On Saturday, Dec. 2 about 75 people, including me, gathered at the NDSU Memorial Union for a “megagame,” which is exactly what it sounds like in terms of scale and scope. It’s a big, big game.
We played a game called “Watch the Skies,” in which different world powers grapple with the new reality of alien contact with Earth. (You can find a few videos on YouTube of people playing this; they’re worth checking out.)
Players were divvied up into teams and had different roles. There were UN ambassadors, heads of state, scientists, defense leaders, etc. There were also three media organizations, and each was a team of two people.
I was part of the control team, meaning I was part of the group of people running the game. I was the Media Control, and my job was to judge the media’s impact on world order and work with those teams. (I also took the opportunity to cosplay in the style of J. Jonah Jameson, the editor of the Daily Bugle in Spiderman. It was a hoot.)
The game was played over a series of rounds, each about a half hour. Each round, world leaders set budgets and issued orders, military officials moved units, scientists researched tech, and UN ambassadors conducted diplomacy. Meanwhile, the media monitored them and the aliens sat in a completely different room, attempting to complete their own objectives.
It was a sustained flurry of activity. People were constantly on the move, talking with each other (or whispering rumors), bugging each other, flinging taunts at each other in person or through the press, or quietly negotiating in corners. A lot of hastily scrawled note cards got passed around, and photos of tech advance got texted around. There’s no one person there who could have fully grasped every element of what was going on, but every person made choices and acted on them in a way that definitely affected what was going on.
The time just flew by. We started at about 10:30 in the morning and some four hours later I noticed the time and thought, “holy crap, if feels like we just started.”
Our media groups were awesome. Jed, the guy who organized this whole thing, built a web app that allowed the media teams to send alerts to screens in each room. Just like with Twitter and cable TV, they were driving narratives in real time that affected everyone’s behavior and choices. It was extremely cool … and eerily in-the-moment.
One of the media groups, Hypnowars, was based in Russia and was recognized as the “tin-foil hat” website. That team wrote these amazing, aggressive headlines (a la Breitbart) that turned heads and generated a lot of laughs … but also nailed late-game coverage. Another group, NNN, was based in the U.S. and reported on on the world’s military actions and motives. Their headlines had more gravitas, a la the New York Times, and they broke several big stories.
As a person who reads hundreds of headlines a day and whose job includes no small amount of headline writing, this was an incredible experience. It was a frightfully accurate microcosmic simulation of the modern intersection between politics and media.
It was also really, really, really fun. And, as far as I could tell, every person there had a lot fun in their own little pocket universes, too. At its conclusion, the dozens of people who had spent a good eight hours pretending to be someone else with each other all clapped and cheered for each other. It couldn’t have happened without any one of them.
Following the megagame, a few of us went out for beers to decompress and trade stories. We each surprised each other with things that happened in our respective games that no one else knew. The surprises kept coming for hours after we’d finished the game, which goes to show you just how much was packed into that day.
We’ll definitely do this again, and if you think this would be your jam, shoot me your email (kkerzman [at] forumcomm [dot] com). I’ll be sure you find out about the next one. You won’t regret it.