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Waiting Rooms

by Sarah Cristine Burrola

Photography courtesy of Amanda Willis

Twists, turns, and frustration—these three typical elements of most games came together in a not-so-typical setting in Waiting Rooms, an exhibition at the Museum of Science created by architect Nathalie Pozzi and game designer Eric Zimmerman.

Each room of the museum was transformed into a kind of waiting room in which participants had to ‘play’ according to rules. Shiny new pennies and bright blue raffle tickets were the currency and every room required participants to pay a certain amount attendants as an ‘exit fee’ in order to leave along different routes. If a visitor did not have enough tickets or pennies to exit, they had the option to alert a guard to leave the room without paying, but suffered the consequence of starting right back at the beginning.

Upon receiving a scorecard and one blue ticket, each participant sits in an open area of the front hall of the museum and waits for the last number of their ticket to be called by the attendant. Because the numbering was random, some people would be called right as they sat down, and others waited up to 30 minutes to be able to start walking the exhibit path, drawn on the floor with blue tape that matched the tickets.

Waiting Rooms is described on the Museum of Science website as “explor[ing] themes of bureaucracy, immigration, economic inequality, and the systemization of contemporary life.” In the first area, this was definitely felt—the randomization of ability to enter and the frustration at having to wait for something the visitors thought they had paid for brought to mind the difficult processes many people go through just to access their own government and its services.

One visitor, Barbara Costa, a former Museum of Science employee, felt frustrated at waiting for her ticket number to be called.

“It ended up that I had to wait about 25 minutes and it was driving me nuts,” she said. “I was thinking, ‘should we revolt?’ But nobody wanted to, so I just waited.”

Another interesting ‘waiting room,’ unofficially called the auction room, put visitors’ abilities to compromise and collaborate to the test. In the auction room, where visitors could bid on random, varying amounts of tickets and pay in pennies, people—solo or not—banded together to ensure that everyone was able to move on quickly without getting stuck.

“There’s a strategy to going to more rooms, and it’s not by sticking around and being selfish,” said Anna Rojek, a participant in the game. Her love of board games and playing with other people was what initially brought her to the event.

Another visitor, Jean Ann Ramey, came with other friends but found herself alone in the auction room. She said she learned a lot about the political leanings of the exhibit by having to play some rooms alone.

“Nobody likes to be controlled or slowed down by bureaucracy, and people don’t like uncertainty,” she said. “It’s interesting how those conditions make people behave.”

While most visitors did not get to visit all of the rooms in the expansive exhibit, or acquire all of the ‘perk’ items like maps or special room passes, Waiting Rooms overall was a deeply enthralling and thought-provoking exploration of the collaborative human spirit, and immersed the visitor into a world of bargaining, bureaucracy, confusion and frustration—much like our own does.

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