“How much does it cost to play?”
“We can just take the games?”
This was a typical sequence of questions posed to me when I was a Games Host last summer. My response was always the same, “It is free to play. If you see a game you like, just sit at a table and play.”
These questions had an incredulous undertone that seemed to say, “This seems too good to be true. What’s the catch?” I felt proud to be a part of something that had no catch, that provided people with a comfortable place to sit, play games, and enjoy each other’s company with no expectation of anything in return. But in fact, the visitors did give something in return: rewarding companionship.
|This archive photo shows Michael hard at work at the Games area.|
There was Sam, the Boggler. Sam had long gray hair, wore purple-tinted sunglasses, and was a free-theater buff. Walking through the park on her way to a show, Sam stopped by the Games Cart out of curiosity. She asked about how the area worked, if we had events, etc. Finally she asked if I had a favorite game. Easy: “Scrabble.” That piqued her interest. She liked Boggle and asked if I wanted to play. As much as I didn’t want to admit it since I was the Game Host, I didn’t know how to play Boggle. “Well, I’ll teach you,” she said. From that point on, Sam and I played Boggle on a near weekly basis. She was very good and I was…improving. We developed our own set of unspoken norms and etiquette the more we played. One person shakes, the other starts the timer. Person with the shorter list reads first. Our game sessions lasted for as much time she had before a show started, which could be anywhere from fifteen minutes to an hour. As summer rolled on I looked forward to Sam’s visits to the Games Area and the companionship they would bring. She made me feel connected to the people in Games Area.
Then there were Niko and Gino. Old friends, the two had a competitive but friendly relationship. They came to the Games Area, found a checkers board and got down to business. They were animated, lively, and attention grabbing. I had to watch. I needed to know who would win this game, who might win the next. They were voracious in their games appetite, and quickly expanded from checkers. Once one game had been played enough, the next one was grabbed off the cart. Eventually, the pair stood near the cart searching but not choosing. I had just the game they needed: Pentago, a Swedish five-in-a-row game with a twist. It was simple to learn yet challenging to master. They loved it. But they needed to learn the rules together. So I taught them. And they folded me into their rivalry. Any night they showed up, they grabbed Pentago, turned to me, and gestured for me to have a seat at their table. It was a gesture of inclusion. I wasn’t just an employee in a park. I was a rival, a friend.
I suspect that each Games Host met their “Sam” or their “Niko and Gino” this past summer. They could add more stories to this account supporting what is likely a little known fact about being a Games Host in Bryant Park: we enjoy the company.
Bryant Park Games
Daily, 11am - 6pm