The rule to making your own game is that there are no rules
There's nothing like laughing until your stomach hurts while playing a game with your friends and family — especially when it's a game where you make the rules.
Comedian Eric Cunningham has always loved making up games. So much so, in fact, that he decided to turn it into a way of life, and one that now pays him to do it.
Cunningham was a writer for The Drew Barrymore Show and Holidays with the Houghs, and is currently a writer for the first season of The Kids Tonight Show where he has created games for the tween hosts such as Flip Your Sheet. He describes himself as a "grown up kid."
"I did a show at [Upright Citizens Brigade] called Night Late, where we would take a different celebrity and give them their own late night talk show. And I just found myself, as we did different shows for different celebs, I would just always end up gravitating toward... stupid games," he says.
The seed of Cunningham's inventive nature, which eventually grew into a career in comedy and TV writing, came from his mom. When he was a kid, she would make up games for him and his two brothers, of which he had one particular favorite:
"So me and my brother would get off the bus from elementary school, and when we would get to the house, it would just be a note taped to the front door and it would say, 'Find the Cookie.' It was essentially a surprise scavenger hunt, treasure map type thing," he explains.
According to the fun aficionado himself, even if you don't have fun uncle or auntie energy, you too can create your own games. Here's how.
Think of something specific in your life.
Do you come from a family of amateur food critics? Why not try a taste test? Blindfold everyone and see if they can tell the difference between different colors of bell peppers or different brands of coffee.
For example, Cunningham and his brothers are big fans of the Olympics. So for the 2008 Beijing Games, they held their own "Brolympics." "We got up early. We lit the opening ceremony torch and did the whole thing," he says.
Cunningham explains the key to good game making is finding inspiration from real life events and experiences. "Basically what you want to do when you're creating a game is to be aware of something that is already fun in your life and then kind of have that mindfulness to sort of pause and think, 'Oh, I just had some fun. Can I verbalize why that was fun?'" he says. "Then you create the artificial version of that where you heighten all the fun elements in real life."
Don't take it too seriously.
For example, if you're crafty but others aren't, maybe do a timed crafts contest. This can certainly lead to some silly results. Ugly but beloved ornaments or holiday shirts, anyone?
For his "Brolympics," Cunningham says the fun came from their lack of athleticism. "We're not athletes. At all," says the 37-year-old Cunningham, who admits he knows a little about all of the sports "but not enough to actually play anything."
"Build a playground, not a cage."
Be open to having few or no rules to your game, Cunningham also says. Maybe the first time you play, you'll notice loopholes in the rules that you want to change. And that's OK, too! Remember, half of the fun of inventing your own game is making things up as you go along.
"Sports are, you know, there's a lot of rules and all this stuff, but when you build a playground, you just kind of set it up. I'm not telling you how to use it, I am not forcing you to do it this specific way. It's just like, here it is. Have fun," he explains. "The more rules you latch onto, the more it's sort of restrictive and you're not having fun."
For the "Brolympics," the Cunningham brothers made up 10 to 15 "events." Things that were like hammer throwing or shot put. "But in hammer throwing, we would literally throw a hammer," he says. (Uh, don't do this at home, kids!)
The more absurd, random aspects helped to make the games more memorable. Cunningham recalls that another one of the events was "who can air guitar to the Law & Order theme song the best. It was very dumb."
Chaos is a team sport!
Years later, Cunningham still cherishes his "bronze" medal — but more importantly, the three brothers had fun bonding and made lasting memories, and for Cunningham, that's one of the best parts of game making.
"Play and games are things that human beings do automatically," he says. "We're just kind of wired for it."
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