Joust To The Music: Video Game Evolves Beyond The Screen : All Tech Considered A new high-tech game is a little like musical-chairs-meets-tag. Johann Sebastian Joust is a video game — but without the video. A technology expert sees it as a return to traditional types of play.

Joust To The Music: Video Game Evolves Beyond The Screen

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Elsewhere today we're reporting on Screen Free Week, an effort to encourage kids to get some exercise, among other things. Now we hear of people getting off of the couch and out of the living room - for a video game. It's a modern take on an ancient sport: jousting. Here's NPR's Medieval correspondent Travis Larchuk.

TRAVIS LARCHUK, BYLINE: It's called Johann Sebastian Joust.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Get ready to joust. Go.

LARCHUK: The first notable thing about this game is it's not tethered to a TV screen. So players can take the action outside which is exactly what these people are doing, at a video game conference in Los Angeles.


LARCHUK: Instead of staring at a screen, the players are looking at each other. And off to the side, a portable speaker plays Johann Sebastian Bach's "Brandenburg Concertos."


LARCHUK: Four people nervously stalk each other. Each holds a Playstation Move controller. It kind of looks like a microphone, with a glowing orb on top lit up in pink or yellow or blue. Although the game's called Johann Sebastian Joust, the object is to keep your controller away from the other players. And you have keep tempo with the music, which changes. If it speeds up, you speed up.


LARCHUK: If it slows down, you slow down.


LARCHUK: If you ever move faster than the music, like, say if another player pushes you, the controller senses it. And you're out.




UNIDENTIFIED MAN: And the winner is yellow player.

LARCHUK: In public it creates a spectacle. Strangers join in like 17 year old Zach Wilson.

ZACH WILSON: This is a game I just found out about. It's really invigorating. I'm going to get you.

LARCHUK: Though Johann Sebastian Joust relies on video game hardware to work, it maybe isn't really a video game.

DOUGLAS WILSON: It's half playground game and like half a video game but it's this, you know, interesting intersection between those.

LARCHUK: That's Douglas Wilson, no relation to Zach. He invented Johann Sebastian Joust. Motion-controlled games aren't new - think of the Nintendo Wii and the XBox Kinect - but Wilson wanted to take the attention away from graphics on TV.

WILSON: It's also really fun to see the facial expressions of your friends and to no longer be so tethered to this, you know, strange screen.


LARCHUK: And this game is physical. You're encouraged to chase or push your fellow players. Jesse Schell is a professor at Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center.

JESSE SCHELL: Video games that involve touching other people, like when - that just doesn't happen, right? Video games are usually so much about just interacting directly with a virtual world.

LARCHUK: And that presents a challenge to the game's creator Douglas Wilson: selling a video game without video.

WILSON: It becomes this kind of question like OK, well, will this thing sell? Will people understand it?

LARCHUK: So he Wilson did what many indie game makers do these days and he crowdfunded the project on Kickstarter. And instead of risking going alone, he teamed up with other indie designers to put Johann Sebastian Joust into a compilation of more arcade-style games. It's called "Sportsfriends." And after months of delays, it hit the Playstation store this week.

Jesse Schell says while Johann Sebastian Joust may seem like a novelty or a gimmick, there is actually more to it than that.

SCHELL: This game is the tip of a much larger iceberg that is kind of coming our way. I do think we're going to see a lot of growth in the notion of games without screens or games that are designed to be played outdoors.

LARCHUK: Schell says, paradoxically, technology has improved to the point where now it's helping people play games the way they did before computers came along in the first place: Face to face. Travis Larchuk, NPR News.

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