Dissertation: 50 Game Ideas with Puppets

critical making, dissertation, Process Writing

I am trying to decide whether or not to pursue this idea of a game with puppets, and so I have been doing my best to generate ideas. As I said to Rilla, my supervisor, the other day, it is hard to recapture what the idea generation process has been like on other occasions — whether ideas took time to form or whether they formed, whole-hog, when working on my own. Keeping in mind that I document fairly rigorously and do a lot of writing about my work, this already begins to show me the added value of the autoethnographic processes that I am employing for my dissertation. I can’t imagine what it would be like to try to retrace my creative process if I weren’t documenting so much.

I ambitiously started out this list with the notion that I would come up with 100 of these ideas, but I’ve been at this since Tuesday evening, and I honestly think that I have got what I needed from the exercise. So, instead, I shortened the number to 50. Even coming up with 50 ideas was very challenging. Sitting in front of the computer and trying to generate ideas without distractions was worse than useless. I had to have input coming into my brain from all sorts of different sources in order to come up with anything that I found interesting — but that also meant not coming up with ideas and playing/experiencing/doing other things.

And it is hard to keep a record of the hundreds of things that one might encounter in one’s day to day life. In this case, I’m making a concerted effort, so I can say that I’ve consumed Korean boyband videos (BTS, specifically), I finished co-playing Wild Arms with Tom and have started Final Fantasy VIII, I had my tarot read by a friend and fellow academic, I have read a fair number of sad news articles related to a missing boy in Montreal, and to police brutality and abuses of the Canadian Justice system, I’ve played with my cat, listened to Welcome To Night Vale, pulled out my own Tarot deck for inspiration, as well as Rilla Khaled and Christopher Moore’s Onkalo/deep time-related “We Should Just” card project, as well as Padgett Powell’s Interrogative Mood, and I’ve done a heck of a lot of sketching.

Nevertheless, there are loads of blank spots here, and tiny tasks here and there, like grocery shopping, or answering emails, that are no doubt influencing my thinking. I guess even if I can’t unearth the whole of this…I dunno, creative artefact… that I’m trying to preserve, I have to settle for doing my best, and not worry too much about the gaps. There will always be gaps, right? Like the gaps between unverbalized thoughts and impressions and language, for starters, or all the processes going on inside my head that are outside of the scope of even a dedicated autoethnographic dissertation, and what I might have dreamt and forgotten about during the night.

Well, without any further musing for the moment… Here are 50 puppet game ideas, with or without digital aspects, and without regard as to whether the ideas are any good, or whether they are “critical”:

1. a game where the embedded microbits on the puppet change colour and give simple (or not simple) behaviour cues for players to follow (possibly a mood change)

2. a game where players dress the characters up according to a specific set of rules that is reflected in play — possibly character roles, possibly something to do with gender roles

3. a game where you learn the basic rules and approaches to puppeteering

4. a game where you have to convince a small child that the puppet is a living and breathing entity

5. a puppeteering game where the first person to laugh loses a point

6. Coffee: A Misunderstanding, but with the puppets puppeteering puppets and trying to throw their voices

7. Rockband/Guitar Hero but with puppets and their actions and dialogue, or lip-synching songs

8. A Puppet Cooking Show where there are different connections and switches which are closed/open based on where you place the materials down.

9. A game about the uncanny valley but from the puppets’ point-of-view

10. A game where you reenact famous scenes from movies or moments in history, but with puppets.

11. A game with very flirty puppets who are trying to teach humans how to flirt

12. Puppets singing songs about gender from musicals (ie Mulan’s “I’ll Make a Man Out of You”)

14. A dress-up game where you have to dress the puppets according to a stereotype based on the available clothing

15. A game where you have to have awkward holiday dinner conversations and each player puts words in their puppet’s mouth that they might expect to hear from a particular diner (i.e. the racist uncle at Thanksgiving trope)

16. A game where puppets representing the able-bodied, ridiculously-athletic characters from video games talk about their invisible chronic pain and how they still can’t stop performing if the players won’t stop playing.

17. A game where puppets build a Utopia together & we get to see what players define their Puppet’s Utopia as.

18. A game where some puppets are ocean creatures and some puppets are plastic from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and the plastic has to kill off the ocean creatures by convincing them to eat them (i.e. a plastic bag pretending it is a jellyfish).

19. A game about climate change denial where a digital thermometer slowly heats up and the players simulate the effects on their world through the magic of theatre, while others play politicians and other humans trying to deny that it is happening or that it is our fault. At the end of the game, everyone loses. The lobbyists and politicians are entombed with their piles of money.

