Zoom In On To The Ether


The Patterns & Games class where we go over To The Ether games is always my favorite. This time was virtually no different.

Understanding the atomic structure of patterns can help a group collaboratively build evolving molecules which combine into complex compounds. 

Patterns that facilitate game play can be defined by three “moves.”  A “move” is defined as “a single node of a pattern.”  The “move” needn’t be “one line” or “one player’s contribution,” and the “moves” of any given pattern may be redefined in retrospect as new contributions are added.  Through analysis and practice, a player learns to recognize and define the distinct moves that define a pattern.

Evolution of the pattern –

  • 1st move = Offer (anything is an offer)
  • 2nd move = Sets the pattern (of the myriad directions available after the offer the set move begins to define a single trajectory)
  • 3rd move = Cements the pattern (clarifies the pattern in a direction that can be repeated and heightened)

We start with a blank stage. Our first contribution defines one point among infinite possibilities. Our second contribution says “with all the myriad options available to build off the first contribution, I want to head in this direction.”  The third contribution confirms for the group, “yes, we’re moving in this direction at this pace,” and from that point it should be so clear to the rest of the group what direction we’re headed that they’ll be compelled onto stage.

Example 1:

  • Offer: “I love Virginia.”
  • Set: “I love Richmond” – What is the direction of the progression Set by this move?
  • Cement: “I love Cary Town” – Now it should be clear how to build; What’s to love in Cary Town? You know a pattern is Cemented when multiple players start shouting out contributions for what’s next.

Example 2:

  • Offer: “I love Virginia.”
  • Set: “I love the United States” – What is the direction of the progression Set by this move?
  • Cement: “I love North America” – Now it should be clear how to build; What’s bigger than North America?  Players will be eager to blow this out now that it’s Cemented: “Western Hemisphere,” “The Earth,” “The Milky Way Galaxy,” “The Universe,” etc.

Remember there are no mistakes. We can redefine moves in retrospect. And we can always Reset the pattern, which is especially useful if we hit a “dead-end.” If it’s unclear how to continue the progression we can Reset to create a new progression.

Example 3:

  • Offer: “I love Virginia.”
  • Set: “I love Richmond” – What is the direction of the progression Set by this move?
  • Reset Offer: “I love Maryland.”
  • Reset Set: “I love Annapolis” – What is the direction of the progression Set by this move?
  • Cement: “I love Delaware” – Now it should be clear how to build; What’s the capital of Delaware? Doesn’t need to be capitals or states rising up the northeast but point out all these patterns – patterns on patterns. Have to see them to be able to play with them.

What the class needs is just to practice. Through practice, the class will experience how pattern’s little Offer, Set, Cement atom can be built form all sorts of molecules. Devotion to pattern analysis will foster Pavlovian pattern recognition.

Keep it simple. Serve the group. The sooner the progression is cemented the sooner everyone can play. And it can all be short and sweet.

The class might create a progression that doesn’t really progress to an editable apex. “Coke.” “Kleenex.” “Band-aid.” These are contributions that don’t really heighten, which we can tell because its power doesn’t change if the contributions are reordered – “Kleenex.” “Coke.” “Band-aid.”

I call this a Categories run. It necessitates Resetting and Restarting the pattern, with each player heightening their individual Silo in the context of the Sequence.

When the first pass exposes itself as a Categories run, the Initiating Player should feel the onus to restart with that second pass – saying something more about the category that made them unique. But now that the second pass is under way, that Initiating Player has some time to think about the third pass and starting it with a line that potentially sets up someone later in the sequence for a laugh with that line is filtered through that player’s category. As seen in the video above, that can be a mind-blowing idea, but there’s power in it if we can see it and work to harness it.

The class might also find themselves with opposing contributions right off the bat. “Hot” and “Cold.” “Night” and “Day.” When this happens, yes, a third player can be either “Lukewarm” or “Afternoon.” But rather than play for the middle, it’s often better to think of those initial contributions together as The Offer and Set up additional Poles to heighten.

When two extremes are juxtaposed (hot/cold; love/hate) it can be difficult to find a contribution to continue the progression. Upon hearing “poles” players should seek to set up another poled pair to establish a progression through the pairs (Ex: “I love kids,” “I hate kids,” “I love teenagers,” “I hate teenagers…”). Or, as in the example provided by the video, simply adding more emotion to the initiating perspectives works fine. When in doubt, always go with More Emotion.

The class might also create a varietal that’s kinda Categories meets Poles. Check out this molecule…

So many different ways to experience To The Ether games. And remember, there is no “right way;” there’s just the way the team is going and your choice for how to support what you see.

Now in the end, ideally a pattern heightens to a beautiful point and earns an edit; not-ideally a player makes a move at the expense of the pattern and fails to earn an edit while dead-ending the progression. But there are moves that can successfully earn an edit while disrupting the progression…

  • Contextual Alignment – When it becomes clear what the whole pattern to that point has been about.
    • “My nose ring hurts,” “My ink hurts,” “My brand hurts,” “My fixed-speed bike hurts,” “I’m so hip it hurts.”
  • Throwing a Pattern on Its Head – If the pattern is heightened in a clear progression, subverting that progression can be funny.
    • “I love it,” “I love it,” “I love it,” “I loathe it.”
  • Erasing Silos – There’s freedom in allowing players to act like they’re in different spaces. And sometimes it’s clear where they all are and a player who calls out that shared space can get a laugh to edit on.
    • “I wish Peter loved me,” “I wish my parents loved me,” “I wish God loved me,” “You guys ready? The audience is hot and ready for The Cure.”

Or a game can end with a pack of haunted skeletons trying to hug a player while singing Mozart’s love songs, you know, as this game ended after the players blew out an expanded chain of contributions.

I love To The Ether Games. That little Offer, Set, Cement atom gives us so much to think about and so much we can do.

If you want to continue this virtual journey through my first Virtual Patterns & Games class, here are the other links:



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