Don’t be put off by the strange name; Johann Sebastian Joust is one of the most interesting and enjoyable recent games to play with friends and families.
Part of the larger Sportsfriends collection, this game’s unusual name is matched by its unusual gameplay. In fact, there is very little “video” involved. Players use the PlayStation Move or PS3/PS4 controllers to engage in a game that initially looks like electronic tag. The screen is only used to keep track of the score.
Johann Sebastian Joust is best played in an open space with up to seven people. The players hold motion-sensitive controllers in their hands and are knocked out if they move too much. At the same time, each player tries to get the others to move their controllers. Music dictates how sensitive the controllers are to movement and how easy it is to lose a life. It’s a popular game, as you can see from the Johann Sebastian Joust Flickr stream.
I’ve taken this game to local parks (running on a Mac with a loudspeaker for sound), to garden parties, and even to arts festivals. Each time it’s been warmly received by both gamers and non-gamers. This is a game that rewrites our expectations of what “video games” are and the kinds of experiences they can create.
Video games are often considered to be something people play on their own in dark rooms. Playing Johann Sebastian Joust couldn’t be further from this stereotype. Not only do you need a lot of space, but it also works more with human rather than electronic interactions.
Watch the game being played in public space. Passersby are drawn in by the spectacle. It’s apparent that the skills and tactics on display are hugely varied. The objective of moving other players’ controllers soon gets people trying to sneak behind opponents and trick them to moving. I’ve seen young boys try to kick their shoes at opponent’s controllers. I’ve seen dads applying some science to the game by staying really close to the ground for a more stable center of gravity. I’ve even seen people hide their controllers behind their backs or attempt to sneak off while no one is looking.
All this action is happening in the real and not the virtual world. However, it can only exist because of the video game that supports it. The music, game mechanics, and controllers fit the play perfectly, but also let the players innovate how they want to play the game.
It’s good for families because it’s a game that lets different ages play in different ways. Younger players are often more cautious and (initially at least) gentler with each other. Older teens are free to get exuberant and treat the game as a full-contact sport. Moms and dads (as you can see in the video) are often the most competitive, though, as they battle to be the last person standing.
In a public space it challenges our reluctance towards physical contact with strangers. Perhaps channelling a simpler appeal to Twister, Johann Sebastian Joust insists that you have come into close contact with your opponents. In fact, one tactic I’ve seen women use in more mature groups of players is to hold the controller close to the chest—this often perplexes male opponents who are unable to attack because of cultural touching taboos.
Some may argue that much of the interest here comes from the fact that Johann Sebastian Joust isn’t a video game at all. However, it has all the elements of other games, just no central use for the screen. If you’re not convinced, a glance through the different modes it offers (including teams, lives, resurrection, invincibility, kings, and traitors) should underline just how video-gamey Johann Sebastian Joust really is.
For me, the game represents what is great about all my favorite video games. It creates a strong sense of connection to other players through intuitive, evolving game mechanics. Playing it takes me out of my day-to-day life and creates an otherworldly experience. Time spent playing uncovers even more layers to the experience, in terms of both rules and strategies. Perhaps most importantly, this game has created an emotional connection with me.
I’d thoroughly suggest giving it a go. I think you’ll enjoy it.