Спасибо, folks of Moscow for having me speak on games in public space. It’s been very much an interest of mine for a long time and I hope that you’ve learned more about some of the interesting digitally and socially augmented games that are happening around the world.

Some folks have asked me for the resources that I used to create this talk as well as links to the examples and so I’d like to provide you with a list, organized by principle, of all of the games we talked about.

First off, this talk was initially inspired by Paul Dourish’s book Where the Action Is: The Foundations of Embodied Interaction, as well as the work that Katherine Isbister is doing at the Game Innovation Lab in NYU and her and Kaho Abe‘s work on Hotaru, The Lightning Bug Game.

I also want to thank ACM Interactions Magazine for introducing me to some of these fine folks’ work; if you want to be inspired by HCI researchers around the world, I highly recommend subscribing.

These public games span the gamut of advertising, research and simply fun games designed to engage the public in some small way and help foster learning, community creation, relationship building and sometimes just making something that is really difficult fun or at least bearable to do (sugarcoating). They remind us in a small way that when used correctly, games allow us to bend social barriers, connect with others and learn things we never thought we could learn.

Though games have most often been used to fuel dark patterns of gamification in the past, there is no reason why we cannot use these powerful tools in social and public spaces for good.


Games that teach us by exploration.

Treasures: The Hunt (London, UK): Created by the now-defunct studio Hide&Seek, this game celebrated the opening of the London Natural History Museum’s new Treasures gallery by sending the entire city on a scavenger hunt mission of London’s most intriguing and peculiar natural history sites—putting them in the shoes of the archaeologists themselves. Participants were armed with physical “specimen jars” and were asked to make a rubbing at each station where a new “artifact” was discovered.

ONTRACK (Swansea, UK/Waikato, NZ): Born of a collaboration between the University of Wales and the University of Waikato, ONTRACK is a musical navigation system that directs users by adjusting the spatial qualities of the music to help guide them on their route. The “direction” of the music and volume of the music is manipulated by GPS and whether of not the user is on the suggested route.

Paint by RGB (Austin, TX): Created by Jared and Joey Ficklin of argodesign, this massive LED wall of color reacts to users brushing it with paintbrushes by adjusting the color every time it is brushed. This installation allows participants to play with color and is a low res prototype of what digital walls may look like in the future.

Yibu (Shanghai, CN): Created by frog design in Shanghai, this digital game is played with five wooden toys embedded with sensing technology that the game responds to—light, temperature, directionality, acceleration, and sound. Children are invited to learn and interact with their environment around them guided by a polar bear friend.


Strengthening bonds by making something beautiful together.

Brooklyn Bridge Park (Brooklyn, NY): This formerly defunct cargo shipping and storage complex has since been turned into a gorgeous park, complete with a variety of games for participants to enjoy. One such area is a concrete area upon which have seemingly random lines and blocks of color which invite kids and adults to create their own social games.

“Untitled” (Placebo) (Various Locations): This modern art piece is a creation of Felix Gonzalez-Torres and features 1,200 pounds of foil-wrapped candies with the intent that each time a viewer takes a candy, they contribute to the slow disappearance of the sculpture over the course of the exhibition.

The collectivity project (Various Locations): An art piece by Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson which engages the broader public sphere through architectural projects and interventions in civic space. The collectivity project is an imagined cityscape, designed and built by the public. Participants are welcomed to play together to build the installation, changing the appearance and function over time.

Yamove! (New York, NY) Created by Katherine Isbister and Syed Salahuddin is a collaborative game in which two participants must create their own dance moves—in tandem with one another. Wearable trackers on the wrist sense whether or not each person is following the others’ movements and a digital screen projects their score. This has led each participant to co-create their own dance moves on the fly in response to the game.

screen-shot-2016-09-15-at-11-27-22-amMaking what seems difficult a little easier.

Pokémon Go (San Francisco, CA): The hit game made by Niantic Labs allows users to walk around in the real world and “catch” Pokémon, pick up items, and battle other players at gyms. Participants hold a phone where they can see digital creatures projected onto their everyday surroundings. The game’s success has made it responsible for many avid players going outside, walking, and generally becoming healthier, both physically and mentally.

Failure Toy (Toronto, ON): A new project made by Twenty-One Toys is creating a toy that opens up opportunities for parents and children to talk about failure and the opportunities that arise together. It is a physical product that allows children to create and construct their own toy, but includes failure built in as part of the learning process, thus making it easier for children to see opportunities in mistakes.

ChoreMonster (Los Angeles, CA): This innovative app featuring goofy monsters sugarcoats for children the idea of doing chores. Parents input chores into the app as well as rewards for the chores and once the children complete the chores, the app gives them a chance to win a reward. This has, according to some of the reviews, had participants’ children “begging to do chores.”

VR Care (San Francisco, CA): Made by the San Francisco studio at frog design, VR Care is an incredible VR headset/game specifically designed for burn patients in hospitals to distract them from daily, oftentimes painful, burn treatments. The headset is designed to be comfortable, moisture-resistant and easy to make, and the game features ambient environments the participant can explore using only their head.

screen-shot-2016-09-15-at-11-27-28-amFostering compassion between you and your community.

Heart of the Community (Various Locations): Partnering with the Project for Public Spaces, Southwest Airlines is supporting placemaking, or revitalizing previously-unused spaces for public use. One example of placemaking comes from Detroit, MI where PPS and Southwest redesigned Campus Martius, an unused median in Detroit into a public park for play and use. This brings communities and families together in a newly-created community space.

99 Tiny Games (London, UK): Another fantastic project by now-defunct studio Hide&Seek, these series of mini games were hidden all around London to celebrate the Olympic games. The games were written on placards distributed at points of interest in London and intended for play with others (for instance, a card on the top of a bridge might ask participants to play a game by watching the people walking below) utilizing the unique architecture of London.

ilovebees (Various Locations): Made by 42 Entertainment and designed by Jane McGonigal, was simultaneously a promotion for Halo2 as well as a study in collective intelligence. A website, which appeared to be “hacked,” drew participants in with its mystery, eventually leading them to physical coordinates, to phone booths, to a secret theater where a pre-release of Halo2 was shown and collectively played. This created a close-knit community of players even before the game was released.

Vote As You Go (Sydney, AU): Created by the University of Sydney, these mobile polling booths allow governments to engage the community on the go. A few form factors include a large digital display with a motion sensor that allows you to vote by waving, or a polling booth that asks a simple question when it detects movement. This allows pollers to ask relevant questions of participants within a space as well as fosters community engagement.

This is just a small collection of fascinating games, and there are many more. This sector of game-making is in its infancy as referenced by the fact that currently much of the work is being done within universities, and I am looking forward into the future of embodied interactive experiences with gaming. If you want to get in touch with me or get more game recommendations, please tweet me at @chostett or continue the discussion at #design4play.

For those of you who have asked, here’s a PDF of the presentation for the lecture. Hope you enjoy!