Monday, 23 September 2013

Project Funway: London, Ontario's Project Play

Copyright Project Play

This is the first of two posts on the second annual edition of Project Play, billed as "southwestern Ontario's biggest hands-on play event." While this post will be more about my personal experience at the event, the follow-up will be a more critical engagement with the event and its potential in general.

I've been eagerly waiting for Project Play since I missed out on it last year. The event aims to combine geek-friendly vendors and organizations and play opportunities ranging from cosplay contests to tabletop demos, to board games, video games and a small sea of MegaBloks. Part of the event's appeal is that on top of being so play-focused, it also raises money to donate games to organizations that help children and families. Last year, they raised over $5000 for gaming bundles donated to local organizations Merrymount Family Support Crisis Centre, Women's Community House and Women's Rural Resource Centre Strathroy and Area. Both as a play enthusiast and a game studies nerd, I was committed to making it this year, come hell or Titans.

Overall, I had a wonderful experience at this year's Project Play. Volunteers and exhibitors were friendly and the range of activities was both impressive and heart-warming to watch. I also came home with a sweet bag full of loot, mostly posters, and a mitt-ful of cards from geek-oriented vendors. The urge to splurge was a big part of my attendance - my brother and I went in looking mostly to observe and shop for decorations for our apartment. Both being a bit shy, we were interested in but a bit circumspect of the group play opportunities, so I can't speak to the experience of the event by folks more inclined to jump in without being invited / coaxed.

While I came home full of geek love and I thank the organizers and volunteers for putting on a great event, I do have three suggestions for next year. These suggestions mostly run on volunteers and organization and I fully intend to volunteer next year. Contact Project Play to do so yourself.

Previous to the event, announcements of cosplay contests and King of Tokyo tournaments were exciting, but the lack of a publicly posted schedule was frustrating. While I recognize the difficulty of organizing events like this, having a schedule to reference would help next year's attendees plan their day at the event.While posting prior to the event would be ideal, even a day-of schedule posted at the welcoming tables would be very helpful.

Another resource for attendees would be additional support navigating the campus. While the map on the event's web site was clear, the signage on the campus led us to park far from the right building. My ankle is still healing from being sprained, so the walk to and the wrong turn-induced journey through the wastes of Fanshawe's parking lots from the event led to a slight re-injury I'm nursing today. Next year, the event could use volunteers at the main entry to campus, directing attendees to the right parking lot so anyone with energy or mobility issues didn't re-enact the Journey to the West  Oxford street that we did. Additional signage including maps for those leaving the event would also be helpful.

A final suggestion for next year's event would be that play events consistently have signage or volunteers stationed there to inform and, let's be frank, coax attendees as needed. I suspect that no few of the attendees are as socially gun-shy as myself and having a friendly face to say, "Hey, this is the board game area. Are you looking to try a game or for more players to join one?" would make a big difference. Had there been more attendee outreach, I think Matt and I would have tried a turn at D&D or a board game, but instead, we mostly observed.

These observations were, though, possibly the best part of Project Play for Matt and me. We saw attendees and exhibitors in costume - many Finn hats were in evidence - we saw fruitful, relaxed interaction between people coming together to play. The event was colourful and welcoming and both of us felt very much among our geeky kind. Simply attending was really the biggest treat of the day and  we both look forward to next year.

If you think you'd like to join in next year, contact Project Play by their website, Facebook profile, or Twitter. Tell them how much you love play (and large, clear maps).

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