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Great Glowstick Games: Human Pac-Man

An important thing to remember when running games is to work with what you’ve got. Use the unique characteristics of the environment you’re in.

For a few years, the Beijing Expat Youth camps were held at a conference centre in the far south of Beijing. The grounds of the centre had all sorts of odd fields. The most unusual feature was an abandoned maze. It was originally a water maze – cement walls enclosed waterways which little boats paddled along. Higher walls formed the maze, and trees grew all through. By the time we came along, there was no water – just a few half-rotten boats and a lot of leaf litter lying in the bottom of a cement maze. It was dingy and not a little dangerous. So, of course, we used it for night games!

The most famous game we ever ran in the abandoned maze was Human Pac-Man. We created it for our second camp there, with the maze in mind.

Human Pac-Man
4 teams
4 garbage bins
15 large balls
30 medium size balls
200+ little balls (we used pingpong balls)
8 sheets

The kids got a few glowsticks each to light themselves up with. When we arrived at the maze, they were divided into their teams, each of them gathering in a different corner of the maze. In each team’s corner was a plastic garbage bin, which they would use to collect their points.

When the whistle blew to start the game, the kids left their corners in search of balls – the bigger the ball, the more points it was worth. They were human pac-men, in search of delicious dots. Once they deposited the balls in their team garbage bin, they were “safe”. At the conclusion of the game, the contents of the bins were counted and the team with the most points won.

Of course, pac-man has a nemesis: the ghosts! 8 leaders were sent around the maze, each draped in a sheet of some kind. When caught by a ghost, kids had to drop any balls they’d collected and follow the ghost to the “prison” in a large open space at the centre of the maze. Kids were free to collect balls in any section of the maze, not just near their home base, but the farther they roamed, the higher the risk of getting caught.

The prison was run like many we’ve run before and since – kids were required to do all sorts of random things to get free and return to the action. Sometimes they had to sing silly songs, or do silly dances, or perhaps provide profuse flattery to the leader in charge!

And there you have it – a very simple game. Easy to set up, easy to teach, easy to run. No bizarre rules to explain (or get confused), no weird supplies to locate. Running it as a night game meant the balls weren’t too simple too find, and made the ghosts more ghostly.

So why was this game so popular? Why is it still remembered so fondly, 5 years after the fact?

I think there are two main reasons.

1) It captured imaginations

Most people have played the computer game Pac Man. It was easy to relate the simple elements of the game we were playing to the computer game they remembered – making the whole thing seem much more sophisticated than it actually was. We weren’t running around collecting balls and avoiding leaders – we were in a computer eating dots and fleeing from ghosts!

2) Location, location, location

This game only worked because we were running around an old maze. Without those walls, the idea of being in the computer game falls apart. By creating a game that worked with the unique location available to us, we were able to make the game more than a game. It was a special game, one that is forever associated in all our minds with that location.

So why tell you this? I assume it’s unlikely you’ll be running night games in your own abandoned maze any time soon. If you do have access to a maze for night games, keep Human Pac-Man in mind! For the rest of you, though, consider those two points when preparing games for your own events.

Capture Imaginations – instead of running complex games, use simple games with easily understood rules, and make them interesting with a great story.

Location – make the most of the location you have. Choose, or create, games that engage with the environment they’re played in.

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Posted by on April 8, 2011 in Games

 

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Great Glowstick Games: Building a fire

“Building a Fire” is a game that Joe Jackson, Matt Banker and I cooked up for the Beijing Fall Youth Camp 2010. We were using a Wilderness Survivor theme, and so we created games that would fit that. (We’ll probably write about some of the other games we did in another post – there were some good ones!)

The main reason I chose this for one of our first games posts is that a few months later, Christina and I used it for the Cross Culture 2011 retreat in Cambodia. It was a very different group in a very different location; we adapted it heavily and it worked wonderfully. I love games that are flexible and therefore easy to adapt! Flexibility is important for those of us running games in random places – the traditional models don’t always work, so we change games to fit us.

Building a Fire – original Beijing version

What we started with:

Four teams (total 100 people)
1,000 small red glowsticks
400 small yellow glowsticks
200 small blue glowsticks
Several hundred small green glowsticks for marking
Several large red glowsticks for marking (and some small red ones)
Several large blue glowsticks for “obstacles”

Object of the game

Build enough fires to keep your team warm (and alive). Instead of awarding points for games over the weekend, teams were fighting to survive! Each complete “fire” would keep 5 team members “alive” so teams of 25 people needed to make 5 fires. These “fires” are made by collecting enough of the right glowsticks in the right combination. Each team was required to calculate the number of fires they needed, then collect the right amount of glowsticks and return them to home base before the end of the allotted time.

