Archives For Games

SHHHH sign from the Latitude Society receiving room
The “SHHHH” sign in the Latitude Society receiving room


Today, I published a long article in Vice about the Latitude Society, a now-closed San Francisco art project that was developed by a company called Nonchalance. I loved the Latitude Society; it was one of the most brilliant, boundary-pushing, and genre-defying art pieces I have ever experienced. My article is intended to be both a critique and a celebration of the Latitude, and I poured my heart into it.

I’m proud of that article, but I had some narrative and space constraints while writing it. Here are some responses to questions people have asked me, which I wasn’t able to answer fully in the article. If you have questions, feel free to leave a comment or contact me on Twitter: @lydialaurenson.


Original Latitude Society invitation - front
The invitation card I received to the San Francisco House of the Latitude


Question #1: Did I talk to Jeff Hull in person after the Society closed?

I knew Jeff while the Society was running, and I worked on a couple of projects for Nonchalance (nothing big, so don’t give me too much credit!). As I explain in the article, I reached out to Jeff after he ended the project. I really think Jeff is brilliant, although I didn’t agree with all the decisions he made; I wanted to talk to him and get a better understanding of his perspective.

Jeff agreed to an email interview, and I sent him a whole bunch of questions. He answered three of the questions I asked. Here is his email to me, in full:

Hi Lydia,

I think most of your questions were covered in either the Long Read piece or my epilogue on the Latitude site. [Note from Lydia: he’s referring to this article written by Rick Paulas for Longreads. Jeff also posted an epilogue on the Latitude website, which isn’t loading right now, so there’s a screenshot here.]

The only thing that wasn’t really covered was the future of the content (IP).

> – Are you thinking of using the IP for anything else?

Yes, the Storyworld of the Latitude will emerge in other mediums. The book will be released, and there’s talk of developing a fiction film, and potentially a VR interactive series. It’s a rich universe that people really connect with, so there is no limit to the applications of it.

> – Do you feel that anything about the Society should remain secret?

I don’t think any of the released material needs to be a secret. It’s out there already. But there was so much unreleased content, concepts, teachings, and experiences. People really only glimpsed a small fraction of what the world was. These elements remain hidden.

> – Are there any specific pictures or recordings that you would like to get out into the world?

I’m fond of The Walk of the Guardians. [Note from Lydia: The Walk of the Guardians is an audio recording, and a Society member named The Mister was kind enough to send me a copy. There is about a minute of audio instructions here, while the longer Walk of the Guardians can be accessed here. You can listen from anywhere.]

Otherwise, I do not have much to add that hasn’t already been covered. Hope it goes well, and let me know if there’s anything else I can help with.


I sent Jeff some followup questions, and he never got back to me. It’s clear that the Latitude Society experience was ultimately painful for Jeff, so I understand why he wouldn’t want to talk about it anymore.

Still, I’m truly sad that I wasn’t able to include more of his perspective in my article.

Continue Reading…

Dec 21

Mridangam, the roleplaying game of Indian dance

Nerd alert: This is a post about obscure roleplaying game theory. :)

When I worked in game design, there were a number of indie designers whose work I admired, like Shreyas Sampat. Years ago, Sampat published a fascinating thought experiment called Mridangam. Mridangam is a game written for an alternative history of our world — an imaginary world where roleplaying games evolved from Indian dance instead of American war games.

Here are the opening paragraphs:

In the city of Srikakulam, it was once the tradition that the Rikha and Sibarat theatre dynasties would engage in a competition for the firstborn princess’s hand in marriage. Before the Sky-Dwelling King, the finest storyteller of each line would oppose the other in an improvisational performance that began with the seed of a myth.

The loser of the contest would be given as tribute to the barbarians of the eastern plains, who demanded the stories of Srikakulam in exchange for their fatted yaks and protection from the silver-faced pirates of the distant north. (i.e. If you win, you become a princess; if you lose, you get to be a bride of the royal eastern mounted yak men.)

In time, this competition became a meaningless charade; the gestural language of dance-drama fell into disuse, and soon the laity forgot its meaning. Rather than using the gestures to communicate messages to their audience, the dancers began to use them as a secret sign language, to communicate amongst themselves while they performed.

In 1956, Rachana Melwani created the first roleplaying game, when she realised that she and the other dancers were telling stories that only they could fully understand. She pared down the gestural language, reducing it to a simple system that could easily be understood by the laity. This is her creation.

Each of the dancers in Mridangam takes on a heroic persona. A dancer may only speak in her character’s voice. To indicate that she is speaking the character’s thoughts rather than his words, a dancer may hold the palm of Ardhachandra toward her face and look into it, as though examining herself in a mirror. If a dancer wants her character to do something besides speak, this must be stated as something the character thinks or says. For instance, if she wanted her character to climb into a chariot, she may say, “Now I must climb into my chariot.”

Sampat’s text goes on to describe the hand gestures of Mridangam, and he then explains how each gesture can resolve conflicts and move the game’s story forward.

Mridangam was originally published in Push: New Thinking About Roleplaying, Volume 1, back in 2006. Sadly, Volume 1 was the only issue of Push ever published. (Experimental roleplayers are both a tough crowd and a small market.)

I live in fear that Push will vanish from the internet, so I asked the lead editor Jonathan Walton to let me host a backup of Volume 1 here on my site, and he agreed. Thanks to Walton’s generosity, if the above link isn’t working, you can also grab Push in PDF right here.