Bright Lights, Big Games

Students develop interactive games for the ultimate playground: Times Square

While a must-see destination for tourists, its flashing bright lights, cacophony of traffic, and crowded sidewalks are enough to keep most New Yorkers far away from Times Square. However, a group of students from NYU MAGNET (Media and Games Network), in collaboration with Times Square Arts, drew natives and visitors alike to the heart of the hubbub with a series of enticing games.

Set in the Broadway Plazas from July 14-16, PlayTimesSquared was a festival of physical and social games created by students who took a special course aptly named “Creating Games for Times Square.” Students developed around 30 game iterations during the course. The final eight games selected for implementation fulfilled a number of requirements set forth by the Times Square Alliance.

The unique setting of the games presented the students with unusual challenges. “We had to craft something that fits in a very specific location. We had to make something that catered to a huge crowd and drew people in, all within a limited space,” said Jesse Johnson, an Integrated Digital Media (IDM) graduate student. Students had to make sure they would be able to engage the public — a group largely comprised of people speaking a variety of languages. The games thus had to be both easy to understand and inviting in order to get strangers to play with each other in one of the busiest places on earth. 

Visitors enjoying the "Symphonic Picnic" game developed by NYU students.

Visitors enjoying the "Symphonic Picnic" game Photo credit: Justin Bettman for @TSqArts

The students aimed to keep the games as simple as possible while still making them fun and meaningful. For most groups, this meant using nonverbal communication forms. Sumanth Srinivasan, an electrical engineering graduate student, described the Symphonic Picnic game, in which players sit in an artificial picnic environment and manipulate interactive music-playing mushrooms. “Some of the games are very physical and some of them are more passive and abstract. Despite the abstraction, it is more visual, you get to communicate and make your own game out of it,” Srinivasan said.
The creative engineering required to produce this public art project was a unique experience. IDM graduate student Mattie Brice said, “We have definitely learned a lot of lessons about what attracts people, what the mindset of someone who is walking through Times Square is, and what people actually want to do in Times Square as opposed to anywhere else. It has been an interesting journey using our studies to figure out how to integrate technology or games into that.”

Jesse Johnson, IDM graduate student (left) and Katalina Park (Class of 2016)

Jesse Johnson, IDM graduate student (left) and Katalina Park (Class of 2016) demonstrate a real-life version of "Pong"

Annaluz Cabrera
Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development
B.S. in Media Culture and Communications, Class of 2018