Green Door Labs: THE BLOG

Building mobile games for spaces. Museums, games, education and other great adventures.


Location Based Games to play in LONDON!

Cheerio!! I am BACK, blog! I was on a fabulous trip to London and Paris. While I was there I was on a hunt for games and activities that connected people with spaces and I have some great stuff to report! So read on to hear location-based, immersive experiences that you can play in Jolly Old London!



I can’t tell you how excited I am that room escape games are all the rage in Europe right now. In the UK, there seems to be an endless list of them to play: A search on Trip Advisor has room escape games as the top attractions of both London and Paris and for our London game we chose Hit Hunt:, a fast-growing company with room escape games in London, Paris, Dubai and Capetown (and apparently other places?) The company itself is a total mystery- each website is a mini-site for that location only with no information about the company or who’s building these games. Is tracking them down a game in itself?

escape     600_314436132

If you haven’t tried a room escape games, the idea is that you’re locked in a room with anywhere between 3 and 10 people and you have 60 minutes to solve puzzles and get out. When we played this in Boston, you could be thrown into the room with random players. We chose to fill it with 10 friends and it was pretty chaotic to say the least. (We were also being chased by a zombie.) In the London version, we played with 5 people and it worked really well with that size. The room was an “Asian room” and the storyline was pretty vague, in fact I didn’t entirely follow it- essentially it was a puzzle hunt rather than an interactive story or investigation. We were monitored by our host from the next room, who communicated with us via a monitor on the wall that displayed our time as well as messages and photo hints when we got stuck.


The game itself has a 50% chance of success, which I found surprising because it was pretty hard! (Maybe they give some teams more hints.) There are locks, tables, pictures, toys, magazines, bric-a-brac and you put things together to find combinations, open locks and solve puzzles. This room itself had a good number of locks and “find the combinations” challenges but there were some fun things like a sudoku and jigsaw puzzles that held clues. The office was a little haphazard and there wasn’t really a central waiting room to start your game. The game room itself was pretty well-done and the room was nicely put-together but there was this sense that it was shoved into spare rooms and closets. The Boston escape room game was in a random warehouse. I’ve heard that these games often have a thrown-together feel. The Paris game with Escape Hunt was the exception, but I’ll write more about that later.



This is the ideal way to go through a museum of modern art- I’m telling you, I can’t think of any way that I could have had a better experience there. Well- other than fixing some technical glitches in the game… but the game itself is fabulous. So I’ll set the scene a little bit: the Tate Museum of Modern Art is in an old factory with lots of modern and contemporary art.

screen2    screen3   

The game is an app (iPhone only: that asks you to search the collection in one of three ways: Battle mode, Mood or Collector. We chose battle mode of course and it asks the question: if these pieces came to life, which would win in a battle? You get to collect 7 and you run around finding and adding in the accession #’s. It logs the piece in your app, which then tells you how that piece ranks for “size, strength and agility” and you can decide to take the card or leave it. There’s a “more” button that explains why it scored the way it did with great comments like “The machine behind looks threatening enough but the headless woman could be a liability.”


You can choose to play in 30 mins, an hour or untimed. We chose 30 minutes and the three of us with two phones were tearing around the collection looking for aggressive pieces of art. Once we got back together with our hand, you get to play. The computer says “trump is size”, play a card. We chose our card with the best size score and played it against our friend’s card and the winner takes all the points. Just like a game of trumps– super easy to get into, amazing low-barrier to entry game. 1: Set my mission 2: collect 3: do something I recognize with my collection. The game has a beginning, middle and an end- there’s a clear winner and ways to play more. It was built by the amazing, sadly now defunct Hide and Seek, a company that has created some of the best games of all time for interacting with spaces. (

My friends said “but I don’t know if ITate‘m learning anything about the art!” She had played by herself against my husband for the Battle mode so we switched the teams and played “mood”, looking for pieces that were exhilarating, menacing or absurd. We tore through the galleries again but this time remembered some pieces from the last round and had to talk about our plan of attack: Which gallery had pieces that were absurd? We thought that the massive, heavy pieces would be considered menacing but found that they were listed as “exhilarating” and then had to talk about why.

