I heard the premise behind the All-Batman game several years ago, and began writing my version in the summer of 2006. Since the original idea was not mine, I decided to do some research to find out who had come up with the idea, so that I could give credit where credit was due. The trail of the All-Batman has proven to be a much more tangled web than I’d have thought possible.
Late at night after the day’s games have run at Intercon, people often talk about interesting games they have played, heard about, or hope to write some day. It was at one such discussion that I first heard Uncle Don Ross describe the premise of the All-Batman game. He admitted he had never played it, and wasn’t sure if it ever had been run or was a recurring myth or rumor. The idea stuck in my mind, as it combined humorous potential with some intriguing twists.
Several years later, at a party Uncle Don asked me if I’d be interested in writing and running a small, short larp for his “Intercon GZ” event (which ran at Intercon G in March of 2007). The idea of the All-Batman game floated up, and we briefly talked about it and a few other ideas. I gave him the usual “we’ll see” answer, and he made encouraging noises and went away. The next morning, as I lay in bed half-awake, bits and pieces started floating together, and by the time I got up it had all but written itself in the back of my mind. Over the next few weeks all I had to do was to tweak it and write it out, with the assistance of my wife Jennifer and daughter Valerie. (The working title of the game then was “The Kelley Version of the All-Batman Game”.)
Once I was certain the game was viable and would be written, I contacted Uncle Don to coordinate with the GZ event. During one of these discussions he mentioned that there had actually been another All-Batman game. I worked the appropriate Google search phrases, and so found the home site of “The almost all Batman tm game based on an idea that may have originated with Don Ross”, written by Lee Rosenberg, Sharon Tripp, and Scott David Gray.
Until this point I had no evidence that an All-Batman game had ever actually been written. I had also forgotten the nature of the game Uncle Don had described years ago; the game outline presented on their website is very different from the game we’ve written. I suspect they got the idea from Uncle Don as well (through probably at a different party). I was glad that I was following a “tradition” of All-Batman games—though as yet I had no idea how far back the tradition actually stretches.
I had previously contacted Mike Young about basing the combat mechanics of this game on his MENKS system, which is available on the web at this site.
(He claims MENKS was not inspired by the Batman TV show, but I have my doubts.)
In an email he said that he had played the All-Batman game before, but when I later mentioned the newly discovered website to him, he replied that no, that was not the version he had played in. It took him no little effort, but eventually he found an email address, and introduced me to Diane Lawson-Miller.</span></p> <p class=NormalIndent><span style='font-size:12.0pt'>Diane was a renowned larp-writer in the early 90’s, with such fabled games as “A Fist Full of Wu” and the “Luvboat” games to her credit. Her version was run at an old Intercon, and she describes the genesis of it like so:
Well a few of us were grumbling about what were we going to do in a strange town where it looked like everything closed at dark. I had taken the challenge to write a game in a week once before (The original Small Town) and cockily announced that I thought I could write one and have it ready to run before midnight. My husband at the time David Miller and John O'Neil volunteered to help. We tore thru the hotel grabbing every piece of writing paper we could find and got one of the game GMs to give us a pack of index cards.
In short, they wrote one of, if not The, first guerilla games. They thought about running it again at another con, but backed down over concerns about licensing.
(I ran my version of the game twice at Intercon G in 2007, and one of the high points was when one of the players—Steven Tihor—mentioned that he too had played in the original game. He described a one-hour event wherein people came up with elaborate deathtraps and equally elaborate escapes from deathtraps—pretty similar to one of the mechanics I came up with. All-Batman games do seem to write themselves.)
The one thing she did not recall was which Intercon this was written and run at. I asked Mike if he recalled; he wasn’t sure, but as it was a larp history subject he had CC’d Gordon Olmstead-Dean on that email, and Gordon identified it as having run at Intercon VII (back in March 1992). Hooked on history, I determined to look it up in the Metagame archive. (“Metagame” was “The Journal of the Interactive Literature Foundation”, a quarterly magazine put out by the old ILF. Besides articles on larping, it also contained critiques and analysis of recently run games and conventions. Look for them at <a href="http://metagame.larpaweb.net/">http://metagame.larpaweb.net/</a>, it’s a great source of both history and general larping know-how.)
