“Games are dramatic models of our psychological lives providing release of particular tensions.”— Marshall McLuhan
Hi everyone. It is a privilege to present my board game project, McLuhan’s Maelstrom: The Deck-building, Augmented Reality Learning Game. I am a proud graduate of the Ryerson School of Professional Communication Masters progam, and a current PhD Candidate at the Ryerson and York Universities Communication and Culture program.
I love board games. For me, opening the box of a well-designed tabletop game can feel like opening a mysterious treasure chest. Tiny, multitudinous, colourful game pieces such as coins, chips, dice, meeples are as so many undiscovered gemstones. The game boards and cardboard puzzles are like cryptic, arcane maps to buried clues. Beautiful, intricate game components can come together like avant-garde statues or modern works of art. For the past three years, I’ve wanted to design a fully-realized tabletop game that was like an interactive work of art.
My current field of studies is board and video games as learning tools, and as an art form. Working through the design of video games as I have for the past few years, I’ve encountered many collaborators and how-to guides who have often counseled turning to pen and paper to start the design process. If a game is good as a tabletop game first, it will translate as a videogame. I also had a very distant past as a painter and illustrator as I prepared for a fine arts college in high school by building an extensive portfolio, then I went to journalism school instead. This project was an opportunity to finally bring together communication scholarship, game design and my long-forgotten passion for the fine arts.
The resultant project, after months of effort, trial and error, is an augmented reality, deck-building card game called McLuhan’s Maelstrom: The Card Game. This open-access learning game designed for upper high school and first-year university students is based on the teachings of the legendary Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980). In McLuhan’s Maelstrom, players win victory points by launching communication technologies into the media maelstrom or frantic modern media marketplace as depicted by a printed fabric playmat made to resemble a roiling spiral.
The game is designed to use a deck-building mechanic whereby players will use hand-drawn, professionally-printed playing cards that depict ancient communication technologies which are then used to purchase newer media technologies. By buying more sophisticated communication technology cards, players can create increasingly more powerful card decks. These new, more sophisticated, modern communication technology cards can be used to purchase still more technology cards, to then launch them onto their Maelstrom Map playmat. To win, players must be the first to acquire and launch the most valuable technologies onto their Maelstrom Map. Players also need to remember to launch technologies that work well with one another. According to McLuhan’s Tetrad of Media Effects (1988), some technologies obsolete, reverse, retrieve or enhance other technologies. The scoring mechanism is meant to reinforce the Tetrad. If players deploy the wrong communication technologies together, they lose victory points. If they deploy the right technologies together, then the players can gain additional victory points.
This also a video I love from one of my game design idols, Dr. Mary Flanagan.