Ten minutes into it, we were in a portrait gallery talking about which of the portraits could be considered menacing- we decided that direct stares were the most menacing. Lines that moved UP were the most exhilarating and pieces that showed things in places where they didn’t belong could be considered absurd. So we actually defined categories and then found art that we thought matched them. Then we found similarities in the different pieces- “hey if this one is absurd, I bet that one is, too”. This is REAL interpretive, actual thinking about art- without even trying. Not only that, we found that by the second game, we had canvassed all three floors of the gallery and had pretty much mapped out where different things were. When it was over after only 60 minuted of play, I found that I could name at least a half a dozen paintings in the gallery, where they were, picture them in my head and talk about what I thought they were trying to express. Seriously. wow.

The Three Dancers 1925 by Pablo Picasso 1881-1973


Eine Kleine Nachtmusik 1943 by Dorothea Tanning born 1910





I am not really a modern art person and I often find modern art galleries a little overwhelming. I couldn’t believe how much I got out of the gallery from playing that game. Not only that, I want to go back and play again. There’s a non-location-based version where you can just choose art and play against a friend or the computer but the actual finding of the art was really the best part so if you’re ever in London, I highly recommend it.

The only complaint was that a lot of the pieces were not in the game- so you’d have a big discussion about whether a piece was menacing or not, plug it in and it would say “piece cannot be found”, which actually discouraged you from spending time discussing the piece before you added it to your hand. The “computer” player was a little wonky and would come up with scores that didn’t actually exist- one of its paintings had a score of 20 out of 10. Also, we lost one of our games after we collected and then couldn’t find a wifi hotspot to tally our scores. These are some quick fixes- keep the collection/game updated, add in signs of where you can get wifi hotspots and test for bugginess. But all in all, this was a completely engaging, unique, educational and overall fun game.



This exhibit only runs until September in London but maybe we’ll be lucky and it with travel to the US: It was a celebration of all things digital from Pong and Pac Man consoles to interactive digital art to indie games and lasers- and it was great!!

The start of the exhibit had a lot of screen time, which- though always engaging- was maybe a little TOO engaging for me. More than once, I lost my husband because we were both in our own screen worlds. Not exactly the kind of interaction with culture that I’m trying to get more of in the world. But there were a few pieces of note that really made this exhibit more than just a “stare at some screens” exhibit. The first was this series of digital, interactions with birds. You stood in front of a massive screen that showed your shadow with shadow birds flying above you. When you put up your hands, the birds responded. On the first screen, your shadow dissolved into birds. On the second, the birds swooped down and ate you and on the third, you sprouted gigantic wings. I got the feeling that people just withstood the first two to get to the wings part but one thing that I really liked was that people watched the others interact with the screens. At one point, a little girl got her bird to fly and people cheered her on and gave her suggestions of how hard or easy to flap her arms to make it happen.

17-Barbican-Digital-Revolution     birds

The next one that I really enjoyed was something of a mystery piece. It was a tall cardboard shape by an artist named Gibson Martelli with black and white designs on it. Not in a crowded place, easy to walk by but my husband and I were tired and there was a bench nearby so we happened to read the description card and it said there was an app to interact with this thing. Great. We’ll sit right here and download the app. (More of an excuse to sit… but still something to do.) We downloaded the app, held it up to the structure and I yelped a little when I saw it!! There were dancers!! Gorgeous dancers that interacted with my phone and the piece! They responded to how we moved around, they changed according to how long you were there- it was pure magic!! Not only that, we felt like we had found a secret. We stood their with our phones and people thought we must be taking pictures- so a bunch of young Chinese kids came up behind us to take pictures, too. I speak enough Chinese to be able to hear the fabulous conversation. “This is cool… is it famous? Why are they taking pictures? Wait that’s an app!! See on their phone there are dancers!!” and then they approached us and asked us about it- then THEY downloaded the app- and soon a bunch of people had gathered around us, downloading the app and interacting with the piece. It was secret augmented reality!!! You can see the video of it here:


