Limbering up for Play Ground

The City Gallery, Leicester have asked me to lead some activities for the education programme for their upcoming exhibition Play Ground at New Walk Gallery.

At an art gallery we usually have to follow a series of rules. Don’t touch the work, don’t run, don’t shout, don’t play. Don’t, in short, have fun. We thought it would be good to try something else – this exhibition shows contemporary artists that treat the gallery like a fairground rather than a church.

I’ll be there over half term, (21st – 25th of February) and treating the time as a residency where we’ll be exploring process rather than aiming towards a particular end result.

In the spirit of starting how we mean to go on, I’ll be using this blog as an online sketchbook as I explore some initial ideas. You’re invited to join in with any constructive responses and suggestions – everything is wide open at this stage so this is your chance to influence what happens at New Walk in just over a month’s time.

To get started then, here are some of the things that will be in the exhibition that I’ll be working alongside.

Mungo Thomson – Skyspace Bouncehouse

Skyspace Bouncehouse by Mungo Thomson

Skyspace Bouncehouse is bulbous and luminous as if designed to be a comic book rendition of a log cabin for the Michelin man, and the title refers, in part, to those brightly colored, inflatable structures one might see in an urban front yard, waiting for kids to climb inside and jump until they lose their birthday cake. Thomson first created customized “bouncehouses” for the Frieze Art Fair Sculpture Park in Regent’s Park, London in 2002, where the public could freely enter and bounce. [source]

Fischli/Weiss – The Way things Go

The Way Things Go (German: Der Lauf der Dinge) is a 1987 art film by the Swiss artist duo Peter Fischli and David Weiss. It documents a long causal chain assembled of everyday objects, resembling a Rube Goldberg machine.

The machine is in a warehouse, about 100 feet long, and incorporates materials such as tires, trash bags, ladders, soap, oil drums, and gasoline. Fire and pyrotechnics are used as chemical triggers. The film is nearly 29 minutes, 45 seconds long, but some of that is waiting for something to burn, or slowly slide down a ramp.[source]

Bob and Roberta Smith – Will you make it as an artist?
Bob and Roberta Smith. Will you make it (as an artist)

Angela Bulloch – Sculpture for Football Songs (T12307)

Bulloch has made a number of works using Belisha beacons, which are more commonly used to illuminate pedestrian crossings. Here they are linked to a microphone in the gallery space and respond to sound, which initiates a sequence of flashing lights. The colours of the lights reflect the colours of the West Ham football strip, and the work’s title suggests that football anthems are a particularly appropriate trigger to speed up the light display. The unpredictable interactive element of this work is typical of Bulloch’s practice. [source]

That’s a small flavour. There will also be work by Cory Arcangel, Takashi Murata, Chris Marker, Hassan Hajjaj, Erwin Wurm, Marcel Duchamp, Annika Ström and Martin Creed. …And doings by me – we’ll find out more about what they could be over this series of posts.

London and Tokyo, via Bournville village green.

Since doing an exchange visit there in 2005, my contact with Joshibi University of Art and Design and its students has included: helping to host their exchange students coming to Birmingham; effectively working there as a technician for a month; countless days just sort of hanging out there; keeping in contact with several pupils and alumni, including visiting their homes and having them stay with me in the UK; and hearing from alumni friends their tales of working as artists post-graduation and their encounters with graduates from other universities. As a result, I have a pretty well-formed idea of some of the things I would like to do to shake things up a bit, beyond my low-level “So, have you ever considered showing your work, outside of a gallery context” vibrations.

In 2006, 2007 and 2008 I also coordinated and delivered the social programme as part of the annual Joshibi Summer School. This involved sorting out all the pastoral and evening/weekend social stuff for the 30-or-so students who would spend a month based at Bournville Centre for the Visual Arts (BCVA).

We’ve had many conversations about how the Summer School programme could be improved. The main problems from my point of view are that the students arrive as a group; take over a block in a halls of residence as a group; are the only group studying at Bournville over the summer; have an interpreter with them the whole time; and have negligible contact with anyone outside of the staff and the other Summer School students. They may get to experience something of a different way of approaching art education, but there’s a lot missing in terms of cultural exchange and development of language skills.

