Game Jam Winner Spotlight: The Obstruction Method

from the gaming-like-it's-1926 dept

Last week, to kick off our series of posts about the winners of the fourth annual public domain game jam, Gaming Like It’s 1926, we took a look at Best Adaptation winner The Wall Across The River. Today, we move on to the winner of the Best Deep Cut category: The Obstruction Method by Jason Morningstar of Bully Pulpit Games.

Best Deep Cut is probably our favorite of all the six categories, highlighting games that make use of 1926 works that are obscure, unexpected, or just plain unusual. For the second time in these jams, the winner mined a particularly big but easily-ignored source of material: scientific studies. The Obstruction Method is based on a behaviorist experiment by Frances Holden, entitled A Study of the Effect of Starvation upon Behavior by Means of the Obstruction Method, in which 803 albino rats were variously starved and put through an electrified maze. You can probably already see the potential for a game based on this study, but Jason Morningstar got even more creative than you might expect.

The Obstruction Method is a live-action roleplaying game in which players take on the roles of Holden and the other people involved in the study and her life in general. What follows is a roughly two-hour play session that sees this crew of scientists and associates bounce off each other, with their interactions proving to be just as much of a study in behavior as the one they are conducting on the rats. The game materials include slips of paper describing the responses of the rodents, which serve as inspiration for the actions of the characters. It’s all presented in a simple, beautiful design that evokes the style of old scientific research papers:

But it’s not just up to the players to make things interesting: Frances Holden’s network of associates includes people with fascinating connections to the world of early 20th century poetry and more, with one of the players even taking on the role of Robert Frost. Their relationships with each other are full of drama, envy, competition, and romance, with each character’s sheet providing plenty of intriguing material to work with:

The game is a perfect example of just how much value the public domain holds. It’s not just cultural touchstones like Winnie The Pooh that are locked away for decades by copyright: below that obvious surface, there is an astonishing wealth of material that is all but forgotten outside specialist circles. By taking one such artefact — a study with a verbose name, by a scientist who doesn’t even turn up much in the way of Google results — and exposing the rich story it conceals, then putting it in the hands of players to explore, The Obstruction Method demonstrates exactly why the Deep Cut category exists.

Congratulations to Jason Morningstar for the win! You can get everything you need to play The Obstruction Method from its page on Itch, plus don’t forget to check out the other winners as well as the many great entries that didn’t quite make the cut! We’ll be back next week with another winner spotlight.

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