Oct/Nov 2021  •   Spotlight

Zeitgeist! The Official Playing Guide

by Tom Noyes

Artwork borrowed from Unsplash.com

Artwork borrowed from Unsplash.com


There are no specific restrictions/requirements, but choices should be made in keeping with the spirit of the game. Are you playing the solo version of Zeitgeist!, the multi-player version, or the team version? If you're playing alone, how might your uniform choice—a leotard? a tuxedo?—make you feel a little less alone or, conversely, serve to celebrate the hard-earned alone time you've managed to carve out of your overpopulated life? If you're playing with others, how might your uniform choice—a hazmat suit? business casual?—clash with / complement their uniform choices? Once you gain experience / develop skill, you'll continue to consider carefully your uniform, but you'll do so instinctually. Just as you'll consider carefully / know instinctually when to circumvent/invade the quagmire, lend aid to / attack the exoskeleton squadrons, and switch into / phase out of marauding mode.

To what extent do the notions of careful consideration/instinctual knowledge contradict/complement one another? This is one of Zeitgeist's! most hotly/strenuously debated legacy questions.



Not players. It is inappropriate/inaccurate to call Zeitgeist! contestants players. This isn't to suggest Zeitgeist! isn't fun—there is without question a significant fun factor—but rather to emphasize the fact that tension/conflict is baked into the game on multiple levels. contestants compete against one another in the multi-player version of the game, and in the team version, contestants compete both intra-team and inter-team. Of course, in all versions of the game, contestants compete against themselves in a sense and, in another sense, against Zeitgeist! itself.

In short, you must join forces with Zeitgeist! to defeat Zeitgeist! even as you work together with other contestants to defeat other contestants even as you work with yourself to defeat yourself. This is key to understanding the spirit of the game, the nature of the game, and the dynamics of the game.



Other than the basic components included in the box/bag/cloud file, Zeitgeist! requires no equipment. Furthermore, nothing related to Zeitgeist! has ever been / will ever be sold separately. There are no Zeitgeist! action figures, energy drinks, LEGO sets, ice cream novelties, beer koozies, fair trade coffees, or teas. There is no line of Zeitgeist! skin care products or urban yoga wear. There is no Zeitgeist! Volume II: Bulwark's Revenge. There is no Zeitgeist! fan fiction or soundtrack. There are no Zeitgeist! Super Bowl ads. There are no Zeitgeist! cheat codes.

There is only Zeitgeist!



In the beginning, it was important to the original designers that Zeitgeist! be a game not only for the privileged, economically or otherwise; not only for kids/adults; not only for those with high-speed internet connections; not only for those in relatively good health; and not only for culturally literate individuals with vivid imaginations, quick minds, religious leanings/aversions, and/or usual/unusual upbringings. The original designers are confident you won't be able to attribute the reasons behind your approval/non-approval of Zeitgeist! to your station in life, fears/aspirations, blood type, BMI, level of hand-eye coordination, nor your predilection for visual/kinesthetic/aural learning. You'll feel drawn to / repelled by / indifferent toward Zeitgeist!, but you likely won't be able to articulate meaningfully why your preference is your preference.

Relatedly, Zeitgeist! is not necessarily a game to be discussed when it's not being played, nor will it necessarily resonate in other aspects of your life. It should be mentioned, though, that Zeitgeist! might resonate profoundly in other aspects of your life. How Zeitgeist! might on the one hand resonate and on the other hand not resonate is one of Zeitgeist's! most hotly/strenuously debated legacy questions.



