The Potential Beauty of Big Games

Video games consume the lion’s share of attention when it comes to gaming practices.  You know, the type of criticism that boils down to handwringing about young impressionable minds rotting from the inside out addicted to Tour of Duty 3. 

I’ve been been fascinated by — and more attracted to —Big Games, games that are played in public spaces by a group of individuals.  I was reminded of Big Games by this post in the Guardian, in which the director of the Hide&Seek, a London-based Big Game festival, laments that the only games commonly played in public spaces are lottery games:

I’ve been getting people to play games in public for the last five years, and in so doing, have become evangelical about the value of playing together. So I find it odd that the opportunities to do so are so restricted.

When I was at NML, I oversaw the creation of a learning unit on Big Games: where they come from, how they utilize the city as a gameboard, how they encourage basic technical and social skills.A group of us participated in the 2006 Come Out and Play festival in NYC, which featured an array of such games.  I participated in one of the earliest instances of Cruel 2 B Kind.  C2BK,  the brainchild of leading game designers Ian Bogost and Jane McGonigal, cleverly turned the paradigm of competitive gameplay on its head. While the game’s rules have been refined since its debut, the crux is that your “weapon” is a particular compliment, such as “That is a fantastic belt” or “You look beautiful today” and your vulnerability is also one of those phrases.  Gameplay proceeds within a specified geographic area.  Teams toss compliments back and forth, incorporating others who succumb to their phrase and vice versa.  In the NY 2006 version, gameplay climaxed with two groups of 40+ players shouting compliments back and forth across Fifth Avenue.

And the best part?  All players are anonymous, so it’s inevitable that you will at some point give a compliment to someone who isn’t playing.  I inadvertently told a Korean grocer that I liked his shoes; he looked confused, but he was beaming.  Would it be so terrible if we became addicted to games that make strangers smile in real time, to your face?