Play is a powerful tool in almost every human society. The dynamics of play are found in most forms of human interaction as well as in the foundations of problem-solving and analysis. Play provides a learning-by-doing environment that is difficult to replicate in a classroom. Plus, high-minded assertions aside, play provides something even harder to quantify but no less vital to our development — a vehicle for joy.
Since 2006, the Come Out & Play Festival crew has been throwing festivals of interactive games, from New York to Amsterdam to San Francisco, providing a space for players of all ages to gather and game. In between wrangling the many details of her innovative brainchild, festival co-founder Catherine Herdlick graciously let me interrogate her via email as to what San Franciscan’s can expect at this year’s festival (which runs through December 2), and on the importance of games in general.
SFBG: Navigating the festival's schedule can be daunting, what games do you feel are going to be absolute standouts this year? How many games are represented in total, and how many of them are new or new to the festival?
Catherine Herdlick: There are 35 total games including Art Boy Sin, which we just added. Absolute standouts include Journey to the End of the Night (which happened Nov. 10) as well as Undercover Assassins (Nov. 27)—both are well-established and tuned. Another game that will be amazing is Sloth Chase (Dec. 1), a parkour-inspired game designed by two champion parkour practitioners.
I'm also really excited to play The Hush (Dec. 2), which is a pervasive game with a different tempo than our usual games. It invites players to moments of silence and reflection. Finally, The Third Person OuterBody Experience Labyrinth (Dec. 2) by local artist Jason Wilson is a really interesting way of navigating yourself and a space.
SFBG: What prompted the creation of the festival in 2006 and how has it grown since?
CH: A group of five of us game designers were working together on computer games at Gamelab in NYC in 2006. We were all making different kinds of real world games on the side, staging each of our events as one-offs. We decided to converge and run a festival so that our respective audiences could cross-pollinate. Greg Trefry, who still runs the show in NYC, was able to take the helm and he oversaw the production of the festival as part of his master's thesis at ITP. When I moved out to SF in 2009 it was a no-brainer to bring the festival with me as there were already so many designers out here that had been involved since the beginning. In terms of playership, we estimate that well over 10,000 players have played at Come Out & Play in NYC or SF. We've also directly inspired a bunch of other festivals around the globe in places like London, Bristol, Berlin, Athens, DC, and Pittsburgh.
SFBG: Gaming is a huge part of your resume. What do games provide its participants that can only be received through gaming? What is the socio/cultural value of games?
CH: This is a big question. I heard Ian (Kizu-Blair, from Journey to the End of the Night) say he wants to inspire people and that succinctly sums it up for me as well. We created a new tagline for the exhibition and festival this year: "United By Play," which also sums it up. Games are a great equalizer. Everyone, everywhere plays in some ways at some ages. Being in the ludic space frees up the mind to see things differently. Further, we love seeing spectators transform into producers, not just participants, but the very creators of the experience. Street games and less-digital games tend to have more "grey areas" for house rules and that's a very interesting social space.
SFBG: What is your favorite game ever and why? What makes a “successful” game?
CH: It's successful if I never wonder who designed it and if it leaves enough room for me to express myself in some way. My favorite game? I can't pick one! If I had to I'd say the first game of Junior Yahtzee I played with my nephew — it was the first game where I didn't let him win, after watching him learn how the strategy worked. I also love overnight puzzle hunts a lot, Undercover Assassins (gentle use of space), Air Hockey, Zelda, and Super Mario.
Come Out & Play Festival
Through Dec. 2, free
Various times and locations