I decided I didn’t want to work on the social programme this year, but was later invited to provide a day’s teaching for the Summer School. Based on last year’s werewolf success, and my recent work with BARG, there was no doubt that a game would be involved.

dead pikachu

My contribution was to form a starting point for a larger project where the students would go on to develop work that contrasts London and Tokyo. I ran two workshops in the morning where we compared the places in Japan they recommended I visited to the places that actually had meaning to them in their day-to-day lives. This got us from guidebook staples such as the Emperor’s Palace and Kiyomizu-dera to stories of favourite ice-cream shops, overheard sounds of children playing in campsites and stars as seen above car parks.

We also looked at the landmarks that we give significance to in our journeys through landscapes that we are very familiar with. Taking our journeys to university as an example, we drew maps and uncovered more stories. I’m familiar enough with the bus ride to the Joshibi Sagamihara campus that I could recount my personal map of that journey and compare it to theirs. This experience lasting only a few seconds is so completely and vividly on my map that I’m genuinely shocked to realise now that it’s a memory from 4 years ago.

As expected, the smell of the chicken farms featured prominently in the cycled versions of the journey…

question card

For the afternoon, I’d prepared a scavenger hunt around Bournville Green and the surrounding area.

This was designed as a team game, but with significant components where each student would be very much working alone (…unless they plucked up the courage to ask passers by for assistance!). Use of the Japanese language was, of course, banned throughout.


The students randomly selected a question to tackle and then had some time to discuss it with their team mates. The questions were worded to avoid typical Japanese constructions of English. I also tried to avoid making them so simple that no discussion was needed to fully understand them.

Examples include.

  • There is a car park at the Western edge of the park. Around it, with one end in the ground, are wooden “dragon’s teeth”. How many dragon’s teeth are there?
  • Stand between the Porter’s Lodge and the church. Look at the church. Can you see the carved wooden panel? How many flowers does it have? What is the man holding in his left hand?
  • Go to the chemists and find a lilac-coloured dog hanging up by a door. What colour is his collar, and how many diamonds are on the front of it?
  • In the alleyway between the chemists and Louise’s, there are some old style posters. What is the name of a UK city written on one of them?
  • Go to the butchers shop. What is the name of the sheep on the counter near the window?
  • Go to the Wyevale garden centre. There is a scarecrow near one of the doors. How much did his hat cost?

There were a range of strategies employed in designing the questions. Some of them, such as the sheep’s name question above, could only be answered if the student asked the appropriate question of the relevant shop keeper. Others would be made infinitely easier if they asked a member of the public for help in explaining what a particular word refers to (e.g. dragon’s teeth).

The other major aim was to get the students out and into parts of Bournville that they would never normally go to. This had the intended bonus of meaning that I had to seek out these places first. I was a student at BCVA for 5 years, and yet there were so many places in that tiny area that I had never been to until the planning stages of this game. I had lots of adventures and conversations: so much of Bournville is hidden away in a secret second-layer-back, and there are some truly class acts working there.

I was also determined that I would work with what was already in situ, and not parachute in any foreign bodies to plant for the game. The sharks, Iggle Piggles and Bill Oddies were all there already, waiting to be discovered and played with.

Right, so we had the basic mechanism of having to go to places and find answers to questions. The other aspect of the game design was about how to make this an intense, sometimes visceral experience.

tech amnesty

Prior to explaining the game rules, we’d confiscated (in a nice way!) all their mobile phones, electronic dictionaries and phrasebooks. This was originally done to ensure that looking things up didn’t replace discussion, but I think it also had quite a wrenching effect, because this technology is usually very heavily relied upon.

maybe the man with the plant knows where the garden centre is

I deliberately made it so that, after the initial discussion phase, each player then had to go off independently to find the answer. This took away another safety net of group decision making.

The other thing to do was to add a magic vest in the form of some hats for the players to wear whist they were out and about.

consulting the map

This covered my usual criterion for having an element of silliness involved in order to break down a few barriers, but as Holly Gramazio pointed out at Hide and Speak, your players look like criminals and, if the students were going to be in the bank counting CCTV cameras, I wanted it to be clear that they probably weren’t dangerous! The “help me find stuff” labels on the hats were intended as an invitation for people not involved in the game to approach the students and initiate conversations.

