This was my second year attending CO&P, and my second year participating as a designer, volunteer and player. One thing I’ll say about this festival: there’s certainly a lot to immerse yourself in, if that’s your bag. This year they featured a fairly staggering 40 games over 48 hours. Last year I felt somewhat guilty about not playing more of the games, but this year I sort of accepted the reality.
Even as a designer of street games, I often forget that they involve a fairly significant overhead in terms of time and energy for players. A one hour game can easily expand to three hours when you include: a) getting there, b) meeting up with friends and figuring out exactly what’s going on, c) the inevitable organizational hiccups that come from running events in public space, and d) sitting down, having a drink, and recovering after spending an hour doing something that was probably pretty exhausting. Add in all the usual odds-and-ends implicated in maintaining a human existence, and you’re looking at catching maybe a dozen of those 40 games; and that’s if you’re trying really hard, and don’t have anything else to do. But this may be a problem limited mainly to maniacs who travel internationally specifically for the festival.
Moreso than last year, I definitely got a feeling of attendance from local residents who were just looking for something interesting to do. It’s worth noting that last year the festival was largely based in Times Square, because being in Brooklyn this time presented a real contrast. As a local I spoke to noted, no one actually ever goes to midtown Manhattan; there’s too many people there. The location last year was electrifying, and I was initially disappointed by the movie this year. On the surface, running or playing a street game in Times Square seems grandiose and thrilling. Yet Brooklyn seemed to have a more receptive atmosphere.
Certainly there appeared to be a lot more parents and children, and I felt there were higher numbers in general. It was certainly something to see people sign up for games on the opening night (last year, signups were online); some of the games hit well over 100 names and spawned massive waiting lists. What’s more, some games that played very well in this year’s environment, such as our own, probably wouldn’t have been possible to pull off in last year’s. I think a lot of people who dream about creative public space interventions dream about imposing crowds in monumental locations, but there’s a lot to be said for the opportunities that quiet spaces and friendly people create.
So, the logic behind moving around a festival like this has been made clear to me. I quite loved Brooklyn, but I’m hoping next year they’ll go somewhere else new and interesting.
The opening party this year was pretty noteworthy for the very smart decision to pack in a lot of short, indoor games; the space was bustling, despite it being about 150 degrees. A couple of games stood out for me. Human Asteroids must have been very fun to play, but was probably even more fun to watch: within a darkened auditorium, both a (human) spaceship and (human) asteroids were lit up with glowing white wiring/tubing, to make them look just like the videogame when viewed from above. A really smart use of very basic technology to create a fairly arresting effect.
Mary Mack 5000 was the only game I actually managed to play, because it was so overwhelmingly clever, and also because the lineup was short. We’re talking about a childhood clapping game done up like Guitar Hero, complete with pressure-activated gloves and a hard rock version of a standard schoolyard rhyming song. It might not be a “pervasive game”, but it’s certainly something. The game was, unfortunately, interrupted by technical problems, which I only mention because it’s a helpful reminder that innovative games with sophisticated technology tend to always go wrong, somehow, sometime, somewhere.
The big draw of the night was clearly Countersquirt, which I certainly wanted to play, but darn if it I wasn’t about #52 on the waiting list. Which I only mention because it’s a helpful reminder that at the end of the day, nothing draws a crowd like a good old-fashioned water-gun battle.
The lineup throughout the weekend was fairly diverse, and represented a good mix of what pervasive games can be. In Radar Blip, I ran around in a field in the dark and avoided flashlights; In The One, I (mostly failed to) hunt down other players on the streets (with the context of a pretty awesome theme concerning alternate dimensions); in The Time Traveller’s Knife I wandered around a graveyard while reading and discussing alternative timelines (there’s just something about these alternate dimensions, people); and in Love’s Labour’s Lost I simply tried to pursue a secret gay love affair.
Another noteworthy aspect for me, this year, was a stronger corporate presence from sponsors. I mean “corporate” in an exceedingly loose sense here, referring specifically to sponsors like SCVNGR and Nonchalance, who are clearly very small and passionate organizations, but who made a pretty clear and concerted push to make themselves visible. I mean this in a good way, you understand. Both offered pretty cool prizes, and Nonchalance put on a remarkably well-produced pirate radio broadcast covering the whole weekend.
Now, CO&P is a pretty grassroots affair, and I think we’re all in a niche deep enough to keep us shielded from the spectre of mainstream success for the next few centuries. But what this looks like to me is some serious entrepreneurial efforts within the space of pervasive games, becoming increasingly a part of the community. Last we saw Seek & Spell and Gigaputt for the iPhone, but these were both essentially demos — compared to SCVNGR’s clear marketing effort to build awareness of their new brand, and the few million in venture capital behind it.
We’re clearly in the early days of this thing, and will be for a while I think, but it’s heartening to see these burgeoning efforts and their awareness of the grassroots scene as a big and relevant part of their domain. I’m really looking forward to seeing how things develop at future CO&Ps.
Thank you David! The report from 2009 is here.