Last but not least was an incredible room of LAAAASSSEEERS!!! You went into a dark room filled with smoke and there were lasers that projected on the floor. Cool, right? But it gets better: the lasers responded to touch. So if you tapped a laser, it would move. If you pointed at the ceiling, another laser would appear. If you dragged your finger across the laser, it would draw. If you held both hands with another person, a laser would sprout between you. And there were bubbles. It was pretty spectacular. There were maybe 20 people in this dark room interacting with you and the lasers so naturally play happened. I found myself playing laser ball with another person where we just threw a laser back and forth. Another couple from Spain was pretty competitive and kept trying to “steal” lasers from my hubby and I and we would “steal” them back. And then there were bubbles. Did I mention there were laser bubbles? Overall, a great experience.

laser1    Digital Revolution Installation At The Barbican Centre

So I’ll stop here but I do have more games to write about so stay tuned. More importantly, has anybody played these games before and what was your take on them? Did I miss any fantastic games in London? Does anyone know if the Barbican exhibit is traveling and does anyone know anything about the mysterious Hit Hunt company? Ping me or post, I wanna hear about it!




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Badges and Gamification

So…badges!! People often ask me about “Gamification” and “Badges”, two words that make any game designer cringe. It’s sort of like when you spend 15 years learning to lindy hop and someone says “can you do the pretzel?” No? Is that not a generalized enough analogy? Maybe if you’re a professional educator and someone tells you that they used to babysit. Or if you’re a museum professional and someone tells you they liked the “bodies” exhibit at the convention center. Essentially- “badges” is the most visible but reductionist and often harmful version of an otherwise complex study. “ification” or “ify” usually suggests that something is NOT something and you’re shoehorning it to make it that.
A dead giveaway is that nobody who works with AAA games or high-quality games talks about badges or gamification. Why? because those things are already fun. You don’t need to “ify” Portals, it’s already a pretty fun game. Is education so impossible that we have to “funify” it rather than just make it fun? Why do we need to hack education and culture with gimmicky level ups rather than just make it engaging? I think that’s lazy on our parts. We want to teach the same old way we’ve always taught (even though kids in today’s world respond to information in a totally different way than they ever have) but we’ll throw them a bone and give them a meaningless prize for slogging through our bad design. Shame on you, gamification. We don’t need to “gamify” education, we need to bake fun, engaging, interactive strategies for teaching right into the heart of it.
As for badges: I do have some experience. We had badges at SCVNGR and while SCVNGR had a lot of good parts to it, the badging was totally useless. One time we sent out a “Kim Jong FUn” badge and everyone got it for no reason…which pretty much undermines everything. I’ll never forget Jeff Kirchik on calls trying to explain to Universities why he had the “Justin Bieber badge (“So on this screen are my badges… I didn’t actually earn the JB badge… in fact I don’t know why I have it. In fact I hate Justin Bieber.”) I think to be successful, badges have to serve one of two purposes: either they show progress/success or they build community. Most badges are just progress bars essentially- it’s just a more colorful way to show people that they succeeded. SCVNGR badges failed because we really gave them out randomly– they didn’t mark any sort of success or mastery or progression.  Bieber badge
I think one group  that works with earned badging well is CodeAcademy ( It’s challenging content and they show you a nice grid of what there is for you to learn- it’s essentially a curriculum but it looks like badges. Every badge you win gets you closer to being able to actually have a marketable skill. I hear DuoLingo does that as well (I haven’t played its recent iteration) but the badges mark your progress on learning a marketable skill- a language. I think kung-fu belts are another good way to see this. Or grades. Alone, the belts are just a colored strip- the grades are just a letter. They’re only worth something if everyone agrees that these random symbols can represent that the user has achieved mastery on some level.
The other type of badging is community badging like FourSquare or Ingress. FourSquare was interesting because you knew the other players (usually). You could steal badges from them or compare badges. Girl Scouts have a similar dynamic. You all work together as a community to get that badge and you display it publicly so everyone can see how much you belong. The badge doesn’t necessarily show mastery of a topic as much as it shows the amount of time you’ve spent with the community. Ingress also has a sort of social-badge system where you level up and when you’re a level 8, you can do all sorts of extra stuff. Level 8’s help level 1’s and level 1’s work hard to become level 8’s so they can hang out with the cool kids. (SCVNGR wanted to be a social badging system but it didn’t work because players weren’t a close-knit community and a lot of the badges were given at random.)
The trouble with badges is that it’s usually a colorful band-aid that people put on bad design. People don’t care about badges, they care about success and community, which can be represented by badges if you do it right. This quick article I thought hit it spot on: In 2014, Gamification isn’t working the way they  thought it would, mostly because of MEANINGLESS POINTS AND BADGES (it took them this long to figure this out?):
I think it really hit a nerve with those of us who’ve been saying for years that good game design is just good educational design.
After a while even FourSquare got smart and realized that their badging/gamification system wasn’t the right approach to achieve their user and business goals:
Someone once said to me, “let’s hurry up and get over this badge hype so we can get some real work done”. That was years ago but even now I couldn’t agree more. Badges and Gamification are good in that they maybe interest people who wouldn’t think about games and playful design otherwise. Like the person who wouldn’t consider going to a museum until the “bodies” exhibit made them think about it or a person who started babysitting and that made them consider a career in education. It’s a great gateway, a low barrier to entry to get people thinking about a practice that might be able to help them out. But it’s only an entry. The trouble comes when people insist on making the gateway the practice itself. I HAVE to have badges. I want to tag gamification onto this already fully structured system and not change anything else at all. There are situations where badges and gamification are what’s needed but best to go through a solid design process first and figure out that it’s actually what you need. I’m all for the terms to bring people into the practice of playful design but once you’re through, keep an open mind! There’s so much more to game building than Badges!!

