Have You Played… Johann Sebastian Joust?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

I adore Johann Sebastian Joust [official site] so much that I have vowed never to play it again. I like it too much. It’s too good. I get too into it. It brings out bad things in me. Never let me play it again but please, please play it at my funeral. As you stand on the shore of the loch, please play Joust around my chain-wrapped corpse before you heave me into the dark waters. Give me one last look at my true love, the game I call Shoving.

Johann Sebastian Joust is full-contact video game, a video game about shoving real people with your real hands. I mean, I guess technically the aim is to jostle the PlayStation Move controllers in other players’ hands enough to trip the sensor and knock them all out but look, how will you do that if not shoving? Stealthy strikes? Trickery? Hiding and hoping no one notices you’re still in the round until it’s too late? Sure, I guess you could, but why not shove them? Shoving will see you right. The moments where the music speeds up (Bach, obvs) and controller sensitivity drops are clear signs that you should shove someone, hard. Here are three Joust anecdotes:

At one Wild Rumpus, I fell into the role of heel. After winning a few rounds with general boisterousness, I started showboating, swooping and circling and being extra dastardly. When I was finally undone by overconfidence, the dozens of circled spectators cheered at my demise. I know my role in life.

The win I’m most proud of came when, as one of two remaining players, I extended my hand to my rival for a sporting shake then yanked them forwards with all my might.

I once watched the colossal Phill Cameron face our wee Pip. Oh. Oh no.

The trick to Joust, see, is that there are no fixed rules of acceptable behaviour. It runs on decency and unspoken consensus. To win, just go a bit further than other players are willing to. Me, I know I’m a monster, and I’m no longer proud of that. Well. I’m less proud. I’m not allowed to play My Leg’s Achin’ either.


  1. SamLR says:

    Oh gods this game is too much fun. Also one of the best mixers I’ve seen in a while because it’s excellent fun to watch and lovely to play.

    Also watching people pull dastardly shit is great fun. Personal favourite was someone, during one of the ‘freeze’ periods (no music == no movement) pulling out their wallet and throwing it at their opponent to make them flinch.

  2. elderman says:

    I was a backer! Never can get it to work on my machine. I try every once in a while. It’s looks so much fun.

  3. Premium User Badge

    phuzz says:

    Does this still need a bunch of Playstation controllers?
    I was hoping that they’d have ported it to use mobile phones as the input device instead by now.

    • Premium User Badge

      Aerothorn says:

      Do you really want people knocking your phone out of your hand onto the pavement?

  4. NelsonMinar says:

    The social part of this game is really interesting. It’s been featured at XOXO Festival a couple of years, a group of 500+ creative Internety people, and watching it is fascinating. This year an 8 year old boy was doing particularly well because all the adults were afraid to be too rough with him. He seemed to understand the advantage that gave him.

    What’s best about Johann Sebastian Joust is that it requires no explanation or setup, the game sort of propagates itself as long as the crowd is big enough. Edgar Rice Soiree by the same developer is also really amazing, although that requires a bit more setup.

  5. Simon_Scott says:

    I could just go some Get Down Mr President right now.

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    johannsebastianbach says:

    Oh god oh god oh god! This indeed sounds like too much fun to be true!

    Also, good thing it will only be supported on Mac and Linux (no Windows) for a change. I dig these weird but kinda awesome dogmatic decision. Too bad nobody on this earth will ever be able to play it, because who owns a PS Move controller? Let alone ten of them to play the game properly with all of his/her friends? Whaaaaat?

    • elderman says:

      I think it’s on Windows now. Maybe, you still have to use a Linux live usb? I don’t know. If I remember right, they had trouble with the Windows PS Move drivers. Though honestly, the Linux ones haven’t done me any good. It supports up to seven players, I think. It’s possible to find second-hand PS moves for not too many moneys.

    • cbirdsong says:

      I don’t think there’s any dogma involved – the devs said the Windows Bluetooth was too much of a nightmare for them to get it working: link to arstechnica.com

  7. ZippyLemon says:

    This looks so amazing. I can’t believe I’ve never seen or heard of it. Anyone know any regular meetups in London where this is played?

  8. melnificent says:

    We were playing this last night, on the roof, with 4 controllers. It apparently looked brilliant from the street.

    • ButteringSundays says:

      Haha I’m sure perspective is everything. ‘Looked brilliant’ to some may be ‘what in the fuck are those idiots doing on the roof, are they…? Oh my god they’re fighting with video game controllers, does anyone have one of their parents phone numbers?’

      Does sound like a hoot though, and one should always dance like nobody’s watching, as it were.

  9. Monggerel says:


  10. Cederic says:

    Not a fan of social games that require you to be a cunt. Can’t play Diplomacy for the same reason :(

    Games like this are an utter fucking nightmare for people with Aspergers.

    • Premium User Badge

      Aerothorn says:

      I have Asperger’s and absolutely love JHS :)

    • Scandalon says:

      That’s an interesting/confusing thing to me, as I thought one of the main characteristics of Asperger’s is having difficulty knowing when one is being “unacceptable”. With that understanding, being an Aspy seems like it could be an advantage, at least in respect to winning the game. Unless you mean not being able to judge how far is “too far”?

