Behind the Game

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UCSD alumnus Matthew Kirby talks about creating “Apples to Apples” and the underlying philosophy of his board game inventions

Almost a decade after graduating from UCSD in 1987, board game designer Matthew Kirby began creating what is known today as “Apples to Apples,” the game of hilarious comparisons that can be found in many dorm rooms around campus.

“Apples to Apples” is a party game designed for large groups of players. The game consists of two decks: one deck of green cards, each containing an adjective, and one deck of red cards, each containing a noun. The goal of the game is to match a red card’s noun to the adjective on the green card. During the course of the game, a judge will present a green card and players will each select a red card they thinks is the best match. The player who has the best match is awarded the green card.

Kirby described the game as a mirror that reflects the opinions of its players. He said that the game came to him as an accidental inspiration one day at his in-laws’ home.

“I wanted to start an intellectual conversation, so I asked who was a better writer, F. Scott Fitzgerald or Ernest Hemingway, and I noticed a pattern,” Kirby said. “The whole universe is contained in every little thing; it depends on how you look at it.”

That was the moment he formed the concept behind “Apples to Apples.” Fitzgerald and Hemingway became the game’s first two red cards, and the adjective “better” became the first green card. From that point, Kirby created eight different prototypes of a game designed to make players identify, think about and compare the fundamental qualities of ordinary things.

However, Kirby said that even before he came up with the idea for the game, his philosophical journey had begun years ago during his time as an Earl Warren College student pursuing an engineering degree at UCSD.

“I believe the game was truly philosophically and spiritually created at UCSD,” Kirby said. “Everything I experienced [helped], from the professors in lectures to the alcohol-fueled intellectual conversations late at night.”

Kirby expressed his deep appreciation for the thought-provoking and theoretical instruction that he received at UCSD. In particular, he recalled a history class that examined the viewponts of some of the greatest minds of the world, such as Galileo and Newton. For Kirby, it was classes like those that inspired and shaped the way he views the world. Consequently, “Apples to Apples” was created with the intention of bringing out players’ opinions about the world.

In his spare time, Kirby enjoys giving lectures and seminars at various elementary schools. His objective is to encourage students to exercise their creativity and pursue their goals.

“I try to tell them not to have expectations and criticism and to just ask themselves what they see around them,” Kirby said. “Anything is possible as long as you are willing to create.”

Currently, Kirby is creating a new game, Picaroon, which will be released through his company, Big Eyed Enterprises, LLC. Although he did not reveal much about the mechanics of Picaroon, Kirby described it as a pirate-themed, strategic board game well suited for families. His company also launched a website, picaroonboardgame.com, to promote and fundraise for his newest creation.

In the future, Kirby hopes to take the principle behind “Apples to Apples” to film and release a documentary about deconstructing reality. With it, he hopes to inspire viewers to look for the deeper meanings in this world and to consider all the characteristics of even the smallest of objects from a philosophical standpoint.

“I want to take a look at the big picture and what certain things mean in relation to the world around it,” Kirby said.

A piece of advice Kirby offered UCSD students was to embrace the UCSD experience — not only the knowledge, but also the things that cannot be measured, such as the process of learning itself. He said that he often misses the intellectual atmosphere, the lectures and the simple times spent with friends.

“I often ask myself if I would have created this game if I didn’t go to school,” Kirby said. “But really, I would not have been that inspired if I just received my knowledge purely from books.”

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