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No budget? No excuses! 12 game prompts for limited budgets

I love museum games. I think there’s no better way to get people through the psychological door of art, science, history and culture than through play. I recently chatted with a small history museum who loved the idea of games and interactive media but said they were too small: they had no budget and therefore, they can’t build anything at all. Alas!! That line again!! I do understand. I see why people would think  you can’t have playful, interactive experiences for your visitors if you’re not a large organization with a budget but I hate hearing it because it is just completely and absolutely not true.



Meaningful play can absolutely be built with zero budget. All it takes is a little bit of time, some clever ideas and a willingness to test prototypes and see what really resonates with your audience. If they go for it, that gives you the momentum to try again- and again- until maybe your board takes notice and says, “hey! Visitors are really responding to this, why don’t we give you some help?”


In fact I bet can think of a dozen ways that you can be building playful interaction in your museum even with no budget, a small collection and being short of staff. Do you dare me? Well then… challenge accepted. Here are 12 FREE things you could be building right now for free to make your space more fun and interactive.


1. Choose your own adventures:

Remember those awesome books where you get to decide where to go next? You can make those with a paper and pen. “There are reports that X museum is being haunted by the ghost of X. You’ve been recruited to investigate. Enter the main parlor. If you investigate the cabinet, turn to page 2. If you pass through to the dining room, turn to page 5”. If you’ want a digital version, check out the wonderful (and free!) Quest and write a computer-based choose-your-own text adventure.  Let visitors play through the settings of your paintings, time periods, through the perspective of one of your historical characters or from the point of view of an atom.



2. Clipboard games:

Leave behind clipboards with paper and a pencil tied to a string. Let people leave (respectful) messages, questions or observations for other visitors. Have them draw pictures of artifacts and let others guess what they drew. Use it to create an “exquisite corpse” game where they start a story about an artifact or historical event, fold the page over and let other people continue it. Put your exquisite corpse histories on FB, your blog or your website. (The Baltimore Art Museum is doing a great job of this on their blog Lots of stuff can be done with clipboards!


3.  Twitter games. 

Take a close-up pictures of your artifacts and let people guess what they are. (This was one of the Smithsonian’s favorite games for a while.) @Midnight is doing an amazing job of twitter games right now with “Hashtag wars” where they give challenges like “#sadtoys” (answers: Strangers with Candy Land, Really Really Really Hungry Hippos” Museum hashtag wars? For instance, #failedarttoys. (possible answers: Jackson Polluck Rubik’s cubes…Rothko paint-by-numbers)


4. Game Jams!!

Don’t want to build a game? Let your visitors do it for you. Set aside 48 hours and challenge your visitors to create the best scavenger hunt, choose-your-own adventure or interactive tour of your space. We just ran Edventure Builder game jams with kids at the Field Museum and the Harvard Museum of Natural History with some great results! The MIT Museum had an excellent board game jam as part of the Cambridge Science Festival. Set aside a time invite familes, arm them with a bunch of junk and a piece of cardboard and you might be surprised what they come up with! The best part is that they bring other visitors back to your space to play their games.


