Tombstone Hold 'Em

This is only related to virtual worlds in the most tangential of ways, but some things just need to be blogged. This afternoon I got my first taste of alternate reality gaming, 4orty 2wo's "Last Call Poker." More specifically, I spent the afternoon at the Italian Cemetery playing "Tombstone Hold 'Em," a surprisingly fun poker variant that -- you guessed it -- can only be played at a cemetery. Full rules are here. It was a blast. Other than forgetting that Aces were high despite being mundane gravestones -- my team kept building King-high straights and flushes and getting pasted by danah's Ace-high straights and flushes -- it was a great way to spend an afternoon. In addition, as part of the game, various Last Call clues were dispensed and I'm sure the ARG community will be buzzing tonight.

Read on for more . . .

I'm not actually playing Last Call Poker -- I have nowhere near the time nor the energy to get into ARGing -- but it was interesting to chat with the folks who had met playing "I Love Bees" and were meeting in the real-world for the first time. Very reminiscent of the Second Life Community Convention. In fact, my one takeaway was that if you looked at the demographics of the folks who showed up to play Tombstone, that they looked remarkably like the SLCC attendees. In both cases, older and more gender balanced than the prototypical videogame audience.

While Tombstone Hold 'Em was created as part of an ARG, it's actually pretty fun. How else are you going to find yourself walking out of the BART station, noticing the dozen or so other folks carrying one flower? James Bond moments are just fun! Plus, graveyards are an enormous, untapped resource. They're big, open, interesting places -- even during daylight -- and the 60-odd players greatly outnumbered the other visitors (and, of those, over half were clearly art or photography students). Many of the players spent time pondering whether or not this was disrespectful and all were careful not to leave trash or game pieces lying around. Maybe I'm wrong -- hell, my body is going here after I attend one too many conferences -- but activities that actually use graveyards in a positive way might not be such a bad idea. When you watch where some brilliants folks are taking cell phone and mixed reality gaming, you can see the a whole new design space for games is just starting to be explored.

Even more exciting, games like EVA bring things full circle, creating alternate realities within virtual realities. Much like virtual-LARPing, repurposing public spaces within virtual worlds opens up interesting opportunities for play. It also opens up interesting EULArific questions. Would an ARG taking place within an MMO violate the EULA? Would an MMO operator generate more exposure by embracing or blocking an ARG? Would any mainstream ARG creator risk that potential conflict? No matter what, thanks and kudos to Jane and the rest of 42!

Comments on Tombstone Hold 'Em:

ren reynolds says:

>like virtual-LARPing, repurposing public spaces within virtual worlds opens up interesting opportunities for play

I have played a Alt-Reality like game in Second Life. It’s probably the most ‘Second Life’ ish thing I’ve ever done as it places SL as the ‘normal’ onto which you cast this consensual ludic frame. But then you think, but hold on Second Life is a gam,,, oh, no it isn’t. I wonder if there was a point at which enough people saw SL as normality for that this kind of play, which works with / against that assumption, suddenly had meaning.

Posted Oct 16, 2005 5:56:13 AM | link

Cory Ondrejka says:

Check out this page for dates for future games of Tombstone Hold 'Em. If you can go to a game, you should.

Posted Oct 16, 2005 10:25:14 AM | link

Tess says:

If I were going to have a grave, I'd say, you are all welcome to come play games there.

However, I'm probably going to be cremated, and I don't want some big, monolithic, grumpy hunk of granite taking up perfectly good space. I'd rather my family kept a special lawn gnome in the garden for me, to look out over the family as they grow.

In a way, I guess it would be my last avatar.

Posted Oct 16, 2005 10:23:02 PM | link

Ron Meiners says:

I counted the poker "tables" going out- well over 100 people. The game itself was a lot of fun, the mix of people very interesting- very techno, not so much gaming. I think there is something very exciting about that mix of virtual and real world meeting- the freedom of an online identity peeks out in the real life instance also, or something like that. A sense of expectancy, or optimism. Certainly the people meeting were nothing but friendly.
And, because I can't resist, the mix of virtual and real-life interplay - at the end of the event clues and game update information was passing back and forth between the crew in the graveyard and the participants online - very similar to a certain, ahem, winning proposal at the recent Ludium.
Also, the game itself - the ARG - seemed very well put together. I don't have time to really participate either, but the depth of the story, the attention to detail, and just the quirky, very rich characterizations- very compelling stuff.

Posted Oct 17, 2005 1:55:59 PM | link

Jane McG says:

To add to the virtual/actual dynamic, I just heard about a game of Tombstone Hold 'Em being played in a World of Warcraft cemetery on the Killrog server. How cool is that? (I'm very excited. ^_^) I love the fluidity.

Posted Oct 18, 2005 12:35:15 AM | link

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Posted Nov 15, 2005 1:35:43 PM | link