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To celebrate the “big” games that brought the world to London in 2012, a UK game and experience design agency created a series of small, quick-to-understand games that could be played anywhere. Their simple rules were placed all over the city with three games in each of the 33 burroughs of London, turning buildings and sidewalks into game boards with human pieces.
Tiny Games is about to go digital with a Kickstarter campaign launching today and running through April 13. The app-to-be will provide access to the rules library by answering sometimes irreverent probing questions that attempt to match your current situation with a social game.
“The app might ask if you have certain things to hand, like a picnic blanket, an egg, or a small child,” explains Alex Fleetwood, founder and director of Hide&Seek. “I hope we’ll also ask some more impertinent questions, like: ‘Which one of you has the loudest voice?’ We’re trying to synthesise that very clever thing a games facilitator will do at one of our events where they size a group up and figure out how to get them playing.”
Stickers in Public, another Kickstarter project from Studio Cypher, ties games to particular places. Instead of a digital application, however, the games are concisely described on physical stickers that can be placed anywhere. The adhesive is re-usable, so placement can easily alter the context of the challenge. For $10, Kickstarter backers get a set of nine 3.5″ x 4″ sticker games.
Public games are a great way to enhance community and encourage a playful attitude. Closing one’s eyes and walking toward a diamond on a wall is an activity that can dramatically alter expectations and mood in a stuffy board room or a doctor’s waiting room. These game design firms believe in the benefits of play, which includes improved memory, increased job performance, and general happiness. The larger goal of both project is to help spread participation in and acceptance of local gaming.
Local Games Facilitate Connection
Back in 2007, Fleetwood — who previously worked with theatre companies to create immersive, interactive experiences — founded H&S while organizing the first pervasive games festival in the UK. The now annual Weekender event takes place on London’s South Bank, where Fleetwood helps run the “Sandpit” — local events and playful experiences situated in the public and commercial sections around town.
“I was really interested in inviting adults to play together,” says Fleetwood, “and in putting on games events in cultural spaces usually devoted to cinema, music or other art forms. The team that’s joined Hide&Seek over the last six years shares that curiosity about what happens when you get people playing together in public. It can bond you with strangers, make your heart race, get you seeing your city in a different way.”
The company has since won awards for their creativity in designing interactive experiences for brands and institutions. In five years, H&S has made an iPhone arcade game for the Royal Opera House, produced transmedia projects for Warner Bros., and made original games like the Boardgame Remix Kit and Searchlight. More and more, public spaces have become their canvas because of the opportunity for human connection.
Game designer Tadhg Kelly of What Games Are made an important distinction between two types of social games. Zynga-style games use connection mainly as a mechanic for spreading the game and to lend support to individual efforts. Local games, on the other hand, derive as much pleasure from the human proximity and connection as the game play. According to Kelly, this merging of digital and physical for the purpose of supporting social interaction constitutes an emerging trend in game design.
Local gaming isn’t easy to do. Benrik’s 2001 iPhone app, Situationist, attempted to encourage spontaneous interactions between strangers. It was banned from the Apple Store because of unorthodox use of location, but prior to that it suffered from a lack of critical mass. By contrast, Stickers In Public intentionally chose materials that allow for communal decision-making about best placement of their interaction. The Studio Cypher game takes advantage of the traffic already running through the physical location but allows the community to collaborate on where the sticker is most appropriately placed.
“Acknowledging that public space is shared space and that mostly people want to be left in peace is incredibly important,” says Fleetwood. “I loathe self-important flash-mobbers who swamp a public space with a pillow fight or a water battle or something dumb like that. The Grand Central Station Freeze or a Subtlemob are brilliant because they’ve figured out how to make a compelling shared experience that respects the other users of that space — delights them in fact. We’ve always tried to incorporate that in our work.”
Tiny Games will cover at least four location categories — kitchen, car, park, and pub — with additional content planned as the campaign progresses. Among the offerings are:
- Knife Fork Spoon — a culinary take on roshambo using knives for rocks and a toaster for a timer, playing for toast.
- Tea Card Monte — a game of hiding, lying and guessing to find the teabag under a mug
- I Can Hide There — scout the area for hiding places, and take turns making secret claims to another player where you could successfully hide
- Twickers — criss-cross two twigs found on a walk, and pull until your opponent’s twig snaps
Fleetwood says that is is enough for one person in a group to have the app, but H&S is anxious to explore the affordances of connected smartphones. “As we progress down the design journey, we have all kinds of crazy ideas for the future — linking the sensors in the phone to play, pulling in content from places like soundcloud or Flickr — but first we want to nail the simple experience of doing that with text on the screen.”
Whether for organizations, events, or the dinner table, local games are an attractive and effective means of getting people talking. Back these projects, and connect with your world.