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Spirits Walk, the headline game of Fresh Air 2014

Ben McKenzie, our Games Mechanic, talks about a work commissioned for Fresh Air in 2014: Serious Business’ Spirits Walk.

It’s pretty rare at Pop Up Playground that I get to play a game I’ve had almost nothing to do with, but last year that was exactly what I got to do with Spirits Walk, the headline game of the festival – and what a game it was.

Commissioned by our Artistic Director Robert Reid from UK designers Serious Business (Grant Howitt and Mary Hamilton), who luckily for our budget happened to be living in Sydney at the time, it was the centrepiece of last year’s festival, taking players not across Federation Square but into the heart of Melbourne. Here’s the video trailer, filmed by Elliott Summers during the festival:

sw1So: players are invited by the Tattered Prince, head of the court of Melbourne’s spirits and gods, to join in the Spirits Walk, a celebration of the spirit world. But you can’t just rock up to something like that unprepared, you must have a mask – and not just any mask, a mask made of spirit stuff. So the Prince has weakened the walls between our world and his for an hour, and given us instructions on how to find various little gods of Melbourne. If we can satisfy them, they will grant us tokens of the spirit world we can bind into a mask so we can join in the Spirits Walk!sw2

What that translated to was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I scurried about the city, following the map in my guide to the spirit world, looking for the gods and enacting the prescribed rituals needed to summon them. I was asked to trade a worthless piece of paper for “something of value” with strangers, to give up a secret of my own to a snappily dressed spirit under a bridge, to dance intimately with a partner under the gaze of the public to music no-one else could hear, to fight invisible monsters to protect ordinary people just trying to cross a bridge, and more.

sw3All of these activities were transgressive and touched on things we’re told not to do: wave (cardboard) swords around in public (don’t worry, it was slow and safe), ask people you’ve never met to give you something, ignore the approving or disapproving looks of strangers as you dance in front of them… Each on its own was magical, but to dash about the city seeking out as many of them as possible in a limited time made it exactly the sort of transformative experience you see in stories of urban fantasy and (to borrow Grant’s own term) junk magic.

When I say transformative, I don’t just mean of the player, but of the city. One of the great experiences of games like this is that you don’t look at the space in which you play them the same way. Degraves Street isn’t just a collection of cafés for me anymore – it’s where I danced to please the Skipping Girl, a spirit who just wanted me to be free and embrace the music; Hosier Lane isn’t just “that one with the amazing graffiti”, it’s where I gave up my favourite hat to a spirit without knowing when or how exactly I would get it back. These are magical stories and experiences that are layered on my city, crafted with great care and style by Grant and Mary and executed by the amazing cast in their incredible masks.

Spirits Walk is another example of a game that just isn’t possible without the infrastructure of a festival. Robert Reid and the Fresh Air team took Grant and Mary’s design and hired actors, commissioned masks and costumes and props, scouted locations and scheduled rehearsals. I often joke about one of our early works, The Curse, that it requires more actors than players, but some of the greatest experiences need this kind of scaffolding. The players still make the stories themselves, but they are guided by creatures of our making, played by actors and mediated through craft. There’s nothing quite like it, and it’s for pieces like this that we make Fresh Air.

All the more amazing, then, that we did it on the shoestring budget of last year – and that it was free to experience! I really hope Grant and Mary mount it again, because every city deserves a little junk magic.

To keep making things like this, especially in collaboration with international designers, we need to increase the Fresh Air budget – and that’s where our Pozible campaign comes in. Please check it out and pledge if you can – there are some amazing rewards on offer! But it’s just as vital to our success for you to help spread the word.


Spirits Walk photos by Sarah Walker

Little Monsters’ Big Day Out returning for 2015

Hello! Ben here, Pop Up Playground’s friendly local Game Mechanic (that more or less means head game designer). This week on social media we’ve been describing some of the games that we’ve played at previous Fresh Air festivals, or which will be featured at Fresh Air 2015. Today I want to talk about a game which is both, one of the big hits of the 2014 festival that we’ll be bringing back next year: Little Monsters’ Big Day Out. (Considering I am going to refer to it a lot, I’m gonna abbreviate that to LMBDO, mostly because I can choose to pronounce it “lambdo”, though usually we just call it “Little Monsters” for short.)

A monster from Little Monsters' Big Day Out

A collaboration between Pop Up Playground’s Sayraphim Lothian and Serious Business’ Grant Howitt, LMBDO is honestly one of the best games I’ve had the pleasure of running or playing. It packs a huge amount of adventure into a simple setup: pairs of players tie on monster tails and run all over Federation Square taking photos of their cute little monster friends, each of whom wants to go on as many adventures as possible in the time limit! What kind of adventures? Well, they tell you via speech balloons, but their desires are kind of vague; it’s up to you to figure it out!

Play is often a great way to get people smiling and having fun, but LMBDO lights up faces and hearts in people of every age like no other game I’ve seen. That’s due in no small part to the amazing tails; one you strap one on it instantly frees you of any inhibitions you might have about being a bit silly in public! Plus the little monsters themselves are so damn cute. (Every time we’ve run it we’ve had multiple people ask if they can buy one of their own.) All of the props were created for Pop Up Playground by incredibly talented Melbourne craft artist Jellibat, some of whose work you can find on Etsy, and they are a huge part of the game’s appeal.

LMBDO is a great example of a little game which feels like a big experience. It’s also the kind of thing it’s not practical to make and sell for people to run themselves, thanks to the importance and number of the props, and so it can only exist thanks to the support we receive here at Pop Up Playground. We want to make and run more games like it, and fill Fresh Air to bursting point with awesome situations – and you can help! We’re raising money to help make Fresh Air 2015 bigger and better than ever, and we’ll be using that money not only to bring out international designers, but to make and run more games like Little Monsters’ Big Day Out. Check out our Pozible campaign and help us out by pledging some money for one of our cool rewards, or even just spreading the word!

Such exciting news!

We’re thrilled and super happy to announce we have a brand new sponsor- the wonderful guys at Pozible, the Australian crowdfunding platform! We’re so excited to be working with this amazingly friendly and community-minded company.

square-logoLook how lovely they are: Pozible loves supporting local artists who connect the community together so we’re super proud to be a Pop Up Playground sponsor. We can’t wait to see what games and experiences Pop Up Playground have in store for us in the near future!

Thanks so much to all at Pozible!