Side Hustle with Michelle Calabro

Side Hustle with Michelle Calabro

For the uninitiated, The Forger is game about making fake artwork and pretending that it’s real. The game goes like this:

1. Each game has three players: two artists and one curator.

2. One of the artists is given two words to draw inspiration from while the other artist (the forger) copies the original artwork.

3. Once the colored markers are down and the art is complete, the two artists must convince the curator that their work is the original piece.

4. The curator will then decide which work is worthy of being displayed in the gallery.

5. The game ends when the gallery is full with the winner being the artist who has the most work in the gallery.

Now normally, the beginning of any Side Hustle starts with the hustlee, but with respect to Michelle Calabro’s work, the rules of The Forger are much more important. After all, the development of these rules and the subsequent decisions that the players derive from them are the real meat of the game. I’m only telling you this because Ms. Calabro is part Global Planner and part Game Designer. She breathes this kind of stuff.

Now you may think, as I did, that game design translates to the look and feel of a particular game. But that's only partially right. Game design is more abstract. The Google says that game design is the art of applying art and aesthetics to facilitate interaction between players. 

Take the design of Super Mario. We all know the objective. Mario must save Princess Peach from the evil Bowser and travel across the Mushroom Kingdom. The game designer decides how high Mario can jump, where the coins and power ups in the game are, and the unique rhythm that Mario runs. These actions have been play tested several times to ensure that each player experiences Mario in a seamless, and often times memorable way. And you can thank the game designer for that. 

Now that we all have a basic understanding, we can now talk about how Ms. Calabro and her partner, Jaehyun Kim, brought The Forger to life. 

She play tested The Forger over 200 times in places like art shows and parties. As she introduced the game to various people, she collected data to help optimize how the game is played — meaning the time it takes for the artist to come up with a drawing as well as how many people should be involved in the game. The social aspect proved quite revealing. In the 200 times she play tested the game, the curators of each game were only able to guess who the original artist was 50% of the time. That means that her data proved there’s no universal chat code to playing her game. Ms. Calabro designed a purely skill-based game. 

Now if you’re like me, you’re probably trying to come up with a strategy to win her game. But keep in mind that the strategies are part of the fun. These are the rewards of the game designer: To build a simple game made fun by the challenges brought forth by the players.

Ms. Calabro grew up craving these rewards. In college, she studied various forms of art with the goal of trying to understand what she was creating. And over the years, she has worked with set designers, photographers, Information architects and UX designers. These major players built the foundation for her gaming skills.

I’m no stranger to games. I love all kinds of games. And the brief conversation I had with Ms. Calabro about games was too brief. I wish I could tell you about the passion in her voice as she talked about the Playstation 2 classic, Phychonauts. I wish I could convey the nostalgia I had discussing the difference between Tekken and Street Fighter. But I want to leave you with this: Go back to the beginning of this article and reread the rules above. Read them again until it not only makes sense,  but so you can draw your own conclusions about how you might play this game. That way, you can go from just playing the game to truly being a part of it. Because once you get over anything holding you back from playing, then you can really experience the beauty of it. 

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