      (This is extra relevant to me as I just interviewed at a company started by and is for people with Asperger’s.)

      • Premium User Badge

        Aerothorn says:

        It’s a double edged sword. If you are autistic and not at all self-aware, yes, that could very much be an advantage in winning (albeit not necessarily being invited to play in the future). But the problem is “known unknowns” – that many people with autism are aware that they are missing information and are nervous as to what that information is.

        That said, I think with JSJ this is less of a problem because you can simply watch other people lay it and see what the acceptable limits are before joining in.

        • Cederic says:

          Yeah, ASD impacts everybody differently. Good to hear that it’s not a barrier for you though, and that you enjoy playing.

          How are you at Diplomacy (the game)?

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        Phasma Felis says:

        Many people with Asperger’s try to navigate social situations by developing scripts based on things they’ve seen others do, or been told to do. It can take a long time to feel comfortable with the accuracy of your script for a given situation. In an unfamiliar situation, especially one where circumstances can change rapidly and it seems easy to give offense, the indecision and fear of doing the wrong thing can be paralyzing.

        Also, while this isn’t universal, many people with Asperger’s are very sensitive about personal space and don’t like to be touched unexpectedly. This obviously makes a lot of party games harrowing.

        (I think I could handle JSJ fine, myself, but there’s a lot of variation between Aspies.)

      • Josh W says:

        Part of the problem with ASD is a lack of implicit learning and shared focus. There are also people who are highly neurotic, (in um, the good way), who have high standards for their own social conscientiousness.

        Those two overlap, if there are people with lots and lots of social implicit learning and high neuroticism, then they’ll probably come across as “nice”. They want to do things properly socially, care about people’s feelings etc. and they can probably pull it off. They’ll probably politely decline games like this or play it by some subset of rules that allow them to loose on their own terms or win only if very lucky. Or in a group of them, they’ll just have a fun and silly game and nothing will go wrong at all.

        If you’ve got low social implicit learning and low neuroticism, then you don’t really know what’s going on at the moment and you don’t really care. You might be moral but incredibly blunt, a total asshole, happily oblivious and occasionally overstepping boundaries etc. They’ll probably play this game happily, and with other people similar to them, keep inventing new rules when people do strange outrageous things to win. Eg. “Ok, no overbalancing things so people have to run and get them” becoming the equivalent of “no spamming”.

        Have the “intuitive” learning skills without the neuroticism, and you could easily end up being a troll, a provocateur, and you’ll basically love games like this, particularly at the stage where there are few rules, and you’re hacking social convention, pretending to stop playing and get drinks, get bystanders sneakily involved in the game etc. You’ll stay just on the right side of obviously cheating a lot, and probably want to keep playing the game with different people, where your tricks haven’t been spotted yet, or otherwise find new solutions.

        On the other hand if you’re the other way round, with strong neuroticism and a desire to be nice, but very little ability to judge how this stuff works on the fly, it’s like putting yourself in the position where your spinning plates which are actually somehow your friend’s babies. You don’t do that to yourself if you can get away with it.

        For people in the middle, shoving!!

        • Josh W says:

          For the personality factor fans, I’m aware I’m mixing together two maybe three, classic dimensions of personality, but whatever, just assume I’m talking about people for whom those traits coincide.

  11. Jackablade says:

    I played it just this afternoon at a board game event. I thought I might be quite good at it, but my tendency to counterbalance everything I do with my opposite hand meant I knocked myself out practically every round.

  12. Schnallinsky says:

    this was my game.

    finally, the years of strength training would pay off. even though i’m still a bit on the skinny and small side with lacking reach, i will make it up with brute strength. no cunning required – taking off my shirt, flexing those muscles, roaring a war cry, storming at the opponents and shove, pull, kick, punch, slap, uppercut, bite, claw, rip, intimidate, slash, taunt, pummel, pocket-sand – i tried it all, with rage and fury and hate burning in my beady little bloodshot eyes.

    and i lost. not just the game, i also lost all my friends. but this is not a game, this is war. and they were never my friends, they were my enemies, as i soon realized. either they die or my candle does; which means i do.

    it would have been an acceptable price to pay for victory … had i won. but i didn’t – i didn’t even stand the slightest chance. a pretty girl in a trench coat and high heels dominated the game, thor knows how, again and again. most likely magic – an illusionist? enchanter? the skinny ghouls started to suicide rush me. while i was busy shoving them into bushes and dragging them over the blood smeared asphalt the sneaky little hobbits attacked me from behind slapping at my wrists like angry wasps. always in the corner of my eyes, too numerous to keep track of. the ogres used their massive bulk against me, unmovable like mountains. the slendermen held their torches up high, far out of reach, grinning sadistically. the kids looked at me with big and teary eyes so i would hesitate out of mercy – before coming at me like rabid dogs and scraping my shins. they used distraction and diversion and deceit and seduction and tactics and …

    i was helpless like a little kid. game after game i was outmaneuvered. outwitted. out-everything. this game is war, this game is life, this game is love.