AmbITion North West Roadshow – Hide and Seek Festival Case Study

This is a live blog of the AmbITion Roadshow North West  event at the NOVAS Contemporary Urban Centre, Liverpool.  If you spot any errors or inaccuracies or would simply like to contribute to the conversation, leave us a comment!

Alex Fleetwood, director of the Hide and Seek Festival now shares about how his career evolved into directing the festival.

Alex started by showing a slide about Social Media Bullsh*t Bingo.   Comical way of getting people to feel comfortable with this underlying ‘over reliance on social media lingo’.

Punch drunk’s last but one play inspired Hide and Seek.   Part warehouse party, part video game.

Suddenly there was this connection between video games and social games.   The genesis of a social gaming construct that combined artists and arts practice, games and game design, people and public space and technology.

The participants – artists like Punch Drunk, Bill Viola, Blast Theory, Janet Cardiff
Technology – PS3, ARG, Facebook, Geocaching, World of Warcraft

Hide and seek straddles between the these two extremes.

First thing 2007 – put on a little festival, supported by the BFI.

Now showing a 7 minute video with highlights. Here’s a very quick overview.

Weekend of pervasive events involving lots of game mechanics.

Transforming games like ‘It’ and Hide Seek and growing them up with technology.

Using the city as a playground.

Games have story lines.  “Getting To The Church On Time” one game that was based around getting a bride to church in time.

Having photos taken with as many people as you can get was one of the objectives.  Winning team got 39 people to take a photo with them!

It’s about playing with people without them realising it.

“We are Interactive Nonsense Facilitators!”  someone said in the video!

Other games:

Hat Scrabble

Making silly words using a letter from Scrabble on each person’s hat.  Picture taken and projected on a screen of groups of people forming words.

Game mechanics introduces rules to games moving them on from relatively simple social games like murder mystery.  This really liberates people.

10 people, different occupations.  Each has a secret, find out gossip, denounce the person they hate the most and bring them down.

Quite a nasty game, have to be a vicious, slandering person to win!

It’s the context they’re in, against the landscape of everyday life that makes the difference.

Have a wonderful experience that is life affirming but allows people to do so in their normal context,  say on the Tube.

Now sits on the Tube and wonders if there’s anyone sitting there playing games with people, doing something very mad cap!

Facts and figures for 2007 event

250 attended.  Amazing positive feedback, lots felt they were doing something new and exciting.
2008 another event: 3000 attendees!

Used Basecamp to organise festivals, allowed people to join and upload ideas.

Hide and Seek is the UK’s largest pervasive games festival.
Two different kinds of games:

Ambient Games: good if you’ve come on your own, about getting involved with an installation.  Meeting people by getting involved with the game.

Pick up and Play Games: good if you’ve come with your friends.   Pick up and play something.  More produced and experiential.

More like a party than a festival.  Lots of switching from one game to another.  Lots of adopting of personas.

2008 saw launch of The Sandpit.  Happens over a weekend.

Currently in London, 3000 players, 200 artists and game creators.

Applies open source ethos of festival and puts it into a network.

Artists create assets and people play!

Encourage involvement in the process at all levels.

Invite people to develop games by taking part in The Sandpit.

There is a Sandpit tonight at the ICA themed around the end of the world.

Game about trying to defraud the world!

For audiences that want to play it’s a positive environment for developing games.

Ludocity – a wiki for commenting about games people have played.  You can also download games to play.

All games licenced with Creative Commons.

Sharing game mechanics integral to the way the community works.

Most of the favourite games combine different games.

Exchange IP in exchange for building individual profiles, getting opportunities to consult, present at conferences etc.

Case Studies

Last Will ‘sponsored by HP’.  What follows is transcribed from the video he showed.

Experience for 2 players.  A physical room and its virtual equivalent.

One person plays online and the other in real life.

Brilliant moment when you understand the language of the rooms.

Project was developed with HP Labs.

HP provided sensors to trigger audio and lights that gives it such a rich atmosphere.

The idea was a theatrical experience via a screen.

Using high resolution 3D renders and packages to provide a rich experience.

Once you latch on to the vocabulary you want more and more of it.

Now have an understanding of the way these different ingredients inter-relate.

Entire experience automated through software and hardware.

Essentially a Punchdrunk show turned into an automated project.

Now looking at a business model around distributing pervasive experiences.

Collaborative experience between two individuals one in the physical space and the other in the virtual place.

Future plans, scale up the numbers.  Eg. 1000 people experiencing the game in both spaces at the same time.

What’s next:

New game being developed at

Commissioned by NESTA.  The entire creative development hosted at, something NESTA were really interested in.

Every stage of the new game being developed by Alex Fleetwood and Holly Gramazio will be playtested and filmmaker Ivo Gormley will be documenting the process.

This allows the community to be involved in the feedback and development of the game.

All the standard digital tools being used to do this: WordPress, Vimeo, Flickr, Twitter etc.

How do you document the process online?

Process blogs can be impenetrable; pages after pages of documentation of the progress.

How they’ll do it:

Twittering about the project.

2/3 videos uploaded about the project a week.

Using WordPress tagging using ‘levels of interestingness’.

Allowing people to set their RSS feeder to different levels!

Systems that create engagement around every level.

Why Play?

“The critical term when analysing the impact of games is not ‘fun’ but ‘engagement’.”
–    Henry Jenkins, Professor of Comparative Media Studies, MIT

It’s a set of experiments based around a cultural product based entirely around game play.

Wikipedia = 100 million hours of thought
US watches 200 billion hours of TV each year.

That’s 2000 Wikipedia projects of cognitive surplus.
–    Clay Shirky ‘Gin, Television and Social Surplus’.

This encapsulates where Hide and Seek is going.

Perhaps will be able to effect social change and ask questions about our culture.

To move on arts organisations have to accept that they cannot rest on the perceived truths about how to engage with their audiences.

From centralised push to engagement.

The value of the live experience will increase as games and movie industries deal with the fallout of a change to digital.

Next: a comfort break!  Back in a few minutes!

To come: AmbITion Case Study by Bill Thompson.


One response to “AmbITion North West Roadshow – Hide and Seek Festival Case Study

  1. This is wicked! See lots of potential for participatory arts activities

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