20. A game about the idea that “infinite growth is the ideology of the cancer cell”

21. A game where humanity is on trial and there’s no one left to defend it

22. The spiritual successor to Magical Girl Olympics, except it’s Eidolon, Aeon, Guardian, etc, transformation sequences.

23. To recreate famous paintings with puppets.

24. Friends use puppets to do impressions of each other, highlighting their best qualities.

25. A game where you make a very padded puppet, convince your cat it is alive, and wrestle your cat with the puppet

26. a game about the anatomy of puppets

27. Puppets deconstructing 50 Shades of Grey together & talking about consent, BDSM, and kink

28. A game where humans are practically extinct and puppets must build a new society together. What is a puppet idea of Utopia?

29. A game where puppets are jealous of human agency and want to puppeteer/take control of them! Jinkies!

30. A game about Kpop fan culture where all the puppets are secret boyfriends (fanservice and perceptions and queerbaiting).

31. A game about queerbaiting in the media where the puppets perform typical queerbaiting activities

32. A game where a player tells a story about a dream that they had recently, and puppets reenact the dream, even the parts that don’t make very much sense.

33. a game about negotiating consent between a puppeteer and the puppet– “you’re going to put your hand WHERE?”

34. A puppet seance where the humans are spirits who possess the attendees

35. A Sesame Street rip-off regarding gentrification and social justice (& Oscar the Grouch)

36. A game where you use puppets to tell stories from your ancestors/grandparents.

37. Wipeout, but you’re trying to contort puppets into the correct shapes.

38. A game where the Puppets can transform into other kinds of puppets to show their affective responses (like the double-headed doll I have from my aunt that has a happy side and a sad side).

39. Zombie Puppet Game: a game where the virulent PUPT Virus — an even more catching version of the IMPRV Virus, causes people to spontaneously become puppeteers. “Infected” players have to hide their status in creative ways to pretend they’re not infected and then suddenly reveal their puppets to non-infected players to turn them into puppeteers.

40. A game where three people control 1 puppet, representing various forces in the world acting upon us humans when we “try to do the right thing”

41. A game about the similarities and differences between puppets and avatars.

42. Debate club, but with puppets.

43. Human Dressage for the Distinguished Puppet — Players play puppets leading the human puppeteer through an obstacle course.

44. Puppets doing their own action-movie stunts.

45. Puppet Hair Salon where the puppets cut hair in the same way that Cookie Monster eats cookies. The hair in question is wigs, probably.

46. A Larp game where the puppets are the human players’ consciences and they always tell the truth about things the players might feel bad about, which everyone can hear, but must not acknowledge it directly in-game because it is meta-knowledge.

47. A game where everyone acts like the puppeteers don’t exist and the puppets are regular-butt humans, except for one person.

48. A puppeteer-off where the humans have to puppeteer increasingly abstracted puppets, until they are puppeteering things like sponges and spatulas. Three judges.

49. A Giant Game of Chess where each piece is a puppet and the teams engage in puppeteered combat each time a square is challenged.

50. A game where the puppets gesticulate and act things out, and two other players “subtitle”/”dub” the conversation according to what they think is going on.

Dissertation: First Game Update — Puppets, Cosplay, Masks

critical making, curious games, dissertation, Process Writing

Writing here as a record of what my process has been like of late in relation to this first dissertation game. The work is proving hard to get a handle on — for a number of reasons, I think.

So, lately, I’ve been reading about larps and I also just picked up and am about to read Queer Game Studies, edited by Bo Ruberg and Adrienne Shaw. Since what I have been absorbing reading-wise is larp related, it’s perhaps unsurprising that I have had no trouble writing my latest larp once I settled on the topic. I completed a draft in just seven hours, and you can read that draft here: https://jekagames.itch.io/queer-sleepover-witching-hour

I have the materials that I need in order to experiment with making some objects for my latest game, but I am having trouble figuring out what I would like to explore in the game. The truth is, with everything that is going on in my personal life with my spouse’s work, and my difficulties with living in Fort McMurray, not to mention that doctoral programs are not known to be stellar for one’s mental health, I have been having trouble working at the same pace that I am used to. In January, I had to take a break because I was exhibiting burnout symptoms. The break seemed to work well, but I still haven’t been able to return to my former pace of work, and although my symptoms are not nearly as bad as they were, I still am having much more trouble focusing than I am used to. My resilience is not what it used to be. I’m not who I used to be.

Maybe it will all get better if this situation ever resolves itself, but for now, I have to continuously remind myself to be kind to myself and not to rush the work. But I feel guilty not being productive and not making as much as I am used to (even though I’ve released like three games in the first three months of 2018 and have been doing plenty of reading, writing and other work – sheesh).