5. I spy

The Getty is running a great digital version of ISpy called Switch but Gore Place in Waltham Mass is also running a fabulous, simple paper-based version with questions like “find a chair back that looks like this”. You can create your own “switch” with simple digital pictures, some photoshopping and a printer.


6. VTS is a GREAT GAME! 

Challenges to help people look at art, and they’re also good play. Give folks a clipboard with questions on them or add them to whatever platform you have to deliver content. “Name as many colors as you can in this photo until you run out. Whoever gets the last one wins.” “What is the person in this picture thinking?”


7. Themes: 

Follow a theme through a museum- this is really fun because when you have a hammer, everything is a nail. If you send people through your space all looking for different things: eyes, pyramids, eagles, skulls, the color red, even you’ll be surprised how much they find.


8. Photo hunt: 

If you can have pictures taken in your collection, there’s a lot of fun that can be had with that. Give people a list of photos that they have to take during their visit but make it super vague: The Bluest Blue, Me and My Fine Arts Doppelganger, Me and Elma Mae— see what they come up with and encourage them to send you their photos. Post them on your FB page and give prizes for the photos with the most likes.


9. Timelines: is a great place to build (free!) digital interactive historical timelines. Feeling non-techie? Create your own post-it note timelines near your exhibits and let your visitors add their own. Add a clothesline with some pins and put out index cards for visitors to add a new event to the timeline and clip it into the line. Start with something you’d like to add in 1: Louisa May Alcott is born….. (empty space) 20: Louisa May Alcott Dies. Encourage people to fill in the blanks and rearrange each other’s input as they add to it.


10. Borrow and share:

Museums are building great stuff and more often than not, they’re building it open source to share with YOU! Look around to see what you can use from other
museums before you reinvent the wheel. The MoMA’s “everyone’s a critic” is open to use:
(In fact they just tweeted yesterday “use this in your museum!”) Incorporate existing games into your museum experience like “Play Brave” missions or “Ingress” locations.



11. Abuse college students

If you’re in New England and you don’t have a student intern in your space well then you’re not utilizing your resources. Even if you’re not in New England, I would wager there’s probably a college or high school closeby with intelligent young people who would love to build their resume by making something fun for your organization. Reach out to these organizations! I find it’s best to be very targeted: if you say “we want a game”, you may get a lot of starry-eyed post-teen writers. But if you go to a professor and say, “We’re a respected cultural organization, we’d like an experimental history game for families to play in August and it needs to be paper-based. Do you have any crackerjack students who could play with it for credit or a resume builder?” then see what you get!


12. Cannibalize other games

I think the folks at the incredible Fablevision said it best (and I steal their line all the time) “the best games have known game dynamics and market-quality graphics.” We might not be able to get the market-quality graphics with our time and budget but we can give folks a twist on something they already know and love. Murder at the Met was successful because it built on a game that people knew: Clue. Candy Crush is just a variation on Bejeweled. Tate Trumps looks like a card game. Use simple games that people like to play: monopoly, go fish, 20 questions and make simple, paper variations on these games that use your space. Remember your goal is to have people learning and having fun, removing barriers to entry and letting people be more comfortable with art, science, history and culture so if you have to cheat a little and give people something they recognize to get there, that’s a-okay.


And last but not least, TALK! Follow hashtags like #musegames,  #musetech and #G4C (games for change.) Connect with people like James Collins who’s heading up the search for better learning games at the Smithsonian or Susan Edwards, building great stuff at the Getty. Laura Huntimer from the Joslyn has great advice on how to run game jams with school groups and Sharna Jackson, formerly of the Tate and now of Hopster, always has excellent ideas. Keep an eye to the Museum Games Wiki: If you’re reading this blog then you already know me and I’m always game for a 20 minute call to hear about what you’re trying to do.


Or maybe “parlez” – Who ever knows the appropriate spelling of piratespeak?

So you may not have a million dollar grant or a staff of 500 but you DO have some ideas- and you can start testing out those ideas right now!! Happy gaming!


2 Red Flags When Building Fun Stuff…

People often bring the Green Door crew on to a project to make it fun. “We want people to be happy. Can we add badges to it? Can we add some graphics? How about points?”

