Boring video games aren’t hard to create–like so-so movies, they’re probably the default setting for most of what comes out. But designing a truly, epically boring game–one whose tedium is its raison d’etre, not just an unfortunate or unintended side effect–takes skill. Desert Bus (in which you drive an RV for hours through a featureless landscape) is usually cited as the acme of this particular form of art, but interactive director Rajeev Basu took a shot at the crown himself with his game Waiting in Line 3D. Created to promote the band ManCub, the game does exactly what it says: it makes you wait in line. Forever. Or until you die. Whichever comes first.
I had to ask: what on earth is the point of creating a game like this–especially to get people interested in something, like a little-known band? “We needed to do something that would get him lots of attention, without a big budget. So rather than chase ‘the magic viral formula’ like most labels and bands do, we competed by not competing at all,” Basu tells Co.Design. And it worked: Basu says that over 400,000 people played this unbearable game, and got introduced to ManCub’s music in the process. “Some related it to the craziness of waiting in line for Black Friday sales, others saw it as a welcome change from the game franchise hits, and others saw it simply as a means to punch themselves in the face,” he adds.
The key to making an intentionally boring but still playable game, Basu says, was in “making the game mechanic as simple as possible.” He went through several versions before settling on a design that offers the player’s avatar a choice between falling asleep out of boredom (and losing the game) or punching himself in the face to stay awake, which reduces a health meter (if you punch yourself too often, you die, and lose). “It couldn’t be simpler,” he says.
The retro visual design of Waiting In Line acted as an ironic signal to potential players as well. “The game is created as an homage to the classics of the first person shooter genre, like Doom and Wolfenstein,” Basu explains. “By using a similar visual aesthetic to those games, players very quickly understand what kind of game to expect–which we then ruin completely.”
Basu’s previous interactive effort was The Facehawk, an ironic visualization of players’ social media profiles that morphed into a menacing bird of prey. Waiting in Line 3D is more intentionally prankish, but if good design is design that works, you can’t fault the game’s efficacy. Nearly half a million people waited in line to hear ManCub’s music–let’s hope some of them bought it, too.