Category Archives: Content Created

Audio, video, or otherwise consumable.

Games of 2011: Sleep No More

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2011 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. Instead of my usual end-of-year game recommendations, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. This is the last post in the series. See all Games of 2011 posts.

Surprise: my Game Of The Year isn’t a video game. (I never said they were all going to be electronic.) And yes, it’s Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More, which I’ve talked about on this blog twice before, and is perhaps the closest thing to a real life video game I’ve ever found, and perhaps ever will.

Those of you who follow me on social networks have probably missed out on the incessent gushing about the show I tend to do in person. It has become an all-consuming experience; I have made a somewhat absurd four visits to the McKittrick Hotel for performances, including one just over a week ago. Some might feel this is three times too many. (Others might argue it’s four times too many.) I am fully and well hooked on this thing, and I won’t be surprised if I notch a fifth trip sometime in 2012. The friends who have been tend to be understanding and share a desire to go back. Here’s why:

People who have played games for a significant length of time have certain behaviors become hard wired into their play style. If you grew up with Wolfenstein and Doom, you become accustomed to pressing on every wall, hoping for a secret passage to open. RPG addicts know to search every container in the hopes of finding something useful or interesting. Stealth-action gamers are used to slinking along behind characters, hoping to figure out their secrets. And so on.

These skills are generally not acceptable to use in real life; most of us don’t spend our days exploring strange spaces, investigating someone’s bedroom, or following strange people about their business. This is where Sleep No More fits in perfectly – it’s a meticulously designed playground where you can make use of these habits and skills. This is a space where you want to be looking, touching, feeling, and exploring at every turn.

There’s no way to win this game, of course – the show ends after three hours, and you are gently ushered out of the hotel space. There’s also no way to see every last thing that happens during the show in a single visit. But you may have pieced together how some characters interact, or found a secret passage, or even helped run messages between characters.

Punchdrunk has designed the show to allow the audience the freedom to indulge in anonymity and voyeurism – the masks, the mandate that there is no talking inside the space, the use of light and shadow. The experience makes it easy to detach from yourself and become your own avatar, so long as you can break down some of the psychological barriers that tend to prevent people from doing the things you should do in this world. (More on these later.) The cast has a trick up their sleeves, of course: they are fully allowed to interact with you, and will choose to do so with those that are clearly engaged and unafraid. As you are told in the elevator, fortune favors the bold.

This is not a world for the faint of heart. The company now warns that the audience may experience “intense psychological experiences”. There is violence (multiple murders), nudity (both genders), and absinthe served at the bar. There are strobe lights, smoke machines, and in one scene, some incredibly loud drum and bass music. There is running up and down flights of stairs, and the slight-but-ever-present danger of being hit by one of the staff as they perform their dances (as Katie learned when she was kicked in the arm during our last visit). The show lasts at most three hours, which may be more than those with low stamina can withstand.

But no matter how much my feet hurt when I exit back into the streets of Chelsea, there is nothing else like it I’ve ever experienced in my life. I feel so fortunate to have gotten to go as much as I have, and yet I always want to go back as soon as I can. Everyone who enjoys games as a hobby should make a point of going before the show ends its run, whenever that may be.

The remainder of this post, as some sort of twisted holiday present, are essentially my complete set of notes about the show – how it’s structured, how to plan your visits, and even a set of imaginary achievements. The information in that section is extremely spoilery, and I agree with the common wisdom that you should take in your first visit to the show essentially blind – it’s more fun that way. So save the details in the rest of this post until you’ve gone once.

Sleep No More is currently extended through February, and may continue to extend as Punchdrunk sees fit.

Continue reading Games of 2011: Sleep No More

The RBNY Walkover

ADDENDUM 7/18/11: Per an email I received from the Empire Supporters Club, the walkover will no longer be involving flares on the bridge. Direct quote: “We can no longer do flares on Bridge, FBI & Homeland Security are involved, they are going to arrest people, it won’t be pretty, etc.” So while there are alternate plans to work in flare usage in other places, please take the article below as a snapshot of what once was.


“Yeah, you went to a riot last night.”Alexandra Klasinski

Like A War Zone

Of all the traditions held by the “South Ward” – the collection of supporters groups and ultras that make up the three sections behind the south goal at Red Bull Arena – the most chaotic may be the Walkover.

Starting Over The Bridge

What is the Walkover? Take about 200 hardcore fans. Feed them lots of beer. Give them flares and smoke bombs. And then send them over the bridge that connects Newark’s Ironbound district to Harrison, the one that empties out right near the gates of the stadium.

South Ward Go Hard

The whole process takes about 30 minutes – the bridge is not terribly long, but once the crowd hits the middle there’s less forward progress for a bit. There’s a constant threat of arrest for improper use of flares, the possibility of minor burns, and the air is thick with ash and smoke.

South Ward Unity

But between the chanting, the general party atmosphere, and the crackling energy of the whole thing, it is a hell of a lot of fun to be in the middle of. The traffic cops were befuddled, the cars trying to get across the bridge were more amused than pissed off, and it was a fantastic way to get pumped up before the game.

Anyone who has the time before a RBNY home game should skip Harrison and head over to Newark. Meet up with whichever supporter’s squad you want – GSS meets at MMM Bello’s, ESC at El Pastor, or the Viking Army at Catas – about an hour before kickoff.

And bring some ruckus.

Forza Metro.

More pictures of the walkover are on my Flickr account, as part of my growing collection of RBNY photography.

ADDENDUM: Some video from “GSSDave”, who shot the walkover:

Scenes from National Waffle Day

Wafels & Dinges
Cops Show Up
The Chalkboard
The Truck Keeps Going
Mr. & Ms. Wafel 2010
Today was National Waffle Day. 2009 Vendy Dessert winner Wafels & Dinges was celebrating the occasion less than a block from my office, so I brought in my camera and spent my lunch hour enjoying the scene. Rain and the NYPD couldn’t stop the crowning of Mr. and Ms. Wafel, and most everyone in line had a crudely drawn picture of the truck to exchange for a free wafel.

More photos are on Flickr.

Introducing: Couplandish

There are thirty-four days until the US release of Douglas Coupland‘s latest novel, Generation A.

One of my greatest pleasures is finding intersections in aspects of my life. Before he departed the NYC area, it became apparent that my (then-)coworker Zach Szukala shared a love of Coupland’s books, and a particular love for the large-type Helvetica (always Helvetica!) aphorisms they would contain. His first novel, Generation X, embedded these every few pages in the margins, with pearls of wisdom like “YOU MUST CHOOSE BETWEEN PAIN OR DRUDGERY”. His recent attempt to recapture the lightning-in-a-bottle that Microserfs had, J-Pod, featured page after page of sentence in this style that bordered on hypnotic, if not subliminal.

After enough exposure to these books, things throughout your life begin to look…Couplandish. Spotting one of these bits can be difficult to the untrained senses: it’s a certain ratio of detachment, nostalgia, history, helplessness, and wordplay. In time, they begin to jump out at you from signs and announcements on loudspeakers.

For months, Zach and I would jokingly speak Couplandish – inventing (sometimes cribbing) phrases and snippets that we felt wouldn’t feel out of place in one of these novels we loved so much. Back in June, we started writing them down. A small amount of programming provided mid-90’s web color clashes against random large-type Helvetica (always Helvetica!) selections from the library, and Couplandish was born as a Web 1.0 application.

I realize single-serving sites are out of style now, but if you’ve ever read a Douglas Coupland book, I hope this will give you a smile.
(This is the second of two side projects that I had intended to announce. A third is now in development.)