Think not only in terms of fast/slow but also in terms of consistent/inconsistent, sustainable/unsustainable, and/or familiar/strange. Is Zeitgeist! a race? This is one of its most hotly/strenuously debated legacy questions. According to Zeitgeist! record logs, the fastest game of Zeitgeist! was completed by one Raquel P. Her time of 1.2 seconds is undeniably/unambiguously impressive. But is it more impressive than her husband Vernon P.'s record for slowest game (11 years)? And what about the P.'s son, O'Brian, and his one-game record of 322 powerflame extinguishings? Needless to say, eyebrows/suspicions were raised when these three contestants, all from the same household, all on the same day, submitted their respective data for record log review. Over a three-year period, Zeitgeist! record officials sent no fewer than six teams of record investigators to the P.'s home. If these investigations put a strain on the P.'s marriage and were a factor in their divorce, do the record officials and record investigators feel sympathetic/awful? Of course, they do. But do they feel guilty/responsible? They do not. (The thinking being, if a marriage can't handle a three-year game investigation, it probably did not have a lot of staying power to begin with.) In any case, the heavily redacted investigative report seemed to suggest that while record officials and record investigators were not prepared to chalk up the occurrence of three records in one family to pure coincidence, neither were they prepared to assert with any degree of certainty instances of malfeasance/duplicity/skirting of the rules.

Was composition/interpretation of the heavily redacted investigative report complicated/simplified by the fact that Zeitgeist! has no clearly stated prohibitions against cheating? This is one of Zeitgeist's most hotly/strenuously debated legacy questions.



As it is inevitable you will eventually need a break from Zeitgeist! and/or that Zeitgeist! will eventually need a break from you, we recommend timeouts be taken frequently. You might be right in thinking Zeitgeist! itself functions as a timeout of sorts—a timeout from your work/school, parents/children, significant other(s)/pet(s), or perhaps even a timeout from yourself, from your own personal baggage—but sometimes you need a timeout from a timeout. (Is a timeout from a timeout essentially a time-in? This is one of Zeitgeist's! most hotly/strenuously debated legacy questions.) In any case, it is likely you will need a moment / series of moments in which to turn your attention away from Zeitgeist! and toward an element of your existence of which you don't typically / haven't recently taken stock, such as: your role in the exacerbation/solution of specific societal problems/injustices; the ghosts currently haunting you; the ghosts likely to haunt you in the future; your sex/prayer life; the question of whether it's more virtuous to do your own yardwork and shovel your own snow or throw a few bucks the way of the kid next door; the satisfaction you take in regularly cooking your own food vs. supporting the local economy by frequently ordering takeout, etc. We here at Zeitgeist! believe occasional contemplation of these phenomena and other related phenomena can orient/re-orient you in such a way as to enable you to be a more attentive/skillful contestant when you return to the game. You might think of it this way: every time you call a timeout, you are affording yourself opportunity to call a time-in, thereby affording yourself an opportunity for rebirth/renewal. You might also think of it this way: whenever you are not playing Zeitgeist!, you are preparing to play Zeitgeist! You might also think of it this way: you are never not playing Zeitgeist!

This to say, timeouts, while highly recommended, are quite likely illusory.



One of Zeitgeist's! most hotly/strenuously debated legacy questions is whether it is more clearly a life simulation or death simulation. Advocates of both sides of the life simulation vs. death simulation debate offer convincing arguments. Given one's life sometimes seems to follow a sensible/predetermined pattern but other times seems to meander aimlessly/tediously, those who argue Zeitgeist! is a life simulation would seem to be onto something.

Think about that summer between high school and college after your bad breakup when all your friends were working fresh air jobs on landscaping crews or at day camps, but you worked the night shift stocking shelves at the grocery store—the one that later closed down when the Wal-Mart opened on the strip where the old roller rink used to be, where you and all your classmates had their elementary school birthday parties. That summer you had nothing better to do with your afternoons than take long, lonely drives on empty country roads, and these drives went from being really boring to being really freeing and centering (a word you wouldn't have used then) to being really boring again all in the matter of a couple months. On the other hand, given that one's death sometimes seems far off/unlikely but other times seems to draw so close one feels it as a part of oneself, a part that's always been there, like one's tongue or one's thumb, those who argue Zeitgeist! is a death simulation would appear to be onto something, too. Think about that same summer, specifically that stretch of time when your long, lonely drives on the empty country roads felt freeing/centering as opposed to boring, when you were convinced you were entering a genuinely better/healthier headspace (a word you wouldn't have used then), when you thought you were beginning to learn how to feel sad without feeling hollowed-out and how to be alone without feeling afraid, so you convinced your parents and your doctor you didn't need your prescription anymore, but instead of tapering off the dosage like you were supposed to, you stopped cold turkey because you were so sure it was going to be fine, but it wasn't fine, and the last afternoon you drove the empty country roads was the last afternoon you drove the empty country roads not because, as you convinced yourself later, the drives were becoming boring, but because you were unnerved by what you started to contemplate/imagine as you took the turns too fast in the loose gravel.