The weather was drizzly, the students were extremely tired after spending a long weekend in London (not to mention the jet lag!), energy levels were low, and I had to tweak some stuff on the fly to increase the pacing, but it all worked! It worked a treat!

magic hat and green


It was great to see the balloons bobbing around on the green and in front of the parade of shops. It was fun to see the teams playing jan-ken-pon to decide the next runner, but substituting diddle-diddle-dum lyrics so as to avoid the 50 point fine for speaking Japanese. It was satisfying to hear small groups of students with nothing to do standing around and chatting in English. It was worrying to hear that one girl hadn’t been seen for 25 minutes, but heart-warming to hear from the search party that she’d been found in the park with a gang of kids around her trying to help her solve her clue. We giggled to hear the story of people offering to help count dragon’s teeth. It did nothing less than warm my cockles to hear someone describe the hats as being magic, a comfort, and to thank me for making them wear them.

relocation of the Bournville factory, as explained through the medium of leaves

thinking hat


All three teams did really well and the rain mostly stayed away until we had finished playing. The final scores were in the region of 120 points (average 10 points per question) with only maybe 4 failed questions per team.

I finished off the day with a more formal presentation about the use of mechanisms and rule sets to instigate interactions with spaces; how presenting something as a game contrasts with presenting it as a piece of performance artwork; the importance of stories; the importance of magic vests/hats; the importance of silliness (and how it’s easier to be part of a large group doing silly things rather than being by yourself doing silly things) and how doing projects in public spaces confers ownership of that space to you (in the sense of responsibility and empathy, rather than of power).

Anyway, it looks like I may yet end up doing some social stuff with the group on Saturday: I may take the opportunity to quiz them on how the game has affected their perception of Bournville…

w i d e o p e n s p a c e

Edit 10th May: Scroll down to the comments to see links to documentation of the event.

w i d e o p e n s p a c e brought to you by BARG Saturday May 9th, 2pm – 7ish suggested donation: £3 per player

w i d e o p e n s p a c e is an afternoon of fun, games and picnics around the Curzon Street area of Birmingham. Come and explore the terrain and its possibilities with us. All are welcome although we ask that parents bringing children keep an especially close watch on them. We’re asking people to make a donation of at least £3 each to help fund future BARG events.

Sign up at to let us know if you’re planning to join us.
A .pdf of this information is available for download here.


Here are the games we’re planning to run. (But there will also be plenty of opportunities for you to invent your own!)

Hat Snap

(variant of a game designed by Krzysiek “Semp” Bielecki)
The first game runs between 2pm and 3pm, with sign-up in the Bullring shopping centre at the cube seats near Baguette du Monde and Café Rouge (the open-air bit between New Street and Saint Martin’s Square, [1] on the map, see below) between 2 and 2:20.

You will need to bring a digital camera or a camera phone and it will be to your advantage to not be carrying too much other stuff. If you’ve brought a big delicious picnic with you, you might want to sign up at the front of Curzon Street Station ([2] on the map) and leave your baggages with our stewards.

Players will rendezvous at the Curzon Street Station building at 2:40 to tally up the points and determine the winner ([2] on the map). Full instructions will be given to you when you sign up; it’s up to you to decide on your strategy…

The Lost Sport

(rediscovered by Jane McGonigal and Kiyash Monsef)
The Lost Sport of Olympia is believed to be a 2500-year-old game invented, and ultimately banned, by the Ancient Greeks.

At 3pm we will move to the Curzon Street car park (probably the bit at the back, between the skaters and the railway lines, [3] on the map) for a team game with no opposing team: listen carefully as your team-mates guide you around a labyrinth. Make sure you’re wearing shoes you can run in.


(designed by you!)
Not a game, but still very enjoyable!

Bring some food and join us on the grass area in front of the station building between about 5 and 6 for a leisurely picnic ([4] on the map). Sharing of food and ideas encouraged!

Bocce Drift, Croquet and GPS Sketches

Grab a few friends and have play with these things that will be available after the carpark bit. The rules for Bocce Drift (designed by David Jimison and Jeff Crouse) are here: and we encourage you to invent your own rules for croquet (bear in mind it’s a borrowed set though – please don’t damage it). As an additional challenge, we’re asking for people to bring along random (non-valuable/non-dangerous) spherical objects for some further games improvisation.

2 iPAQs will be available for you to use to record your movements around the area: what pictures can you make? After the event we’ll convert everyone’s tracks to a Google Earth file so we can see what people drew. (You’ll need to leave your credit card or driving licence as a deposit for the iPAQ.)

