Two weeks ago was my tenth wedding anniversary. It inspired me to write a two-part column about using themes in design combined with how Lora (my wife) and I used a theme (games and puzzles) in the planning of our very untraditional wedding. Either this sounds very familiar to you and welcome to Part II, or you have some required reading to do. (Seriously, I'm writing this thing assuming you've read Part I.)
Last time I talked about all the trappings of the wedding—the invitation, the cake, the thank-you notes, etc. This week I'm going to talk about the planning of the ceremony itself. If you thought the trappings of the wedding were offbeat, wait until I tell you about the ceremony.
Lesson #5 – Blend Your Theme into Your Structure
In many ways the trappings of a wedding are the easiest thing to theme. The invitation / cake / thank-you note / etc. have to look like something; just choose imagery that's in theme. The ceremony on the other hand is a bit trickier. We weren't playing a game, we were getting married, and as much as Lora and I wanted the ceremony to be fun, playful and memorable, we still wanted it to function as a wedding.
Thus we started by figuring out what it was that we wanted the ceremony to have. Forget the theme for a moment. What did we want our ceremony to include? After some talking, Lora and I agreed on the following components:
- Entrance of groom and groomsmen
- Entrance of bride and bridesmaids
- A few wedding traditions
- Exchange of vows
- "I pronounce you husband and wife"
- Crushing a glass (It's a Jewish thing.)
- Exit of wedding party
In Part I, I talked about how most weddings all blend together. One of the major reasons is that every wedding basically has the same components. Here's the catch: Lora and I wanted those things. We wanted our wedding to have all the trappings of a wedding. We didn't want to be different by not doing what every wedding does. We wanted to be different while doing what every wedding does. I'll hit this theme again when I get back to Magic design, but it's important to understand that we wanted to weave our theme into a very rigid structure.
The trick was that we wanted to do what every weddings does but in a way unlike most weddings. We wanted to hit the same conventions and traditions but with our own touch. To do this we wanted to take our theme and blend it in. Our theme was games and puzzles. That meant that we had to figure out what qualities about games and puzzles we could weave into our ceremony.
After some thought, we came up with the following. (Note that we chose to focus on games as games and puzzles pull in slightly different directions when thinking about the ceremony.)
- Games have rules
- Games have a goal
- Games have a history
- Games are interactive / social
- Games are fun
All right then, that's what our wedding had to have.
Games Have Rules
So our wedding needed rules, or at least one key rule. This one stumped me at first, because a wedding isn't really the kind of thing one associates rules with. But then one fateful day at the florist, I had my breakthrough. Lora and I had chosen to have a destination wedding (a.k.a. some place nice that you make the guests travel to). Not wanting our loved ones and friends to travel too far, we chose a small town called Port Ludlow on Bainbridge Island, a lovely little stick of land a hop, skip, and ferry ride from downtown Seattle. Because we were so far away, we were forced to use many of the shops on the island, one of which was the florist.
One day we were at this florist picking out what we wanted for the wedding. The woman in the shop was pushing hard for us to take some flower that Lora didn't want. I asked for a moment to talk to Lora who turned to me and said, "This is our wedding. We get to call the shots. She can talk until she's blue in the face. Our wedding is not going to have anything that we don't want."
"Our wedding is not going to have anything we don't want." That's the rules. That's what a wedding is all about. The bride and groom get to write their own rules. They get to define the wedding / game. That was going to be the overriding theme. Lora and I were going to be empowered to do whatever we wanted. The big difference between our wedding and most others was that we were going to call the shots during the wedding.
Here was my idea. We start the wedding by letting the audience know our metarule: Lora or I could stop the wedding at any time and change whatever we wanted. To make it fun, this meant that we had to start our wedding with all the defaults in. Normally, the bride and groom would weed out elements they don't like while planning the wedding. We would do it during the ceremony instead.
