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Ice Breaking Games

by Marc Vousden on 01/02/13 07:58:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


I’ve started playing a game on the tube. Count the phones. I’ve only been playing single player on easy mode (silent counting) but it’s encompasses the experience of public transport in London. My high score is currently 11.

The seeds of the game were planted following the 2010 Hide&Seek Weekender, my first exposure to the world of pervasive / playground / street / urban / big games (I havn’t decided which I think describes the games as a set -- or even if there is such a phrase). During the day I’d helped complete strangers to raise funds for BP, pass through portals to alternate Londons and drive dancers with only sheet music. People start to connect when players can abdicate their responsibility for these “strange” actions because “the rules told them to”.

During games people discuss tactics and jeer opposition. Between games people swap game recommendations and stories. Onlookers, wary of the strange activities, ask what exactly is going on. Even in the feigned nonchalance of those who don’t stop, you can see the next conversation they have will be about “the loons running round with a plastic stag head and coloured balloons”.

All those times when you’re surrounded by strangers and some arbitrary, odd event has inspired an exchange of even a few sentences, feels good right? Nothing makes my day like a pointless, good natured exchange with a stranger. The Weekender had been that ALL day.

Cut to the journey home. I plonk myself down on a train, bright eyed and bushy tailed. Look around and opposite me...

A man. A phone. Headphones. A fixed stare just off to the right of my head.

Don’t get me wrong, it was how I’d always experienced public transport, but after the day I’d had it felt like such a waste. Even if you want to, it’s difficult to start a conversation.

The London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics have been widely praised for the “feeling” that engulfed London. People having that common experience had the same effect that the players at the Weekender had, an ice-breaker. Where mundane conversations about the weather aren’t worth bothering a stranger about, ones about the excitement of seeing three british gold medalists in one night were.

With social networking booming, we are offered the opportunity to neatly curate the types of people they interact with. We get the conversations we expect. I can’t help but think the same thing isolates us from the people sitting opposite us on the train, robbing us of those unexpected gems of conversation. We’ll both just sit here and check our news/twitter feed instead.

Whilst we can’t host an olympics every year, public games could provide the same ice breaker. They can create the seeds of conversation that help to burst those little isolating bubbles that form around us when we’re out in the real world.

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