The First Ever Come Out & Play Jam

Posted September 30, 2013

The very first games that ESI Design shared with Come Out & Play were made to be family-friendly — simple and enjoyable enough to be played by both children and adults, and, ideally, also encouraging intergenerational play. As our involvement with Come Out & Play grew, we started to realize the need for a more family-oriented track of games, a desire that grew into the Family Field Day. And since we’re always interested in creating immersive experiences, we also wanted to wrap the games in a larger narrative, which led us to create Justin Time’s Time Travel Agency as the glue that would hold everything together. Altogether, Family Field Day 2012 achieved our three big goals: family-friendly, intergenerational, immersive.

But we thought there was still another opportunity that would make the entire experience even better. What if kids weren’t just participants in the event, but helped create it? What if kids were able to design their own games for the festival? But designing games isn’t easily done, so we decided to host a game jam.

Kids and instructors work out the means and ways of Knight Runner.
The youth and instructors work out the tactic of KnightRunners.

A game jam is an event with the purpose of creating and testing a completed game in a set amount of time. This format is widely used in the video game world, most notably at the Global Game Jam which occurs in over 40 countries and produces over 2,000 games every year. Our event was different in that instead of gathering programmers, artists, and video game enthusiasts, we were gathering youth between the ages of 12 and 18 who were all interested in making a new outdoor game. A different set of skills was also needed, so our task included teaching the process of game creation and modification, as well as actually designing and testing.

We planned and ran the event through a partnership with Hive NYC, Come Out & Play, and the Park Slope Armory YMCA, where the event was held. Pete Vigeant, a senior designer from ESI, was the MC, and Debra Everett-Lane (also a Senior Designer at ESI), Greg Trefry (co-founder of Come Out & Play) and Grant Reid (Game Designer at Arkadium) were the facilitators.

The youth gathered led the creation of the games, from choosing among the props to teaching each other the rules.
The youth at the Game Jam led the creation of the games, from choosing among the props to teaching each other the rules.

The entire day was a huge success. We broke into two groups of about 5 participants each, and gave each group a pre-selected cache of game props — for both inspiration and constraint. The groups spent the first half of the day creating a prototype game with the provided props, and then playtesting it with the other group. After lunch, the facilitators switched teams, the groups were allowed to choose new props to add into the mix, and design iteration continued. During this phase of the jam, both games transformed dramatically, evolving from clunky, in-progress prototypes to games that would feel completely at home at the Come Out & Play Festival. As the groups finalized the details of their games, they also documented them, so that they could easily share them with others..

The final games were KnightRunners and Moving Targets:

  • KnightsRunners is similar to Capture the Flag and uses stationary noodle-carrying guards to protect items at the back of the space. One of the main differentiators for KnightRunners is that the game is played in a very small area, which creates moments of intense strategy and physicality.

  • Moving Targets made every pair of players into a moving goal by having them both hold onto a noodle, while a couple of bowlers try to get a ball through a goal. If your goal is compromised, then you join the group of bowlers. As more and more bowlers try to score goals on fewer and fewer targets, it becomes a fast-paced game of survival.

At the end of the day, the judges arrived: Bryan Vitale (Director of Programming at Concrete Safaris), Claudio Midolo (Game Designer at Institute of Play), and Kaho Abe (Artist in Residence at the Game Innovation Lab at NYU-Poly). Each game was played two more times, once with the judges participating and once with them observing how others played. And then the judges adjourned to select a winner, while both groups came together to talk over the experience and what they had learned.

Everyone — kids, facilitators, and judges — agreed that both games were lots of fun to play. But, after a good amount of deliberation, the judges concluded that Moving Targets was better qualified to be part of the Come Out & Play Festival. While KnightRunners was fun, it had some small kinks that needed to be worked out before being festival-ready. Everyone on the Moving Targets team was very excited that their game won, and it was a huge hit at the Family Day 2013, with over 40 kids playing at once. This game was also part of Pittsburgh’s City of Play Festival at the end of August.

Check out the rules for Moving Targets and KnightRunners, and play them yourself!


Debra Everett-Lane

Debra is ESI Design’s former Director of Content and Activity Design.

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