While composing/enacting a plan does not guarantee/improve the odds of winning at Zeitgeist!, if it enhances your fun factor, you should by all means do so. Conversely, if proceeding to play without any forethought whatsoever enhances your fun factor, you should feel free to avoid composing/enacting a plan. Either way, you should understand Zeitgeist! researchers have found, on a game-to-game basis, strategies are not predictive. That is to say, a strategy that "works" in one game is just as likely to "work" in the next game as it is not to "work." Some contestants link this fact to what they call the randomness of Zeitgeist!, but Zeitgeist! researchers collectively frown upon this term. Zeitgeist! is not a game of chance, per se. Winning/Losing at Zeitgeist! is not a matter of luck. Not only luck, anyway. These kinds of inaccurate representations of Zeitgeist! undermine the game and contribute to its questionable reputation in some circles, which we here at Zeitgeist! feel is unearned/unfair.

If it's not luck and it's not strategy, then what is the primary determining force related to winning/losing at Zeitgeist!? This is one of Zeitgeist's! most hotly/strenuously debated legacy questions.



On the one hand, we here at Zeitgeist! feel it might be best not to address/mention Milieu! in The Official Playing Guide. On the other hand, we do not want our not mentioning Milieu! to in any way suggest we approve of/sanction its existence. Lawyer-speak aside, Milieu! is a knock-off/rip-off of Zeitgeist!—common sense confirms this even if the courts won't—and while we here at Zeitgeist! have come to accept all avenues of legal recourse have been exhausted, this doesn't mean we have come to accept Milieu's! legitimacy. This is not just sour grapes. We here at Zeitgeist! have no problems with / nothing against Fervor!, Tenor!, or Quintessence!, even though we recognize these games are categorically similar to and were without question inspired by Zeitgeist! There's a difference, though, between inspiration and out-and-out intellectual thievery. Of course, another difference between Milieu! and games like Fervor!, Tenor!, and Quintessence! is that these other games were not created by Marshall S., a former member of Zeitgeist's! team of original designers, who, on a snowy January afternoon, angrily departed Zeitgeist! headquarters after an unfortunate/regrettable disagreement resulting in hurt feelings / bruised egos and a hastily/mutually agreed upon parting of ways. That Marshall S. did not even take with him his brown corduroy coat or lambskin gloves, which he habitually shoved up the sleeves of his coat before hanging it up like elementary school children are taught to do, is perhaps neither here nor there, but it is perhaps both here and there to note it's difficult to walk past this coat every day where it continues to hang in the vestibule at Zeitgeist! headquarters and not see it as an object lesson/symbol. At the time of Marshall S.'s abandonment of / escape from Zeitgeist! headquarters, did there exist a set of legally sound contractual agreements preventing him—or, for that matter, any original designer—from creating a new game that, at least partially out of spite, just happened to possess many of the same characteristics/qualities/features of Zeitgeist!? The answer is no. Such a set of documents did not exist, and according to the courts, this is all-important. So be it. Let the record show that we here at Zeitgeist! had also neglected to draw up contracts mandating staff who empty the office coffee pot should take time to make more coffee, or that staff who are kind enough to order fundraiser cookies/candles from their colleagues' kids should follow through by paying promptly when the cookies/candles are delivered, or that staff should not reply-all to group emails except when absolutely necessary, which is, essentially, never.

