Friday, 25 July 2014

The Stone

Way back when in 1999 in ,i believe, .net magazine (is that still going?) there was a review for an online game called The Stone. You had to buy a pyramid-shaped box (i'm unclear where i actually purchased mine, i'm pretty certain i didn't buy it online though) which contained a little, and mysterious, booklet and a pendant with strange symbols on it. According to the booklet the symbols were unique to this and one other stone. That person was your Other. I never found my Other, and i don't think it really mattered, but i think it was a good way to get people communicating with other players from the offset.

The site was a game, a competition, although at the beginning it wasn't clear what you were heading towards. To progress you had to answer puzzles. Now some were very easy (i think my record is about 5 minutes for getting the correct answer) and some were extremely difficult. You had to solve certain puzzles before new ones would become available, and there were often long waits whilst new puzzles were designed.

In fact some puzzles were so difficult that 14 or 15 years on, I have still not solved them all! I have folders with A4 sheets of paper with my research into most of the puzzles I have solved so far, along with all my incorrect guesses for the ones that I haven't.

The game had forums and a little community of smart, inquisitive and funny people came together. Part of the game involved finding parts of a stone tablet that had been buried in various countries around the world, so people came together to find them, and Stoners (as we sort of called ourselves) also met up just for fun. These were called Gatherings and quite often puzzley fun formed a part of them. 

There was even a documentary about the game, called Stoners, which won a small award. It's amazing to me that 15 years on I am still in touch with a few of the people i met through this game. Some of the people that I regularly contacted in game have nothing to do with it anymore, and some keep the game alive.

The original site is long gone, but dedicated gamers got the code from the developer (in fact, dedicated gamers ended up helping the developer come up with puzzles on the original game) and it lives on and a whole new game with simillar puzzles has sprung up too.

The game had it's own vocabulary: Gatherings, SKs, Nudges, Closes, Clevers, Squirrels (not to be confused with dgeek squirrels).

I never did manage to finish the game, I'm still working my way through it, even though it has been "won". The urgency to solve the puzzles has diminished over time. Or maybe it's partly to do with my reasons for playing. It gave me intellectual stimulation and friends to chat to during a period where i was struggling to come to terms with the death of my father. The people there had no knowledge of him, or my situation, and it gave me space to do something that didn't have anything to do with solicitors, or wills, or grief.

It also gave me people who thrived on intellectual curiosity, and were encouraging as well as competitive. I think I stopped playing regularly when i started my second degree, i guess I just didn't have time or the need for the extra mental challenges anymore. These days I find myself missing some of the people, I wonder what happened to them and what they are doing now. If you knew me when i played The Stone (my username was Smallkat). Those I am still in touch with still keep up the tradition of Gatherings, and i'm going to one this September. I'm really looking forward to it, as I haven't seen some of the people in about ten years! 

Maybe it'll spur me on to solve more puzzles, maybe one day i'll even finish the game!

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