This post is about what I've learned from the performance part of Knee Jerk - not what I think about the Kickstarter.
For the uninitiated, Knee Jerk is a game about making up endings to funny situations as fast as possible. It does not use answer cards – players shout out any answer they can think of. Knee Jerk is very much a performance-based game. It not only depends on the answer you think of, but also how you deliver it. It makes you feel clever when you hit a joke right on the head, like you’ve knocked a home run out of the park.
I have observed many different dynamics with this game. It depends so much on the playgroup - so much on the personalities involved. Mainstream “non-gamers” tend to understand the spirit of the game quickly and really get into it. Many gamers “get it,” while others try to game the system and don’t know how to let loose and enjoy it. Kids and families really get into it.
What does it say about our current culture that kids most consistently enjoy the game? Kids know how to enjoy themselves more than anyone else. Only the elderly can compete with kids in that arena. This may be obvious, but the difference between young/old and everyone in between has to do with judgment and inhibitions. What will my friends think when I say something silly? What if I offend someone? What if my joke isn’t funny?
It comes back to a common topic these days – being comfortable with failure. Several other party games tend to avoid failure as much as possible by providing answer cards for players, as well as providing anonymity when players give their answers. While this softens the game for players, it also makes players miss out on giving star performances. It simultaneously reduces risk and reward, similar to thoughts expressed in this post I wrote on luck and emotion for my strategy game Merc Mayhem. When the chance for failure is lessened, the pay-off for success is proportionally watered down.
Even as the designer of Knee Jerk, I get cold feet sometimes when shouting out answers. I’ve failed many times in the game, which resulted in no one laughing. Other times I’ve passed the test with flying colors, making everyone in the room laugh until they cried.
What have I learned from this? Shyness and failure are ok. What’s most important is continuing to try so you can achieve those giant pay-off moments where you provide hilarious happiness to your friends and family (and of course, feel like a big shot because you’re the one that made it happen). I'm glad Knee Jerk is the way it is.
For some players, Knee Jerk is a bust. But that’s ok. Like failing in the game, I can’t satisfy everyone all the time with my designs. But I’m incredibly glad that other players – the majority of them – get a huge kick out of Knee Jerk. That’s what keeps me sticking around as I try to find the kid in me and lose my inhibitions. I hope you will too.