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Neat physical play links for June 2017

We dropped the ball for a few months on writing roundups of interesting news and open calls relating to physical play. But it’s June! Summer! Bees are buzzing, flowers are flowering – what better time for playing, and/or for writing blog posts? (And if you’ve got anything happening in July/August we should include next month, or anything current we’ve missed here, drop us a line.)

Open Calls

There are at least a couple of calls out at the moment for games and playful proposals…

Playable Cities Oxford has put out information about “a brand new commission, challenging creatives from around the world to produce an idea that puts people and play at the heart of the city of Oxford”. There’s a £30,000 budget, and the call is open until 20 June.

Come Out and Play New York, the oldest pervasive games festival, is looking for games for their next festival, running in late July.

Conferences and Talks

Unless you already live in Hebden Bridge you might be too late for Feral Vector, the wonderful countryside all-types-of-games not-really-a-conference, which is happening right now (and also tomorrow). But if you aren’t there, you can follow along with some of the talks on twitter.

On 8 June, there’s a Playful Arts Session in ‘s-Hertogenbosch: an “evening where you can get acquainted with leading and emerging artists at the intersection of visual arts, performing arts and playful design”.

Lyst Summit runs  8-10 June in Copenhagen: a “conference and a cooperative prototyping environment focused on the arts and crafts of games”, looking in particular at romance, love and sex.

Saturday 24 June, in Walthamstow, sees an afternoon of discussion around Experimental Design and the Playful City. It “will include a workshop and an open-panel discussion with members of the local community, councilors and professionals who specialise in the fields of play, place making and the urban landscape”.

Exhibitions and Festivals

Another thing that’s on right now: the UK Games Expo at the NEC, featuring a whole lot of tabletop games, no really a lot. Plus you can pick up a copy of Tabletop Gaming magazine, which has a tiny article by us in it.

On 7 July, States of Play will open in Hull – a “new Crafts Council exhibition for Hull City of Culture 2017 which shows how play shapes our lives and the world around us”, with sixteen different games including new commissions and a collection of “installations and objects [that] invite us to play –  either physically or in our imaginations”.

Mid-July will also see an exhibition on play at the Freud Museum: “Using storytelling, art works, oral histories and interactive games, this exhibition will explore play and its many meanings in psychoanalysis”.

Things to Play (or play with)

The Garden Museum commissioned a new board game, which is a really interesting thing for a museum to do, and it’s now been installed. We haven’t been able to find non-tweet documentation online anywhere but if we do we’ll update!

Jeppe Hein’s Modified Social Benches are back at the Southbank Centre for summer, and from 28 June they’ll be joined by his wonderful Appearing Rooms.

Time Run – often described as the best room escape game in London – will be closing on 21 August, so if you wanna play, now’s the time! Or if you want to open a new escape room while the position of “probably the best escape room in London” is briefly open, time it for late August I guess.

Further in the future – we’ll have to wait till September, in fact – this commission for the London Design Festival  looks fascinating. Camille Walala’s Villa Walala is a “building-block castle” in Broadgate where “the component shapes are pinned to the ground and inflated by fans, transforming them from flat forms into a vast and immersive temporary island of shape and colour that begs to be explored, invites playfulness, relieves stress, and visually dominates the area”.

And finally: it’s degree show time! Which usually means there’s a ton of things around with interesting student games and interactive installations. In London there’s the LCC BA(Hons) Game Design show from 7-10 June, for example; and there’s a lot more that we just don’t have time to sort through, but tbh just turn up somewhere in E1 and walk around for twenty minutes and you’ll eventually find a warehouse full of some university course or other showing off its interaction design projects or scenography installations or live art, it’s a fun time of year for wandering. We’ve found at least a couple of people we’ve commissioned for Now Play This in the past just by poking our heads round a door and finding a degree show.

Things to Read

Analog Game Studies has an essay from Scott Nicholson on the precursors of escape room design. Sample sentence: “The haunt industry is moving into the escape room space quickly, as escape rooms provide another way for those who produce haunts to have themed experiences that are of interest to customers during the off season”. The haunt industry!

This essay on the “collaborative, interactive book art of the Russian Futurists” is short but intriguing. Sample sentence: “some pages require you to rotate the book to read the text; others invite multiple readings of the letters depending on whether your eye follows them across or down”. Lots of links to further information.

The 200 Word RPG Competition  has produced a whole host of games with something simple and charming and game-poem-y about them, including lovely heist-game No Mistakes, Only Deeper Plans by Heather Robertson (if you made it to Now Play This you might have seen her post-apocalyptic 10,000 Years).

And the Market Street Prototyping Festival in San Francisco has once again published a report (PDF) with some really neat analysis of how people behave when you fill a city street with weird installations. Do they stop? How long for? How many people have come deliberately, how many are just walking by? It’s really great for a festival with this remit to have such dedication to performing a rigorous evaluation and then publishing it in a widely accessible form – it’s clearly a lot of work, and it means the impact of the prototyping process and the projects it covers can extend beyond the people involved directly in the festival. (The “Gamepost” image at the top of this post is by Josh Lee, and was part of 2016’s festival.)

Interview with Tine Bech

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 Tine Bech, a multidisciplinary artist and researcher. Her work explores the potential for transforming environments and human behaviour through the creative possibilities of play and game-making.

Her PhD thesis Playful interactions: A Critical Inquiry into Interactive Art and Play is available online, and gives a really interesting overview of some of her work and the things she’s discovered making it. The image above shows her work On The Bridge.

US: I wanted to ask about the invitations your work extends to people, these different invitations to play. You talk a lot in your thesis about how tiny little details make a big difference to how people respond – like with Catch Me Now, you talk about the difference made by how long a spotlight pauses for and how big it is, what colour it is. [Catch Me Now is a gently roaming spotlight that responds when you step into it, expanding to invite you to perform, but then quickly runs away from you]

I was wondering – is there anything more you can tell me about that? Silly example, I guess, but are there colours that are just more playful, for example?

TINE: I think for me the question of little details is more about being aware of how the body responds to different situations. I often draw on play theorists like Caillois and on aspects of letting go and having the body in movement, and how movement is the gateway into play. So I’m interested in an interactivity which is physical, visually physical gestures.

The body seems to count time differently than we do rigidly in our heads. So for something like Catch Me Now it’s very much a matter of hands-on testing, watching people, trying things out. I think the answer really is in how the body feels. It’s actually a quite fine-tuned element of interactive playing or interactive engagement that has to be quite precise.

It looks undisciplined because you’re creating something that other people are interacting with and people are wonderfully unpredictable. I’ve just written something online about this, the idea that “one subtle change, one step, leads to bigger change”. So one subtle invitation is to step in, and then there’s this sort of flow of commitment that leads to bigger things. Bigger moments.

Interview with Greg Trefry

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 Greg Trefry, a game designer who co-founded the games festival Come Out & Play (and is director of the New York branch); also co-founded Gigantic Mechanic, which makes games with real-world physical elements; and teaches at NYU.

This is an extract from a longer interview, which will be included in full in a report at the end of our research project. The picture above is from Come Out & Play 2015, taken by Josh Lee.

US: We’ve talked before about people being able to drop in and out of games in public spaces – and not having to install anything, and the difference that makes to persuading people to actually play.

GREG: It’s a weird design problem. Most games – as opposed to playful things – are delimited by time and space. People can push the boundaries on some of those (“oh you can run around anywhere”) but a game still usually starts at a specific time and ends at a specific time, or you’re moving towards a winner and you have to be there at the end of the game to see that.  

So how do you make an experience that isn’t ruined if players can drop in and out at any time?