Playing with Food (Hastings)

Before I came to Northeastern, I worked a couple jobs in the restaurant scene, most recently as a chef at a more upscale seafood place near New Haven CT. preparing fancy food can be a lot of fun (when not under the stress of a hectic dinner service), and my favorite step in selling an order is plating. The customers eat with their eyes–I was told that countless times by all my bosses, and it’s true. People love a nice looking plate of food, even before the first bite critical judgement are made. That being said, I think it can definitely be taken too far. Avant-garde plating the likes of which can be seen on plenty of Food Network shows are sometimes laughably over the top.

That was the inspiration for my game, along with the game art section of “Work of Game”–I had a bit of an idea drought, until it occurred to me that I could re-purpose an existing game/experience to fit my aims. I wanted to provide the fun parts of the experience I had working in an upscale kitchen while satirizing the pretentiousness of extreme fine dining. I thought the best way to accomplish this would be in a “Chopped” style game-art mod/parody; however, in my ‘mod’ of Chopped all of the components of the dish were already cooked and prepared by me. The idea behind this was to place the entire emphasis of the game on the aesthetics and names of the dishes my two contestants came up with–the sole instructions provided to the contestants were to plate the most obnoxiously fancy dish imaginable given the materials provided, and to give said dish a fitting name.

In my first playtest, familiarity with the television genre I was parodying led to some interesting and comedic emergent behavior: the contestants presented their dishes in front of a panel of judges, and really had a blast acting like TV chef personalities, adopting some of the lingo while trying to put on a performance. This was awesome to see because it completely played into my goals for the game–even the judges followed suit when they gave their critiques!

For my final playtest, I tried giving the contestants less time to work with in an attempt to simulate the frantic pace one must keep up with during a busy service. It worked like a charm, creating a fun sort of stress that was even more fun (perhaps somewhat sadistically) for me to watch my friends panic and spill ingredients.

It was during this playtest that my favorite dish of the game was created (see below). It’s hysterically over the top for what it is, and I think the player who created it really hit the nail on the head as far as the goal of the game. In all, I had a great time playing this game with friends and classmates; everyone’s familiarity with shows like “Masterchef” and “Chopped” helped make it a fun parody.


Message In a Bottle (Hastings)

While completing my score, I was taken to a town north of Boston called Lynn Massachusetts. From there I wandered until I came across a trailed forest called Lynn’s Woods. It was a pretty nice area in an otherwise unassuming town; unfortunately, however, the entrance was rampant with litter–predominantly glass bottles and cans. This was the inspiration behind my intervention: I decided to go back armed with messages to place in the bottles I found, hopefully to invoke enough curiosity for people to pick them up and dispose of them.

My first instinct was for the messages to include statistics on pollution, littering, and global warming–however, I feel that these numbers are already fairly well understood and those who choose to ignore them would not be easily swayed. It could be potentially more effective, I thought, to focus on communicating an appreciation of the natural space through some more obscure, potentially cryptic means. At the very least I wanted to create something odd and intriguing for someone to stumble upon.

Eventually, I arrived at the ‘Tao Te Ching’, an ancient Taoist philosophical text emphasizing nature through ‘the way’ (a loose translation of Tao). This particular text resonated with me for a number of reasons; firstly, it is delivered as a series of individual verses which could be separately appropriated into distinct bottles. Taoism also ties back to the class nicely through its connection to the creation of Fluxus–it is no secret that George Maciunas drew heavy inspiration from Taoist values (‘Fluxus and the Essential Questions of Life’ pg. 8). Paradoxical understanding and opposites, among other things, are vital components of both Fluxus and Taoism.

I printed around three dozen translated verses and cut them out, binding them with rubber bands so they could be easily removed from the bottles without resorting to smashing them open. Unfortunately (or rather fortunately), when I returned to Lynn’s Woods I could only find a little more than a dozen bottles, so I chose my favorite verses and scrapped the rest.


It was raining while I was dropping off these messages, which put a bit of a damper on things. That being said, it was nice to not have to explain myself to any passersby. I haven’t yet returned yet to check on the bottles, but based on the turnover I saw between my first two visits I’m confident that they’ve caught at least one person’s attention.

Exquisite Caption (Hastings)

My appropriation game has four players using four panel comic strips in a ‘New York Times’ caption contest/exquisite corpse mashup. The materials are simple: each player requires only a writing utensil, and comic strips are provided with the text blanked out. Each player begins with a single strip, filling in the missing text of the first panel with anything they want. The strips are then passed around the table and the process is repeated four times at which point the strips will be complete with text.

The game draws heavy inspiration of course from exquisite corpse–although each player is able to see all of the panels and what has already been written, the prompt was naturally open-ended enough to create a similar feeling of freedom and creative liberty. I felt that allowing players to work with this continuity was an integral part of creating the experience I was after; some of my favorite strips produced in playtesting are displayed in this post. However, in true exquisite corpsian fashion the setup certainly didn’t deter some truly baffling strips more akin to Hugo Ball’s nonsense poetry than anything else.

After reading ‘The Well-Played Game’, I was also determined going into this project to rethink the competitive experience I was creating. It was hugely important to me that this game played in more of a couch co-op style where elements of challenge still exist, but the players are in direct collaboration in facing those challenges together. There is no winner, only a series of funny strips everyone was involved in creating.

I manufactured the blank strips by photocopying them out of treasury compilations, and later editing them digitally to remove the text. In the first iteration of the game, they were all from ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ (a personal favorite), but the game was later expanded to include strips from other treasuries I had on hand: ‘Peanuts’, ‘Pearls Before Swine’, and ‘The Adventures of Tintin’.

The inclusion of ‘Tintin’ was based on a recommendation by our guest playtester, who suggested I appropriate potentially controversial material in order to transform it–notorious for problematic representations of people of color, ‘Tintin’ seemed like a good choice to test this out. It raised some eyebrows in playtesting, but didn’t have a significant enough impact to warrant keeping it in the final game.


Wanderlust Score

On the third Friday of the month,
Take a bus to a place you have never heard of.

Walk until you cannot.

Await further instructions.


I had two intentions when I created this score: first, I wanted to share a sense of adventure (perhaps a sensation of feeling lost). This is an important element missing from day to day life–some of my fondest memories growing up are times spent in the Adirondack mountains upstate in New York. Wandering, exploring, getting carelessly lost, and occasionally hitchhiking back to my uncles’ farm are among the realest experiences I’ve had; perhaps these are the times in my life I’ve lived most attuned to Fluxus values.

My goal was to combine that feeling with my second intention: an intervention of instructions using humor (“that deadliest of weapons against all that is pompous, staid, and holy” Zhuangzi). Scores, essentially lists of instructions, always seemed to me a weird vehicle for Fluxus to employ. It’s strange that they would employ such an explicit means–although maybe that’s part of it? Details such as “the third Friday of the month” and the pseudo-poetic structure of the stanzas are meant to imply some ornate level of significance, when there is in fact none. It is part of a trap laid for the reader: a lure with the promise of adventure only to discover a dead end, a punishment for following instructions blindly without question.

Or at least that was my original, somewhat callous intention for the score. Later when shared in class numerous other interpretations opened my eyes to alternate possibilities. My favorite of these (in keeping with the theme of wanderlust) involved changing the line “walk until your legs give out” to “walk until you cannot”: a far more open-ended prompt. Subsequently, the final line “Await further instructions” becomes similarly open to interpretation–the instructions can come from anywhere, you’ll know them when they come.

It’s always cool when other perspectives can show me new ways to riff off of something I created. I’m starting to truly value the potency of collaboration.