Last week, a group of 20 or so strangers gathered in the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Foyer at Grand Central Terminal. They were remarkably prompt as their reservation confirmations had made it clear that on-time arrival was mandatory. There was a nervous excitement in the room and at least a few cases of stomach butterflies. Just after 2pm, the ‘tour guides’ welcomed everyone and explained what they were about to do.
They were there for a mysterious something that would amount to part sightseeing tour, part childhood field-game, a dash of covert special ops, and a healthy serving of playful group bonding. More clearly stated: they were about to play a secret game of capture-the-flag in the middle of Grand Central. No running, no quick movements, no yelling, no running, no running, and no running. Inconspicuous was literally the name of the game.
About a year ago, while wandering through The Metropolitan Museum of Art, my wife and I started making up a game. It was a modified form of ‘Hide & Seek’ but the ‘hider’ had to stay within sight of the ‘seeker’ at all times. That meant we were mostly hiding in plain sight but trying to blend into groups of people. We went to the rooftop overlooking Central Park for a cocktail and continued playing. The increased density of the crowd made the game incredibly fun. From behind a couple (who seemed to be on a first date), I watched my wife scanning the faces in the crowd. As she hunted for me, I’d casually stroll around the couple trying to keep them between myself and my wife. It was awkward and exhilarating. I was basically just at a bar but I felt like a kid at camp, my body was pulsing with excitement.
On my birthday, a couple months later, a group of friends met to play “Inconspicuous Capture-the-Flag” in the magnificent Temple of Dendur room at The Met. We chose this game instead of hide & seek because we’d decided it would keep every player more consistently active and involved. The experience was amazing! You’d weave through a crowd of tourists carrying the flag (a gallery map). Steps behind you, an opponent was gaining ground but neither of you could run, you had to walk. You had to stay inconspicuous. Nobody could know we were playing.
The room was filled with tourists and under the careful watch of security guards but none of them had any clue there was an intense game of capture-the-flag happening directly in front of them. The only thing that identified a player was a small red or blue jewel placed next to their eye. The event was so fun that we decided to start doing it regularly. We named it “Inconspicuous Games” and built a website.
We’ve held Inconspicuous Games at The Metropolitan Museum, Grand Central Terminal, the Staten Island Ferry, the New York Public Library, and Oculus (Grand Central was our first repeat location). Last week was our sixth public game and despite being mostly strangers, by the end we were a tight knit group of friends. This happens every time and it is beautiful how play and creativity can bring people together. It shouldn’t be a surprise that games inspire such deep bonding. If it works for kids, why wouldn’t it work for adults?
What is incredible though, is how the added element of secrecy levels the playing field for everyone because speed and strength cannot win the game. Instead, a team must develop strategy and practice impressive restraint. Competitive players can ruin the fun for everyone while wins often require someone to sacrifice. If you have to lunge to make that ‘tag’ then you probably shouldn’t do it. Just let them go, we’re all in this together. The real objective is not to avoid getting ‘caught’ by the other team, it’s to avoid getting ‘caught’ by the public!
“[Inconspicuous Games] is two hours packed full of adrenaline rushes, without even breaking a sweat.” Said one recent player named Katya, “It’s all about working creatively with your team, thinking outside the box, to have an effective strategy. Without fail, the most creative (and often hilarious) strategies always win.”
Inconspicuous Games started as a fun and playful idea that brought my wife and me closer together. What evolved from that evening on the roof at the Met, is a tool that miraculously binds strangers and builds teams. We’ve seen this again and again. It’s nothing advanced or revolutionary, in fact, it’s a bit childish: it’s simple play.
Hit the heart below to recommend this story. To reserve your spot at our next public Inconspicuous Games or get information about upcoming dates, visit inconspicuousgames.com. Or, to organize a private outing for your group, office, or clients, go to inconspicuousgames.com/teams.