Bounden and Fun with Strangers

Bounden

Scientists and journalists share a single very importing and wholly defining quality: curiosity. (It’s okay; I have degrees in both fields, so I can say that.) The former want to know how the world works and the latter want to know, well, pretty much everything. It feels like a hair-thin divide that decides where these investigators go in their education and life.

The strange commonality extending from that is that both professions often spend an inordinate amount of time alone with their thoughts. Scientists and engineers have their equations and scratch paper of harried work to keep them company while journalists and writers surround themselves with committed word. Strangely enough, though, half of a journalist’s job is to talk with people—to ask them questions and take a verbal dive into another’s mind.

The reality is that half can (and very often) reduce to a rough 10%. Staring outside your apartment window, sitting at a coffee shop, dabbling an outline in a park. It’s not as if the writing process invites others to join in on it. It usually feels like having a one-sided conversation with yourself. So it’s not surprising that we often jump at any opportunity to mingle, whether with friends or with strangers.

Enter Bounden. Released earlier this year in May, Bounden comes to us from Game Oven, the same studio behind Fingle, one of my other favorite institutionalized invitations to talk to new people. It has the basic premise of building a systemic foundation for getting two people to dance together. You hold between you and your partner a phone and—without letting go—maneuver yourselves and the phone to match positions on a rotating sphere displayed on the screen. (The motion sensor stuff was actually what delayed the Android launch.)

It’s pretty fun, even when you play by yourself. I made it through the first few songs flying solo and had a jolly good time, and I’m sure the people walking into the library had a laugh as well. But obviously, the joy is playing with a friend. However, the problem with a writer’s schedule is that when you need to do work (read: play games) with someone else, mostly everyone else you know that isn’t a writer is in an office from 8 AM to 5 PM.

Luckily, there are tons of people out there that can help. These are the strangers of your life, and they may be ready to jump in and play something like Bounden or Fingle or whatnot with you, but the willing part is somewhat more difficult to bubble up to the surface. Luckily, the trained journalistic tendencies to finding the right questions to ask at any given moment come in really handy here.

Bounden

I went to the local mall since I figured it was summer, maximizing the chances of people on holiday and college kids hanging around. It was a rough go at first. Finding the right kind of person is a challenge in and of itself. The easiest ones to figure out were the ones that gave you the stink eye as you got closer. The harder people to suss out were the ones that were just kind of sitting around. Were they waiting for someone? Were they about to start a shift or just got off of one? Maybe they were tired? Eventually I let the sitting dogs lie. Or sit. Whatever.

This quick education led a quick and rapid succession of rejections. Some were kinder than others. Some were more fear-filled than I would have liked, but I do suppose I’m an odd-looking fellow at 6’3″ with a palm tree-shaped coif, so that might be on me. But then I got my first nibble on the line, my hour of baiting the river finally paying off. A borderline high school/college fellow leaning against a wall, playing with his phone, left there as his girlfriend went into a store.

“Hey there. How’s your day going?”

“Um, pretty good.”

“Interested in playing a new Android game?”

Bounden

Pretty simple and open gamble. The trouble came when I had to explain what the game was. “So this is a game called Bounden. It’s about dancing.” The immediate haze applied to his eyes told me I was losing his interest, but a little follow-up was just enough slack on the line to keep things going. “What were you just playing?”

In that moment, I learned that people still play Angry Birds. But by then, I had fired up the tutorial, had him put his thumb on the screen, and we were well into it. He kept telling me about his love for the furious fowl as we spun and spun, eventually turning into a comparison of his experiences with League of Legends and DotA. It was a surreal experience as eventually people came over to see what we were doing.

With the crowd (can four people make a crowd?), he eased away from playing another song, though I’m sure he weighed that option with dutifully following his girlfriend through another department store pretty heavily. He did, however, admit it was a lot of fun. So I turned to the onlookers and asked if there were any takers.

Bounden

They dispersed, but a woman came up and asked what was going on. Late twenties, maybe early thirties. I described the game to her, and at the mention of the word “dancing,” her eyes lit up. I went on to say that the game was developed in concert with the Dutch National Ballet, and she just said, “Let’s play.”

Even as we went through Grass, the first real song, it was remarkable how smoothly she went through the motions. Myself included, I’ve found that many new Bounden players move with a certain style, which is to say none at all, equivalent to walking up well-lotioned stairs with magnets and rebar for shoes. “Wow, you’re good at this,” I said.

“Oh, well I guess it’s because I have some experience.” Raising my eyebrows, I look at her. (Sometimes silence is the best way to get someone to talk.) “Yeah, I used to do ballet.”

“Used to?” I started up Twirl, a song named rather aptly for all the twirling you’re likely to do. It’s difficulty level even reads “Advanced Twirling.”

“Well, I was part of a small company in Miami, but, you know, I got injured. Now I just teach.” This was said even as we spun and twirled and Twister’d our way around the same 20 square feet of mall tile.

A lovely person with an interesting story. That perhaps describes the majority of the people you see out in the world. A mantra one of my teachers used to tell us (and you’re probably familiar with it) was that everyone knows something you don’t. Whether it’s about their life or some insight into your own, they have something new to say.

It’s vastly more interesting to find out what that new thing is rather than go over the same old thing. Bounden facilitates that discovery. It’s a hard thing to speak personal truth when you’re locked eyes with someone, but holding this game between you, a proxy for social revelations, you might find a bigger truth. Curiosity isn’t the fuel for just scientists and journalists. It’s for everyone.

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