United by play

Since well before our festival’s 2006 founding in New York City, many of the organizers of Come Out & Play and our fellow game designers have evangelized for the power of play as an essential part of human life, for adults and children alike. In the words of Plato, “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” By playing we learn, connect, adapt, relax, experiment, and more.

Over the years, Come Out & Play’s annual festivals have brought together over 12,000 people of all ages to play 208 live public games in the sidewalks, streets, parks and plazas of ten different neighborhoods. We have sparked an influential international street games movement, directly inspiring ten spinoff festivals around the globe in places like D.C., Athens, London and Berlin and expanding Come Out & Play itself to San Francisco in 2010. With game designers as their directors and onlookers as their audience, people just like you hop, skip, and jump their way across a city reimagined, engaging with their communities in new ways. This movement is an open one: join us!

The power of play has exceeded our wildest expectations. Games are used by museums to draw a younger crowd, marketers to build brands, social networks to create community, and so on throughout industry. In the midst of this race to apply a known quantity called “play” to different contexts and examine what results, Come Out & Play draws attention back inward. More than a mere means to an end, play is a unifier that can produce authentic shared experiences, opportunities to try on new roles, and empathy. We wield the power of play to transcend preconceptions of human interaction, public space, and the nature of games.

This year, our 3rd year in San Francisco, Come Out & Play expands again – this time inside, into the gallery setting. The games further challenge players to rethink how and where we play. In the interactive heist The Hearst Collection, artists Gabe Smedresman and John Teasdale motivate players with the pursuit of Art. In the structural would-be betting pit Sixteen Tons, artists Nathalie Pozzi and Eric Zimmerman present an interaction economy, motivating player moves with the exchange of (real) money. In WANTED!, Catherine Herdlick uses the gallery as a gathering place, a beacon for an experience that takes players back outside to explore SOMA.

The messages of all the artists in this show are in the gameplay mechanics: what you do and how you interact with the larger system of rules, players, and objects could change your worldview. While you play a game, ask who, if anyone, occupies the roles of director, player, and audience. As we shift from a culture of spectators to one of participants and producers, this exhibition and its companion festival provide an opportunity to imagine what it means to be a citizen of this new world where we are united by play.