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Learning how to play on San Francisco’s streets

Every year, over the course of a weekend, San Francisco’s Civic Center is transformed into a giant playground. Except this playground is for children of all ages who’ve hit the streets to take part in San Francisco’s Come Out & Play Festival. Sandwiched between the library and the Asian Arts Museum, over 20 unique games are on offer. Games like Space Masquerade, Flak, Journey to the End of the Night, Sesame Street Box Heads, Charge of the Rubber Ball Brigade, Spectrum Ops, Origami Fishing, Mad Tea Party, and Hoot Patooter. Listen to the story here, or read further.

Myles Nye, one of the masterminds behind Hoot Patooter, says that “Hoot Patooter, [is] hot potato played with a chef who is Swedish. It’s a family friendly four-square food fight where players throw and catch real produce using aprons like parachutes. When the chef shouts ‘Soup’s on!’ the last person to get their vegetable in the pot gets a strike. Three strikes and you’re out."

So what’s in the soup? Well, pretend broth and a delicious mixture of real vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, corn, and potatoes.

Game designer and executive director of the festival, Albert Kong, points out that while the festival can be a lot of fun, there’s also a serious side to it. “You can experience failure in a game and triumph, but also regret,“ says Kong. "Games give you the opportunity to have all those emotions without having to put as much at risk. We need to do things that aren’t just for survival.”

From an evolutionary perspective, play is a matter of survival. Research suggests that without play, our emotional, physical, and social lives suffer. Play is a biological need, just as important as sleeping and eating. Plus, we get to learn new things.

Game Designer Kate Spacek helped design a card game called Atlas. For Atlas “you start by choosing a navigator and a cartographer,” she says. “The navigator chooses a card from the deck and then you go on that adventure.” The navigator uses a compass to guide the team while the cartographer draws a map. You end up experiencing your city in a different way, and at the end you have beautiful abstract pictographs of the experience.

While the players of Atlas get to learn to be a little more familiar with compasses and the streets of San Francisco, game designer Albert Alexander has a different kind of map in mind. One of his games at the festival is called “How to Flirt.” The players are divided into flirters and flirtees, and given a list of flirting categories that they need to master. Exaggeration is encouraged.Alexander, who works part-time for NASA on the James Webb Telescope by day, says he spends “a lot of time designing games that help people explore their emotions or what it means to be intimate or close to each other.” He says art and games have “always been a way to form connections.” In the end, the flirting game is more about connecting than winning. It’s about trying on roles and experiencing the world in new ways.

Come Out & Play organizer Albert Kong says, “I think there’s something really important about the way that games allow us to be a part of the story, and it allows us to really create a stronger connection with the world, and that can be very empowering.”The Come Out & Play San Francisco Festival happens every year in the fall, but they have events and run games all over the Bay Area throughout the year. For more information visit their website here.

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