Last week we headed down to Launceston for the Junction Arts Festival. This was the second year for Junction, which was a smaller festival than the huge inaugural one. Next year will again be a big one, according to the festival director Ian Pidd.
I was fascinated to go to an arts festival that had hardly any theatre and instead was filled with music and participatory events. All the Arts Festivals I’ve been too always have a big theatre component to them, so this was going to be an adventure.
We also prepared ourselves with a game we wanted to playtest around the streets of an unfamiliar city, with a working title of Escape Plan. I didn’t know any of the rules until the morning of play, so it was an authentic street gaming experience for me.
The first day we took Escape Plan to the streets. It’s partly an adventurer game and partly a spy code making and breaking game. I don’t want to reveal too much at this stage, but we explored the concept by doing, an avenue of game design I cannot recommend highly enough, and we had a bunch of fun. We found some flaws, made some changes for next time and were very happy with the experience.
The next morning we headed off down to the mall to play Search Party. This was a really interesting event. Search Party have made it their mission to “explore ideas of community, place and belonging” (from their website) by challenging various cities to a marathon game of Ping Pong. This was a really interesting event. On the surface it’s two Brits in a green and red uniform playing against a seemingly never ending line of locals, and that’s all well and good. But dive underneath the surface and you come to realise that it is a really community bonding moment (or indeed, a community bonding three days). Launceston came together, crowding around the Ping Pong table, chatting to each other and cheering strangers on. There was rivalry between Search Party and the Launies, but no rivalry between the Launies. We were united in our attempt to beat Search Party.
I have to admit that I clearly suck at Ping Pong. I was hopeful of at least not embarrassing myself, but even that was clearly unobtainable. After winning the first point, I lost every single point after that. The crowd felt my pain and I felt that I had let Launceston down. But I was also hopeful that, since it was early on in the festival, that other people would be able to make up for my skill less game and make good my defeat.
I happened to have wool in the Junction logo colours and a crochet hook, so I made them a Moment In Yarn for their efforts and then we wandered away.
We were out for experiences in Junction, and there were a number of single experiences we could have. We met a giant inflatable whale in a park, which was beautiful. When the wind blew, the whale gently rocked, swimming through the air. The movement seemed so right, that a whale filled with air could swim through the breeze. It was beautiful to watch. My favourite part was the looks on the faces of the passersby, who unexpectantly came across a giant whale in their local park. Children spotted it with shrieks of joy and came racing across the park to touch and explore this giant temporary work. It was really heart warming to see the reactions.
Another one of the highlights of the festival was Seek: Launceston, a scav hunt held on the Saturday. It was supposed to be teams of 5, but Terrible Comfort went it alone with 2. We received a little envelope with a pad of paper, a pad of sticky notes, a pen, a map and a set of instructions. Some instructions were easy:
“a limerick about your mother” (5 points)
“5 different kinds of leaves” (5 points)
“A paper aeroplane” (5 points)
“An acorn” (5 points)
Then there were harder ones
“an acronym poem on the word antidisestablishmentarism” (10 points)
“advice from a stranger” (10 points)
“a ghost” (10 points)
But the best ones were the participatory events
“AN OUT OF THIS WORLD EXPERIENCE”
We went down an alley and under a building was a door with a A4 sheet of paper sticky-taped to it which read SEEK:LAUNCESTON WAIT HERE. After a few minutes, we were met by a young man in a nice suit and pork pie hat who motioned us down the stairs, warning us to watch our heads on the low ceilings and overhanging pipes. At the bottom of the stairs we turned a corner and the room opened out into a beautiful cellar bar with a big table. Around the table sat another young man in a nice suit and a bunch of Storm Troopers, each with a pile of poker chips in front of them. There were also two empty seats, which we took. The man in the suit, or card shark, as I will now refer to him, dealt out cards and we looked at what we had. I had a 10 of hearts and a 6 of spades. He then dealt 4 cards in front of him, which when questioned he explained that these could be used in conjunction with your hand to win. There was a 4 of clubs in there, which I was thrilled with. 10+6+4=20, which is pretty darn close to 21, which I assumed we were playing. So I threw caution to the wind, knowing that no one would be able to beat a hand like that, and I threw in all but 4 of my chips. I cockily engaged in some ‘trash talk’ from my secure position of about-to-be-winner. The next round was dealt and then we all showed our hands.