Excuse the sarcasm, but the point is we here at Zeitgeist! wanted to and still want to believe in common decency. Maybe that brown corduroy coat with the lambskin gloves shoved up its sleeves hanging in our vestibule helps us remember/sustain this belief. Call us crazy/contrary/old-fashioned. Call us simple-minded/petty/naïve.



Jokes are meant to be funny, and indeed, sometimes successfully fulfill their purpose, but due to their overt purposefulness and expectations created by this overt purposefulness, jokes are more often, ironically, unfunny, even less funny than non-jokes. This to say, be careful implementing humor into your playing of Zeitgeist! While humor might function to increase your fun factor or disarm your opponents / buoy your teammates, it also might blow up in your face. If you insist on implementing humor, we here at Zeitgeist! strongly encourage you to avoid slapstick, puns, knock-knocks, riddles, topical humor, prop comedy, inside jokes, high-brow/dumbed-down humor, and, of course, irony. Seriously, don't employ irony. We here at Zeitgeist! are aware that part of the reason for our questionable reputation is the trend among some contestants to play Zeitgeist! ironically. Their routine is that they're Zeitgeist! enthusiasts but, wink-wink, not really. Like the fun factor of Zeitgeist! is high but, wink-wink, actually very low. Like their feigned passion/zest is meant to expose Zeitgeist! as a game contestants actually do not find at all fun and about which they are decidedly unenthused. Like any contestants who actually find Zeitgeist! fun are worthy of mockery/disrespect.

While we here at Zeitgeist! can't help but find this trend insulting on one level, we also realize the joke is actually on these ironic contestants because, no matter their attitude/pose, they have paid for the game and are spending time playing it. Also, we here at Zeitgeist! strongly suspect many of these ironic contestants are, ironically, not playing Zeitgeist! ironically at all. We believe they tell each other they are playing Zeitgeist! ironically, perhaps in some cases to confirm their cool factor with their peer group, but we believe many of these ironic contestants are actually, ironically, very unironically invested in Zeitgeist!



To the degree that the end of the game alludes to / metaphorically signifies any other kind of end is one of Zeitgeist's most hotly/strenuously debated legacy questions. It is true that both Vernon P. and Raquel P. reported they saw the end of their marriage prefigured in their playing of Zeitgeist!, both in the ending of Vernon P.'s record-setting slow game as well as in the ending of Raquel P.'s record-setting fast game, but it's just as true that O'Brien P. has stated on more than one occasion, at least once under oath, that his parents' decision to split up floored him at least in part because the last game of Zeitgeist! he played with them prior to their separation was a gregarious affair ending in a mutually satisfying three-way tie that, in the eyes of O'Brien P., anyway, seemed to emblematize/confirm his family's strong bonds. Aside from Zeitgeist's! ties to / lack of relevance in regard to personal/domestic endings like divorces or dissolutions of families, Zeitgeist! has a reputation in some circles as a sort of apocalyptic game. We here at Zeitgeist! understand this to an extent. If one focuses on the celestial battle aspect of Zeitgeist! and chooses to emphasize the eschatological underpinnings of the coded origin story, then, sure, we see how some contestants see fit to connect the dots they connect. Conversely, though, what if a contestant were to focus on the STEM aspects of Zeitgeist! and classify it as an educational game, or were to emphasize the game's transcendentalist imagery/ethics, which is especially apparent in Stage XIV of The Red Realm, and classify Zeitgeist! as a vaguely metaphysical/anti-rational/anti-institutional game? This to say, we here at Zeitgeist! believe contestants will see in Zeitgeist! what they want to / are preconditioned to see.

In any case, while the question of whether or to what degree Zeitgeist! is an apocalyptic/educational/vaguely metaphysical/anti-rational/anti-institutional game might be interesting, we here at Zeitgeist! believe the question of whether or to what degree Zeitgeist! is a cathartic game is just as / even more compelling. Also, the question of whether Zeitgeist! tends more toward a utopian or dystopian vision is a juicy one, as are the questions of whether or to what degree Zeitgeist! encourages/discourages sentimentality and whether or to what degree Zeitgeist! encourages/discourages empathy.



