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through the curtains

maura @ 10:29 pm

Last weekend we went to see the Indie Essentials videogame exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens. It was a great exhibit — I played lots of games I’ve been curious about as well as lots that were new to me. It’s open for another month or so and if you’re in/around NYC it’s *totally* worth a trip.

At some point I’m going to write up a review for the CUNY Games Network blog, so I don’t want to talk too much about the overall exhibit right now. What I do want to think on is what happened with my spawn and his pal. They were drawn immediately and inextricably to a cabinet multiplayer game called Killer Queen Arcade, and once they were sucked in they were hooked for the practically the entire two hours we were there. It’s a five-on-five team-based game that looks and plays a bit like the 80s classic Joust. There are three win conditions and several different kinds of characters to play, each with different actions and weapons. It’s loud, fast, and busy.

I know that’s a pretty weak and colorless description of the game — in truth I didn’t actually play for very long. I have to admit that I kind of hated Joust. I wasn’t very good at it, no matter how hard I tried, and back in the day it could represent a significant investment in quarters to get good at a game you naturally kind of sucked at, which I didn’t really have the patience for. I was much more awesome at Tempest and Centipede so those machines got my quarters. I did try to play Killer Queen with Gus and his pal, but I just couldn’t muster the reaction time to make a significant contribution in the time we had.

Though jeez, the boy loved it. LOVED. It was a great example of flow, because OMG the time we had available to spend there just flew by. I think the three different win conditions kept the game fresh and interesting; that many ways to win allowed players to try different strategies for each game and not simply try to memorize the patterns or game space. Since this was a museum gallery there were folks coming in and out of the game as they walked through the exhibit, which also added novelty and kept things from getting stale.

But I was also struck by the way in which a game that was at its core a team-based competition was actually *not* super-competitive. Yes, the game ends when one team wins, pretty much the basic requirement for competition. But the game doesn’t keep track of points either in each contest or cumulatively. And that seems to have created gameplay in which the players cheered their wins and moaned their losses, but only for an instant, really, because then it was on to the next game. The ways that cooperation and competition meshed in the game were fascinating, and I’m sure that’s a huge part of why folks found gameplay so compelling.

Wish we’d had Killer Queen back when I had the reaction time of a 12 yr old.

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one comment on “through the curtains”

Nikita Mikros (23 February 2014 at 3:03 am)

Thanks for the wonderful write up. As someone who basically grew up in arcades it makes me so happy that actual kids are enjoying our game and not just hipsters (we love them too though).

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