I used to be funnier, cooler too possibly

pets in room please

I have a guest! My delightful friend Dawn is visiting and I’m showing her the town. For those of you who have yet to visit here, this means the post office, coffee shop, library, gym, pizza place, hospital cafeteria, cutiepoo downtown and The Wayside restaurant. So far so good. We also went snowshoeing. We talked about the world of libraries. Dawn is an old friend from Seattle times back when I lived in a city and … did things a lot. She was entranced by our adorable country life here and has been making noise about moving here. I assured her she could never find a decent paying job, and she would eventually be bored. Maybe she’ll surprise us.

Meanwhile, I answered a random email from someone asking about the Blank White Cards game and I went back looking through my old cards that have been on a “card server” on the internet since 2002-ish. I barely remember the cards at all, but more importantly, I don’t even remember being that funny, or that good of a drawer [you may disagree with my estimations]. Next week I’ll be guest blogging for boingboing [I KNOW!] and I’m lamenting the fact that I think I may have nothing to share with the adoring bb public that isn’t old news. I live in slow motion now! I’m sure this is late January talking, and I’m not sure I’m really that concerned, but for some reason leaving the cozy world of MetaFilter (well not leaving, but maybe branching out a little, for a week) seems like a big deal.

In any case, while I sit and think about that (send links you think might be of interest!), here’s the information I sent my correspondent about wtf exactly Blank White Cards is. She was concerned that she couldn’t figure out how to play it. I assured her that she would be okay. My copy/paste, for the curious.

The BWC thing is confusing because there’s really no real way to do it. That said, there’s a way I’ve mostly always played. I think for some people the “hey you just *play*…” explanation is preferred, but I find this sometimes irritating since it imples that there is some sort of secret knowledge being passed around. So here’s my quick summary….

Most of the “play” is really sort of messing about making cards. Cards have one or more of three parts

– illustration
– point value
– description/action

So most of the time I’ve played, you get together with a bunch of people and cards and markers and whatever and then make a bunch of cards…. the play itself is often some sort of discard sort of thing. Like hold a bunch of cards in your hand and put them down on top of each other in the middle, often finding juxtapositions that are amusing between what was laid down before. So for example you could put down a Magic Hedgehog card and someone could follow up with a “protection from spiny mammals” card if there was one. Basically there’s no real scorekeeping, despite the scores, and it’s mostly about having a good time and making up funny stories. Some games have a feature where you can make cards on the fly, some don’t. Some games are more rule-governed [i.e. they actually try to follow the rules set up on the cards and keep track of them] and some aren’t.

My favorite story involves a game where there was one friend of mine clearly “losing” like he just got a lot of “lose 10000 points” cards or whatever. And he got a card that said “draw a new card” and it was towards the end of the game [i.e. not many cards left] and he made a card that just said PLAY THIS CARD AND WIN… and he played it, and I guess he won.

I understand that it’s a Nomic-type game, but even Nomic has an initial ruleset and codified steps…Is 1KBWC ONLY about drawing interesting cards and being silly; i.e., there are no rules, no steps, no strategy or luck, no way to win or lose?

So yeah, nomic is similar but in nomic part of the game is keeping track of all the rules. In BWC the rules are sort of tangential and it’s basically an excuse for nerds to get together and have a good time. This can be problematic because for many nerds [and I count myself in this group] playing a game with no rules is the antithesis of a good time. And for other people the whole “hey there are NO RULES, just PLAY” thing, and hassling other people on that point is part of the good time.

So, it’s fair to say that it’s a pretty openly structured game. But it’s also fair to say that almost every time I’ve played it, it happens about the same way [i.e. make a lot of cards, discard them in the middle, keep only very loose track of scores and rules]. Strategy is mostly about helping people have a good time, making amusing cards, not getting too hung up in the whole competitive aspect of it [some people are clearly better at drawing but that shouldn’t matter terribly] and enjoying being together. I guess everyone sees it as sort of a reflection on how they like to interact with other people, so you may get a lot of answers that are all conflicting.

Is 1KBWC ONLY about drawing interesting cards and being silly; i.e., there are no rules, no steps, no strategy or luck, no way to win or lose?

Pretty much yes. I don’t think anyone really wins or loses, unless they’re being a total pill about things. There are no real rules or steps, just making cards and not getting too hung up about things.



A very busy week is wrapping up here. A very busy week is starting tomorrow. Today is a missing empty day between them.

Last week I went to Providence to give a talk that I briefly mention on librarian.net. It was about agitprop which is a topic that I always assume people know about, but apparently they don’t. It’s just a shortening of agitation/propoganda, the trick being that you need to both explain your good ideas but then urge people towards them. It was of some use during the Communist Era and activists often use it as a tactic. So, this talk that I gave to a bunch of librarians and information scientists talked about my activist background and the idea of getting people to do the things that you think are a good idea. In this case, I meant using new technologies (where “new” still means stuff like email, lord help us all) as well as changing things in a traditional culture generally. I even got to talk about William James and his “genuine option” idea which is one of my favorite hobby horses. It was one of the most heartfelt talks I’ve given in a while because I didn’t have to pretend that I wasn’t some sort of anarchist, or that I don’t really have an issue with the corporatization of librarianship. I got to talk about the danger of palliative technologies that stultify us and make us soft in the face of decreasing social liberties and increasing government nonsense. I was happy with it.

Then I drove home on Thursday in a rainstorm to greet the skiiers that were staying at my place. I belong to a few “hey come stay at my place” websites, most notably Couchsurfing.com and HospitalityClub.org. People rarely take me up on it, but I feel that regular deposits into the Cosmic Karma Bank keep my good luck flowing. So, I got home and was unpacking when my incoming guest called and said he’d be in around 2 am, not 11 pm as he had earlier hoped. I was exhausted and barely awake as it was so I left some lights on, left a note taped on the door with information on where the guestrooms were, and went to sleep. I woke up briefly in the middle of the night hearing footsteps and then woke up in the morning to young men in snowpants wandering around cooking and packing on their way to Killington. They were nice guests who mostly did their own thing and I did mine. They were gone this morning before I fully got out of bed.

I only mention this in detail because I feel like I get inundated with oogy boogy talk concerning just how much risk there is in the world nowadays. My bank tries to make me afraid of identity theft, my insurance company tries to make me afraid of fires and floods. My students’ computers try to make them afraid of their computers being “at risk” when what they are really dealing with is more of a Norton Protection Racket than anything else. There is risk in taking a shower, risk in eating seafood, risk in leaving your car unlocked, and risk in talking to strangers. We hear about these risks all the time, seemingly constantly. But there are also rewards too: being clean, eating tasty food, ease of access and the fact that real people are more interesting than abstract free-floating anxieties. I just figure every so often someone should tell the good stories.