For those of us who love computer games and grew up in the 1980’s, the name Infocom is near and dear to our hearts. Infocom was the number one source of text-based interactive fiction games. If you’re unaware of the genre, I’ve never heard a better description than this one from Strong Bad. Infocom developed such games as the Zork series, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Leather Goddesses of Phobos, and Planetfall, and it stood out from its competition for many reasons. Its text parser could handle much more complex statements than other games of its time (while many games required language in VERB NOUN form, Infocom allowed the player to do things like “GIVE THE GOLD KEY TO THE WHITE DWARF”). The writing was of very high quality, and the puzzles were often fiendishly difficult. However, one of Infocom’s greatest innovations was the inclusion of “Feelies” with their games.
Feelies were physical objects that referenced material from the games they came from, called Feelies because they were something tangible from the games. For example, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy included “Peril Sensitive Sunglasses” (which were just a pair of opaque black cardboard “sunglasses”) and pocket fluff, both of which were mentioned in the game. Sometimes the Feelies were a crude form of copy protection, in that they held clues that a player needed to complete the game. At their best, though, they were a just give-away that further immersed the player into the text adventure they were playing. There is great truth to the statement “People like free stuff.”
I like to incorporate Feelies into my live shows (perhaps the creepiest thing I’ve ever said). I have been known to have pop quizzes at my shows in which the prizes are things that were lying around my house. When I moved into my house and found that the former owners had left some of their plates and bric-a-brac, they became give-aways for future performances. I distinguish between Feelies and merchandise, as Feelies are typically free and often much more random.
One of the earliest examples was my trophy show at a coffee house in Roxborough. About a week or two before my show, my good friend Rockelpower and I were present when someone began clearing out their storage space, and we came across a large box of plastic action figures. She immediately decided she wanted them (I have no idea why), and asked me to store them in my apartment until she could come and pick them up. A few hours later she called and told me she didn’t want them anymore, so I got stuck with them. Since I had the show coming up, I thought they might make good prizes for the attendees. So I got a can of gold spray paint, found some small platforms to hot glue them to, and went to work.
I ended up with about 20 of these trophies at the show. I decided to give them out as actual awards, but for things one wouldn’t necessarily normally get awarded for; things like “Closest to Me in Age,” “Tallest Woman,” and “Non-Family Member Who Has Known Me the Longest.” I couldn’t come up with enough of them to fill all the trophies, so I brought a sharpie with me and made a few on the fly. When a friend spilled their coffee all over the floor, they won “First Person to Spill Coffee at My Show.” When someone showed up 5 minutes before I was done for the evening, I awarded the “LATE” trophy. Everyone who came ended up with a prize, and some of the awardees still have theirs today. It made for a really memorable experience for the people who came, and it allowed for a unique connection with the audience.
That brings me to my latest Feelie, of which I am quite proud. For my upcoming CD Release, I have a special Feelie based on the album cover, which is a broken heart pendant with the words “I Don’t Want to Be Your Friend” across the two halves. Thanks to the wonders of Etsy, I was able to get them made and they came out gorgeous:
They are prizes for the CD Release Party, to be given away at random as a thank you to the people who come. If you happen to be someone who most tragically cannot attend the CD Release on August 25, 2012, the silver lining is that you might be able to win one in a few weeks regardless of where you are. I’ll be posting more about it on my mailing list, in which you’re also able to get a free mp3 of one of my songs. I suppose that’s more of a “Hearie.”
Whether it’s video games, product launches, music concerts, or birthday parties, Feelies can make the occasion memorable in a uniquely tangible way. Often I find that the more incongruous the Feelie, the more effective it is, as it stands as a jarring reminder of the event and the experience. Get creative, get energized, and get to making stuff!