Games for Places

Games for Places is a series of installations across East Durham: six different locations, each with four or five games that will only work there, rules painted on the ground for people to stumble across and play. It was put in place for East Durham Creates, a festival running in locations all across East Durham.

Picture by Colin Davison

Picture by Colin Davison

The project builds on a lot of the work I did at Hide&Seek, particularly 99 Tiny Games - I even managed to lure Ivan Gonzalez, co-designer and producer on that project, away from sketch comedy for a week to help out with game design. But there are a few things that are new to this project that have made it really exciting to work on.

For a start, we've been able to paint onto the ground, which has been amazing. There's something about bright stencilled text that gets a really high proportion of people stopping and reading. It looks like it might not be allowed; it circumvents the "this is probably an ad, right?" part of our brains.

Picture by Colin Davison.

Picture by Colin Davison.

And because we've been placing a few games in each location, working with really enthusiastic venues, we've also been able to paint other things, not just the rules. For example, in a park filled with brown and red and golden leaves, we've painted another forty leaves onto the ground, scattered over the pathways. The leaves were modelled by our brilliant designer and artist, Hannah Sibai, on leaves picked up from the park during a site visit. We've used them in all the game rules in the park, from little almost-games like Dog Walk (get a point each time your dog walks over a leaf - unless it's yellow, in which case your game's over for the day) to fiercer games of running and jumping from leaf to leaf. 

We've been working at amazing locations suggested by our wonderful producers at Forma, from parks and community centres to Victor Pasmore's Apollo Pavilion, which sits somewhere between "bridge" and "habitable sculpture". And all the locations have been so supportive about the games, letting us put them everywhere from plazas to secret pathways to cafe tables.

Picture by Colin Davison

Picture by Colin Davison

So when we found a load of paving stones, for example, and came up with a game that would work if only they had arrows on them, we could just paint arrows on them. We were able to make sure each game drew on something special about its location - for example, the strange sightlines of the Apollo Pavilion, with gaps and unexpected views - while adding something that made different types of gameplay possible - bright lilypads in different colours across the Pavilion, leaves in the parks, arrows in Shotton Community Centre, labelling different areas on the sportsfield at Greenhills.

East Durham Creates is a new series of festivals and events for East Durham, running from 2014 to 2016 - there's a few days left to run on the current programme, and then there'll be a whole lot more in May 2015. There are games at Byron Place Shopping Centre, Shotton Community Centre, Greenhills Community Centre, the Apollo Pavilion Peterlee, Horden Welfare Park and Easington Welfare Park.

Producers: Forma Arts and Media. Designer: Hannah Sibai. Additional game design: Ivan Gonzalez. Playtesting and installation help from: Holly L., Brin and Eleanor. 

how to be a blackbird

I've made a new little game: how to be a blackbird. It takes around 10-15 minutes to play, and at the end you find out how good you are at being a blackbird.

It's best with sound (though it works without it).

Folk Games I Have Played, 1982-1992

Written for an upcoming folk games zine that George Buckenham and Pat Ashe are putting together.


There was a game where we lay back in swings and closed our eyes, me and my friend Summer. When someone made too much noise nearby we'd sit up and yell DON'T WAKE ME UP at them, loud, leaning forward in our swings, top-of-our-lungs anger. We won if we both yelled. If only one of us yelled, then we lost. This is the first game I remember playing.

There was a game where someone was a Hider. The Hider would hide my lunchbox, anywhere in the school, and everyone else tried to find it and get it back to the handball court before the Hider caught them.

There was a game where Summer and I would phone each other after school, and one of us, let's say me, would get a wooden spoon and I'd hit it against things in my loungeroom, and Summer would try to guess what I was hitting. There was a two-metre circle of things around the phone that I could reach - stretching the coiled cord as far as it would go - and after a while Summer could guess them all. I learnt the sound of her spiral staircase bannisters, and her kitchen sink, and her music stand, and her many many books, though I couldn't ever tell one book from another.

There was a game we called Bockwinkel, because that was the surname of the man who taught us. "It's not called Bockwinkel," he'd say with growing anger. "I didn't make it up."

There was a game where you'd walk along the beach and point at things, slightly disgusting things on the sand: tangled-up seaweed, old ice-cream sticks, some blobs like big transparent jelly-beans that we called jellyfish (though I guess they weren't really). If you pointed at something your opponent had to pick it up and hold it in her hands while she counted down from ten, and if she made it all the way to zero she could throw it at you. Summer with seaweed in her hair, and her mother yelling down at us to stop fighting.

There was a secret version of Spin the Bottle, where you'd be sent into the cupboard with a boy (or just pushed behind a curtain, if someone was already in the cupboard), and you'd kiss each other. The secret rule was that you would stand there and stare at the boy, just stare at him and not smile and not say anything, and then after thirty seconds you would leave and he would follow.

There was a game called Truth, Dare, Double Dare, Kiss, Pash or Torture. "Kiss" was a specific type of dare, to go and kiss someone; "pash" was the same but more so, a really heartfelt kiss. Pash. "Torture" was hitting someone ten times, usually not very hard, just open-handed slaps on the upper arm. We made up a new rule, which was: once someone had picked one of the options nobody could pick it again, not until all the remaining options had been taken. Because it's not much of a game otherwise, right? But nobody wanted to play it with us once we'd fixed the rules, so we sat on a tree trunk instead and ate barbecued sausages and looked out through gum trees into the car park.

There was a game of strip poker. Nobody really understood how poker worked, but we figured out some approximate rules based on a girl's brother's memory of a time he hung out with some older kids. Summer and I were good at games, for eleven-year-olds, so we sat there while the other eleven-year-olds lost more and more of their clothes. "Shall we stop this," we eventually said, one boy down to his boxer shorts, a girl in nothing but her sundress, her undies crumpled up and shoved into her bag in the corner. "Yes," they all said. "Yes, let's stop."