When can/may/should I begin play? This question is one of Zeitgeist's most hotly/strenuously debated legacy questions and inevitably leads to another of the game's most hotly/strenuously debated legacy questions, namely, should a contestant read through the entirety of Zeitgeist's official playing guide prior to initiating play?

We here at Zeitgeist! believe the answers to these questions are likely different for each contestant. To determine the best way to proceed, we recommend the following exercise:

Think of the first time you made love or the first person with whom you made love—or, if you've never made love, think of the first time you imagined making love or the person with whom you first imagined making love—or, if you'd rather think in a different direction, think of your first car, or, if you've never owned a car, think of your imagined first car. Now, think about the last time you made love or the last person with whom you made love or the last time you imagined making love or the person with whom you last imagined making love or your last car or your last imagined car. For some, the first time / first person / first car will be more pleasant/exciting to recall than the last time / last person / last car. For others, the opposite will be true. Still for others, the first time and last time or first person and last person or first car and last car are the same time or the same person or the same car. In a sense they are, anyway. If this is your situation, perhaps you think this makes you lucky, or perhaps you think this makes you unlucky, or perhaps you think making this kind of judgment is impossible due to the manner in which pain and even sometimes honest-to-goodness happiness cloud/frustrate memory/imagination at least as much as they fuel/clarify memory/imagination. Others of you, for various/sundry reasons, would rather be prompted to remember/imagine a time/person/car that falls somewhere between first and last, somewhere between remembered and imagined, somewhere in the vast middle. Okay, then. Go ahead and do that. It's not necessarily the case that making love / imagining making love and/or car ownership / imagined car ownership are directly/literally linked to the questions of when to initiate play of Zeitgeist! and whether it's necessary to read The Official Playing Guide first, but there might be at least a subtle/figurative link since, as is the case with Zeitgeist!, there are guides designed to explain/enhance understanding of making love / car ownership. Of course, it's also true that these lovemaking / car ownership guides, while perhaps helpful and even necessary under some circumstances, are not always helpful/necessary. To be sure, they are almost never helpful/necessary in the moment. That is to say, one doesn't often make love / operate one's car as one is reading about making love / operating one's car.

Is there likely some truth, then, to the adages: Those who can, do. Those who can't, read the official playing guide?" and if there is likely some truth, then just how much truth are we talking about? The truth of these adages is one of Zeitgeist!'s most hotly/strenuously debated legacy questions.



Does there actually exist a small but not insignificant sub-group of Zeitgeist! enthusiasts who do not ever play the game and do not ever plan to play the game but rather read/re-read the official playing guide as if reading/re-reading the official playing guide is an end in itself? While this question does not rise to the level of being one of Zeitgeist's! most hotly/strenuously debated legacy questions, it is something we here at Zeitgeist! spend a significant amount of time going back-and-forth about. In fact, our vacillation between belief and unbelief in this rumor (and, for that matter, in all Zeitgeist!-oriented rumors) has become for us a definitive/life-defining/life-affirming rhythm, providing us with what we feel to be the perfect ratio of understanding to mystery in which to abide, making us feel, on the one hand, like we ourselves and the world/worlds in which we choose / are forced to reside are knowable (this makes us feel safe) but, on the other hand, making us feel like not only do we not believe we ourselves and the world/worlds in which we choose / are forced to reside are knowable but that even the notion of knowability is far-fetched/naïve and perhaps even offensive/insulting (this makes us feel unsettled, but unsettled in an overall positive way, in a way that helps us feel at least a little free). If you were to pin us down, though, we here at Zeitgeist! would have to say that, all things being equal (which, of course, they're not), we do not believe the rumors. But that would be a lie because we do. We do believe the rumors despite the fact that of course we don't. On and on like this.

But seriously, we here at Zeitgeist! do believe. At least a little and not even for a second.