Let me just start out saying that this is not a complaint about Jane McGonical & Ian Bogost’s Cruel 2B Kind. It’s a great game, it just didn’t work out for me.
II. How It Went Down
I had set up the game as described here. I had emailed all of my participants (20 in total). I had everyone’s phone number in a spreadsheet, and that spreadsheet in my phone. I showed up on site, and texted all of my teams that the game would begin in 10 minutes.
Here’s the thing about Cruel 2B Kind: There is no opening event where all the players gather for rules and instruction. The game relies on players not recognizing each other, so keeping the teams separate until the game begins is paramount. I didn’t have the person-power to assign each team a handler, so I just took a position in the center of the park where we were playing and told teams to contact me if they had questions.
Everyone got to their launch points (I assumed) and started the game (I thought). Thirty minutes in, having seen zero kills and only one group that I suspected was playing, I starting texting my teams asking where they were and how the game was going. I got responses: “Someone was sick, so our team is not coming.” “Oh, sorry, we didn’t come out today.”
Three of my five teams had failed to show. I called the other two teams in, and faced up: The game wouldn’t run.
I knew that this was a possibility when I set out to run this game. The dilemma of anyone who runs free public events is how to get an accurate headcount; just because someone signs up on Facebook does not mean that she is coming out on the day of. She might get sick. She might find something better to do.
III. Lessons Learned
I don’t think there’s a game-design lesson here. Cruel 2B Kind works great. It relies on people showing up, but so does every game. There were, however, some lessons about event hosting generally.
Firstly, people need to have skin in the game. I didn’t learn this from this event; I learned it from running other events with Chicago’s own Waxwing Puzzle Company. This event just confirmed it. Our paid games are always better attended than our free games. This perplexed me, until I thought about it: With no money down, a potential player has nothing to lose in skipping out on an event. Once the potential player has paid, no matter how small the sum, he is taking a loss by skipping out. Sure, some people may apply the logic of sunk costs and decide not to come despite this financial loss, but for most people, the fear of loss keeps them on the roster. Thus, for future Cruel 2B Kind iterations, I’ll charge a fee (and donate the proceeds to charity, per McGonical & Bogost’s directive).
The second lesson is more obvious: Be prepared for failure. As soon as I realized that teams were bailing out, I knew we couldn’t play Cruel 2B Kind. Initially, I planned to send everyone home as angry and disappointed as I was. But then I remembered the rules to another game that I’d been tossing around that needed playtesting, and would work in the park.
The eight remaining players joined me in testing a sort of live-action checkers that, with their input, morphed into a sort of live-action billiards, and had a great time doing it.
Thanks to Jane McGonigal (@avantgame) and Ian Bogost (@ibogost) for making Cruel 2B Kind, and using their twitter clout to help me promote the iteration that I (almost) ran.