Sunday, 28 September 2008

"It's up to us"

I went to Village Green yesterday, a event for and with a local community brilliantly curated by Metal in their new base in Chalkwell. I went with Annette Mees to run People-Watching, a game I co-designed with her for Come Out & Play in Amsterdam last year but which I'd never seen happen yet.

is pretty simple. Teams are given a letter from 'Sam' to search a crowd to find Sam's friends and pass on messages which act as clues to finding them. There's a little interaction where a team gives a piece of heather for luck to someone they think might be one of Sam's friends, and if they are right, get a piece of heather back. Get the most heather and you win.

I'd been moved to make it after first playing Cruel To Be Kind. I love how C2BK can provoke lovely encounters with strangers in a public space, but not liking how when it invariably ends in a few very large teams chasing each other it can risk a non-interesting rupture of that space, freaking out passers-by. The starting-point in PW was to make a game that encouraged players to be nice to strangers but would remain completely discreet to non-players. It's a sweet game, it doesn't have the thrill of the chase. But it was heartening to see how well it played for teams ranging from groups of excited teens to elderly couples to (especially) families with small children.

Also along with us was Andy Field to run Checkpoint, the game of smugglers trying to get the entire contents of a living room past border guards. You've got to love any game that can flaunt the word 'dastardly'. CP is a perfect example of a mission game - here is your mission, you know exactly what you have to do (should you choose to accept it) but it's completely up to you *how* you do that. That space round *how* brilliantly enables player creativity.

But this was the first time I think that CP had played away from a grown-up gaming community and most of the smugglers were under ten years old (more on this in another post). When Andy was telling the class of smugglers the rules, I was struck how it is completely reliant on us owning up to a border guard's formal accusation that we are indeed carrying contraband. We could just lie (and when Kevan 'Hawkeye' Davis tapped me on the shoulder, was I tempted...). But that would wreck the game. It demands our complicity to remain playable. I admit I wasn't certain at the start whether our Smuggler Babies would resist that temptation but they did, scrupulously. And I wonder whether because the game so transparently needs our complicity to become an adventure, that is irresistible. And then having gained that complicity, it can get us to do almost anything.

My favourite moment yesterday... actually it was to record this that motivated my writing this post. The living room was dominated by an enormous old telly. A lad probably around ten, certainly not much bigger than the telly itself, was struggling to carry it and asked his friend to help.

His friend: "But it's too big for us, we'll never manage it that distance".

The lad's heroic reply: "We have to get it across. The other smugglers are only 5 years old and they'll never. It's up to us."

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