As the Storm Troopers evaluated their hands, it suddenly dawned on me that we were playing poker and not 21 at all, and that I’d lost horribly.
I was much less cocky after that.
We played two more hands, my luck and chips did not hold out and we left defeated in poker but thrilled at the experience.
This was but one of the cool things we got to do in Seek:.Launceston.
We were also set the task of applying for a job interview.
A building had a paper trail up the stairs and into an office where a lady behind the desk asked my name, went into a board room, came back and said “she’s ready for you now”.
I walked into the board room and was presented by a massively long table. At the far end was a lady in a suit peering over her glasses at me. I sat down and she immediately started asking me questions.
“Why do you think you’re suited for this role?”
Needless to say I knew nothing about the job or the company, so I just made stuff up. I figured that my best bet was honesty, so I listed all the interesting stuff I do “I’m an artist, graphic designer, web designer, game designer, craft artist, public programs officer, primary school teacher, puppet maker and puppeteer and theatre maker” she seemed a little stunned, but recovered well.
“what makes you interested in working for us?”
I threw myself into that one “Well, I’ve done a lot of research into this company and what I love most about it is the unlimited potential it has”.
We chatted for a few more minutes then she thanked me and asked me to request a medal from her secretary on the way out.
You received points for completing the job interview and someone would receive more points for actually getting the job. Unfortunately the awards ceremony was a little rushed and we never found out who was hired.
Another clue asked us to “DEFEND YOUR PIRATE HONOUR AT THE DOCKS”
Being strangers to the city, I’m pretty sure we took the longest route possible to the docks, where we wandered around looking for pirates. By this stage we were pretty familiar with the mechanics of the game, so we knew that the thing we were seeking would be easy to spot and there would be someone dressed as a pirate
We were briefly thrown by a boat with a pirate flag fluttering from it, but as the flag was a little faded and the boat seemed deserted, we figured that wasn’t it.
We did recognise another player who came along, and we chatted to her about the pirate thing. We asked if she was a local, which she was, so we asked if there was another port we were missing. We puzzled over it for a little and then two pirates came ambling up the dock.
I don’t want to skim over this point. The scav hunt was what I was until a few minutes ago (when I read Search Party’s website) calling an ‘ice breaker’, where people break the ice they usually carry around them and start talking to strangers playing the same game, but I don’t think that it is just ‘breaking the ice’. I think that some games, like Seek:Launceston are more than just ice breakers, they are community building games. If only just for the duration of the game, we were a community that met and spoken on the streets, that helped each other out and that shared a sense of belonging and connection. I think games are incredibly powerful for this.
Back to the pirates. We had to duel them in a insulting match using piratey terms and insults. It was a lot of fun and with my lifelong semi-obsession with pirates I flatter myself I was quite good. At the end, my pirate opponent faltered to a halt and I collected a medal for my insulting behaviour (a first for me!)
What was AWESOME about this scav hunt was the fun we had doing the participatory events. The poems and the paper planes were all well and good, but the most fun was suddenly finding ourselves in a bizarre situation that we could play in. Playing 21 against Storm Troopers who were playing poker was one of the most surreal moments in my life, and I had a blast!
The other thing I liked about the challenges was the open endedness of some of the tasks. My favourite of these was “a ghost”. A number of teams turned up with a team member draped in a sheet, one turned up with a clear bottle with the Town Hall ghost trapped inside, and as we’d run around the streets I’d been crocheting a tiny white ghost which won that round.
Because there was only two of us, we never would have won, so instead we concentrated on doing the events that interested us, which lead to an awesome day of running around Launceston, discovering things we might have seen otherwise and getting to do a bunch of really interesting tasks.