Game Night iin a Can

Jason Lautenschleger and Barry McLaughlin

A buzz of energy and camaraderie, expert insights on the craft and the business of writing, and 1:1 access to top-tier publishing professionals are the hallmarks of the annual SDSU Writers’ Conference — now its 33rd year. As 2016 presenter and international best-selling author Alexandra Sokoloff observed, “I have never seen such a good lineup of agents outside of New York.”

The conference is also noted for its stellar keynote speakers, and the lineup for the 2017 conference — Jan. 20-22 at the San Diego Marriott Mission Valley — is award-winning, best-selling, and thrilling:

R.L. Stine, one of the best-selling children’s authors in history; J.A. Jance, a top-10 New York Times bestselling author; Jonathan Maberry, best-selling author and five-time Bram Stoker Award-winner; and Sherrilyn Kenyon, international best-selling author of fantasy, science fiction, horror, and more. Each will share insights gained on the path to success, words of advice to writers pursuing their dream, and their thoughts on the evolving publishing industry.

In addition to featuring a record number of workshops — more than 40, facilitated by publishing professionals, authors, and even police and military experts (in the unique Ask the Experts: FBI, CIA, Police, Military, and Weapons Q & A workshop) — the 2017 conference features a completely unique opening night, Friday, Jan. 20.

The traditional networking mixer, beginning at 6 pm, is now a sit-down dinner followed by an evening of party games designed to unleash the creative beasts within. Game Night in a Can — a totally unique live experience — will be led by creators Jason Lautenschleger and Barry McLaughlin, who regularly host a monthly game night at the Hollywood Improv. Just for the conference, they’ve tailored some of the wildly creative games from their Amazon best-seller, to authors about to pitch their work and attendees ready to break the ice like it’s never been broken.

Game Night in a Can is literally 30 games in a can – any seven of which offer more than three million variations of game nights. Here’s a preview of the fun and energy you can expect from McLaughlin and Lautenschleger on Friday, Jan. 20 at the SDSU Writers’ Conference:

What did you do before you became game moguls?
J: I was, and still am, the director of development for 222 Productions. On most days I get to go to work on the backlot of Universal Studios and come up with ideas for TV shows.

B: I wrote commercials at advertising agencies. Really meaningful, life-changing work.

How did you meet?
J: We met on the first day of school at UCLA. Soon after, we began serenading all the dorm rooms with guitar and accordion.

B: Soon after, we made 300 dollars playing a gig in the cafeteria. Then we got a recording contract and sold millions of records. (One of those things is true.)

How did you come up with the idea for Game Night in a Can?
J: Barry had been hosting Game Nights all over Los Angeles. Yes, professionally. He asked me to come on board at one point, first as musical accompaniment. That’s when I caught the bug and together we saw how important a play-at-home version was. We had to make it.

B: Then we took our live experiences and brainstormed all the different ways that you could play it at home without us having to host it. And we wanted to keep it simple. I think there was a period where in addition to paper and pens, you also needed spoons and ping pong balls. I still stand behind that version ….

What’s an example of how the games will be tailored to authors for the Friday night fun at the Writers’ Conference?
J: We’ll definitely be playing around with some of the games to make them more literary-based. So far the only one that didn’t work was when we tried to change Bank Face (a game where you throw paper balls off people’s faces) into Book Face. It turned out about as bad as you could possibly imagine.

B: Yes, after a few test nights, we realized that people don’t necessarily like having books thrown at their faces, even if it’s for a good cause.

What exactly about Game Night in a Can makes it so effective in unlocking the imagination?
J: For me, two things: 1) It’s a safe space for taking creative risks (you’re playing with and against people who are still cheering you on). 2) I personally like that players are forced to use specific prompts sometimes. It’s amazing how many different versions we get when we ask people to draw something as exact as “a cat getting into the most trouble.” Writers understand this concept: sometimes the enemy of ideas is infinite possibility. I think about when George Harrison was at his mom’s house and thought “I’m going to pick out a random book from this shelf and write a song about the first two words I read.” He picked it up and read the words “gently weeps.” That was the prompt; he made it his own when he gave the action to his guitar.

B: George Harrison would love GNIAC! For me, it’s the fact that we ask people to do things that they would normally never do outside of this game, like writing and performing a new national anthem for Canada, or making a commercial for a box of Kleenex. You have to access parts of your brain that are hungry for some exercise.

How has Game Night in a Can changed your lives?
J: I find myself wearing my “Games Glasses” more frequently now. I look for games in everything. Life is definitely a game. And it’s best played when you’re helping others to master it.

B: I find myself wearing my “Games Pants” as much as possible. (Don’t tell Jason.)

How have you seen GNIAC change the lives of others?
J: Anytime you see joy in another human, it’s fertile ground for exploration. We don’t always see where it leads, but we know people leave Game Night in a Can with ideas flying around in their heads.

B: The surprise for me is how many teachers have been using it for their classrooms. They’ll play one game a day to help jumpstart their students’ imaginations, and kids love it. I want to be in that class!

J: Oh yeah, classrooms! Can I have that answer, too?

What did you aspire to be as a children?
J: A bigger child. So far, so good.

B: I always wanted to play games as a profession. Seriously.

What would people be surprised to know about you?
J: I’m actually Barry.

B: And I’m…..the ghost of Vincent Price.

The SDSU Writers’ Conference is Jan. 20-22, 2017 at the San Diego Marriott Mission Valley.