Imaginary games work like this: invent a game, give it a title, create a score system, decide the rules, and share it with your friends. If the game is well designed, your friends want to play it and you’ll be a hero.
If you think that it’s easy, rethink. A good imaginary game requires not just the usual playability that makes a game engaging and fun to play, it must also be simple enough to be played ‘by heart’ because it only exists in the mind of the players.
I have tried to create one myself: couldn’t come up with obstacles challenging enough to be interesting but easy enough to be visualised and kept in mind to score points.
Creating imaginary games is the latest fashion at primary schools. There are kids that are selling memberships for real money, and kids willing to pay 50 cents to rank up or gain V.I.P. access to games that they only play inside their own mind.
Why would anyone want to pay for something that cannot be seen and upon which no one has control? Because, says one of the imaginary games masters, “If they were to try to rank up without my permission, I’d have to ban them. Banning people is not fun, I’ve never done it, they just accept my rules.”
And what forbids people to play by themselves? The imaginary game master again “because it’s more fun with me. I’m the best at hosting games.”
Hosting means giving a running commentary while players take turns, miming actions with the hands (e.g. opening a crate), suggesting actions and reminding players about the rules.
At the moment, the most popular imaginary game is called Sheep Quest, a farming game in which you use wheat to buy sheep that you then breed in different combinations of colours and materials, e.g. a wood sheep with a green sheep give you a tree sheep. The game, that also involves some looting, doesn’t have a winner as such, but one can aspire to become the best farmer in the world.
Like every popular game, Sheep Quest has its imitations (“cheap rip-off”, says the imaginary game master more flattered than annoyed). One of the other kids tried to launch his own imaginary game called Cow Quest, with rules very similar (“exactly the same”) as the sheep game. The game “lasted three minutes before it got shut down because no one wanted to play it.”
It is interesting the way they use words like ‘shut down’ referred to something that not only is intangible, but that cannot be controlled or policed: how can you stop me from playing something inside my mind?
But maybe this is the wrong question, and what makes imaginary games so compelling is not the number of sheep bred or the points scored at High-Five-Bro-Fist (my favourite one, I promised that I wouldn’t reveal the rules), the real point is that primary school kids are rehearsing now the games that will be delivered by tomorrow’s technologies.