Now Play This 2017

Now Play This is an exhibition of unusual, experimental games, some of which were specially commissioned. This year’s spread of games were much less focused on text, unlike last year, but there were nonetheless intriguing little gems. The following pictures highlight some of the things that caught my eye. Last year’s post can be found here.


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Impossible games, games still half-formed, were exhibited in the Library. It was a delight to see Nate Crowley’s (@frogcroakley) game ideas – one thousand of them he’s written, and some of them were printed on slips of paper, arranged first in a grid, until they piled up in a corner. There are so many. Some bonus news: Nate’s working with Rebellion Publishing to produce an art-heavy book featuring the game ideas, and part of the proceeds will go to Zoological Society of London, to support frog conservation!

The Library also featured Becca Rose’s Bear Abouts, one in the unusual controllers category. It’s a story of a bear going on a journey, played on a tablet, where placing different physical props on the tablet screen produced different results. The game is still in development, but the possibilities are intriguing. Could you send out props as ‘feelies’? Or send people the conductive paper and magnets for them to make their own?


The Window Room played with mirrors and was overall a quieter space in the hubbub of Somerset House.

A GAME FOR ONE PLAYER: DECIDE ON A YES/NO QUESTION TO ASK THE WORLD; THEN STATE IT OUT LOUD. WITH CLOSED EYES, KNOCK YOUR FIST ON THE PLINTH THREE TIMES, THEN CIRCLE YOUR HAND OVER THE PLINTH THREE TIMES. POINT. OPEN YOUR EYES. DON'T MOVE. WHEREVER YOUR POINTING FINGER IS REFLECTED, THAT'S THE ANSWER TO YOUR QUESTION.
Game instructions written on a mirrored plinth, with the aim of finding an answer to a yes/no question

Game instructions were printed on mirrored plinths. Some were basically divination rituals; others were cooperative games.

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Top view of above plinth: a plastic tile reads “please rephrase the question”

Some of the answers the plinth provided were less than helpful… In divination, after all, the burden of interpretation falls on the participant, and interpreting the results you get is part of the gameplay.


Dead Pixels, by Tatiana Vilela dos Santos and Olivier Drouet, is a multiplayer game in which players moves their avatar around to ‘claim’ territories on the screen. The catch: contested territories become dead pixels, which belong to no one. This unexpectedly got me thinking about how conflict scars places and things and people, and how it’s so often not so much about the territory gained itself, than about power.

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Dead Pixels in action

10000 Years, by Heather Robertson, explored a topic which fascinated me when I first read about it – the design for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, a design meant to keep people away for ten thousand years – for the radioactivity in this place will make it deadly long after the last person forgets about it. The blurb for 10000 Years puts it well: “We can never truly escape the consequences of our actions.” The protagonist in this game is from the future, then, and only incompletely understands the significance of the symbols. The symbol for radioactivity, for example, is a sigil resembling an angel. Is it redemption, then, of a sort, for beauty to reveal itself, even in such cruel environments?

Danger seems to emanate from below, and out of the Keep in the form of stone spikes-- The shapes suggest danger to the body... wounding forms-- They seem not _
Picture of game screen, because I couldn’t take a screenshot. It looks more… post-apocalyptic this way

The graphics, here, are really ASCII characters. Interaction reminded me somewhat of Kitty Horrorshow’s games – wander through a barren land, discover notes left for you.


The Letter Room featured Aïda Gómez’s Joy is Here, which turned the entire room into a wordsearch. What struck me was how, faced with such an open invitation, some people created their own rules.

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Walls turned into a blackboard, with letters written at regular intervals; people have chalked circles around letters to form words

I love Burly Men at Sea so much. Pastel illustrations; a charming, fairy tale-like story (and, for me, easy to use controls…), creatures from folklore… displayed alongside the game were physical representations of a possible path through the story.

Page of a book in the sun - there is a pastel-hued illustration of three men with round beards, all soft edges and round shapes. There is story text above the illustration, too small to read.
Page from one of three books displayed

Another charming, peaceful one was Sandcastles by Patrick Smith, a touchscreen game in which pulling upwards creates a pleasingly geometric sandcastle. It’s hard to get it ‘wrong’, and whatever you do, it’s washed away in the tide seconds later, so it’s forever a clean slate. This is one I could envision as an idle game. This was also pretty hard to film… but here is a GIF for your viewing pleasure.

sandcastle_game.gif


General impressions

Now Play This felt more crowded this year. More people? Smaller space? I don’t know. While I’m happy the games appear to be reaching a larger audience – an audience which might not otherwise know about these games – the crowd made it hard to really get into any of the games, not with five other people standing around watching you play. On the other hand, though, watching is perhaps also a form of participation,

I appreciated spaces and rooms which invited players to another world. Last year, it was Larklamp that so captured my imagination. This year, there was the Haunted Room, in which you play with hand mirrors to capture spirits. There was some technical wizardry involving a projector and mirrors, but unfortunately the room filled up so quickly that I couldn’t squeeze in to find out what was going on.

There were lots of children, especially at the Library, playing with the unusual controllers.

Above all, though, the games featured in Now Play This overwhelmingly have a sense of playfulness, of whimsy, of exploration. While people clamour for bigger worlds and more complex stories and better simulations – while people constantly seek more, more, more in their games, I welcomed the invitation to come in, stay a while, and explore small, self-contained worlds.

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