PhD Student Greg Loring-Albright Investigates “Keepsake” Games
By Gina Myers
September 9, 2021
What do non-fungible tokens (NFTs) have to do with board games? The connection between the cryptocurrency and gaming may not be immediately identifiable, but it is exactly what led Communication, Culture and Media PhD student Greg Loring-Albright to his recent research into keepsake games.
NFTs are unique tokens used to purchase digital art. Despite well-documented negative environmental effects, NFTs have taken the art world by storm. Loring-Albright and his friend Wes Willison, MDiv, were texting about fungibility and the ontological concept of a token that is singular in and of itself. The conversation eventually led to the question of how games, which are indefinitely repeatable, can also create these unique tokens. One thing led to another, and they decided to pursue this question more seriously.
Loring-Albright and Willison, an independent scholar, recently presented their research “Memorable Artifacts: The Co-Production of Unique Materiality Via Game Rules” at GENeration Analog, the first tabletop games and education conference presented by Analog Games Studies and Gen Con, the preeminent consumer marketing event for hobby games in North America.
Their research looked at keepsake games. Theorized by game designers Jeeyon Shim and Shing Yin Khor, “a keepsake game is basically where you, as a part of the gameplay, either start making something new or alter something that you've already made,” explains Loring-Albright. He cites Khor’s newest game, A Mending, as an example. “It’s about walking through the woods to see an old friend, and as you go, you sew on a handkerchief.” The artifact produced by the game ends up being a collaboration between the game designer and the person playing.
For his research, Loring-Albright played the game Field Guide to Memory, which was created by Shim. “The game involves writing in a journal and taping things into it. You create a material record of this fictional search for a missing professor,” explains Loring-Albright. “You can’t play the game without materially creating something.”
These new keepsake games are also designed to be played solo. While video games have long been designed to be played that way, the concept is rarer for tabletop games. However, it makes keepsake games perfect for the pandemic era, when it is not easy to gather with others to play. However, it isn’t completely isolated either. “There’s a connected path aspect. We’re all playing alone, but we’re all playing alone together,” says Loring-Albright.
Field Guide to Memory includes instructions to share things on social media. “I can play Field Guide to Memory and go online and use the hashtag to see everyone else who's also playing Field Guide to Memory, sharing the objects they found in the woods near their house, or sharing the way that the character they made up is interacting with this story, and that's super cool,” he says.
However, though the term “keepsake” is new, the concept is not. For his part of the project, Willison looked at how Pandemic Legacy: Season 2 can also be considered a keepsake game because it creates an indelible object through play.
The duo’s presentation resulted in a lot of follow-up questions on the boundaries of what makes something a keepsake game. Loring-Albright left with a lot of new ideas to further complicate their study.
“Part of our function as theorists is to establish those terminological boundaries or draw upon the work that the designers and coiners of the term have done to establish the term, but also to observe where that kind of taxonomy falls apart or gets in trouble,” he says. “I had this sort of clear vision in my head of what a keepsake game is, but after the conference discussion, I realized I need to mess that up a little bit. No term is 100% watertight.”
Greg Loring-Albright is currently recruiting participants for his dissertation research. If you are open to having him observe your gaming group, either in person or online, or if you’d like to learn more, contact Greg at firstname.lastname@example.org.