To give you a taste, here is a little snippet of our wedding. What are you are about to see is a piece from the script to our wedding. Yes, our wedding had a script. I wrote it. To do what we did required a lot of coordination, and that meant that Lora, myself, and Michael (my good friend who became legally able to marry people to perform our wedding—and yes, that is Michael Ryan, the person who co-created the Weatherlight Saga with me) all had our dialogue carefully crafted.(Although we definitely allowed ourselves the ability to improvise a little.)
[MARK AND LORA STAND WITH THEIR BACKS TO THE AUDIENCE, WITH MARK ON LORA'S RIGHT HAND SIDE. THEY FACE MICHAEL. THE BRIDESMAIDS STAND BY LORA AND THE GROOMSMEN STAND BY MARK]
We are gathered here today in the presence...
Wait a minute. Stop.
[MARK TURNS TO THE AUDIENCE. LORA TURNS TO WATCH.]
I'm not sure how many of you know this but traditionally, the groom is supposed to stand to the right of the bride. This tradition started because way back when weddings had a habit of being interrupted by parties who didn't want the union becoming official and by standing to the right, the groom, most likely right-handed, had his weapon hand free to defend his bride. But come on, who's kidding who? If this wedding is attacked, I don't think me having my weapon hand free is really going to tilt anything in our favor. Now I'm right handed. I would much rather use my right hand to hold Lora's hand. So, I'm going to swap positions.
[MARK AND LORA SWAP POSITIONS FORCING ALL THE BRIDAL PARTY TO ALSO SWAP.]
All right. We...
Hold on. As long as we're switching, I want to change places with Michael. I always hate how the bride and groom stand with their backs to the audience. No offense to Michael, but no one came to watch him.
[MARK AND LORA SWAP WITH MICHAEL]
Now, I'm on the wrong side again.
[MARK AND LORA SWAP FORCING THE BRIDAL PARTY TO ONCE AGAIN SWAP.]
The metarule ran through the entire ceremony. Whenever we ran across something we didn't like, we changed it. The importance of this rule was that it helped us use our theme to tie the whole ceremony together. By the time we got married, it was clear that this was our wedding done the way we wanted.
Games Have a Goal
The last one was hard. This one, not so much. Weddings have a goal built into them: get the bride and groom married. In addition, weddings have a number of traditions that the bride and groom have to make their way through to get their end goal. Traditions were a big theme of our wedding, and we talked a lot about what had to be done to finish our ceremony and "win" our game.
Games Have a History
I often talk in this column about the metagame, that is, the elements that overreach the actual playing of the game. Players can spend days involving themselves in Magic without ever playing. Part of the metagame comes from the history of the game. When some new deck becomes dominant it is interesting to understand the deck in context of the game's history. To me, weddings had a similar sense of a metagame, what I called the "metawedding"—no, seriously, I used the term during our ceremony. (I did explain it for the non-R&D folk in the audience.)
Part of weaving the game theme to our wedding was to take a similar approach to the metawedding. Much of our ceremony was about putting wedding traditions into context. As you can see in the script above, I didn't just say that the groom is supposed to stand to the right of the bride, I explained why the tradition came to be. This was another thread that ran through the ceremony. Here is another excerpt:
Lora and I started by examining the many wedding traditions. We studied them to find out where each tradition came from. We essentially learned two things. First, we learned that most wedding traditions have unexpected origins. For example, the white wedding dress. Why white? I'm sure many of you believe it is because white is the color of purity. That's merely a revisionist twentieth century invention. No, white was originally chosen because it was a sign of affluence since in the olden days, truly white clothes could only be worn once or twice before they became permanently soiled. Everything from the wedding band to the shoes tied to the newlywed's card have dubious origins. Three quarters of the traditions actually tie to either ownership or fidelity. But, we also learned lesson number two, that traditions are pretty symbolic in nature. They are very open to interpretation and thus can represent whatever you wish them to be.