Anyway, I figured Intercon VII would be discussed in Volume 5 Number 2 (March 1992)… but only the cover of that magazine had been scanned, presumably because whoever scanned them did not have access to that issue. I don’t know if any mention of the design or running of the game is in there—but please contact me if you have a copy I can borrow!
But the story doesn’t end here. While clicking around, making sure that I hadn’t made a mistake, I downloaded the earliest Metagame available online (Volume 4 Number 4, November 1991), and as will happen got caught up reading about larps. One article reviewed a game run by Diane and Paul Dwyer named “Concatination”. This was a game about people “writing” larps and getting them accepted by the larping community. (Apparently, back then politics got in the way of writing larps. Can you imagine?) The article listed the “games” they came up with including such gems as “Beachhouse in December”, “Salmonella Sea”, “Lost in Jersey”…
…and “The All-Batman Game”.
So the idea of an All-Batman game had surfaced several months before Diane wrote her version. But who came up with it originally? Were they thinking of the same scenario as Diane, or did they have something else in mind? Did the idea first come up during the course of Concatination, or had “All-Batman” come up even before then? I may never know for sure, but Gordon suggested the following:
The "All Batman Game" was a takeoff on a similar silly concept. The "All Vampire Game." It seemed back then that any game had a vampire in it, so somebody came up with this amusing idea of an "all vampire game" where EVERYONE was a vampire.
This gives you some historical context. That was FUNNY then. The idea of a game where EVERYONE was a vampire. Just silly...
So there you have it. Someone came up with an idea, and it was good enough to not be forgotten, unlike “Beachhouse in December” (but it’s worth mentioning that several of the games titles from Concatenation have since seen the light of day). It’s floated around for years, inspired three actual games that I know about, and who knows how many more in the future?
As for an all-vampire game, I’ll pass. Who’d want to play in a game where everyone’s a vampire?
Further research and developments from the department of All-Batmanology.
I cajoled Jeannie Whitead to dig through her archives and bring her old copy of Metagame Volume 5 Number 2 to Intercon I. Alas, it contains no mention of the All-Batman game run at Intercon VII. (That magazine was passed around, read, and enjoyed by many people. Check out the Metagame archives, there’s good stuff in there!)
Later at that convention, I mentioned this to Mike Young, and he recalled a satirical parady of Metagame (called “Magemeat”) that someone had put out way back when. He somehow recalled that the second issue—and there only ever were two issues—came out after Intercon VII, and contained an article about guerilla games. He scanned the article for me, and while it does not mention either Intercon VII or an All-Batman game, based on the politics of the day it certainly could have been written because of it. (This leads to the question, “Ok, so what’s the history of guerilla games”, a topic I may or may not follow up on some day.)
Just for us old fogies, here’s the “editorial comment” that concluded the article:
Editor's note: in keeping with our open door policy, accepted this even though it was submitted lateon an Atari disk. it's easier with a paper copy, bub!
[Wipes a tear from his eye] You ‘net kiddies wouldn’t understand.
Lastly, the legacy of the All Batman game lives on! When I arrived at Intercon I (where I again ran my version of the game), one of the first people I ran into was Mike. He was talking about how, desipte his work on his renowned games Brassy’s Men [http://www.interactivitiesink.com/larps/brassy/index.shtml] and Lullabies on Broadway [http://www.interactivitiesink.com/larps/broadway/login.pl] he just wasn’t writing very many games any more. I recounted one of my more poignant Intercon memories (XIII, I believe), where before I’d even even signed in to the con, he grabbed me to play in a game he had only just written (Abattoir [http://www.interactivitiesink.com/minigames/index.html]). Mike took this as a challenge, and a bit over 30 minutes later had lined up nine of us to play in “The Other, Other, <i>Other</i> All Batman Game” [http://www.interactivitiesink.com/minigames/index.html]
Who shall be next to carry the torch?
After years away, Paul Dwyer attended Intercon N to run the classic game “Babul”. I cornered him having breakfast with Diane Lawson in the hotel restaurant, and learned the final few facts of the history of All-Batman games.
Alas, the tale does indeed stop at the game “Concatenation”, written by Paul, Diane, and John O’Neil. Concatenation required ideas for games, and while writing it they came up with a lot of silly ones—including, as described above, “The All-Batman Game”.
So there you have it: the full and final tale of the All-Batman games. Unless and until someone writes another one …