Human Snake

(designed by Minkette)
You’ve seen the game played on mobile phones, now it’s time to play it in real life. Conga around between 6:30 and 7 to collect the fruit before the other team gets it first.

The Weather

A game of chance.

In the event of bad weather, w i d e o p e n s p a c e will be cancelled. We will announce the final decision on whether it will go ahead or not by 11am on Saturday the 9th of May. The announcement will be made via,, here and so please be sure to check if the weather looks a bit dodgy.

In the event of good weather, please make sure you bring the appropriate hat/cream/parasol to stop yourself getting sunburnt – there’s not a lot of shade available around Curzon Street.

The Map

(Click to embiggen.)
wide open spaces

The Small Print

w i d e o p e n s p a c e is an exercise in exploring a part of the city that is currently something of a wasteground. We’ll be playing in unloved areas that may be littered with things like rubble and broken glass, so if you’re joining us we ask that you dress appropriately and be especially careful of your safety at all times. Play at your own risk, etc etc, but have fun and spare some time to look at the cityscape in a new way.

BARG is a Birmingham-based network for playful people who like to make and/or play interesting games.

A game for Curzon Street would…

the Curzon Street area

  • A game for Curzon Street would be designed for the Curzon Street area, and for the Curzon Street area only.
  • A game for Curzon Street would make reference to Curzon Street’s past. [wikipedia entry] [rail around Birmingham entry]
  • A game for Curzon Street would make full use of how Curzon Street is now.
  • A game for Curzon Street would make people explore.
  • A game for Curzon Street would make people interact.

The London & Birmingham Railway, Curzon Street Station, 1838

Curzon Street car park

I’d like there to be a game designed specifically for this part of Birmingham.

BARG will be hosting an afternoon of play and picnics in the Curzon Street area (image of the full area) on the afternoon of Saturday the 9th of May. We can playtest either complete games or partial mechanics …or make something up when we’re there.

Consider that a challenge.

Many thanks to everyone who came to the first BARG meeting last week.

As suggested, pindec has put together a ning site for us to use for discussion and planning between meetings:


Anyone interested in games and play and social mechanisms etc is welcome to sign up and join in the conversation, although the events will (initially, at least) be directed towards people who can get to Birmingham.

We’re aiming to have a regular meeting once a month – probably in the Old Lamp Tavern as before – that has a few structured activities as well as space for banter and serendipity. These will be complemented by other events and shenanigans taking place elsewhere such as games held in the city centre or visits to completely different cities.

Last week several people were suggesting things they’d like to make happen at BARGs, ranging from organising marauding gangs of razor-bladed hoodlums chasing consenting adults across the forgotten corners of Birmingham, through to person-sized board games. There were also murmurings relating to things like getting 10 people simultaneously playing the same computer game and explaining a card game we discovered several different people played. Hopefully, given time and an ecosystem to support them, projects involving pervasive technology or massively multiplayer narratives will start to emerge too.

Let’s start with what we can get our hands on now and get the momentum going.

Anyone interested in BARG should sign up to BARGBARG.ning and those within striking distance of Brum please add your thoughts to this thread where we’re talking about when to have the regular meeting.

I’m also keen to get people down to Bristol for an iglab so you can experience some of the possibilities for general BARGiness. The date of their next meeting is unconfirmed, but drop me a line if you’d like come.

Here are a few things investigating swarming mechanics to have come from that direction:

Comfort in Union Square from Simon Evans on Vimeo.

holler lu lu from iglab on Vimeo.

Surpass the Parcel

Surpass the Parcel is a game designed by Kevan Davies and Holly Gramazio. It’s released under an Attribution-Noncommercial Creative Commons licence and you can read the basic rule set (and others) on the rather marvellous Ludocity website.

We ran a variant of Surpass the Parcel as part of the first BARG meet-up so this post is a summary of what we did in order that I can link back to it from the discussion section on the Ludocity wiki. If you’re not familiar with the game, you should probably read the Ludocity entry first or what follows won’t make much sense!

The aim of the first BARG gathering was to find out a bit about why people where there and what aspirations and interests they had game-wise. In order to enliven this data-gathering process and to get people mingling a bit we moved some of the questions we might have asked in a standing-up-and-talking-at-people bit into the game of Surpass the Parcel.

