Making ‘Proust,’ A Good Excuse To Be Really Judgmental

January 2, 2014 | Michael Rougeau

ANIMAL’s feature Game Plan asks video game developers to share a bit about their process and some working images from the creation of a recent game. This week, we spoke with David Carson and Nate Cepis about Proust, a social game developed by Mother, ANIMAL’s parent company.

There’s something irresistible about a game of “fuck, marry, kill.” Even if you object on principle to the concept of hypothetically nailing and murdering celebrities, fictional characters, and dead presidents, you can’t help but do it anyway. Once the three options are proposed, there’s no thought involved; your brain sorts them automatically, whether or not you want it to. The only choice that remains is whether to share your preferences out loud.

Proust doesn’t even leave you with that choice. In this iPhone game you create and share lists of five objects, ideas, persons, or anything else, from types of beer to recent popes. You rank them using simple gestures, with your favorite at the top and most hated at the bottom. Then you ask your friends to do the same, and see how you match up.

The game is named after a famous questionnaire that itself was named for the French novelist Marcel Proust, who, legend has it, answered said questionnaire at a party as a teen in the late 1800s. The “Proust” questions have been propagated throughout the intervening decades by intellectuals and publications like Vanity Fair. Heavy.com founder David Carson, who created the game along with Mother, sees it as a modern interpretation of them. Carson tells ANIMAL:

This was like the Scattergories of the day. People would get together and they would ask these questions. That questionnaire only got famous because Marcel Proust became a famous writer and then somebody discovered that he had played this game a couple of times. We kind of went back to that initial idea. If you were to play a parlor game today, and the goal was to find out something interesting, revealing and deep about people that you know, how would you do that? What would that be?

Every first-time Proust player ranks the same list first: puppies, kitties, bacon, grandma, and “big weenis.” This initial list is a tutorial that itself is quite revealing, Carson says; people who like puppies are more likely to like their grandmothers as well. Carson and co. are writing about quirky correlations like that on the Proust blog. Future plans for the game also include a system that matches players up with their “super twinsies,” as Carson calls them:

You might answer it puppies, kitties, grandma, bacon, big weenis. And somebody will have answered exactly like you, right? But then if you answer another list—let’s say it’s Funyuns, Doritos, Cool Ranch Doritos, Pringles, and Fritos—the chances that somebody answered exactly like you on that first one and the second one are really low. The odds of finding a ‘super twin’ are incredibly low, and yet there are some people out there that go as deep as seven, which is crazy.

ANIMAL’s own Nate Cepis created Proust’s illustrations. Different images appear depending how your rankings compare to those of your friends; identical lists make you and your friend “twinsies,” which shows twin unicorns vomiting rainbows. Other images include the “bipolar bear,” “awesome sandwich,” and “opposite” wizards. Cepis recalls:

They came to me and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got this cool game. It’s called Proust. It’s like a ranking game, but we want something to happen once you’re done playing with your friends. There should be a little present for people playing. They said, ‘We don’t have any guidelines, but we want to make it really, really weird. Just think of anything you can do.’

The comparison to fuck, marry, kill came from Cepis, who says he loves the simplicity of both games:

You play fuck, marry, kill, and it’s like, Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, and Lucille Ball. And you’re like, ‘No! Lucille’s way hotter than Marilyn Monroe!’ It’s this weird little fight that really means nothing. And I just thought it was fun how simple it was.

Proust went through multiple iterations, including a website that essentially let users write abridged autobiographies by answering a series of questions, like the original parlor game questionnaire. There was also a version where players answered multiple choice questions, but Carson said that felt too much like a test:

That was kind of boring. We were hoping that the questions would be so interesting—and the answers would be so interesting and humorous—that you couldn’t help but answer them. But that still felt kind of hollow. It just really didn’t work. It felt like trivia.


But as fun as it is to rank, judge and make lists, the true genius of Proust is the social aspect. You’re not just judging the objects, people, potato chips, and ideas you rank; you’re judging your friends and acquaintances for their choices as well. Carson says:

We weren’t quite sure what [Proust] was until we started comparing. I would make a list and then I would ask somebody else, ‘How would you rank this?’ And I would find that a friend of mine who I thought would rank the same way I would, ranked exactly the opposite. And I thought, ‘Oh, that’s really interesting.’ Once we noted that, that’s when we felt it felt more like an interesting thing.

Proust is available now in Apple’s iOS App Store.