“Play” is the theme of this year’s Spirit & Place Festival, which runs Nov. 2—11, and GAMEspot, one element of the festival, is already available to anyone passing through downtown Indy and select neighborhoods. Over 80 large red and yellow sidewalk decals detail games you can play with friends or passerby—if you dare.
The games were developed by the creative team of artists and performers at Know No Stranger, and are located on Monument Circle, Georgia Street, Massachusetts Avenue, and Indiana Avenue, along the Canal Walk and Cultural Trail, and in the Wholesale District, Broad Ripple, Fountain Square, and a few other downtown locations.
Some of the games involve physical feats, while others require that you recruit strangers to win. Some are site-specific, so you have to interact with the landscape or streetscape to play.
The Indiana War Memorial is a great site for word games like “Monumental Boggle,” where you have three minutes to come up with the longest word you can, using any of the letters from the words on the memorial. In “Pied Piper,” two people walk in opposite directions around the monument, collecting people for their team as they go. When they meet on the other side, the walker with the most new friends wins.
Near Yats on Mass Ave, “Born in a Barn” players predict how many people won’t close the restaurant’s door behind them in a five-minute period. “Stair Stepper,” on Georgia Street, requires a different gamble: on which floor of the Circle Centre Mall parking lot will the next climber stop?
Some games require a physical abandon reminiscent of childhood, like the “Rolling Race” along the Canal Walk. Once you’ve rolled down the small hill, you finish by standing on one foot, and the player who can maintain her balance the longest wins. This seems likely to be more popular than “Sock Swap” in Fountain Square. It’s exactly what it sounds like, and it’s hard to imagine friends, much less strangers, getting excited about the exchange.
My favorite games were those that seemed like plausible activities on any given day after a couple of beers. “Phone Booth” asks how many people you can fit on one GAMEspot decal. “Flash Dance” requires you to dance along when you hear music from passing cars. And in “Shoe Put,” you loosen one shoe, stand on the edge of a green lawn along the Canal, and kick your leg to fling your shoe as far as you can. The longest throw wins.
“This is 'Shoe Put,’” said one woman to her companion, nodding at the decal as she strolled along. She may have been seeing it for the first time and simply reading it aloud, but I like to imagine her practicing every day.
It’s clear, however, that play doesn’t come naturally to many of us in the course of our daily rhythms. Nearly everyone I saw at GAMEspot locations was in a hurry or engaged with someone or something else, generally ignoring the decals with the exception of a couple of curious readers.
There are also a few hiccups along the way, like a skeeball-style coin toss in a stair-step fountain that isn’t running, and therefore will reward the strong throw rather than the strategic one. (For that matter, will city workers be enthusiastic about the number of games requiring coins in fountains?)
In addition, the decals are bright and obvious if you are walking directly past them, but if you want to try several games, I highly recommend you bookmark the excellent Google map on the GAMEspot web page in your smart phone. It provides very specific location details for the avid game hunter. Now get out there and play.