I’ve been having doubts about this game as a “puppet” game, and with the materials I’ve gathered, I find myself interested in maybe making a game with masks, or costumes. The problem with masks and costumes, I think, is that it is difficult to make something that will be “one size fits all” — because one size doesn’t fit all. Nevertheless, I am considering the affordances of these different possibilities. One theme that is very present for me at the moment is mental health. It’s a bit of a tired metaphor if I work it from the “masks” angle, so I would have to consider carefully what I want to say and how.

The puppets are causing me trouble possibly because of the relationship between puppet and audience, and the kinds of activities that puppets are used for. I want the interaction to be meaningful and supported by the digital components of the game. I find myself thinking of the Bird Game Collective’s “Lovebirds” and how they made use of masks.

Amongst the materials that I have gathered to play with are three micro:bits, twenty-dollar microcontrollers developed by the BBC and brought to my attention by my colleague, Enric Llagostera. They are Bluetooth and radio-communication enabled straight out of the box, which is making me rethink my initial thoughts. I initially thought that the puppets would be easier to make and less likely to break if I had them interact with an environment that was wired up and close circuits using conductive material rather than having them wired up, since I didn’t want to have to deal with strain on the wires and such. While that’s probably true, I think that having interactions embedded in the puppets themselves probably gives me more interesting design possibilities. Maybe I should use a combination of both. I can also certainly find ways to protect the wires and avoid stretching them too badly.

Well, I wish I had some solutions and could get right into the making. I hope that this long, contemplative process will be well-worth it! I won’t stop playing around with ideas, sketching, and trying to make stuff, though.

Reflective Games: Opinions & Playtesters Needed

Process Writing, Uncategorized

Hi folks,

I have now finished a draft set of rules for QUEER SLEEPOVER WITCHING HOUR, and I would love to get your feedback on the document. Heck, if you want to arrange a playtest for this game, please also let me know! You can message me on social media (@jekagames) or send me an email at jess[dot]ro[dot]marcotte[at]gmail[dot]com.

Queer Sleepover Witching Hour draft rules
On itch.io: https://jekagames.itch.io/queer-sleepover-witching-hour



autoethnography, critical making, dissertation, game jams, Process Writing, research

Using Exercise 5.6 from Heewon Chang’s Autoethnography as Method (“List five artifacts, in order of importance, that represent your culture and briefly describe what each artifact represents. Select one and expound on the cultural meaning of this article in your life.”) as a prompt, I’m going to talk about my history with artefacts of design. I already wrote about my “artefacts of play” here [https://tag.hexagram.ca/jekagames/autoethnography-personal-memory-data-collection-exercise-5-6-artefacts-play/].

Of course, neither of these lists are exhaustive. In the artefacts of play list, for example, board games are notably absent, and I’ve spent many hours playing games like Battlestar Galactica or Betrayal at House on the Hill with friends. I may later try to do some kind of reconstructive timeline work to supplement them.

These lists are also deeply personal, despite the fact that I belong to a community at TAG and a broader “community.” It’s just overwhelming to try and pick out five canon artefacts. That’s because, let’s face it, everyone plays or has played in their life. It’s part of our development. And while maybe not everyone has “officially” designed a game, whatever that means, designing and adapting games and play is also a part of childhood play. So, with that said, here are my 5 Artefacts of Game Design, or, five important tools and influences on my game design process:


Especially when working from a pre-determined theme, mapping out my ideas and writing things down on paper in a spatially-organized way has always been an effective way of coming up with a game for me. It also makes it much easier to retrace my lines of thought later. This is a very important design tool for me.

*Game Jams/Rapid Prototyping
Looking at the roughly 30 games and game prototypes that I have made since January 2013, fully 21 originally started out as part of a rapid prototyping session (7 of them, with the first version made in less than a week) or as a game jam project (14 of them, with the first version usually made in 48 hours or less), whether later refined and reworked or otherwise. Having a playable version to refine and work with has been a key tool for me. It also helps me to discard what isn’t working before I have invested a lot of energy into it.

When I was studying creative writing, I was always more of a “short story” writer than a novelist or someone who wanted to sustain a long term project. I generally prefer to focus on one or two themes and ideas in a project, which I think is true of my game-making practice as well. I think that I can sustain longer term projects if I want — I have a current collaborative project that I have been working on for well over a year, and several other projects that took about six months of sustained work. But I haven’t yet found a project that I wanted to expand enough to make it into a single focus.

