Typically I would not choose to do go outside and sprint around the city in 95 degree heat as I did both days last weekend, but I had an excuse: A swarm of wonky and wonder-eyed game designers from around the world coalesced with their crazy-ass inventions to bring the Come Out & Play Festival back to New York. Here's a roundup of what I played:
The Comfort of Strangers: I wandered around the LES on Friday night with a GPS-enabled PDA in my pocket. Headphones would occasionally tell me "You are near a dancer. You have gained one health point." or "You are near a lover. You have lost one health point." By those cues I figured I was a "dancer" and needed to find my people on the street to stay alive. I died before I figured out the radius of our powers but it gave me another chance and I racked up the points. I guess the way to go is find a bunch of your people and keep running toward and away from each other until time is up.
Super Happy Fun Big City Bingo: Given a Polaroid camera, some teammates, and a big bingo board with squares that said things like "a tourist" and "a chicken crossing the road," I was on the hunt. The designers planted some items in Tompkins Square Park (like the person in the chicken costume), and others were natural resources. We also had physical challenges. Low hipster quota on this one. My teammates: a couple in their 30's with a 7-year-old son and a man in his 30's with a Dungeons & Dragons t-shirt. We rocked.
Search Brigade: Three searchers with walkie-talkies ran around Tompkins Square Park and tried to find 12 fugitives. To keep us from hiding in a bathroom the whole time, we had to locate clues and answer questions that the organizers asked of us over radio. When tagged, fugitives become searchers. In the first game, with a few minutes left, the organizers informed us that Franklin was the sole remaining fugitive. No one recalled what he looked like except his friend, who basically announced to us all over radio, "Everyone get the black guy!," at which point 14 white people chased him down. Oy. We cornered him in a basketball court, but he climbed a 9-foot fence in about three seconds and narrowly escaped. The thing about games in public with walkie-talkies is that everyone around you wants to be a part of it. One player said a nearby kid overheard him receive one of the messages from the organizers: "Your next assignment is..." The kid's awed reaction was basically, "How cool is this guy? He gets fucking assignments over walkie-talkie." I'm surprised Homeland Security didn't surround us.
The Lost Sport of Olympia: We played a tiny version with about 6 people. People form the walls of a maze (with 6 they move around) and hum as a blindfolded racer navigates it. (This one was designed by Jane McGonigal, whom I profiled in the June issue of Psychology Today. Check it out.)
Hip Sync: At the party on Saturday night, the PDA guys pulled out their iPaqs and headphones again. Have you ever seen someone bopping her head on the train and thought, "Wouldn't it be rad if we were listening to the same song? We could have our own dance party!" If so, this is the game for you. You all tap Start and you each hear one of four songs. You have 30 seconds to wordlessly find your songmates among the other players, solely through dance. When time's up, if you're alone or anyone in your group doesn't match up, you're out. Then it goes to the next round, where people have even less time to team up. Props to whoever loaded "Witness" by Roots Manuva on those things.
Pigeon Pinata Pummel: Sunday afternoon (again with the 95 degrees), several teams took turns bashing pinatas blindfolded. When one broke, we all ran to collect candy and bouncy balls for points, and ping pong balls to trade in for seconds hits, bigger bats, etc. Blood was shed on the basketball court that day.
The thing about a weekend full of games (especially novel ones) is that it opens you up to new ways of looking at the world. In essence, each game puts you in a new society, in a new universe, where you have to negotiate unfamiliar rules and break from your established ways of interacting with people and your environment. Maybe you go back to your everyday insular routines once the game is over, but at the very least you've made new friends and you've gained a glimpse into another world, sharing a vision for other ways of living with your fellow eager, imaginative, and playful Earthly inhabitants.