Tiny Games Needs Help to Play in Public

Tiny Games by Hide and Seek
Tiny Games Kickstarter, ending April 13, encourages people to play games in public (image: Hide & Seek)

Launched on Kickstarter last month, Tiny Games is still trying to go digital with a fundraising campaign that runs through this Saturday, April 13. The app-to-be will provide access to a rules library for simple, easy-to-understand games by asking probing questions that attempt to match your current situation (place and props) with a social activity.

“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.”

The Kickstarter campaign has generated support from over 700 backers, but Hide&Seek needs about 180 more to reach their goal.

£5K in Four Days

The crew is pulling out all the stops for the final push, which needs to get the last 20 percent, or another £5,000, this week. The campaign added reward levels allowing backers to pick up additional games — such as Drunk Dungeon — along with the main Tiny Games application. Most impressive are the names of guest designers contributing games to the project, including Jane McGonigal, Bernie DeKoven (LEGO games), the Come Out and Play street games festival.

The designers playtested Tiny Games at recent conferences, like PAX and GDC, and have been particularly active this past week working with some of the games printed on backer rewards (t-shirt, coasters, mug and towel). “We had great fun,” reports Holly Gramazio, lead game designer for the company, “although an orange from one of the games did land in a passerby’s bag, which wasn’t quite what we’d intended.”

Notes gathered from those sessions include requests to be more specific (“Define ‘next to'”), suggestions to improve collaboration among participants, and encouragement about the most enjoyable aspects of the experience. These critiques are being applied immediately as the design team continues to improve their games. For example, “You Shouldn’t Have” is a game about picking an inappropriate gift for a mutual friend. “We’ve been playing it competitively,” says Gramazio, “but player feedback is that it’s more fun if you’re working together against a time limit.”

The playtesting input won’t end with the campaign on Saturday. Gramazio insists the process is part of ongoing interaction with backers if Tiny Games can reach its £25,000 goal this week. “No matter how simple the game, you still need to give it to people who weren’t there when you designed it, and see how it turns out,” says Gramazio.

Local Games Facilitate 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.

Like Stickers in Public from Studio Cypher, Tiny Games are tied to particular places and situations. The app’s origins arose from Hide&Seek helping to host the Olympics: To celebrate the “big” games that brought the world to London in 2012, the 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.

“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.” 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.

“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,” says Fleetwood. “It can bond you with strangers, make your heart race, get you seeing your city in a different way.”

The company has 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.

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.”

Do You Have Bread and a Toaster?

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.”

Public games are a great way to enhance community and encourage a playful attitude. Such play also includes practical benefits, such as improved memory, increased job performance, and general happiness. The larger goal of the project is to help spread participation in and acceptance of local gaming. Whether for organizations, events, or the dinner table, local games are an attractive and effective means of getting people talking. Most importantly, having a hundred fun and simple activities on my phone that can get kids interacting with their environment is invaluable as a parent.

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