This is known- of course- as chocolate covered broccoli or: gamification. Can we have all the mechanics of a game without it actually being playful? Can we make people do exactly what we want them to do in the way we want them to do it but make it look like they’re enjoying it? Oh boy…


oh no…

People’s hearts are in the right place: they care about something. Maybe it’s their product or their cause or their business and they want people to enjoy interacting with it. Badges and points seem at first glance like a quick way to make people happy. So actually- making unfun things fun, I do think this is possible. The key is to have clear user goals and then flexibility in getting there. In fact, In my mind, those are only two really serious red flags that can kill the fun in your fun project. Shall I elaborate? Well if you insist:

#1. Unclear User Goals

What do you want people to do? “We want people to just have some fun, reach out to a younger demographic, engage people in 21st century media.” Wait, what does that even mean?? What are we actually trying to achieve? These are probably good “throughlines” or overall big picture things but how do you know when you’ve achieved them? You need to really narrow down what you’re trying to get people to do, don’t waste your players’ time! What are some good goals?

  • We want 100 people to visit 5 places in Boston
  • We want people to look more closely at these three pieces of art
  • We want people to make connections between art and science.

These are things we can actually achieve and we know when we’ve done it. If you REALLY want people to just “have fun” you’d hand them a bottle of beer and a can of silly string and set them loose. I suspect you want something more, so figure out what that thing is and then you can figure out how to achieve it in a playful environment. Now as you may have noticed, if you don’t have clear goals… then just get them. Not impossible. The only deal-breaker is when people refuse to clarify, they cling to vague goals, they list like 20 goals or they keep shifting their user goals.

#2. Inflexible Dynamics

MY WAYYou want to build an app to make people eat healthier food. Great! But it has to have a flower in it and it has to be blue. They have to get points and they have to reach goals and they have to get badges and they have to play on Tuesdays between 12 and 2 and that’s how it is. NOW U GO HAVE FUN!

If we have user goals, we need be flexible on what to do to make them happen in a playful way. Our goal is not to do it OUR way or the way we pictured it, our goal is to do it in the simplest and most achievable way possible. Sometimes you take a look at your user goals, restrictions and resources and find out that what you need isn’t actually a game at all. Maybe it’s a personality profile, branding, a storyline or more instructions. Sometimes you do need a game but the best way to do it would be with a word game or a board game.  Your goal is not to build a game- it’s to achieve something through a game. If what you want can be more easily achieved through other media, that’s what you should be doing. (Unless your goal is to build a game… and that’s valid too… but chances are you have to build a game FOR something: you want to get more media, more attention, show your technological abilities, research how games work etc..)

So these flags aren’t a big deal, right? You can totally set clear user goals and then be flexible about how to achieve them! So with that in place, can you make your boring training session/ orientation/ historical tour/ conference fun? Probably. Just be super clear about what you want and then be flexible about how to get there.


So I’m not gonna lie, I like broccoli and chocolate covered broccoli might not be half bad. In fact I think often chocolate covered broccoli is better than no broccoli at all so if badges are the only way you’re going to get your project on the road, go to it.

What do you think? Have you come across these problems before in building or playing? Were they deal-breakers for you as they were for me? Are there other red flags that you’ve seen derail a game design project? Come on readers, I want to hear from BOTH of you! (heheh…)





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On Magic Vests, Cloud Hats and the Oxymoron of Needing Rules to Play

I was really struck by Nina Simon’s post on “Magic Vests” and then Jay Cousin’s post on “Tag Cloud Hats”– all about getting strangers to interact with each other in a positive way. Nina talked about how as a gallery guide at a science museum, she would wear her magic docent vest and people would chat with her. Jay talked about how he made people wear silly hats at a conference and it made it easier for them to chat with one-another. I think one thing that’s interesting about these two examples is the concept of permission to interact. Permission to play. Which is essentially what games are: permission to play.

Ideally every museum visit would be a Ferris Bueller adventure but in reality, people need some prompts.

Ideally every museum visit would be a Ferris Bueller adventure but in reality, people need some prompts.

