Holding On: a 200-word game

Holding On is a very short game for two people. One person is hanging over an abyss, and the other is holding on to them.

It is essentially unplayable, probably unfixable, and I am very proud of it.

Get the single-page PDF here: Holding On


David Schirduan issued a challenge: design an RPG that is less than 200 words in length. The contest caught on, attracting over 200 entries, including mine.

My game is about that moment where one person is holding on to another as an irresistible force pulls them apart. The game describes them hanging over an enormous drop, but that could be a metaphor.

The game generated quite a positive response, like here and here and in this Reddit thread. This positive feedback was really exciting, but I also knew that there was a problem with the game.

Here it is: in Holding On, the game moves inexorably towards a conclusion each time one player blinks, and it is really, really hard to delay blinking more than a few seconds unless you are entirely concentrating on it.

The only actual play report for the game comes from Aleksandra Sontowska. (Thank you so much for trying it Aleksandra!) Her experience was exactly as I expected/feared, but even more so. And her final comment hits the nail right on the head: “it works better as text than in play.”

And it does work as text. I wrote it almost as a little puzzle, so you don’t quite see how it all fits together until the final words; and then it suddenly coheres in your head into something intense and full of potential. But the limitation of relying on blinking is carefully chosen, because eye contact is essential to the game, and an autonomic response that can only be held back a short time, and that with great difficulty, is also essential to the game. There’s nothing else that fits, not that I can think of. (People could lift a weight and hold it I guess, but that just feels wrong. Or the game could extend time by relying on multiple eyeblinks, but that would require counting which distracts the players from the experience.)

If anyone comes up with an insight? I’d love to hear about it. Until such time, Holding On will stand as it is – fundamentally broken, but exactly as it should be.

3 thoughts on “Holding On: a 200-word game

  1. Joshua A.C. Newman says:

    This is really beautiful. Elegant, consise, and strong. I want to play with some friends!

    In my comments on Facebook, I put this in the realm of Nordic Larp because of the concentration on feeling one’s own character’s emotions.

    Quite a few thumbs up from me.

  2. morgue says:

    Also, should mention another actual play report from Steve Hickey – he says that if the above player is really, really good at not blinking, then the game breaks. I actually take this as a positive sign – if one actual play found the game ran way too short to be playable, and another found the game ran way too long to be playable, then presumably there exist some people in the middle for whom it just might work? 🙂

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