Our ceremony had a great respect for the institution of the wedding. When we chose to deviate, we made sure we did so because we were adapting it to tap into what we felt was the spirit of the wedding, our wedding in particular.
Games Are Interactive / Social
From day one of planning the wedding, Lora and I knew we wanted to find ways to involve the audience. We didn't just want them to be spectators, we wanted them to be participants. That meant that we needed to find ways to involve the audience directly. One way to do this was to create activities that the audience were asked to perform during the ceremony. When each person entered the room (before rolling the giant die to see where they were going to sit), they were given a small bag that looked like this:
When they opened it up, they found the following contents:
A kazoo, a lighter, and a popper. What were these items for? Our wedding program told you that you would be instructed during the ceremony what to do with them.
The kazoo was used for the entrance of myself and my groomsmen. The audience was instructed to play the song "Chapel of Love" by the Dixie Cups. This came about because I loved the idea of the audience contributing to the music. Also the whole room playing kazoos also set the tone we wanted that this was not a traditional ceremony. I tried to talk Lora entering to kazoo playing as well but she wanted something a little more serious. Thus came the lighter.
After my groomsmen and I were in, the lights were dimmed and everyone was asked to light their lighter while the piano player played "You Look Wonderful Tonight" by Eric Clapton. Lora and her bridesmaids then made their entrance.
The popper was saved for the end of the ceremony. The instructions were that Michael would pronounce us man and wife, we would kiss, I would smash the glass, and then everyone would pop their poppers. Here's how that played out:
Michael: I now pronounce you husband and wife.
POP! POP! POP! POP! POP! POP! POP!
[LORA AND I KISS]
[I SMASH THE GLASS]
There was one last bit of audience participation. Lora had seen an idea in one of her bridal magazines about a night wedding using sparklers rather than rice. Every guest would have a lit sparkler as the bride and groom left. How'd it go? Let's just say the place we got married now has a rule forbidding sparklers at weddings. That said, it was awesome!
Games Are Fun
Hopefully, you've already got a sense of the playfulness we seeded into the ceremony. (And if you haven't, don't worry, more info will be forthcoming.) A big part of our theme had to do with mood. We wanted the audience to have a good time. We wanted everyone to be smiling as much as we were. We wanted to capture the feeling that comes sitting around playing games with good friends. I feel we did an excellent job of completing this goal.
And This Ties into Magic Design How?
The lesson of designing our wedding is an important one. A designer cannot forsake structure for theme. Theme cannot be used in place of structure. Theme cannot be used as means to create structure. Theme is not a substitute for structure. Theme complements structure. Without a solid structure, a theme cannot work. Why is that? Because a theme's job is different than a structure's.
The best way to explain this might be an analogy. Let's compare design to a house. Structure is the architecture. Structure is how the house is built. Theme is the exterior and interior design. A decorator cannot do the interior design, for example, without taking into account the architecture. Often the architecture will push the décor in certain directions. But, and here's the important part, architecture is not horribly swayed by the interior design. Architecture is filling a role much grander than the look of the house. Yes, it's an element, but the architect is much more focused, for instance, on making sure the house doesn't collapse in on itself.
This isn't to say that architecture cannot ever bend to interior design. It can squeeze in a sky light or add shape to a wall that isn't architecturally necessary. But the architecture is function to décor's form. It has to make the house work structurally. Such is the same for the structure of a Magic set design. It can bend a bit to the theme, but it cannot fundamentally change. And, even more important, it has to be there. One of the biggest mistakes I see in design is for the designer to treat theme as if it's a replacement for structure. It does not and cannot fill that role.
The other important lesson is that theme has to serve structure—that is, the theme has to respect what the structure is doing. It has to add value to the structure. It should reinforce the structure. The theme has take advantage of what the structure is capable of. If them theme cannot do that, then it is the theme that has to change.