Here are the criteria we used for the different layers of the parcel:

  1. Find someone taller than you.
  2. Challenge someone to Rock, Paper, Scissors. If they win, they get the parcel. If you win, they get the parcel but you can write your name in the box first.
  3. Find someone who will recommend a good game to you.
  4. Find someone with longer hair than you.
  5. Find someone who will give you a definition of what an Alternate Reality Game is. [Tongue in cheek! I was hoping for some blatantly made-up nonsense definitions, but I don’t think that happened in the end.]
  6. Find someone who has an idea for a game they would like to make.
  7. Challenge someone to a staring contest. If they win, they get the parcel. If you win, they get the parcel but you can write your name in the box first.
  8. Find someone who’s up for playing a game in the city centre
  9. Find someone who’d be prepared to spend a few minutes talking about something at a later BARG meet
  10. Find somebody with more points than you. [This could probably do with expanding on so that the person left holding the parcel at the end realises it’s the last layer and they shouldn’t open it unless they’ve go the highest score of the evening.]


The parcel itself was wrapped in (wallpaper) lining paper with the main prize being a stunningly pink set of fluffy dice and each layer having a small toy (dinosaur, marbles, little painting set, etc). Total cost: well under a fiver, with most of it going to local charity shops. Many of the gifts got incorporated into the play taking place throughout the evening. Which was nice.

T-shirt vs Dinosaur

The game calls for a Loud Noise to signal when each layer is to be unwrapped. There were only two of us hosting the evening and our main priority was to talk to as many people as possible, so we automated the Loud Noise Making.

Before the event I solicited requests for people to send me an mp3 file of themselves saying “BARG”. This resulted in a deliciously piratey “BAAAARRRG” from Laura E. Hall. I added some pot-clanging noises on the front end to make sure it stood out from pub chatting noises and then used Audacity to quickly make a series of tracks consisting of the Loud Noise followed by 10-15 minutes of silence.
We used a mp3 player hooked up to the venue’s rather large sound system. (Do a sound check first to make sure it all works!)

Here’s some video of the Loud Noise caught in action:

Surpass the parcel from nikkipugh on Vimeo.

And here’s the Loud Noise by itself:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Using a series of tracks instead of one continuous one meant that we could either let them run at the original pace, or easily fast-forward some of the silence to speed things along.

We were running short of time in the second half of the evening (having paused the game for a talky bit in the middle) so we made use of the fast-forwarding option bringing each round down to about 4-5 minutes. This had the side-effect of emphasising to people that there was a limited amount of time, changing the dynamics quite a lot! Up until then, the points list had lots of names with one or two points each, but now people started to realise that they could actively try and be passed-to.

points mean prizes

It’s useful to have a pen to pass around with the parcel and, if you’re using the layers to gather information as we did, it’s a good idea to have a system in place to make sure the used layers with everyone’s names on don’t get thrown away at the end of the event!

BARG: in tweets

From doing the links in the last post it became apparent that about 90% of the BARG attendees were using Twitter. Here is some of the Twitter trail as found in my search stream:

Everyone I know seems to be going to #BARG tonight. Wish I could be theregoodhen

Getting ready to make my way to #Barg @ Lamp Tavern. i shall see what i shall see.midge_uk

Going to head down to BARG later, so I’ll see (and meet for the first time) some of you there.duncautumnstore

@genzaichi There’s #BARG cake? Oh joy! I can have an adventure in cake! W00t.benjaminbrum

Seriously considering going to BARG tonight, if only to satisfy my curiousity.ArtyType

#barg 10minutes in and @peteashton has hacked connect 4 alreadynicklockey

A twitter based #barg game would be goodKatchooo

just won battleships against @hellocatfood- yay!nicklockey

Enjoyed #BARG, some interesting possibilities presented themselves. Mainly excessively silly ones in my own mind!

Quite excited about #BARG. Loads of like minded people and the potential to push things in weird and interesting directions.duncautumnstore

Or in GTA3:SA terms – #BARG is like coming across San Fierro for the first time. The mechanics are the same but there’s a new terrain.

#BARG excellent. Clearly I’d like to be kidnapped, travel places & am willing to do _anything_ for a good game.

