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Jon Steeves: MooT

james hörner

jon Steeves is the creator of the language board game MooT. consisting of 1008 questions, the game has simple rules and tough questions (depending on how language savvy you are). i haven't yet determined if the game gets easier the longer you stay in the pub and play.

cancon
for those who haven't heard of MooT before, could you give the premise of the game?

Jon Steeves
It's basically a series of tough questions about the history and meaning of English words. You play in teams and the goal is to get people talking about semantics and etymology. Here's an example question:

"Is this a rhetorical question?"

cancon
how did you originally conceive of the game?

Jon Steeves
It started as a hobby. I was having trouble remembering the meanings of certain words -- one's that I'd looked up many times -- "Indolent" for example. So I started writing questions as mnemonic devices. For example, "In Latin "dolere" means "pain"; what do you call someone who tries to avoid the pain of hard work?" (Answer: indolent) I must have written hundreds of these things and I kept them in a cigar box.

I started asking some friends these questions and found out that they enjoyed them. Eventually, it evolved into the boardgame.

cancon
was the idea of the board game in the back of your mind all along, or were you really surprised when people enjoyed your questions?

Jon Steeves
The idea was lurking, but because I had never done anything like that before it wasn't "a plan". In fact, at the time I had no idea that you could just make something and then sell to people. I thought that you had to go ask someone, the government, say, for permission to do that.

cancon
what sort of crowd did you anticipate would be your core MooT audience?

Jon Steeves
People who liked to drink beer in University Pubs.

cancon
tell me a bit about that process of taking your board game from the cigar box to its eventual retail version?

Jon Steeves
Long boring story. Basically I'm still doing it all by hand. I print up about 100 at a time. I get a lot of compliments about the packaging -- people think the packaging is sort of "ironically primitive" to set it apart from the other slick products that are on the shelve. In fact, it's primitive because I'm incompetent at packaging.

cancon
is MooT still coming from your divination of the COD, or are you finding MooT inspiration in other sources?

Jon Steeves
Unless otherwise sourced: all answers are based on the COD. There has to be some higher authority so that I can say that an answer is either "right" or "wrong". Most of my inspiration comes from just general reading -- i.e., I look up words that I don't understand. This can keep me busy.

cancon
you obviously have to love language to do what you've done - any favourite words or types of words?

Jon Steeves
No favourites words. I like tricky questions.

cancon
you've had to revamp MooT due to changes in the COD in the past. does this mutation and tweaking of language frustrate or please you?

Jon Steeves
It's a hassle because I have to update the questions. I wish the language would just stop evolving for once.

cancon
What does the guy behind MooT do besides coming up with more MooT questions?

Jon Steeves
Nothing. All he does is read dictionaries.

cancon
why did you follow a do-it-yourself path and not sell out for big cash to Parker Brothers or one of those other monster gaming companies?

Jon Steeves
If they had asked, I would have sold out immediately - without hesitation. But they didn't ask.

Almost all game-makers follow the do-it-yourself. The big companies get involved after you have shown that your game will sell 100 thousand copies (by actually selling 100 thousand copies).

Most game-makers lose all their money (and all their friend's and family's money, too). I've made money, not a lot - but enough to justify MooT as a high-end hobby. In fact, MooT is more profitable than Amazon.com and PMC-Sierra combined.

cancon
how many copies do you figure you've sold so far?

Jon Steeves
Approx. 6000

cancon
does MooT advertise and do trade-shows, or is strictly a word of mouth marketing strategy?

Jon Steeves
Strictly word-of-mouth. Years ago it had a bunch of media exposure (full page in Georgia Straight, 1/2 hour on CBC National Radio (Gabereau show), Globe and Mail review, lots of local TV and radio). But I got tired of promoting it, so I stopped. Word-of-mouth is the lazy man's public relations.

cancon
you said you originally envisioned MooT fans as beer drinking university types - is this the fan base you've actually encountered?

Jon Steeves
I don't know who my fan base is. Most of my games have been sold anonymously (to me) in stores. My intuition is that the people who buy MooT are those that like talking about the meaning and history of words.

cancon
have there been any distinct perks or downfalls to being a game creator?

Jon Steeves
Perk: It's good to have a project that allows you to meet lots of people. There have so far been no drawbacks. I do it because it is a lot of fun and continues to be so. I was never in it for the money, so I haven't been disappointed.

cancon
so no calls in the middle of the night from crazed MooT fans desperate to argue fine points?

Jon Steeves
I have had a few. For example, a guy in Toronto phoned me at 3AM (their time) to complain about one of my answers. He thought I was wrong and it had cost his team the game. I forget which question it was but I had to actually go get the Concise Oxford Dictionary and read out the passage to him to prove I was right.

cancon
after seeing people's response to the game have any other board game ideas come to mind?

Jon Steeves
I have no desire to do another board game. Eventually, I'll put out MooT 2, but that's about it.

cancon
after having had the chance to play the game, I can see how competitive and excited people can get over the questions. things ever get out of control during the MooT games you've hosted over the years?

Jon Steeves
Never. Once a reasonably well-known local poet got quite upset with the game because he kept getting the answers wrong. I told him it didn't matter. But he never played again -- at least not while I was around.

cancon
i was reading the book flap (always a reputable source of information) of an Aldous Huxley biography, and it mentioned that he coined the term "psychedelic". how would MooT man turn this into a question?

Jon Steeves
I have already done a question on it, but I forget what it is. The word was actually suggested to Huxley by someone else (again whose name I forget).

cancon
what's one question you've always wanted to be asked?

Jon Steeves
The question I've always wanted to be asked is: "What's the one question you've always wanted to be asked?" Thanks for asking it.


Learn more about MooT at www.mootgame.com

Where do you find it? In Vancouver you can get MooT at the Vancouver Art Gallery, It's all fun and games (Commercial Drive), Hager Books (Kerrisdale), and the Vancouver Public Library Gift Shop. In Toronto, they sell it at Gametrek outlets.


james hörner edits canadian content and plays MooT.

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