David Fono of Atmosphere explains the rules for Gentrification, a game you might find at Recess.TO. Photo courtesy of David Fono.
As children, we rarely questioned why we played the games we did. The games were fun or boring and one game might be favoured over another, but the act of play itself was a foregone conclusion. Somehow, as adults, this sense of play has dissipated and been replaced by a focus on productivity. Yet, an emerging body of research suggests play has value, even if the main objective of the game isn’t tethered to those rewards. Now Torontonians looking for a new way to play can turn to Recess.TO, a meetup started this year that presents an updated, adult take on the kind of games played in schoolyards.
“Think back to the creativity and fun of the games you played as kids and what we’re doing is taking what was great about those games and using those properties as a platform to create sophisticated new experiences,” says David Fono, one of the co-founders of a Toronto-based non-profit called Atmosphere Industries that organizes the event. “We play any game that isn’t a video or board game—we’re pretty broad. There are a lot of outdoor games, especially since we got started in the summer. It’s mainly experimental games in experimental spaces.”
Atmosphere is best known for the award-winning game Gentrification, a take on Monopoly played in actual neighbourhoods, and the game has been shown and played at festivals in cities across several continents. The idea for Recess.TO came out of Atmosphere’s experience travelling for the game: “We were going to festivals in other cities run by similar groups and they were doing some amazing things,” says Fono. “It was spreading—there are always new groups popping up—so we wanted to get Toronto on the list.”
Players will get to try Tiny Urban Game from Germany at Saturday’s Recess.TO. Photo by Invisible Playground.
Fono believes Recess.TO marks a new path for games in Toronto. “Games are very popular in Toronto, but we’re still on a traditional definition of what games can be, like video games and board games. The world of games has branched out and mingled with other art, media, and culture worlds. In other cities people have realized that games can be something much broader, but that’s just starting to happen in Toronto.”
A previous Recess.TO showcased a game created by Fono where participants chased each other in a safari-like game, capturing photos of one another on cellphones and uploading them to Twitter. [Disclosure: I’ve had a game workshopped at Recess.TO, and Fono has also spoken at Gamercamp, a festival I co-founded.] Events like Recess.TO help us question the use of space and how games can be played in non-traditional locations, such as bars, streets, and parking garages. The intersection of technology and games stands out as a particular interest of Fono’s—he’s fascinated by the ubiquitous computing that surrounds us—and a direction he believes games for adults can explore. “There’s a lot of technology that has been developed and deployed in the world for all kinds of things—and not necessarily computer technology—and how to use those for games is interesting,” he says.
The next edition of Recess.TO, happening this Saturday, will consist of games Fono played while in Berlin for the You Are Go festival, playfully examining concepts of identity, globalization, and language. Previous events have drawn reactions from unsuspecting passersby, often with a smirk, sometimes with a curious inquiry, and a few have even joined in. One outcome is bringing back contact and interaction between strangers on the streets of a city, looking to take a reprieve from the everyday. “You get to run around and have that visceral joy,” explains Fono, “but you also get an interesting look at the city around you.”