Playing for Change 2015

I recently attended this year’s Playing for Change event (see here for the post on the event last year) held in the Birley Building at MMU, and watched an activity filled afternoon with unusual games that challenge preconceptions of gaming and/or are just plain fun. Games were developed by a number of contributors including Copenhagen Game Collective and Invisible Playground. Unfortunately, just prior to the event I had banjaxed my lower back and had to restrict my movements, which cut down on how involved I could get with some of the games.

“I love my degree” were the words I overheard from a random student engaging in one of the pop-up arcade games. Johann Sebastian Joust involved five players wandering round with movement sensitive lights in their hands trying to knock the other players lights out while trying to protect their own light and keeping to the speed suggested by the background music, where moving too fast when trying to knock out a competitor could result in eliminating yourself from the competition. This game was available at various times throughout the afternoon and was fun to play and watch.

Everything is Awesome was supposed to be played outdoors but we were driven inside to a games hall by the weather being traditionally Mancunian. This game involved five resistance fighters trying to be creative while having to use a mobile phone to check in at points (fixed to the top of inflatable punch bags) at regular intervals. If a check in failed- as became increasingly likely as the game progressed- one of the players had to “hack” the drone sent after the group by using a brain sensing headband. I had originally planned to play this game, but when I heard the whole team might lose if one person couldn’t run back to base I offered my place to someone else and watched. It looked a lot of fun especially with the hovering drones and I would have liked a chance to use the headband. This game obviously was meant to provoke thought about the increasingly prevalent observation of individuals in a digital age, and the possible use of drones by the establishment. It was a shame the game had to be moved indoors as I suspect that quite a bit of the atmosphere was lost but the players all seemed to enjoy it.

Decide the path your chosen character will take through life.

Decide the path your Perfect Woman will take through life.

Perfect Woman involved picking life choices and then having to move into certain positions to succeed at them- various paths through life made other paths more difficult- becoming a call girl at 60 would mean that a religious retirement at 80 was much harder. In the booth next to this was an Oculus Rift video in French- it felt more like there should be a game element to this, but at this point there didn’t seem to be any interactivity. There was also 72 minutes- the urban intervention game– which was a game set up to mimic a 72 hour urban emergency over a 72 minute slot.

Another game Dandelion- Variable was being play tested for the first time with cards as opposed to online. This game looked interesting, but wasn’t really intuitive and was therefore a bit difficult to just start playing without really understanding the rules or how the system worked. It looked as if it might be a very involved game but there really wasn’t time to get a grip on it.

Bully you, bully me was created to highlight the damage that can be done by bullying- a character started with 10 self-esteem points (five blue blocks for normal status, five red blocks for loser status) could either build up their self-esteem and become “cool” with black blocks on top, or destroy others self-esteem through physical or verbal abuse. While you could bolster your self-esteem by forming friendships there was no way to win through co-operation- once your enemies were down you would have to turn on your allies to win. Once the self-esteem was in the red the “or” option was depicted, which allowed the player to roll to eliminate players (possibly including themselves.)  I chose to see what happened if I played a non-aggressive game, not attacking, just trying to quietly build up my blocks. I was the penultimate player left in the game but if you don’t attack the only way to win is if the other players destroy themselves.

Johann Sebastian Joust being played at the end of Playing for Change 2015.

Johann Sebastian Joust being played at the end of the event.

After that all that remained were refreshments and a few more rounds of jousting. There had been less talking about the implications of gaming and more just playing than I had expected. It was good to look at the wide variety of types of games that don’t fall into a traditional mould. The integration of the technology was also worth considering- although there were a few glitches, you can see how technology is going to become a part of more than just traditional “computer games.”