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Interesting links for August

This month in physical games and embodied play…


The Hand Eye Society’s WordPlay festival is happening at the British Library this year, which is pretty amazing! Jo Summers (who among many, many other things is digital producer on Now Play This) is directing the festival this year, and if you’ve got a “writerly game” you might want to show, submissions are open until 28 September.

And in Bristol, there’s one and a half days left till the Playable Cities open call closes. This is a £30,000 award for the development of a new work around play and cities – this year they’re particularly interested in proposals focusing on journeys. The initial submission of an idea is pretty quick and straightforward, so if you’ve got something that might fit you should definitely, definitely pop it in.


Andy Field’s written a great short essay on games in cities – it’s for an upcoming book but he’s put it online, and it’s worth a read. It touches on the history of artists making play in public, on questions of who is permitted to play in cities, and some possible future directions. “Behind me I could hear another supervisor using a loudhailer to encourage these new players to disperse. This was not the kind of play we had anticipated, and not the role we thought we would find ourselves playing.”

Interview with Sarah Brin

As part of our research project for the King’s College London Arts and Humanities Festival, we’ve been interviewing different curators, designers, artists and architects about playful work for public space. This interview is with Sarah Brin, a writer, curator and public speaker who has a history of working with public space, new media, artist-made games, digital fabrication, public spaces, and participation. Among other things she’s been the Public Programs Manager at Autodesk’s Pier 9 Workshop, curated game exhibitions, and written extensively about games, play, and art.

The image above shows her with Sports!, an arcade cabinet she curated for Cooperative Gaming Co-Op at the Zero1 Biennial in San Jose.

US: You’ve created or curated a lot of work where you’re asking people to do something that wouldn’t normally be expected in that environment – so, games in visual arts contexts, say, or your art exhibition on a subway train. I’m curious about how you help people understand what’s being asked of them, and that a particular action is permitted in a space where it might not usually be allowed. Any particular tips or tricks?  

SARAH: Every situation has different nuances, but I find that generally the best way is to just talk to people. For example, in an art museum, if I were to install a game alongside maybe some paintings or other non-touchable art, I’d make sure there was a chair to sit in, or a controller on a pedestal in front of a screen, preferably with some “it’s okay to touch!” signage. I’d watch how people interfaced with the work, and then, depending on the response, I’d modify how the work was presented. It can be really nice to have an in-gallery “Dungeon Master” to ask things like “do you want to play a game?” or “did you know you can touch this?” or “did you know that the artist made this entirely out of toilet paper?” 

Interview with Hilary O’Shaugnessy

As part of our research project for the King’s College London Arts and Humanities Festival, we’ve been interviewing different curators, designers, artists and architects about playful work for public space. This interview is with Hilary O’Shaughnessy, a curator, producer and game designer. She’s made her own games for events, created Prototype Festival in Dublin, and is currently working as a producer for Playable City at the Pervasive Media Studio in Bristol.

The image above shows her game Charge, made with Nicholas Ward, running at Prototype Festival.

This is an extract from a larger interview that we’ll include in the report at the end of the research project. We started out by asking Hilary about her own work creating games for covert groups of players.

US: Your own practice seems to me to be very secretive in its execution. With a lot of your games, you get a group of people, you tell them what to do, then you send them out into public and they have this communal experience played out among oblivious members of the public.

HILARY: I hadn’t thought about that before but I suppose I like subverting what people are looking at, and that’s a way to do it, a way to get them to rethink what they see.

US: People are kept from playing in public sometimes by feeling self-conscious – do you feel like the secrecy helps with that? How do you deal with people – well, not wanting to look silly?

HILARY: That’s an ongoing conversation, really! I’ve disagreed with people like Tassos who’ve said that it’s better to be secret all the time, and I’ve said “no, you don’t have to be!”

I suppose I’m interested in people finding that line for themselves. There’s nothing worse than being forced into a mode in public and I don’t think we are one type of person’ I think we’re one type of player on any particular day. Sometimes I want to be loud, and sometimes I’m not in the mood to be that loud player. It changes all the time so I’m interested in the middle ground. Allowing people to figure out that middle ground themselves. Hopefully if you give a little bit of confusion with that people will actively figure it out.