Ms. Scarlett in the Hall with the System!

Games are more than what they are when they come out of the box. They are what the players make them. Any game is more than just the pieces, but an experience. At the end of play, the player can walk away with their own story of what happened, which brings greater meaning to their play. During some random week back in college, I sat down with some friends and played a game of Clue. Then I wrote this paper, which has been edited before I posted it here. This was at a barbecue, half the group was inebriated and the atmosphere was relaxed. As a group, we chose a game and set up the board. All of us had played the game so many times that we didn’t need to look at the instructions. We all knew what to do.

Looking at Clue as an experiential system is much different than looking at it mathematically or logically. It is the system of the experience the game creates while being played. The objects of the game would normally be the pieces and weapons of Clue, but since we are talking about the interaction of players, the players are the objects. This is the five or so people sitting around the board. The reason I said “or so” is because some people were sitting in to help others. The pieces then took the place of the player’s attributes. I was Colonel Mustard and my friend, Lindsey, Ms. Scarlet and so on. The experiential system of this game, for the most part, is a move up the hierarchy to include the players. What I mean by this is, in a normal system the internal relationships would be purely the relationship between pieces and the strategic relationships that occur with the pieces. In this new system it is the players. All the talking, questioning and “smack” that crossed ways are the internal relationships.

At one point in our game, one of the players made a faulty accusation and, as a result, was booted from the game. The player then became the moderator for anyone else that wanted to make a false accusation. The game at this point had two people that had trouble sitting up straight and two people completely sober (me being a sober one). The moderator began to get bored and walked out of the room because she wasn’t playing anymore. At this point I decided to mix things up with my sober companion by creating an alliance. I had no way of winning due to a bad batch of questioning, and the wobbly ones didn’t have a chance. A winner needed to be declared; so all my findings went to the only person in the room that was capable of winning. This is a prime example of internal relationships on the experiential system level. The rule set doesn’t say anything about creating alliances, but I am sure it is something the game designers thought of. Rules could have been put in to stop this, but weren’t. In general, game designers don’t know how people are going to play their game or in what conditions. This brings me to the next section.

The environment in the standard logical sense is the interaction of objects in play, but when it come to the experience, it is much greater. It includes the room and situation we were in. As I mentioned before, we were at a barbecue and half the group had been drinking. The entire group decided that it was a great idea to play Clue, and that the game is, in fact, awesome. The environment includes the culture and any preconceptions of the game. As a group, we didn’t need the rules to play the game; we knew how to play the game. It was a cultural icon, a representation of us growing up, even though the game is older than anyone in the room. Only one time did we reference the rules, and it was because we began to debate different people’s “house” rules. Overall, the experience for all the players at the beginning was positive, but by the end people started walking off or talking to others. This was due to there being other people at the barbecue and certain players getting booted from the game early.

In every game of Clue I have played, the players start off with a very secretive demeanor, but by the end, everyone is trying to look over everyone else’s shoulder. This game was no exception. Also, playing the alliance in a game that wasn’t meant to have one was all the easier when the two people in front of you had trouble sitting up straight.


Salen, Katie, and Eric Zimmerman. Rules of Play. London: The MIT P, 2004. 49-54.

Thank you, to Brenda Brathwaite for her notes when I was taking her class.