that's cool :-)

(reshares welcome)

If you guys haven't been following the Binary Capital story, and are in the mood for some uplifting news:

3-7 women (depending on how you count) completely took down an entire VC firm by coming forward about being sexually harassed by one of the partners while they were trying to raise money.

This is actually one of the most complete victories for women in a case of sexual harassment that I can think of. This firm literally went from being very influential to essentially out of business* within a week. At this point, everyone is rushing to distance themselves from them.

At present, the story is all over the startup world, but I haven't seen it a lot in other outlets, so sharing it here. I've included a list of articles at the bottom chronicling the chain of events, so feel free to skip directly to them.

*it's complicated and this process will actually take years to wind down, see section on How VCs Work below.

Summary of Events

Last week, an obscure publication featured a story about VC Justin Caldbeck routinely harassing female founders who were pitching him. The story got spread, Caldbeck and Binary Capital issued defensive statements.

Then Sarah Lacy, who is probably the most heavy-hitting female reporter in tech, wrote a bunch of followup stories about the situation and problems with Binary Capital's other partner.

This all took place just over the past week, right as BC was trying to finalize their second fund of investment capital. They had already closed (but not finalized) their second fund of $175M from investors when all this went down.

Suddenly, there was a massive amount of pressure and Caldbeck / Binary switched to mediocre apology mode. The new fund that was all-but-signed fell apart.

At this point, one partner has resigned and the other (Jonathan Teo) has offered their resignation, and there will be no new fund. Teo may be taken off of even managing the old fund, and once that fund is complete, Binary Capital is done.

Here's the chain of events:

The original story:
Lacy picks it up:
Caldbeck resigns:
LPs shut down the second fund:
Lacy exposes abuses by Teo:
Teo resigns / Binary Capital is dead in water: same as above
A former employee sues for harassment:

2 other relevant but less critical articles:
BC's poor reaction:
People denouncing Caldbeck:

This followup article actually contains the quote, "Those women... risk[ed] that their accusations would not be taken seriously. They were." It also talks about how there is now pressure on Caldbeck's former firm for not disclosing his behavior.

Quick Guide on How VCs Work
This is useful context for the articles, feel free to ignore it if you're already familiar.

In a VC, a bunch of Limited Partners (LPs) invest their money with the firm which is managed by General Partners (GPs or more commonly just Partners). Every few years, a firm raises a new pool of money to invest, aka "fund", from new (or repeat) LPs. Then it spends the next few years investing it, aka "managing the fund". Once the money runs out, it raises a new one.

Like any investment firm, the VC is accountable to the LPs whose money they are using. The more successful investments are, the more LPs want to invest in the new fund, and the bigger each subsequent fund is. Individual partners make a base salary from the firm, which takes a management fee from the fund, and then also earn percentages of what the investments make.

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This is fantastic!

Reshare from +Josh T Jordan:

This is a fun game design exercise. Go to the site ( and generate six verbs. Imagine that those six things are the only things you can "do" in a game. What kind of game does this set of actions make? What kind of story could you tell, if those are the six things the main characters do over and over again?



I feel like this is a very slow, artistic game about loading and unloading boats. 

Another Random Story

When I was in college, my then-SO's mother died of a drug interaction. I had spent plenty of time with their family and knew her pretty well.

I woke up that morning on the other side of the country having just had a weirdly visceral dream that she was stuck in her room, dangerously ill, unable to come out, and that there was something her doctor was doing to her to betray her and the family. In the dream I wanted to warn them but didn't have proof.

It wasn't the first visceral-like-that dream I had where the feeling lingered with me throughout the day, but it was the first one where the feeling was an sense of proactive worry instead of something more like passive nostalgia.

I almost picked up the phone when I got up to call their family to ask, "Hey, this is really silly, but I had a bad dream that C--- was sick and I just wanted to make sure she's okay." But I didn't, because casual phone calls were not my thing, and it was just too weird to do.

Instead, not long after, I got a call from their family saying that they were urgently trying to reach my SO (whose phone was off). Then we found out what happened and immediately flew back for the funeral. There, we learned that she'd taken some pills for a morning nap, and when she didn't get up they had to break down her bedroom door to reach her. (Then, months later, they determined it was a drug interaction.)

Of course, at that point I just tried my best to support my SO and didn't mention anything about any dream because it would be incredibly tacky. I assumed it was a coincidence. I also discreetly checked the timing and found that even if I had called as soon as I woke up and caused someone to check on her, it would still have been too late.

But, today, I was at a workshop/networking event, and sat down talking with a guy who works with healthcare companies on using design & process improvement to reduce fatalities from drug interactions. So, it reminded me about this event.

Looking back on it, I realized that apparently, since it happened, whenever I have a strong feeling or worry about something, now I always immediately ask about it, no matter how stupid it makes me look.

Sometimes it helps, sometimes it's nothing. But, that's why I do it.

People of at least one underrepresented identity: What are some ways that you wish the world would adapt to you instead of the other way around?

I'm especially curious about answers that go beyond "I'm accepted / allowed to exist" to "What if I was the unmarked category and everything else moved around me?" Imagine you could have anything, no matter how comprehensive, atypical, or fantastic.

(Eg, "nobody uses verbal communication" or "Emotional support is a high-paying career".)

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I'm sharing this job listing because it's one of the most insanely cool full-time jobs ever to be offered.

Basically, you are leading a within-city team that builds partnerships that allow young people to pursue dreams & impact through real projects. As a part of an education nonprofit. It's one part management, one part mentorship/coaching, one part partnership design, and some other stuff.

If you want to apply and are serious, ping me for a (weak/medium-strength) referral in.

Reshares welcome.

Hey, I'm looking for a copy of The Beekeeper (the 2 person romantic freeform larp from Game Chef 2014) for +Kathleen Leeds De Smet. I swear I own it, but can't seem to find the file or a place to download anywhere. Does anybody know where to find it?


I had this dream where +Kathryn Hymes designed a creepy, emotional freeform game with the really simple rules:

If you cry, you go blind
If someone kisses you, you lose a piece of flesh
If you shout, (something else I don't remember)
If you're afraid of it, it's true

It was set in a forest summer camp, and the mechanics involved peeled grapes and raw meat.

As we were playtesting it, at the beginning +Jason Morningstar asked her what the game was about, and (even more creepily) she looked around at all of us and said, "Vegetarianism!"

(This is the first time I've dreamed about someone else writing a game that comes out semi-coherent when I wake up.)

More Fires of Emsi--

I made up 3 fictional languages that names can sound like. And for some reason male/female/other versions of each name is different, causing havoc with characters referencing each other on char sheets. Why did I do this?? They're fictional anyway, why can't they all be gender-neutral??
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