Rattlesnake Games – Introduction and Example

A new game genre of imagination, knowledge and wisdom

Rattlesnake games connect ideas and forms across all areas of knowledge and culture. They can be played on the beach, in a car, at home, using only materials on hand, or even with no materials at all and with the imagination only, either with or without internet connectivity, as players prefer. It’s like an i-spy of ideas, and of more interest, being not just a game about objects you can see, but about all objects and ideas, what you can do with them, and what else you can use to do the same thing. They are games of imagination, knowledge and wisdom in which a single form or idea gets refracted through different mental, emotional, physical, or spiritual lenses. But it’s not like light in a prism: it will refract differently every time, depending on who’s playing and the lenses they like to see the world through.

Rattlesnake games connect forms and ideas to different contexts. The name comes from the way the moves are recorded, on a criss-cross pattern like a rattlesnake’s scales. You can easily draw the pattern of Xs and play with pencil and paper, chalk on the floor, a stick in the sand, or just using your memory.

The forms used in the game can be complex or commonplace, abstract or an actual object:

  • ‘setsugekka’ — the Japanese (originally Chinese) idea of snow and flower blossom confused in the moonlight
  • a simple apple — rich in symbolism and useful in many ways in different cultures
  • a particular shell, stone or even litter found on the beach, which you can examine closely for inspiration

The contexts used in the game can (and should) range across all types of intelligence and wisdom:

  • emotions (e.g. excitement, anger)
  • physical mindfulness (e.g. chakras and their physical associations)
  • spiritual wisdom (e.g. including types of uncertainty)
  • domains of fact-based knowledge (e.g. science, art, astronomy, music, genetics, hacking)

The scope of play can be as broad or as narrow as you like, as cuddly or forbidding as you and other players please. Dreamtime? Tao? No problem! Sub-Saharan African History 750–1000 CE? Disney cartoons 1960–1980? Minecraft? Emotions? Senses? All available as contexts for you to read into. Octagenarian or 8-year-old players? Mix and match!

An example game — “Apple on the moon”

Player 1 picks a form (‘theme’) and names two initial contexts for the theme to be connected to (e.g. the theme might be ‘apple’ and the two initial contexts ‘Greek mythology’ and ‘on the moon’).

Player 2 claims a connection of the theme against either one of the unclaimed contexts, and then adds another context (e.g. Player 2 tells the story of Atalanta and the apples to claim a connection with ‘Greek mythology’ and then adds ‘Disney movies’ as a context).

The game continues with the next player doing the same: claiming a connection to one of the unclaimed contexts, and then adding another context. It can go on for ever, or until noone can go. The next player now has to connect ‘apple’ to ‘on the moon’ or ‘Disney movies’: she claims ‘Disney movies’ with the story of Snow White and the poisoned apple, and adds ‘geometry’ as the next context. The next player now has to connect ‘apple’ to ‘on the moon’ or ‘geometry’ and so on.

There’s a strategy for players to propose very narrow and difficult contexts, to which they themselves have already found a connection. But as soon as the other player manages to claim it before you, you’ll have to try to play a narrow context the other player proposed! So should you make yours even more narrow so others can’t preempt you, or play it safe and keep it general?

‘Ratata’ (an obscure Swedish pop band) you can scream when you think you came up with a context no one else can connect! And ‘Lucchese’ (a famous maker of snakeskin boots) when you manage to snatch up your opponent’s supposedly difficult context before they do!

Rattlesnake can be played for the pleasure of play alone, to ‘beat the game’ and keep interesting moves coming from different players. If you want to score the game, and that’s fair enough if you want a competitive game, you can score 1 for claiming your own context, 2 for claiming another player’s context, 4 for claiming your own ‘Ratata’ and 5 for a ‘Lucchese.’ You should agree to finish the game at one of the stages when all players have had an equal opportunity to score.

There are some example games at @RatataLucchese on Twitter, of different degrees of difficulty and seriousness. I hope you will enjoy playing!