Playing games with the Police

On 25th November William Perrin and I were lucky enough to attend a Social Media Workshop at the West Midlands Police Headquarters  in Birmingham, which bought together the likes of talk about local, Podnosh and MyPolice with a small group of people from police forces across the UK to catch up and to discuss the way forward for the police in using social media, following their Policing 2.0 conference in October.

West Midlands Police providing the space and encouragement to talk about the seemingly endless possibilities was a fantastic  opportunity and, as Nick Booth has said, indicative of their open-minded approach:

They have been ahead of many forces with early use of podcasting in the form of Plodcast,  getting officers using  Facebook, widespread use of Youtube and Twitter. More importantly they are impatient to learn and, I think, willing to accept mistakes along the way.

Before the workshop, William told me the police were keen to hear new ideas and suggested I think up some games for them to play with the public, which got me thinking.  Game-playing with the police could be great fun and very easy to create – you have a ready-made team of easily identifiable people in uniform walking around a set, public neighbourhood area.   It could also do a lot to break down barriers between members of the public and the police by creating space for a more fun, informal relationship.

I liked the idea, so I visited the Wiki site Ludocity for inspiration – a collection of pervasive games, street games and new sports under creative commons licenses, which means they can be taken and twisted to play in whatever way one wants.  Looking through the games, I found a couple that could use simple tools like camera phones that many (especially young people) have access to, to playfully reverse the traditional roles and turn the police into the watched and the chased – this was becoming interesting.

The mischievous streak in me was instantly attracted to Glom ‘a game which uses video cameras to explore the way people relate to each other through looking’.  I nervously explained the guidelines to the Police:

The objective of Glom is to capture as much candid footage of the other participants as possible whilst avoiding being filmed yourself…Once entered into the agreement of Glom participants are subject to being filmed at any time, in any place, engaged in any activity.

They thankfully took it very well, letting me carry on to talk about another photography game, Lumenatio:

The rules are simple. You have to hunt as many other players as possible and not let them shoot you. Your weapon is your digital camera and your allies are perceptiveness, dexterity, intelligence and urban corners…players should be given a swimming cap, that they have to wear during the hunt in a way that the number written on it is visible on the back of their head.

Each swimming hat is marked with a different number, which is the unique individual player number. For the period of the game this number becomes player’s name and the other numbers are their targets. During the game you have to hunt as many of them as possible.

I’ve actually played  Lumenatio before, as ‘Hat Snap’ with BARG in Birmingham city centre.  Trying to photograph the back of people’s heads without letting others snap yours is difficult, and resulted in us all running awkwardly around with our backs against walls, which drew some strange looks from passers-by.

Image by Purple Heather

Image by Purple Heather

When I was reminded of this game it occurred me that the Police already wear ‘unique individual player numbers’ – in the shape of collar numbers on their epaulettes.  Members of the public could capture these on their cameras or camera-phones and hopefully, by getting that close, actually talk to the Officers they snapped.  They could post their pictures online, possibly with the police responding with details about those officers, humanising them a bit more to players and website readers alike.

When one Officer voiced understandable concerns about the game another hit the nail right on the head by saying, “Yes, I’d wonder and ask, ‘Why are you taking my photograph?’  But then I’ve started a conversation.”  I was very pleasantly surprised by how open the group were to what I knew might be slightly risque ideas.  I was even more delighted to find out it got some present thinking and creating games of their own.  Last Saturday morning PC 9 Ed Rogerson from Harrogate (@hotelalpha9 on Twitter) invited the public to play:

I’m on foot patrol in Harrogate town centre. First person to say hello to me (and mention twitter) gets a prize.

Lee Shaw won, and got a fluffy hedgehog toy as a prize.  PC 9 Ed Rogerson promises there’s ‘more to come – probably involving Twitpic’.  I certainly hope so.  These games could be a great way for the Police to engage the public in lighthearted and unusual ways and, as PC 9 Ed Rogerson has proved, can engineer real-life meetings and conversations with the people they serve.