ARG now not so confusing #BARGmidge_uk

#BARG was ace. Lots of fun.getgood

@getgood The slashy people didn’t get you on the way home then? #BARG was much fun. Lemonade and cake and Connect 4 and interesting ideassiwhitehouse

#BARG was great. Looks like start of a whole new network based around games. Woo! Will report more later.peteashton

Thanks to the #BARG people (salute). I reckon something pretty good could come out of this.dazwright

I now ‘know’ what ARGs basically are but now have to use the limitations of 26 letters to describe them in a blog post!?midge_uk

@genzaichi good to find out about #BARG tonight. Quite excited about where it’ll go next.duncautumnstore

Back home finally #BARG was great, and so was cake. Yummershellocatfood

mustnotkidnap@benjaminbrum mustnotkidnap@benjaminbrum mustnotkidnap@benjaminbrum mustnotkidnap@benjaminbrum #BARGanamilgram

BARG: in pictures of people

listening to introductions

These rather serious-looking people are listening to eachother introduce themselves and describing what their ideal BARG would be.


The 20-or-so of us there were artists; social media people; people from music; people from web; people interested in communities; people interested in digital; people interested in history; people interested in telling stories; people interested in kittens. We were there because games and play relate to our thinking, our work and our leisure. We were interested in indoor games, outdoor games, board games, video games, card games, online games and offline games. We want to play games, we want to make games, we want to understand games. Some of us are just curious. (Much respect to the people who came just because they were curious.)

pete's fizzy brain

The first part of the evening saw the meeting of new people, the hacking of Connect 4 and, unbelievably, some people‘s first ever games of Ker-plunk! We provide an educational service.

battleships by torchlight

Other people improvised in the darker corners of the function room.

Cake Hunting

Some people hunted for cake.

Surpass the Parcel

Surpass the Parcel

plan, points and pint

Some people surpassed the parcel; in the process finding out about recommended games (I heard kiss-chase being mentioned!); games planned for the future; and people who were up for playing games in the city centre.

Ben gesticulates whilst entertaining the troops


Ben educated and entertained.

What do points mean?

Pete won some fluffy dice and then gave them to Duncan.

turtle tower

Duncan stacked the fluffy dice in, on and around Mr Turtle.

AdLib and Mr Turtle

Mr Turtle played surpass the parcel and also supervised a few rounds of Ad-Lib.

The Bloggers (and Ben)

The Bloggers demonstrated swarming mechanics.

T-shirt vs Dinosaur

Midge played with his dinosaurs.

Dinosaur, scratchings, kerplunk, and cake

We ate BARG cake and Lamp pork scratchings. It was all good. Mostly.

BARG Zero from nikkipugh on Vimeo.

Fun vs. work?

makes you sound like a nutter, Ben

At last night’s BARG meet-up Ben gave a great intro to some of the “online/offline imaginary/real world experiences” he’s been involved in. It was a nice contrast to the board games that had been occupying people up until that point!

As well as serving as a cautionary tale of cranes, shovels and monkeys, it also prompted a remark from one of the other people there along the lines of “All this puzzle solving sounds a lot like work. What’s fun about it?”.

This of course immediately made me think of the Gaming the Future of Museums webcast hosted by the Center for the Future of Museums the previous day in which Jane McGonigal outlined some of her theories about happiness. The video of the lecture was on YouTube for a short time, but now appears to have been made private (it may be added to the CFM paged linked to above at a later date). Meanwhile the slides are available and Nina Simon has written a summary and interesting discussion on her blog, Museum 2.0.

Here’s the redux of the redux:

Happiness research shows that four things make people happy: having satisfying work to do, the experience of being good at something, time spent with people you like, and the chance to be a part of something bigger.

(Whilst hunting around for the YouTube video mentioned above I came across this news interview with McGonigal. It’s not hugely relevant to the main thrust of this post, but it echoes some of Ben’s themes nicely and if I embed it here I’ll know where to find it later. It may also be useful to some of the BARG attendees just starting to discover massively multi-player things.)

The other reference point I had for “what’s enjoyable about it” was some posts on the unfiction forums. I’ve never played in an Alternate Reality Game, but these people have so I’ll just point you to this thread and let them do the talking. Note the emphasis on community and learning new skills.

Back in Nikki-world, work-play is firmly on the list of dichotomies I don’t really understand/recognise (Art-Science being the other major one).

Introducing BARG


A gathering of folks who’d like to discuss social games and playful things with an aim to either designing their own or just getting involved in playing some interesting stuff. Story-tellers welcome.

Old Lamp Tavern, Digbeth, Birmingham. B5 6AH [map]

Thursday 29th from 7pm.


