Game the real world with this deck of social interaction mission cards

See sample pages from this book at Wink.

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It is perhaps a sad testament to our disembodied lives that we need a deck of cards to coax us into interacting with strangers in meatspace, but that's exactly what Sneaky Cards: Play It Forward are designed to do. And they make their game of social interaction and random acts of kindness surprisingly fun.

Sneaky Cards began life in 2009 as a winning submission, by a 16-year-old kid, to a contest held by Boing Boing and the Institute for the Future. The game became a free online download. You printed and cut out your cards, then played them in the real world. The creator, Harry Lee, described the game as being about "creating fun and creative social interactions," and for "breaking up the tedium of everyday life."

This current commercial version, from the wonderful folks at Gamewright, sports all new card designs, new card "missions," unique card-tracking numbers, and a website where you can register your cards and find out what becomes of them as they circulate. This "Play It Forward" version was designed by Cody Borst, with the blessing of Harry Lee.

The Play It Forward deck consists of 53 cards divided up into six different mission categories: Engage (tests of audacity), Connect (finding people and things), Grow (self-challenges and learning experiences), Surprise (hide things for discovery), Care (do-gooder tasks), and Create (socially shared art challenges). The cards come in a handsome and sturdy flip box with a magnetic catch. Each card has a unique ID. As does each deck. You register the deck and then each of the cards that you wish to play. When you play a registered card, say "Give this card to someone without them knowing it," by sticking it in your friend Peter's jacket pocket, when he discovers it, he can go to the address on the card, enter the number, and see where the card came from. And if he wants, he can be alerted (along with me and anyone else who registers the tracking code) when the card travels to a new owner.

It's really surprisingly exciting when one of the cards gets "played." You get an email alert and you can see its location and travel path on the card's unique webpage. I left "Hide this card where it can be found" in the creases of a newspaper box at 39th and Prince in Flushing, NY and one in the drawer of my hotel room in Flushing. I'm going to be particularly tickled if these two cards ever end up back on my Sneaky radar.

I really like this concept a lot and have already had some great interactions with the deck. For instance, I gave the smile card seen above to Nick Normal of Maker Media while we were on the dance floor of the World Maker Faire wrap party in NY. He passed it on to someone else that night and it's currently recovering from all of the excitement in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Hopefully the great smile exchange will begin again soon.

The one thing I don't like about the game is that (currently) the website only tracks card location. It would be great if there was a way of attaching photos and sharing anecdotes about each of the tracked cards. I tracked Where's George? dollar bills years ago, and it was so much fun to read about the bills that I found, not just see their circulation route.

This was one of those rare products where, as soon as I started interacting with it, I began to think of so many other people, especially creative and courageous teens, who might really be inspired by this deck. I've already begun buying copies for them. If you know a creative teen who might need just a tiny nudge outside of his or her social comfort zone, or a precocious teen in need of outlets for their rambunctious energy, play it forward and get them this deck.

Sneaky Cards: Play it Forward

by Indie Boards and Cards

Ages 10 and up, 1-5,000,000,000 players, 55 cards