But can't theme ever lead structure? It can, sort of. Theme can be used as a jumping off point for structure. It can help the structure find a place to start. In early design it can influence key decisions when design hits a fork in the road. But once structure starts forming, theme needs to let it breathe. Theme applied at the wrong time during structure's formation can lead to problems.
Lesson #6 – Allow Room for the Unexpected
When people hear that I scripted our wedding, they often come to the conclusion that I sucked any spontaneity out of it. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The ceremony was scripted specifically because we wanted to leave ourselves room to allow the unexpected... which leads me to one of my favorite parts of my wedding. What follows led one wedding attendee to say: "I was laughing so hard I was really worried I was going to hurt myself."
I've talked about our desire to weave the game theme throughout the ceremony. I also talked about how we spent a lot of time working with wedding traditions. Well, here's a place where the two intersected:
The next tradition we wanted to follow is based on an Old English rhyme. "Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. A sixpence in your shoe." A bride is supposed to have one of each of these on her wedding day as they represent the following: Something old represents continuity of the past. Something new represents optimism for the future. Something borrowed represents sharing this day with others. Something blue represents fidelity. And a sixpence represents good fortune. Obviously the fifth item dropped out somewhere along the way.
We like this tradition because basically it's like a little wedding sub-game. Sort of a scavenger hunt. But there was just one element we wanted to change. We didn't think it was all that challenging to get the items ahead of time. How difficult is that? So we're planning to do this tradition right now. We're going to get the four items from all of you!
And with that I started asking for the items in question. Something old was a ring that an audience member had received from her grandmother—
Wait. Before I continue with my story, I first need to introduce you to Andy. Andy and I went to college together. We were both in the extracurricular acting troupe (call out to Boston University's Stage Troupe!). Andy and I became good friends after I cast him in the improvisational comedy troupe I started (called Uncontrolled Substance if you care.) Andy is one of the funniest men I have ever met. He has excellent comic timing and is possibly the hairiest man on the planet. Both Andy and I moved out to Los Angeles after college so I had the chance to spend a lot of time with him. Of course, I invited Andy to my wedding.
Here's how this scene played out:
Me: Okay, I have something old. I need something new.
[ANDY STANDS UP]
Andy: I bought this shirt yesterday.
Remember that Andy and I had done improv for years. I knew Andy well. I knew what was about to happen and I knew the shock the audience was in for—one, because I knew the shirt was coming off, and two, because I knew that no one expects a man as hairy as Andy.
I'd always believed Andy was the kind of guy willing to give me the shirt off his back. I just never thought it would happen so literally, and definitely not in the middle of my wedding.
The lesson here is that a designer has to allow the unexpected to happen with his theme. If you only do what is expected you are not doing your theme justice. Part of design is learning to let go and allowing your creation to evolve and go in directions you might never have thought of. In fact, that is one of the most powerful things about a theme. Because it is driven by something external to you, a theme has the power to go places you could not. It will take you places that your own accord would never have found. The best example of this is a column I wrote called Mons Made Me Do It. (If you haven't read it, you might want to give it a peek.)
It is one of my all-time favorite columns, and possibly my funniest. When I started to write it I had no idea it would have ended up where it did. It was Goblin Week. All I knew was that I wanted it to be funny and be about goblins. I had a rough idea and just started writing. What the column became just happened organically. It was not planned. It was late and I think I was just trying to make myself laugh. There is no way in the world I'd have ever gotten there if I wasn't just trying to write a "goblin column," whatever that meant.
The "timeshifted" cards for Time Spiral started the same way. I was trying to find ways to make the set more about the past and I had this funny idea of having a random old card show up. Seriously, my first idea was to have a handful of premium cards that would show up super infrequently. Just enough to make people go, "What?" Little by little, the joke started becoming a real idea.
As I talked about in my column on creative thinking (Connect the Dots), I believe that one of the strongest ways to be creative is to use things that force you to think differently. Using randomness, completely changing an approach to a problem, and themes are all strong ways of doing just that. When you put your mind into areas it has never explored before, you will find some meaty veins. (Okay, that metaphor was as mixed as they come.)
