Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Manhattan is my playground

The strangest sights of the weekend were the unscheduled spectacles. The bride moonwalking across the Times Square intersection. The man with a boa constrictor necklaced round his throat, who looked at our players like they were the odd ones. The Iraqi dignitaries who stopped to watch the circle rules football match, nodding politely beneath blue embassy umbrellas.

Come Out and Play Festival is many things to many people. A chance to chase one other across midtown or break some hearts at a roll of the dice or outgeek your geekiest friends by bringing an old Atari game to life or solving puzzles based on Midsummer Night's Dream and Mortal Kombat moves. People play in suits, in pigtails, in costumes that you only assume can be the remnants of some past game which you should have signed up for too.

I spent the Sunday in a hat wide enough to score me an extra subway seat, weaving in and out of Times Square's tourist crowds. As part of the game, Earpiece, three players had to obey the instructions on their MP3 players, in what amounted to a try-out for a nebulous organization called The Agency. My mission was to track them, to weave in and out of the Georgians, Scousers and Midwesterners keeping the confused, plugged-in players in sight, and blissfully unaware of their tail. Then about seven minutes in, they were supposed to be told to look out for me, and I'd watch as they picked me out, eyes clutching at what they had serenely glid over just minutes earlier. It was like a Where's Wally game brought to pushing and shoving life, and I was the little guy in stripes.

My favourite part of the game was the bit where two of the players were told to get close to the player they trusted most and avoid the player they didn't trust, while the other was asked to do the opposite. The shuffling, roundabout dance of evasion and attraction brought me right back to bright afternoons in the playground and similarly arbitrary patterns of friendship and betrayal. She's my best friend. Go away. We don't like her any more. Except this time round the dance lasted less than one awkward minute, and when the players took their headsets off again the subtler, less frenzied grown-up games of alliance politely resumed.

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