THE BLOG

99 Tiny Games Invites us All to Play

02/08/2012 12:33 BST | Updated 01/10/2012 10:12 BST

The Olympic Games are a great spectacle of ceremony, public-spiritedness and sporting endeavour. As the director of a games studio dedicated to inventing new kinds of play, I do love the Olympics' commitment to sports and games that never normally see the light of day, and our ability to rapidly become experts in the fine detail of things we actually know nothing about (favourite current example - 244 comments on the finer points of judges' marks for a Japanese pommel horse routine). Both pay tribute to our innate inventiveness and playfulness, and our desire for competition and fairness.

And yet... There's something about the Olympics that makes most of us a little sad. We're never going to make it. We're never going to be up there, giving our all, competing for a medal. In the hierarchies of sport, we're mostly in the sub-basement, below the part-time amateurs and the injured schoolboy under-14s. We're spectators - and even then, there are are hiearchies of those, with most of us unable for reasons of cost or location to do anything other than watch from home. 

Our project for the Showtime Festival, 99 Tiny Games, is all about play at the other end of the spectrum.

Games that travel to you; we've created three for every London borough, from Havering to Hounslow. Games that anyone can play; all you need are the instructions on the vinyl poster, and whatever's in the surrounding environment - some nearby twigs, a mosaic on a wall, a pattern of bricks on the ground. The rules for each game are tightly compressed - our ideas for games on this scale started when one of our designers started posting complete game rulesets on Twitter. They're a little bit silly and eccentric, with titles (Statue of Limitations, Borabacus Bikes and Rushing Roulette) to match. 

They also draw inspiration from a much wider range of sources than the tests of skill, stamina and team-work provided by the Olympics. Games have a strangely limited understanding in the public mindset. When I tell people I'm a game designer, they almost inevitably frown, make a wiggling motion with their thumbs and say 'you mean, video games?'. The media has a great deal to answer for here, where games = video games = violent first person shooters = moral turpitude. None of those things equal the other... We're inspired by video games (sometimes ones where you shoot aliens in the head) through to parlour games, children's street games, card and board games. And I think it's got to be a good thing to generate different forms of play - there are Tiny Games that require co-operation, creativity, observation, wit as well as dexterity, speed and determination. 

I think it's interesting that the inventiveness and diversity of game culture (and its gigantic, widespread popularity) hasn't really integrated with the Olympics. We have athletes and broadcasters and a vague exhortation from the powers that be to get out there and be more active, yet almost nothing that inspires us to play ourselves. Something that game designers and studios spend a great deal of time thinking about is how to continually engage players, to turn them from casual participants to active enthusiasts. I think that the Olympics and its sponsors, with their old-media separation of action and audience, could absorb a great deal from our world. It would be inspiring to imagine future Olympics doing a better job of linking the evident passion and enthusiasm the games generate with smarter, more playful calls to action.

For me, one of the greatest things about Danny Boyle's ceremony was the involvement and evident passion of the 7,500 volunteers, and the deeply democratic and whole-heartedly inclusive approach taken - this is for everyone indeed. I'd like to think that something of that spirit is in our project, and I hope that the spirit of competition and play that infuses the Olympics inspires Londoners to play our Tiny Games. 

Explore 99 Tiny Games at http://www.99tinygames.co.uk.