*Google Search Engine
The first game-making tool that I used (other than when someone else programmed my first video game ever during Global Game Jam 2013 in Unity) was Stencyl. From there, I moved on to Construct 2, then did a bit of Unity, and then learned Processing, then Phaser and some JavaScript, and now, I’m developping in JavaScript with whichever libraries are necessary to the project, and Unity once again for 3D projects (I’m not big on 3D for 3D’s sake at the moment — heck, I still need to learn how to make textures and align them). But, through it all, (and I normally use Duck Duck Go if I can help it), googling my problems has been a constant. I’d say that roughly half of my time spent programming is looking up code and figuring out how to make things work. Luckily, I’m very good at picking the right search engine terms. I would not have been able to develop games without a cracking good search engine as a resource.

*Duct Tape
Duct Tape is meant to represent two artistic practices for me — the first is “Making the most tin-foil, duct-tape version of a thing quickly” to test out concepts, and the other is how crafting and making physical objects is a core part of many of my games. I have always been a person who makes things. I enjoy prop-making, costume-making, sewing, sculpting, building structures, painting, drawing…

Luckily, I have been able to use these skills as part of my game-making practice with alternative controls. It’s been very useful to know about the materiality of things.

*The Desks of TAG Lab
I couldn’t think of an object that represented the role of collaborators in my process. Over the years, I’ve worked with many people in small teams (usually just 2-3 people) to make all sorts of projects. I’m very grateful to my collaborators — and each is listed on my games’ page next to the game(s) that we made together. I work best when I have other people to bounce ideas off of — and this is true even for my solo work. The reason I chose the Desks of TAG Lab as an artefact is because just sitting in the lab, amongst other people working, can lead to all sorts of conversations or collaborations, and the folk sitting there are usually willing to stop by for a quick chat, or, in the case of the talented programmers in the room, help me to answer particularly thorny coding questions. Even when working alone, talking about my work to others is very helpful. This is definitely a very important aspect of my process. Of my 30-ish projects, just 13 are solo endeavours.


So, a fair few of these objects are abstracted, or are strategies rather than physical things. There are definitely other influences I could talk about.

Community is definitely one of those things, in the form of MRGS, Pixelles, and TAG. I could also talk about the specific designers who had an impact on the way that I make games, or who made me feel like I had permission to make “weird” games any which way I chose — like Pippin Barr, who taught the Curious Games Studio (my first “formal” game design class). I could also talk about specific tools, and their affordances, and what they encouraged me to make, and what I learned from them. I will eventually talk about the three years that I spent my summers doing Critical Hit, first as a participant, then as an assistant, then as a co-director. These were definitely very formative experiences.

More on this as my autoethnography continues!

Reflective Games: Sleepover Witching Hour

critical making, Process Writing, reflective games

Just a short entry to record for posterity an idea for a new nanolarp. This larp might be called “CAMP GENDERQUEER” or possibly “A SLEEPOVER PARTY FOR ADULTS” or…well, we’ll see.

Lately, I’ve been looking outside of nordic larp to other sources. This has led me to read a fair bit about “edularp”, which is to say larps and play-acting that takes place largely in primary school with young children. I guess this has contributed to my having childhood experiences on my mind.

Fellow Designer, friend and collaborator, Allison Cole made a series of nanolarps (well, shortish larps) for her MFA at the NYU Game Center where each game was designed with someone that she had not collaborated with before, but wanted to. One of the games that game out of this project, designed by Allison herself, Joachim Despland, and Carolyn Jong, is a game called “Remember That Time”, a game for three players and no facilitators which takes place at a high school reunion. Here’s the overview from Allison’s Anthology of Intimacy book (unpublished, artisanally handcrafted in a limited run):

“You are at a high school reunion. It has been 15 years since you graduated. When you were in high school you were in a triad and the three of you have found yourselves at a secluded table in the corner with a bottle of wine. The evening lies in front of you, with nothing to hold your attention but the exes from your fondly remembered youth and your memories.”

In this game, the players drink a bottle of wine together, reminiscing about their shared past and pouring toasts when they feel a scene is resolved, and playing until the bottle is finished. They then engage in a discussion about why the relationship ended and a number of other subjects. As the idea for this larp formulated in my mind, I was reminded of Allison, Joachim and Carolyn’s game (which I have not playtested because I do not drink). I’ve been considering what my next larp ought to be about, and I keep coming back to questions around my own gender and sexuality, and thinking about how to explore this very personal experience in a way that would be nice for other people.

As I flopped down onto my beanbag chairs in my office, in my permanent blanket fort (see picture below), I began to think about sleepovers and the intimacy of those strange, late-night conversations, which usually take place amongst people of shared assigned-at-birth gender of similar age. The conversations that I have had late at night during sleepovers, just as everyone is about to drift off to sleep, are some of the most intimate half-remembered conversations I ever had with friends in my youth.