Adaptation: set the colour/number combinations according to the amount of glowsticks you have available. For our purposes, each complete fire required 10 blue, 20 yellow, and 50 red glowsticks. To fit the narrative, we called the blue “matches”, the yellow “kindling” and the red “logs” – or something like that ;)

Obstacles

Of course, no good game is complete without challenges to overcome. We assigned some leaders to be “Wind” and “Wild Animals” (lions and tigers and bears, oh my!); they were distinguished by holding large glowsticks.  If a kid was tagged by a “Wind” leader they were required to hand over any glowsticks they were carrying; the glowsticks were then redistributed by the leaders (so they could be collected again). “Redistributing” generally meant “randomly tossed over there somewhere”.

If a kid was tagged by a Lion, Tiger or Bear, not only were their glowsticks stolen, but they were mauled. Badly maimed, these kids were required to sit on the ground and not move (they could yell but that was all) until they were carried back to home base (dragged or piggyback or carried by four limbs – anything they came up with) at which point they were magically revived. Every “mauled” kid left out in the field at the end of the game was a life counted against the team’s total.

Setting up the field

The “field” was a wide area full of trees, walls, and low-ropes equipment. There were hills, piles of dead leaves, and random bits of metal. In short, it was rather a mess.

The green marker glowsticks were used to do several things:

  • to mark the trail into the game area (since the kids were making their way out there at night)
  • make the home bases (green circles near four corners of the playing area)
  • mark the boundaries of the play area (where there was no fence)
  • warn of any dangerous areas (i.e. KEEP OFF THE BROKEN METAL THINGS)

That last point is very important for night games – kids who are running around in the dark will often not see danger til it’s too late to avoid. Using a set apart glowstick colour to mark danger helps a lot!

A mix of small and large red glowsticks were used to mark a “safe zone” in the middle of the play areas where the first aid officer and some other available leaders remained throughout the game. When kids had any sort of problem (sprained ankle, clarification of rules) they could find someone to help.

The play glowsticks (blue, yellow and red) were distributed even-ish-ly throughout the playing area. (Some strategy was discussion and used – such as putting certain colours primarily in certain areas, so each team would have to travel away from home base to find them).

Game Play

All game rules were explained to the teams in the indoor meeting room. Kids were released to get cold-weather gear and met out at the playing field, where leaders were available to direct them to the home bases. After 5-10 minutes to strategise, the game was started with a siren. We gave them about 20 minutes to run around collecting, losing and re-collecting glowsticks. A 5 minute warning siren was given, and then a long final siren. (Having a loud, recognisable noise for marking time in night games helps a lot, especially when the group is spread out over a large area).

It sounds simple enough, but it really worked as a game! I was impressed by how it drew in the high school girls in my cabin. One or two were a bit sick, and others just didn’t want to play the game. I convinced them to at least come out and see the glowsticks (the lit up game field is always one of the best sights of camp) and said they could go back to the cabin soon after that. Once the game started, however, they got so involved they never asked to go back to the cabin – they engaged with the game and played the whole time. One big advantage of this game was that there were several different roles – kids could play the game the way they wanted.

  • Strategy – coming up with a way to play the game and instructing others
  • Glowstick collectors – running far away to get what was needed
  • Medics – going out and finding mauled kids then bringing them home
  • Counters – counting up the glowsticks brought home, working out what was still needed, and communicating this to the collectors

Cambodia Adaptation

When we played this at the Cross Culture retreat, we came up with a lot of major adaptations. The game still worked brilliantly.

We started with:

9 kids
4 leaders
20 blue glowsticks
5 pink/red glowsticks
30 yellow/green glowsticks

The kids played as a single team trying to beat the game. Each fire saved three people, and consisted of 5 blue, 7 red/pink and 10 yellow/green glowsticks. Several blue glowsticks were used to mark the “obstacle” leaders. There was one Wind leader and one Rabid Camel* leader patrolling the game field. The biggest change was omitting the home base. Mauled kids were not revived by being brought to base, but by having three team members come to them at the same time. Glowsticks were also not safe until a complete fire was presented to the “safe” leader. The kids were hiding glowsticks under jackets, in their pockets – anywhere they could find!  The play area included a swimming pool and a bunch of glowsticks ended in there (along with several fully clothed kids and leaders). It was mass chaos and thoroughly enjoyable!

*an in joke that was woven through the entire weekend!

I think “Building a fire” is a great glowstick game because it is so flexible! You could even re-story it to fit a different themed camp – have them building something different – not a fire but… <constructing a building/foundation><weaving a carpet><harvesting crops>. Sky’s the limit!

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2011 in Games

 

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