I’ll Get You, You Wascally Wabbit!
Five years ago I found myself in San Francisco’s Embarcadero district with a couple dozen complete strangers, hunting down a giant ninja rabbit. This ninja rabbit was fairly skittish, and would bolt at the sight of a human. To catch it, we had very specific instructions: while under the protective cover of parked cars, we were free to run in a crouched position. But out in the open, we had to mimic the our quary by hopping on one foot to approach the wascally wabbit.
One of my fondest memories from San Francisco may sound like it was ripped straight from a Looney Tunes cartoon, but I was actually playing Cryptozoo, a game created for the American Heart Association by Jane McGonigal. The game encouraged players to take to the streets, chasing after mythical cryptids by using the city as an urban playground. Parking meters and trees became obstacles to swing around… steps became something to climb. To this day, my running routine looks more like the cast of The Office pretending to do parkour than serious exercise, thanks to Cryptozoo. The game was also my introduction to the Come Out and Play festival, as McGonigal took the Embarcadero experience to Times Square.
This past weekend, Come Out and Play celebrated its 9-year anniversary with a festival in New York City, with events in DUMBO and Governor’s Island. So while video-gaming fans were tuned in to ESPN3 to watch pro gamers compete for over $10 million in the Dota 2 championships, I made the trek out to New York City for a different kind of gaming.
Toying Around with Remote Control Humans
The festival kicked off with the 10th anniversary of PacManhattan, a game spawned out of NYU that transforms cities into the grid for a real-life recreation of the classic arcade game. Costumed stand-ins for Pac-Man and his four ghostly nemeses run around the city playing a modified version of tag. The Sesame Innovation Lab and Gigantic Mechanic demoed a game fueled by a similar concept with Sesame Box Heads, a game where players donned cardboard box and bluetooth headphones so that Elmo and the Cookie Monster could race to catch a cookie, blindly trusting their friends to use directional prompts on tablet devices to lead them in the right direction.
Relying on lower-tech methods of directing players, Wise Guys Events created Hoot Patooter, a game of Simon Says with flying vegetables. Four teams of two are asked to step into the role of kitchen assistant to a Swedish chef, catching ingredients in their aprons before dumping them into a central pot. The game’s real challenge is parsing the chef’s impenetrable language so that upon hearing “Toom Rood, Hoot Patooter,” the teams know the chef is chucking a hot potato at the red team. You’d never guess that in between slinging vegetables, these guys designed challenges for Survivor.
Taking Your Inner Child Outside to Play
I’m a huge fan of Settlers of Catan, so the chance to play David Fono’s full contact version of the game was impossible to pass up. Like its board game counterpart, the goal of Full Contact Catan is to grow your team’s civilization by collecting the right resources and expanding out into new settlements. The main difference? The resources are ball-pit balls scattered across a field. Rather than claiming the limited resources with the roll of a die, players sprint to carry resources back to their hula hoop bases, one at a time. A spirited game of Settlers of Catan can get hyper-competitive without the added challenge of physically racing to secure limited resources.
With Syracuse University professor Scott Nicholson’s game Prey, the psychological warfare took a more devilish turn. To play, five players take their positions as predators inside a pentagram of rope. Players have a few seconds to strategize with their fellow predators before attempting to entangle members of their group, identifying them as prey. The game does not end until a player admits defeat or clear victors emerge. Nicholson explained his goal was to create a game where players would physically feel it when they were losing.
Mixing in a Little Games with Your Gamification
Gamification is growing increasingly popular in the healthcare arena, with start-ups and device manufacturers developing increasingly sophisticated methods of collecting and displaying information to incentivize good behavior and modify areas that need some work. And with more and more gamified solutions entering clinical trials, it’s easy to focus on the new opportunities technology enables. However, it’s important to remember that games can also serve as an effective motivator for change. This weekend, hundreds of people came out to an island off the coast of Manhattan to test out games that were only recently invented using hula hoops, rope, and pool noodles as equipment.
I use gamified apps like Runkeeper and Fitocracy to track my progress, but it’s often the intrinsic motivation I get from having fun playing games that gets me out exercising in the first place. I can slip on a pair of headphones and pretend I’m running reconnaissance against the undead in Six to Start’s Zombies, Run, or play a global game of capture the flag with Google incubator Niantic Labs’ game Ingress. Neither game is explicitly designed to be a game for health, but both serve the ancillary purpose of getting people out and about. Niantic Labs CEO John Hanke explains, “I’ve got three kids, and I thought it would be great to build a game that leveraged all that’s compelling and addictive about video games, and combine it with playing outside. There’s no reason why computer moderated-gameplay can’t take place outside.”
Sometimes adults need an excuse to go outside and act like a kid again. And Come Out and Play reminds us that games, both traditional and digital, can provide the perfect excuse. I only had time to play a handful of games at the festival: for a full list of games, go to ComeOutandPlay.org.
– Michael Andersen, Manager, Strategy & Analysis