JJ Abrams’ Mystery Box Playing Cards… Collectibles? Snake Oil?


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I got very very excited about this one as my first thought was that maybe this would be a new card game, designed from the ground up.

I was thinking a unique set of rules, with maybe the cards as a set of ‘game’ prompts, with themes, characters, actions, events, outcomes… something like what Jeff Watson created for his PhD Dissertation, Reality Ends Here.

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In Jeff Watson’s collaborative media-making game, the cards act as prompts to collaborative creative multi-media productions, staged on the campus of USC:

Reality is a collaborative media-making game for 10 or more players. It is not a single-sitting game, but rather a long-term experience. Depending on how you want to run it, a “season” of Reality can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months or longer. It is not a game like Monopoly or Senet or Tag or Mario Kart. If anything, it’s more like a miniature sporting league, where the sport involves media-making, socializing, strategy, and team-building, and where the teams are impermanent, forming and dissolving on a project-by-project basis.”

JJ Abrams’ Mystery Cards, however, appear to be just that – ordinary playing with layers of collectible packaging.

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As Abrams’ TED Talk Mystery Box famously defined, sometimes you don’t want to know what’s inside the box because what you imagined was infinitely more exciting. The cards, pointedly, come wrapped & sealed so you have to decide whether to violate the packaging & reveal the deck within

Abrams has given hard core fans the opportunity to now buy their own mystery box, with 12 decks for the substantial cost of $149 US.

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Even though Abrams is shunting $1 per deck to 826 National, a literacy initiated started by Dave Eggers in San Francisco (which I love), I can’t see myself rushing to buy the deck or the box.

There is no mystery, rather what we might think of as a simulation/simulacra of mystery, given that there is no creative value in the cards themselves.  I was really hoping for something much more engaging like the brand new futurist object generating card game I played yesterday, The Thing from the Future.

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Designed by Jeff Watson and Stuart Candy, The Situation Lab OCAD University, for an event co-hosted with New York’s Extrapolation Factory, this card game, designed as a set of prompts, was a highly creative, engaging collaborative experience.

At the end of the day, we had generated hundreds if not thousands of future scenarios and possible objects, and created a selection of physical objects which are now available in a vending machine from the future at OCAD University.

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That’s mine in the top centre, the red one…

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In contrast, Abrams’ Mystery cards are all package, faux mystery, and, honestly? very polished snake oil. Not buying here

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