The idea is only half-formulated for now, but I think that, in this larp, which would stretch the definition of nanolarp, I would like players to arrive in pajamas, watch a silly movie or play some silly board games, and then hang out on beanbag chairs and couches (both of which TAG has) in a room with the lights turned off, where nobody has to look anyone else in the face, and talk.

I think there would be rules to facilitate disclosure, and of course, some kind of fictional layer/persona, loosely defined, for each player. Maybe, if someone discloses something intimate, other players also have to bring up something about themselves. Maybe there are rules about what is said, and maybe there’s a cone of silence involved — what happens at Adult Sleepover stays at Adult Sleepover? It’s still forming in my mind. This may not be the case for everyone, but there’s a certain safety and intimacy involved in being bundled up cosily, chatting in the middle of the night, that’s difficult to otherwise replicate. The topics might be the usual ones — weird little stories that are too gross or embarrassing to tell in the light of day (if you see me in person, ask me about “Nickel”, a story that I still remember telling at Camp Tamaracouta as a Scout about a kid who picks his nose a lot), about crushes, opinions about anything from music to movies to how to solve all the world’s problems. I am sure this is partially my nostalgia talking, but I think this could be a warm, intimate and sincere experience, if I design it right and the players are feeling it.

Reflective Games: Genres of Thought Playtest

critical making, playtest, Process Writing, reflective games

Last week, I finished a playtestable version of a new nanolarp/improv game called “Genres of Thought” and had the chance to play one round with the folks from the Reflective Games project. We discussed it before playing, and Enric brought up the idea that technologically-assisted larps could be a different way of framing a larp and thinking about what “counts” as a larp and what could count, opening up the definition and hopefully making the form more accessible and less scary to new players.

During the game, I noticed a few elements that needed smoothing out, or that I had accidentally omitted from the rules — but, this wasn’t so much of an issue since I was the gamemaster and could make a decision on the fly about things like who should start the scene (it would have been utter confusion to have all the players at once), or who should be the “odd genre out” (I used a random number generator).

The Group Genre was “Fantasy” and the task was “to keep the surprise party a secret at all costs. The Odd Genre Out was mystery, and the Odd Genre goal was to describe your alibi for a crime, perhaps explaining the details of the crime. In the scene, players were preparing a surprise party for their 30-year-old Elder (people in Fantasy medieval age eras didn’t live so long, remember) and the Odd Genre Out was professing that they had not in fact told the Elder about the surprise party. There was also a bit with a giant magical frog, and a lot of laughter. With five players, it was a bit of a jumble, but the players seemed to have fun.

The genres were not as much a part of the focus as I would have liked — I think this also might have been because all the players were active at once, and both trying to pay attention to each other and be active in the game. More playtesting is needed to determine whether five players is too many, or whether players just needed to go “on” and “off-scene” more in the way that improvisers do. For now, I’ve not included that as a requirement, because I intend for this to be a nanolarp, and in larps, simultaneous scenes happen all the time.

The question that we discussed at the end of the round was, “What is something that you used to believe in that you don’t believe anymore, and why might that be the case?”

One of the players, noting that it’s the “big questions” that are likely to occur to people right away, noted that they no longer believe in God. The rest of our discussion focused on this topic, and people’s experiences with spirituality and the institutions that surround religion.

We also talked about the experience of playing afterwards — I think that many of the first round jitters would have been smoothed out with a few more scenes, and I admitted that while I eventually expected players to build up a rapport and a comfort/intimacy through play that would allow them to get to the “heavy” topics, I was surprised that it happened right away for our group. The Reflective games folk generally seemed to agree that playing together did make players feel open to discussing this vulnerable topic, but that also our pre-existing relationships as a research group (with the exception of a guest to the lab who was meeting us for the first time) likely also impacted what the players were willing to discuss.

I spent a bit of time reworking the rules to clarify some aspects of the game for both gamemaster and players based on this playthrough. Primarily, the rules I added have to do with how to choose the focus for the scene (basically, it’s okay to do it however you want and have multiple conversations going on at once, because it’s a larp, but if you want to play for an audience, use the Gamemaster as a “camera,” focusing attention on certain players in the scene). And with that, this prototype is ready to release out into the world. Here it is! Here’s the github repository.

When I brought up the fact that I knew some fairly experienced improvisers who might be willing to try out the game, the Reflective Games group expressed curiosity about what the gameplay would be like with these more experienced players. While I wasn’t able to arrange anything for my current visit in Montreal, my friend Jordan McRae has put together a group of people who are willing to playtest the game the next time that I am in town.