We have this romantic movie idea that play just magically happens- like we live in an 80’s movie and food fights erupt or people giggle and dance on the street or join 1st grader tour groups in museums. In real life usually play only happens in highly structured environments. Where do you play? Playgrounds (notice we need a specific, fenced-in ground to play), clubs, games, sports, events, fairs, playdates, concerts, laser tag. Even kids don’t have much unstructured play right now. Play is actually something that need lots of rules and lots of permission to happen. Boundaries, tickets, age limits, liability waivers, Is this ideal? No way. I would love a world where people trusted each other enough that play spontaneously erupted everywhere. But since that’s not going to happen, if we want more play we have to acknowledge people’s nervousness and safely guide them to the positive interactions that we’d like them to have.

I’ll get a little more philosophical about it. I suspect the reason that people are so very socially anxious in our day and age is that there are no rules to fall back upon. Anything goes- and that’s really stressful. Once upon a time, social interaction was highly structured. There were calling cards, cotillions, dance cards, sirs, ma’ams and misses, neighborhoods, churches, hat tips, curtseys, ladies’ circles, gentlemen’s clubs (a la 80 days around the world, not a la strip clubs). Even imagine this- when you danced, there were steps. Signals were clear. We know what those clear social signals caused for years and years: racism, classism, repression of some groups, lack of opportunity for others, lots of bad things happened from those strong social structures. We’d like to say we’re past that and that’s a good thing… but it’s stressful thing because now that signals aren’t always so clear, I don’t always know if I can say hello to you.

Prof. M J Koncen's

There is no Prof M J Koncen’s Ball Room Guide to interacting with strangers in our era. But games can help.

This is where magic vests, cloud hats and games come in. As game builders we need to understand two things:

#1: People need permission to play. We want play to be something that’s easy, fun and sanctioned, not weird and uncomfortable or makes people feel like they’re “acting up” and drawing attention. That happens with adding more rules, not less. Set the fence, the rules, the expectations.

#2: Establish a framework for how they can begin to interact, don’t expect them to figure it out on their own. You’re not letting them be free and creative, usually you’re stressing them out. The truly creative souls will find out how to break the rules anyways- and let them. But you don’t want the bulk of your audience’s energy to go into trying to figure out how to appropriately deal with this social situation. You want their full attention on learning and sharing.

Please understand, I don’t think people are all walking stress balls thinking “can I talk to you? can I talk to him?” Mostly stranger danger is just part of our normal lives: I don’t bother you, you don’t bother me. But then there are those moments at conferences or cocktail parties or on the train or at the library where you’d love to have someone to chat with but you think “it’d be weird.” Would that be weird? Would I be creepy? We want to use play to remove that question from people’s minds. Remove that stress- that barrier to entry. “weird?!” Nope, not weird. This is part of the game. Talk to that stranger. Share your stories, learn some stuff. It’s a safe place.

The magic vest did just this. Nina was in a museum, she could approach people while wearing the vest and it was okay- they had permission to speak with her and a framework to do it in: things to talk about, an environment where people felt safe talking, a person that they could clearly talk to. She mentioned that later at a zoo, she saw a lost child and attempted to help but she was vestless- just a creepy stranger. Jay’s project did something that I think is always fascinating: silly hats. The rules of civility have already been broken: you’re wearing a silly hat. We might as well talk. I like to set up these same parameters when I teach dance classes. The first thing I always do in a dance class is a ridiculous group warm-up. Bunny hops. Chicken pecking. shake your butt. We’re all in this together and we’re not here to look sexy. Permission to play, here are the steps, now let’s dance.

So the moral of the story is that if you want people to have fun, relax, share with strangers and create community, you need more rules, not less. Give them permission, rules and frameworks for meaningful interactions to happen. Having a party with alcohol and social media and lots of screens around your art collection is sort of cheating. Dulling people’s senses through loud music, dark rooms and alcohol will also make them into interact but for very different reasons- it’s sort of like blue comedy where people laugh because they’re uncomfortable but they still laughed so we think we got it. You don’t want people just to party in a cultural space, you want them to have meaningful interactions.


How long would it take museum security to detain you if you actually joined a 1st grade art tour?

This is no cotillion. You’re going to set people up to be a little uncomfortable and you may not have a ton of takers at first but as the person building the game or running the class, you have the authority to set up a play space and see what works. Give them permission, set up the frameworks, break the barriers by getting a little silly and then… let’s dance.