Today’s surrealist game-in-a-game is a group game. Player 1 begins playing a simple game such as Super Mario Bros or Super Mario World. They play normally. The other, observing players determine what kind of game Player 1 will play by adding rules. At any point during a level, a player may call our a rule. Each observing player may only call out one rule per level, but the rules carry between levels. These rules can effect how the game is played mechanically (ie don’t jump on goombas, collect every coin possible, only spin jump), how the player interacts with the game outside the system (ie player 1 must apologize every time they kill an enemy, player 1 must hold their breath when Mario is in the air), how the player physically controls the game (ie player 1 must play upsidedown, player 1 can’t use their thumbs), or even the goals of the game itself (ie player can’t beat a level unless they have an even number of coins, player must narrate their adventure in the style of David Attenborough). The goal is not to create impossible rules or kill the player. In fact if Player 1 dies the observing players lose. The goal is to see how far the player can get with as many rules as possible.
Because it can be difficult for even skilled players to keep track of a large number of rules (even intentionally easy ones), at the end of a level any observing player may call out “flush!” and reset the number of rules back to 0. When a player calls out “flush!” count the number of rules that were in play and divide that in half (rounded down). Keep this number for later. When Player 1 finally dies (or beats the game), the score is determined by how many rules are in play. The group gets one point for each rule in effect when the player died, plus the number of points from any earlier “flushes.”
This game can be played with virtually any game, not just Mario games. As written, the game can be played with any simple platformer. For strategy or simulation games, ignore the scoring system. With a simulation game such as Civilization or Sim City, the observing players may not only impose rules, but also narratives. For example, when Player 1 is playing Sim City 2000, an observing player calls out “oil reserves have run dry” and Player 1 must now play as though any oil-based power plants or buildings can no longer be built and that such existing buildings are no longer functioning. A second player calls out “the media found a tape of the mayor smoking crack” and Player 1 must now play while narrating a press conference where they try to explain their actions and run damage control. Upon finishing, an observing player calls out “aliens attack” forcing Player 1 to click the disaster menu and summon the dreaded alien robot. Since simulation games like this take much longer to “lose” and can often continue going on indefinitely, the observing players have a lot more freedom to build on existing rules and narratives without killing the player. Observing players may even begin calling rules and narratives down on each other, for example in a game of Civilization one observing player may call out that the civilization is now a fundamentalist government, and in response a second observing player may call out that the first observing player is now God and all new Wonders must be approved by them first. Later observing players may add additional rules on what “God” is allowed to do or what kind of character that player should be acting as.
In Improv there is a game known as “ambiguous game.” Essentially, an actor on stage begins doing something, and the other actors (without communicating directly) must build on that until through group consensus a game and/or scene emerges. Aspects of ambiguous game can be brought into this communal video game play. What kind of game can emerge when players actively playing a multiplayer game such as Bomberman, Smash Brothers or Team Fortress are given rules that forbid them from killing each other normally? Can the active players build on or push back against the rules and narratives being imposed on them? What kind of game can be built by this communication between multiple forms of play?