Stick with me here for a sec. OK, so you’re blindfolded and holding a “knife” (retractable) in a “graveyard” (technically, Manhattan Bridge Archway Plaza), stalking out an opponent you need to “impale” (prod) for victory. For those still reading, as you may suspect I’m describing a kind of game. Specifically, it’s titled Rose Macbeth and forms one of the many “big games” on offer this Friday evening at the 10th annual Come Out and Play: After Dark festival.
Still haven’t lost you to a disaffected shrug of indifference? Then there’s a chance you might fall into a rather distinct niche of full-grown human to whom this all still sounds like an idea for a fun night. Who knows, you might even be an unrealized gamer.
“It was hard to find an audience for big games,” Greg Trefry, co-founder of Come Out and Play (COAP), told us over the phone. “We figured if we made a festival, we could bring together a community interested in making and playing these games — kind of like an experiment to help generate an interest in outdoor physical games.”
In the decade since, this “experiment” has seen giant conga lines marching through Times Square, golf balls flying over the Lower East Side, and — one time, Trefry recalled — an old lady who terrorized a group of “villagers” with her version of “a damn aggressive wolf.” Having easily doubled in size since its start, COAP has also spread over to San Francisco and provided a “model” for similar big game festivals in London, Berlin and Athens to name just a few.
Myles Nye is an LA-based game designer and co-creator of Rose Macbeth with partner Greg Synder, who together form Wise Guys Events. As game designers, Nye and Synder organize team-building events and also act as “reward/immunity challenge” consultants for Survivor.
“We’ve been involved in this community long enough to understand it’s a niche, like civil war re-enactors or LARP-ing,” explained Nye, in a self-reflexive observation of the types of adults likely to take part in COAP. “But there’s always new games and creators… Even if a mass number of the population won’t embrace this gameplay as much as I have, it’s still so broadly appealing that there’ll always be a small trickle of new people coming through.” And with this year’s COAP spread out over Governors Island during the day and DUMBO at night, there’s sure to be a fair amount of “trickle.”
As to those unwilling to embrace such open displays of play – labeling it “tomfoolery” or perhaps even “poppycock” – there’s a chance you’re just not looking at it right. Celia Pearce, a professor of game design at Northeastern University and fellow designer for this year’s COAP, believes that some of these games should actually be considered “art.”
“Just take Robert Rauschenberg’s famous performance piece Open Score where he had a tennis game rigged up with different lights and sounds each time the ball was played. Essentially that was a game,” explained Pearce, whose own performance-inspired game, Suite for Overhead Projectors, will see participants following a simple set of instructions (a la Fluxus) in the creation of a collaborative display of lights, shapes and color. “There’s a strong tradition of fine artists that have used games and play in different movements. It comes from a core interest and desire to explore all the range of possibilities for the expression of play.”
Nye, on the other hand, opts for the low-brow approach to big game design, thinking up a “funny question” that allows for “recognizable behaviors for action.” Beyond that, he doesn’t overthink his creation too much. “Whether you call them street games, big games or non-digital games, there’s really not a great name for the work featured at Come Out and Play. I sometimes just call them more sophisticated versions of playground games.”
Come Out and Play: After Dark is a free event that takes place this Friday, July 17, around the Manhattan Bridge Archway Plaza in DUMBO from 7pm to 10:30pm. For the festivals day time scheduling, look here.