GLLS 2007: Big Fun, Big Learning

Big Fun, Big Learning: Transforming the World Through Play

by Greg Trefry, Come Out and Play Festival, organizer; Game designer for GameLab,

Greg’s focus for his Tuesday keynote was on “Big Games” which are similar to scavenger hunts and other traditional games throughout a city. Big Games treat a city (neighborhood, city, entire internet can be the environment) as a game board.

Big Games break the “magic circle,” they are integrated with the real whole not just that “magic” gamin space. The story within Big Games add a layer of narrative onto everyday experiences. Moving through the city is different because of the game context; it’s about who’s playing, who’s not, who’s tracking you.

Big Games while they can be large in scope, they also include a strong local element because people are all interacting in a shared space. Technology can play a role in these games in order to track these local players over big spaces, but other games just use traditional paper or chalk to mark goals and places.

There is an element of spectacle with the games, since the world around watches and begins to engage in the players. The audience is part of the game. Games often incorporate team dynamics and learning, which result in developing and implementing strategies to succeed.

Big Games fit well on college campuses. Are your students doing any right now?

Big Games are similar to sports. While there is team competition, the game is about the public spectacle and the interaction with the spectators. Big Games not only include the players but everyone passing by or stopping to watch. This type of environment creates a real potential for social experimentation. Some Big Games are tapping into this, ie. a giant pillow fight in a public square in Toronto – they set out pillows and waited to see what would happen.

Pac-Manhattan, where individuals play Pac-Man in Washington square in NY is another successful Big Game. Big Urban Game (BUG) came out of the Design Institute of Minneapolis and it successfully engaged the public and media. “The Beast” (a promotional Big Game for Spielberg’s A.L. movie) was an online Big Game through a variety of faked websites with buried clues throughout. Working collaboratively across the internet, players worked through 6 months worth of content in 3 days. I Love Bees, by Jane McGonigal, is another great example of how the internet was used collaboratively to complete the game.

“Journey to the End of the Night” a simple, yet successful, Big Game from last year’s Come Out & Play. Really works like a big game of zombie tag, where once tagged they join the chasers in tracking down the rest of the players. The game lasted for over 3 hours.

Big Games are successful often because of how they re-envision traditional spaces. They transform our common spaces into a new, challenging, and tense world. There are a wide variety of Big Games, all of which work to find ways to see our daily surroundings as a game. The barrier to entry is minimal. There is not any experience required and they have the potential to engage students, staff and faculty all in a shared experience.

For Greg, Big Games are all about being “there” and experiencing a physical space and then finding the content from that space to create an experience. Greg provided a list of assets that libraries have for Big Games:

  • locations(game boards, movement, “where to hide stuff”)
  • collections(items to collect)
  • spaces(territory to hold)
  • content(existing symbols, materials equipment to interact with)
  • persistence(library card identities, leveling up abilities, small incentives to gain new status)
  • unique identifiers(knowing players reached a goal, call numbers)
  • referees(need people to keep track of status and players)
  • tools(computers, copiers, use to track and solve puzzles)
  • display(ability to provide updates on game, state of the game, who’s winning)
  • Refreshments(lots of running=water)

Greg provided 5 potential ideas for Big Games in libraries:

Scavenger Hunts; either with books or people, the game would require players to avoid detection which gets players to be mindful and aware of spaces, players could collect codes like call numbers or book contents or titles, use the codes to help solve the mystery, this type of experience provides avenues for players to level-up

Then & Now; citywide or campus wide photo hunt, use old photos to have players find the current locations, this could be a great homecoming type of event that could even involve alumni

Real Estate Games; controlling spaces, collecting buildings around campus or collections in the library

Alternative Reality Games; hidden clues with content to solve mystery, could promote collaboration from students

Code Breaking Games; foreign language or even subject / discipline specific language

Collection Games; using call numbers to generate creatures or items that could be collected, traded and used, library website could be used to list the creatures/items with the codes that correspond

Initial Steps: Look around at the world – Give normal activities goals, Simple ways to track moves, Playtest and playtest again to work bugs