PLAY is the working title of an initiative to create a place for playful culture in the city of Utrecht. It is the brainchild of Jeroen van Mastrigt and was conceived at several city labs with municipal and provincial support. Leading up to the realization of this place for playful culture, PLAY’s stakeholders felt the need to initiate projects at a smaller scale and with a more pragmatic bent. In this manner, the ideas around PLAY would be embedded in the city’s cultural ecosystem and awareness would be raised amongst the public.
We were asked to lead the production of a series of games for a number of the city’s cultural festivals. Each of these so-called live games would be created by a local games studio. In this manner, the hope was to demonstrate the value of play for more traditional cultural domains. Through play a festival’s cultural offering would be made accessible in an alternative manner, with the ultimate aim of attracting a larger and more varied audience.
In addition, we were expected to produce a website that would present these games to a wider audience. This website would not only list the games, but also create a record of people’s activities at the live games. We were also asked to think of a way to connect all these playful activities online and to create a place where the creative process behind the live games would be visible.
The first activities around this project consisted of a round of interviews with around 10 Utrecht festivals. We used these interviews to get a sense of each festival’s aims, its audience and any specific challenges it might be facing. We also spent some time during each meeting to brainstorm possible applications of play for the festival.
We then went back and sketched concepts for each festival. We presented all of these ideas at a city lab meeting attended by all festivals as well as a number of Utrecht games studios. During this meeting we were happy to get an enthusiastic response from both festivals and studios, giving us the mandate to move ahead.
Subsequently we selected three festivals for which a live game would be created and selected studios that would be a good match for them. We wrote briefs for each live game and coordinated the production of them.
In parallel we planned, designed and produced the website. We named the project PLAY Pilots and created a brand identity. A first version launched shortly before the first live game. Subsequent updates included general improvements as well as the features required to connect the live games to the website.
Of course, we also attended the festivals themselves, assisted with the live games where required and observed their impact on the event audiences.
This projected resulted in three live games by three studios for three festivals. They are, in order of launch date:
Wip ’n’ Kip by FourceLabs for Stekker Fest. Players raced each other on adult-size spring riders that controlled a digital counterpart on racetrack on a huge screen. Each race was recorded with a high speed video camera. The recordings and the race times could be claimed online.
De Stereoscoop by Zesbaans for the Netherlands Film Festival. Two turntables allowed players to scratch and mix samples taken from 30 Dutch films from the past 30 years. The installation contained around 200 such samples. Players were awarded for interesting combinations with achievements which could be claimed online.
Bandjesland by Monobanda for Le Guess Who? A collaborative dance music making machine that used old-fashioned cassette tapes stuffed with new-fangled RFIDs. By placing tapes on a table loops would start playing. Players could record their own samples at the event and link them to these tapes for immediate use. All music and samples were recorded and made available online.
The studios as well as the website team wrote so-called weeknotes on a process blog. All the posts are still available and provide a wealth of information with regards to the conceptual and practical challenges connected to mashing up games and traditional culture.
The website itself consisted of pages describing each live game, the related studio and festival and a record of the players’ activities. The website — which is still online — also contained a social game that piggybacked on Twitter and allowed players to battle each other using ‘moves’ from subcultures in a kind of competitive slot machine.
All live games got tremendous responses from players. Festivals got valuable experience with commissioning games, and an increased understanding of the work that goes into games like this. Studios were able to present their work to a large, non-games audience. And perhaps most importantly, all parties involved are keen to continue to innovate in culture using play and games.