[In this event report, Gamasutra checks out New York's Come Out & Play Festival, three days of live games staged across the Big Apple with the mission of encouraging public games and play.]
Times Square, the busiest intersection in one of the busiest cities in the world, seems an unlikely place to gather to play double-dutch. The Bronx-bound 2 train isn't the most likely venue to play the party game Mafia. But when the Come Out & Play Festival
arrives in The Big Apple every year, this is how it unfolds.
Come Out & Play is a three-day festival with a mission to encourage public games and play. It comprises dozens of live games, some of which are social and interactive, some of which are theatrical, while others are sports-based or rely on gadgets, like GPS systems, iPhones, and cameras.
All the games took place in midtown Manhattan or Brooklyn and were free to play, although some require advanced registration.
The festival was founded by Peter Lee, who also was a co-founder of Gamelab, Nick Fortugno, Greg Trefry, Mattia Romeo, and Catherine Herdlick, who acted as festival director for the 2009 games. It's been around annually since 2006, although in 2007 it took place in Amsterdam instead of New York.
I attended Come Out & Play last year, but for this year's festival (June 12-14, 2009), I acted as one of the judges, which means I ended up personally playing--or at least closely observing--about six of the 35 games.
On Friday night, I was corralled into Neo-Cowgirl Faux Rodeo. The rodeo featured three distinct events: a bronco buck, barrel race, and hog-tie. In the bronco buck, a bed sheet was spread on the ground, and a yoga ball was positioned at one end, on the sheet.
The cowgirl rider balanced the tops of her feet on the ball while forming a plank with the rest of her body and steadying herself using two palms face down on the ground.
Rustlers then held the four corners of the sheet and shook it until the cowgirl was bucked from her "bronco," or until she had stayed on for four whole seconds.
Another game I observed, and which was hugely popular, was Circle Rules Football
, designed by Gregory Manley (actor), Andrew R. Butler (theater artists/actor/singer-songwriter), Ingrid Burrington (designer/printer/editor/writer), Scott Riehs (actor and filmmaker), Zaq Landsberg (artist), Billy Scafuri (writer and comedian), Celeste Arias (actor).
It's essentially a ball-based game with two teams, in which the goal post is placed in the center of the field--and the field has no boundaries because the play keeps the ball toward the middle. It's an amalgamation of soccer, volleyball, and a few other sports, only the object being hit, kicked, and fought over, is a giant yoga ball.
It didn't hurt that this game was played near Sheep's Meadow in scenic Central Park, where penthouse apartment buildings and famous hotels peek from above the tree line.
Circle Rules Football was named Best New Sport as well as Best in Festival at an Awards Ceremony that marked the close of Come Out & Play.
Some of the other games I tried out were Picky Sticky Pollen, a lawn game that involved players dressed like bumble bees picking up different colored balls, Train Mafia, which was very similar to the social role-playing party game Mafia except it was played on the Bronx-bound 2 train and players were either "hipsters" or "nerds" being "excluded" (Homeland Security might have unexpectedly intervened had it been "mobsters" and "assassinations" in this public space).
I also played Day in the Park, in which my team and I had to solve tangram puzzles using oversized pieces, and then complete a mini scavenger hunt in Central Park.
In speaking with festival director Catherine Herdlick and co-founder Peter Lee, I got the sense that the organizers hope to preserve the indie feel that they've cultivated in the weekend event.
Despite landing a few big-name sponsors this year, like Saucony, The Times Square Alliance, and Walt Disney Imagineering, they don't want to grow the festival to be much bigger than the size it is now, Lee explained.