I've found an article I'd like you to read. It's really clever. It is titled "Metagames and Containers." The article itself is about emergent gameplay. It's also about making little games out of daily life.


The article is awfully cunning, if a little bit opinionated, a little too self-referential (I didn't really like House of Leaves, for instance, so). Reading it sort of feels like reading Understanding Comics, except that this is an article you can play.

Each self-contained argument is framed out in a little rectangle. Here is how reading it works: as you read each section, you can tick it off, and that section sort of recedes from the page. That's it, that's all. That's all there is.

In this way, as with contemporary video and board -game play, you can feel yourself concretely move through a narrative of sorts. But while the article itself is pretty linear, you may carve your own path, traveling to each "container" in your own order, in your own time. And as you mark each section as having been read, you might also experience little surges of accomplishment.

On the subject of "achievements," the author, David Cole, writes,

Now, the sat­is­fac­tion of “com­ple­tion” isn’t quite the same as “whole­ness” but it’s related.

I think it’s a sig­nif­i­cant rea­son why peo­ple get less out of read­ing for the web: there’s always more.

Then the author makes a number of valuable -- if fleeting, even cursory -- assertions about the metagame of Searching the Internet, which is a metagame I played all last week and up through this Tuesday. (Cole says he uses Instapaper to 'play' the Internet -- I use Read It Later.) He talks a lot about lists, too, and I hope he's read Everything Bad Is Good for You, which contains a nifty passage about playing Zelda games and making little lists in your head.

I'm reminded, very suddenly, of my own anecdote, and as I doubt I've conveyed it to anybody in any venue, I think now is an opportune moment to share it. (Also, I'll put it just beneath the cut -- I'll make a little game out of it! -- so that you might miss it if you're only scrolling past.)

In October 2008, I emailed my mom a link to a YouTube video -- I think it was Dame Judi Dench performing Sondheim's "Send In the Clowns" in this raspy, half-spoken way -- and I encouraged Mom to share that video with my dad, who is 89 and suffers from dementia. Later, I learned that this is his favorite song, or so he now claims.

I'd also sent, in my email, hilariously detailed instructions on playing, pausing, and "buffering" videos on the Internet. I also sent along recommendations having to do with controlling the volume.

My parents, who aren't very well acquainted with the Internet, incorrectly believed that I had sent them not only a link to Judi Dench's musical performance, but to every single iteration of "Send In the Clowns" that had appeared in the algorithmically generated Related Videos list in the bottom right of their screen.

Mom phoned later to let me know that they, together, had whiled away the entire afternoon, very slowly working their way through the Related Videos list. My dad announced that each new version of the song was his favorite.

"So you played a little game!" I said to my mom. I tried to explain to her that I had not sent a list of links, that instead she had invented her own missions, that she and Dad had gone their own way, and that they had accomplished something special in seeking each new thing out entirely on their own.

My mom didn't understand what I was getting at -- it's very difficult to explain emergent gaming to an elderly woman! -- so I told her that I was very impressed with her newfound abilities, and we left it at that.

Metagames and Containers [Via It's Nice That]