This Cultural Sunday, themed “free play” (vrij spel), I played two of the urban games made by HKU students. They were presented after an explanatory lecture by Marinka Copier which featured amongst others the example of the urban screen project “Hand from above” (by Chris O’Shea) that I had seen earlier. See the video below (one of my colleagues at Waag Society was right to remark that the footage sadly does not show the symbioses of screen and people – i.e. both in one shot – what the project is in fact all about):

The first game I played after the lecture, Snatch Ball, started right in front of the Drift university building. A risky place with the canal on one side, because the game included a ball that had to be thrown around. We played the game with two teams of three players. Each had to move to the other end of the street with the ball. The game would be won by the team holding the ball while standing passed the drawn chalk line.

Challenge: you are not allowed to throw the ball directly to your team mates, but only via a non-playing bystander. And nobody was allowed to move with the ball in hand. This resulted in a lobby with whoever was close if they would help us, disturbed by the other team who tried to convince the willing victim to give the ball back to them.

The result was a very social game which was very dependent on outside factors: the location (this time a narrow street next to a canal), time of day and weather, passersby (pedestrians, cyclists, car drivers forcing us to pause to let them drive through), their mood and our convinction talents. Me and my team weren’t skilled enough to win, but of course we blamed this on the traffic going mainly in the other teams direction.

See the video of the game here.

The other game I tried out was Loons, which was set at the Oudegracht near the Winkel van Sinkel. Again two teams, red and blue, of about seven players with one team captain. The team captain was the one blowing up the balloons and tying them to a rope. The other players, like me (me closing balloons would not be a good idea), had to run along the canal with a balloon at a time. Team balloons had to be tied to yellow balloons that were placed in the area. A majority of balloons at the spot after twelve minutes was good for one point. Winner was the team that won most places. Nice details: one mobile balloon attached to a girl walking around, and hidden balloons in alleys (advantageous when the other team had not found them).

According to this review on Kennislink (in Dutch), the expected shake-up of the rule system of the game (the city in this urban game) did not really take place. Marinka Copier had indicated in her lecture that playing games involves the engaging and reordering of its systemic rules. In an urban game, the city can be seen as providing quite static rules with its unmovable architecture, but can nevertheless be interacted with.

I cannot really agree with the conclusion that the city elements were not engaged with in this game. While in Snatch Ball, interaction with passersby could be clearly seen, Loons’ bystanders were mainly positioned at the sunny terraces and occasionally noticing people with balloons running passed like maniacs on such a hot day. Nevertheless, I did experience an input of this public myself as it influenced the places where I would look for balloons. I hesitated to descend the stairs to the wharf feeling slightly discomfited to nose about tables looking for the odd yellow balloon.

Video of Loons played in winter when the HKU students originally designed their urban games.