Physical Games Continued

I’ve been reading some more about these types of games since Monday.  Here are some more names I’ve found along the way:

  • Urban games
  • Street games
  • Location-based games
  • GPS games
  • Alternative games
  • Pervasive games
  • New sports
  • And of course, Augmented Reality Games fit in here somewhere as well

This How Stuff Works article on Urban Gaming uses the fun term of “human scale” to differentiate urban games from tabletop or computer games  (as in, the playspace is generally larger, human-sized), and I like that a lot.  But that article also says that all urban games incorporate technology, which may or may not be completely accurate, but maybe makes “urban gaming” too narrow of a term to suit my needs.

Though I seem to be looking for a broad definition of games-that-aren’t-video-games-or-traditional-sports (perhaps “alternative games” is best, but it sounds a little strange and maybe too broad), I’m also currently interested in a specific subset of those types of games, namely those that might serve as a more complex, less expensive, and equally physically taxing alternative to laser tag.

The Ludocity site (a collection of ready-to-play games, thanks for the great recommendation, Chris!) has a nice at-a-glance snapshot box on each game page, and at the bottom of the box it tells you what activities make up the game.  For example, Journey to the End of the Night includes running, chasing, hiding, sneaking, and exploring while The Gossip Game is about writing, deduction, and conspiracy.  A game like laser tag might include chasing (no running allowed!), sneaking, hiding, shooting, and evading.

Not only does this kind of taxonomy help someone like me quickly navigate through a sea of potential games, it also gets me thinking critically about what activities I like and why.  In laser tag, I think the chasing, sneaking, and hiding really make up the meat of the game, at least for me anyway.  Those activities are what you’re doing most of the time, and they’re what make the game physically taxing.  (Stealth also has huge immersive and atmospheric points built-in, so that’s another plus for me.)  These are activities that could easily be applied to a new game, while shooting requires some amount of equipment or props (unless you’re getting creative).

Though the Ludocity forums are a little quiet, it looks like there has been some great general game design discussion going on in the past.  I particularly enjoyed this short thread about things that are and aren’t fun in a game (concepts that can probably be applied to most games across all platforms!).  A few highlights of things that were deemed fun:  pushing past your own perceived limits, being afraid, gaining respect from other players, camaraderie and friendly rivalry, outwitting other players, and having a rough sense of how well one did compared to the other players.  Things that are not fun:  Waiting, listening to rules, rule ambiguity (which includes not knowing how to win, not knowing what actions are/aren’t permissible, and not knowing the size of the playing area), and finding powerful rule exploits.  This all gets my game designer senses tingling.  Something to do with optimization, playtesting, making players feel something, making sure that people have a good time… it’s all so appealing!

One more plug for Ludocity along those lines:  their game design advice page.  Just reading through that is enough to inspire game ideas and mechanics!

There also some free resources out there for would-be game designers, especially when it comes to GPS games:

And here are some pre-made GPS games:


And while I’m listing things…



So it sort of seems the urban game community is flourishing in London and Pennsylvania (and everything interesting is always flourishing in San Francisco).  But with a large enough group of friends, I bet there isn’t much to starting a community in your own city, especially if you utilize networking tools like Facebook and Meetup.  You would probably need a few people dedicated to organizing games every now and then rather than just leaving it up to the whims of the group.  What if you didn’t tell the group what game you’d be playing beforehand, and instead the members just got a short message saying “Meet at x location, Wednesday at 7:30.  Bring your smartphone,” and that was it?  I think that would help people like me who might see a game description and then think “Nah, I’m too lazy and that doesn’t sound fun enough.”

Who wants to play? =)

2 comments on Physical Games Continued

  • Chris M. Dickson

    The nomenclature is confusing. It’s interesting to look back at Come Out And Play 2006, which may (?) have been the first festival example of This Sort Of Thynge; even then, the program doesn’t have an all-encompassing adjective to describe their games. It’s also interesting to note how high-tech (mixed-reality, etc.) so many of the 2006 games were – possibly a higher proportion even then than in successive festivals, because the barriers to production of mixed reality games are so high and people with low-tech games (where the barriers to entry are so much lower) have had their submissions welcomed as well. I think there are some subtle differences between some of the adjectives’ meanings as well.

    Other festivals I’ve read about: Play: Vienna,
    the Athens Plaython (that’s the original one, not the ones in OH or GA) and You are GO! in Berlin. I tend to get the impression that each of those festivals has a community around them, mostly to do with generating and playtesting ideas. I’ve never been to a Hide & Seek Weekender, to my great sadness, but they do have “Sandpit” playtesting sessions. I’ve been to one of those in London, and they also toured the country, so I was able to get to a semi-local session. Both were tremendous.

    Also in the UK, BARG had a reasonable run as a community for a couple of years, but didn’t seem to have a critical mass to keep going for the long term (e.g. their web site is no more, alas) and Larkin’ About are making a go of things in Manchester. Larkin’ About are the closest group to me, and they even brought one event to my very town… on a day when I was working the day shift and couldn’t get out to play it, despite it being a quarter of a mile away! *sigh*

    Generalising, I think that there tends to be a crossover with Maker culture, but also with the traditions of experimental and improv theatre. I would expect people with those sorts of backgrounds to be up for an invitation as vague as the one you propose towards the end. There doesn’t yet seem to be as big a crossover with people involved in other, more established forms of play, such as board games, RPGs, tabletop war games or trading card games, for no good reason at all. I’d like to believe it’s just a matter of time before we start seeing much more crossover between game genres at, for instance, game conventions.

    • clavicarius (author)

      Man, the UK has got it all going on! Agree on your comment about Maker culture. Just read about this cool submarine simulator game made during a Red Bull-sponsored maker challenge. It makes sense since those types of people would have the means and knowledge to make cool things and then adapt them into games, whereas everyone else maybe just has to rely on their own inner game designer (which may or may not exist).

      I think, at least for me, there’s just so little concept of all of this stuff even existing! It’s taken me running this blog to research and find out about half the stuff I’m really interested in right now, I don’t know how I ever would have stumbled across it going about my daily life and playing the occasional board game.

      We have the HUGE Magfest video game convention here in January every year.. I love the idea of a more broad “GAMES” convention that could include all of these different game platforms (video games, “folk” games, hybrids like Johann Sebastian Joust, “urban” and “pervasive” games, board games, card games, etc.) and connect all of these interested people!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.