Midnight Madness (1980)
Midnight Madness is a pretty horrendous teen comedy from 1980. Produced by Disney (though released without the name of the company in the credits due to the shocking PG rating) this film follows numerous teams competing in Los Angeles in a game called The Great All-Nighter. In the puzzle hunt teams must solve clues to find the location of the next clue until they find their way to the finishing line.
The film was inspired by the pervasive puzzle hunt games organized by Donald Luskin and friends in the 1970’s (they received a credit in the film and an undisclosed sum in an out of court settlement). Midnight Maddness then went on to inspire numerous other pervasive games, Joe Belfiore’s The Game series being the most prominent among them. In the book we discuss Shelby Logan’s Run as an example of this game tradition, but Wikipedia has quite a long list of games (and game traditions) that were influenced by the film).
The film itself is the kind of 80’s shlock that is entertaining when watched in good company while slighly inebriated. Yet it is easy to see how the film has been so influential: the playing of the game is presented in a way that is fun, easy to understand, and possible to stage in the real world. Of course, many characters in the film fail to follow the rules of the game and cheat, and there are numerous plot lines and twists that have been added to spice up the film. For some reason a well presented game is almost never enough for a film. There needs to be something extra – something that just makes the game nerd groan.
My favourite scene in the film, one that I have shown on a few lectures, features the game master explaining the rules of the game. But in addition to that, he also explains how important games are in culture and how people have always played – in an atrousiously pompous and hilarious manner. Using that scene on lectures where I argue the importance of games in culture and how people have always played is oddly satisfying.
The film is available on DVD, but it seems that someone has also posted the whole thing on YouTube. The brilliant scene where the rules are explicated starts at 4:40.
Regardless of the dumbness of the film I would still call this required viewing for anyone interested in the history of pervasive games. Additonally, if, like me, you have a soft spot for 80’s teen films (even if this is produced before the classics of John Hughes), then this film is one wonderful guilty pleasure.