Over the last few months I’ve increasingly been approached by people wanting to discuss various ideas for games and other playful experiences. Floating around out there are some awesome nuclei for interesting projects waiting for a few extra ingredients to take them off the drawing-board and into practice. Likewise there are people wanting to work on projects, but haven’t yet got a project to work on.

Just before Christmas we realised we had reached some sort of critical mass where it made sense to get people together in the same room talking about their ideas and sharing their experiences. I reckon those of us looking to organise events need to skill up fast and then just get on out there and do it.

Then there are also some people looking for somewhere for their cognitive surplus to happen. Great! Let’s get the would-be-designers in the same room as the would-be-players so they can find out what makes a compelling experience and try out some of their ideas.


Next week’s BARG meet-up is a chance for us to find out who’s out there and what they’re interested in. Ideally this would then lead onto regular meet-ups where we can get more involved in sharing our combined knowledge and also playing some games.

Listen carefully to this next bit – I don’t want to have to say it too many times:

BARG is not about ARGs.

Here are 3 reasons why latching onto the term ARG (Alternate Reality Game) is not useful:

  1. There doesn’t seem to be a working definition of what ARG actually means. This is in reference both to Dan Hon and Alex Fleetwood’s observations at last year’s 4Talent Inspiration Session (there are podcasts at that there link – have a listen) that this is still an emerging discipline and we don’t quite know what it is yet, and also to Andrea Phillips’ post, which I’m choosing to interpret as being about the futility of trying to label these things anyway.
  2. Everything you know about ARGs is wrong. We can do better.
  3. ARGs are a small subset of the interesting stuff out there and we wouldn’t want to limit ourselves before we’ve even started, would we?

A much more useful way of identifying BARG’s territory would be to steal from the Hide & Seek approach:

Imagine a board. It’s got four corners. One corner is marked ‘Games’. The others are marked ‘Technology’, ‘Public Spaces’, and ‘Artists’. Anything that could be placed on that board…

Hide & Seek

So, that could include ARGs with their concealed narrative elements distributed across various on- and off-line platforms, but it could also be running blindfolded around a labyrinth marked out by humming people, sitting in a darkened room trying not to get eaten by werewolves, flattering a man in a paper-mâché stag mask until he lets you tie a balloon onto his antlers or cycling around the city at night with a GPS unit looking for the voices of strangers.

I don’t think it’s quite enough to just stand around and chat (although plenty of chatting will be done) so, if you’ll indulge me, I’d like later meet-ups to include elements of unconference where people give small presentations and/or discussions on a particular subject as offered on the night by those in attendance. We definitely want to be going outside and playing some stuff too.

For this first meeting though, our aim is to find out who we all are and what we’re interested in. Please be impressed at our self-restraint in not immediately building blogs, fora or wikis. Once we know what we all want out of this, then we can decide on what are the best online tools to facilitate that and think about giving BARG its own corner of the interweb. In the meantime, please feel free to use the comments on this page to help feed into how BARG could be useful to you.


We’re starting off in the Lillie Langtry function room in the back of the Old Lamp Tavern, Digbeth, Birmingham. It lacks an internet connection (this may or may not be important) but it’s fairly central, near some bus routes (45 and 47), a reasonable size, and has a video projector should we need one.

Any suggestions for alternative venues for later gatherings are welcomed. Here’s a venue wishlist that people with more experience than us have put together.


This first one’s in the evening, but later on we might try a weekend afternoon for the purposes of trying out street-based stuff in daylight. Let us know what you think.

London and Bristol both host monthly meetings of a similar sort. Do you think we could manage that too?


BARG is organised by myself and Charlie Pinder (aka @pindec). Charlie tinkers with things, sometimes at mook studios and was introduced to Nikki via @cross_triangle. She likes cheese.

BARG is an informal chance to mix with people with similar/sufficiently different senses of fun. We were kind of hoping you’d come along…


“BARG” is neither an agenda for location nor genre. It’s just the noise Charlie and myself both spontaneously made within seconds of resolving to make the meeting happen. Names and labels often fail, so we’re sticking with the noise. Here’s a picture, from the pindec pen, if that helps:


BARG: unstoppable, projectile, transmission of stuff. Also a way into events called BARGcamp, potentially on a BARGe, because it turns out we also like to play with language too.

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