When asked to perform at the UCL-supported Bright Club comedy night I knew I wanted to design a game that could be played by the audience. It needed to be simple enough to be explained and played within several minutes, but also to have the potential to demonstrate some principles of game design. I had in mind some advice from Vishal Gondal, friend and founder of India Games: “When designing a game, don’t think of the cleverest thing you can do. Think of the stupidest”.
Cat On Yer Head is a mass participation game with a few simple rules, written in pseudo computer code. An imaginary cat is released into the audience and passed from person to person. It must chase an imaginary mouse. On the night, the first iteration of the game failed – the cat couldn’t catch the mouse, so we looked at tuning the play mechanic and balancing. Refinements for a future occasion will add features such as win and lose scenarios, scoring and extensions such as extra mice, a cat-chasing dog, bonus cheese and mouse holes.
This is not only a prototype for the idea of turning an audience into some kind of human games console, but also an exploration of a novel form of game structure. Typically games are a confrontation or, sometimes, a collaboration between players. However in this case the audience actually become the framework upon which the game runs.
In any single game players can be both the cat and the mouse at different times and the game characters effectively pass through them. The individual is able to leave their own mark on those characters and influence the outcome. We found that some players wanted the mouse to be caught, and others wanted it to be saved, with partisan behaviour able to exert some influence on the outcome.
I’m sure the lessons learnt creating and running Cat On Yer Head will feed into our thinking about the games we make in the future.
Cat On Yer Head slides via SlideShare:
High quality audio straight from the Bright Club sound desk via Audioboo:
Since writing the game has been performed at GDC Europe 2011 (Cologne, Aug 2011), become part of a game design course at Grafisch Lyceum (Rotterdam) and inspired a multi-user mobile game demonstrated at Flash On The Beach (Brighton). Fun expert Bernie DeKoven blogged about it and it was featured in the first episode of BBC Worldwide’s indie games podcast 99 Coins.
It has appeared at 2 events at GameCity 6 (Nottingham, Oct 2011), Science Showoff (London, Dec 2011), new game design conference A Bit Of Alright (London, Feb 2012), The National Maritime Museum (Greenwich, Feb 2012) and Channel 4’s Fuel4 Games event (Glasgow, March 2012).
Photos from some of these events can be found on Flickr.
Cat On Yer Head will next appear as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival! It is part of the public programme of the 10th anniversary Edinburgh Interactive on 11th Aug 2012.
Short mobile-phone video of Cat On Yer Head at GameCity 6 below. More video to come from other events as soon as we have time to edit the footage!
Original Cat On Yer Head concept co-created with Richard Butterworth.