Lesson #7 – Trust Your Instincts
I've talked many columns before about how I work very much off of instinct. I'll follow my gut, often when I have absolutely no idea why I'm doing the thing my gut wants. It's earned my trust enough that I've stopped worrying about understanding why it wants what it wants. With time, the answers always become clear. With that in mind, it's interesting to note that there were two decisions I made in regards to the wedding going by my gut. Only years later did I understand why they fit our wedding's theme.
The first deals an issue that had always bugged me about weddings.
Stop! Stop! One more thing. Here's something that's always bugged me about weddings. A wedding is a culmination of a relationship. Yet no one ever takes the time to fill the audience in on what led up to it. To use a metaphor from my past, it's sort of like watching the last episode of the season of a good TV show, the special wedding episode, but not having seen all the episodes earlier in the year. For example, how did Lora and I meet? When did we move in together? Where did I pop the question? These are all things you guys should know. If only we had a video tape which conveniently yet succinctly could fill the audience in, as well as a video player, screen projector and a ten foot screen. Wait a minute.
[MARK PULLS A VIDEO TAPE OUT OF HIS JACKET]
I think we're in luck.
I always knew that I wanted to incorporate some video into the wedding (it is my background after all), and I really did agree with my sentiment above, so I set out to create a video that filled everyone in.
I interviewed everyone: Lora, myself, our parents, our relatives, our friends. I had hours and hours of footage. The plan was that I was going to put the video together myself and that no one, including Lora, would see the video until during the wedding. During my initial edit, I cut everyone out except for Lora and myself. I didn't know why, but having anyone else just didn't feel right.
Looking back, I now realize that just as I worked hard to create a history for weddings, to give it a metawedding, I wanted to do the same for Lora's and my relationship. I wanted to give it context. I wanted the audience to feel invested in the "game." Keeping the video to just Lora and myself kept the focus and helped build the metarelationship, if you will.
The second decision was not one I made actively. Rather it was one I made by not doing anything. I've already explained how I scripted the entire ceremony (and it was an hour long, so we're talking a lot of structure). Every last detail was worked out—well, except one. There's something I never wrote: my vows. I wrote an hour's worth of dialogue and skipped over the one minute's worth that was the emotional centerpiece of everything.
I literally winged my vows. I had written nothing down. I hadn't practiced anything. I said what I felt in the moment. Luckily for all involved, I have a long history of both public speaking and improvisation, so I was more prepared than most, but for years I wondered why I had taken such a giant risk. Why couldn't I write my vows?
Only years later did I realize what I had done. When I play a game, I love the moment where you don't know what is going to happen. I love the thrill of the unknown, of the idea that anything is possible. I needed to inject that into my wedding. I knew that my feelings were pure and that I would speak from my heart. I knew that I had the skills to wing it. I think that I wanted the emotional epicenter of our wedding to be something that captured that magical moment I'd always enjoyed when playing games. I needed our vows to be special and for me that meant not knowing ahead of time what I was going to say.
The lesson here for Magic design (or any creative design for that matter) is that you have to learn to trust yourself as a designer. If you let a theme settle in, it will move you in ways that don't always make sense. Don't be afraid of that. And don't fight it. Also, while you can try to figure it out, don't abandon ideas just because they don't make sense yet. Give the ideas time to breathe. Playtest with them. When something feels right, there's stuff going on behind the scenes that just haven't caught up with your brain yet.
The Party's Over
That's all the time for today. I hope you've enjoyed these two columns as much as I enjoyed writing them. From time to time I like to give you a peek behind Mark Rosewater, the person. I think it gives a lot of insight into who I am as a designer. As always, I am eager to hear any feedback, be it in the thread or in my mailbox, so let me know: did you enjoy this jaunt down my memory lane?
Join me next week when I put green in the hot seat.
Until then, may you know happiness like I have for the last ten years.