Principles, values, purpose

I’ve been self-employed since 2008, and that has been tied to a more or less permanent condition of confusion. I embrace that confusion, as the world is generally a confusing place, and I try to make the most of it by constantly asking questions:

What am I doing, why and where should I go from here?

I simply want to contribute to a society and a world, that is a little bit better with a little more openness, respect, empathy, diversity, understanding, sense of community and playfulness (quick note: I think playfulness holds value in and of itself, but also as an approach to meaningful changes).

I realise that this is way too big, idealistic, ambitious, naive and down-right impossible. Even so, anything less feels like it’s not enough. I know that I can’t change more than the smallest things, even if I spend my entire life on this path. I do, however, believe this is all any of us can hope to do. Small changes through an endless number of small steps:

I think change happens, step-by-step, little step by little step, as people do things differently. That’s the only way it makes sense. People on the ground start to do things a bit differently, and start to expect things to happen a bit differently, and then this gets absorbed into the more macro-level context of how people in government, or visible in the media, do things, and what they expect things to be like – David Gauntlett

I consider education one of the key areas in changing the world, as we need to educate humans who are themselves empowered to become catalysts of change – in their own lives and the world at large. This doesn’t mean that I’m just interested in education. On the contrary, I’m interested in most things, that influence our lives.

One way of reducing my day-to-day confusion is by working with a set of guiding principles or values, that I try to embed in all my work. The list is not exhaustive and it’s constantly being renegotiated:

Respect
Empathy
Tolerance
Creativity
Empowerment
Distributed ownership
Transparency
Collaboration

I believe few concepts capture these values better than the notion of global citizenship:

The world faces global challenges, which require global solutions. These interconnected global challenges call for far-reaching changes in how we think and act for the dignity of fellow human beings. It is not enough for education to produce individuals who can read, write and count. Education must be transformative and bring shared values to life. It must cultivate an active care for the world and for those with whom we share it – The United Nations Secretary-General’s Global Education First Initiative

I think the world and the structures we have created are highly malleable, and that we can change it through a series of more or less controlled experiments. My approach is thus to design and carry out small and big experiments, that I think support my guiding principles (the festival CounterPlay is one such experiment).

None of this is fully thought through, and I’d love input. As with anything I do, I prefer to share ideas, while they are still being formed in my head, negotiating meaning with people around me, online and offline (yes, the latter does happen from time to time).

My personal agenda

Even if you accept the above, you might ask: what’s in it for you? What’s my personal gain? I often meet people, who don’t really understand why I’m involved in this or that initiative, and a slight confusion about my agenda is not uncommon. I fully understand this, and as I wrote in the beginning, I’m confused myself.

While I’m confused about many things, my motivation is quite clear to me, however. This whole time, I’ve had two overlapping reasons for doing what I do:

First off, I want to be part of making meaningful changes in the world based on the principles outlined above. I rarely initiate or engage in projects, where I don’t see the opportunity to support at least some of my core values.

Secondly, and closely related, I want to do things that make sense to me. I want to play and be playful, to have fun, to embark on adventures, to smile and to jump with joy, but also to be challenged, to feel like giving up and to scream in frustration. Combine the theories of flow and self-determination theory, and you’ll have at least part of the explanation.

Immer ein Abenteuer” as an old man in Germany once told me.

I basically want a good reason to get out of bed every morning and go to bed with a smile on my face – I’m a simple person that way.

None of this has to do with money. I honestly don’t care about money. Money is no goal, and if I could, I would never talk about money again in my life. I’m not that naive, and I know and accept that I must make some money to keep on working like this. I need money to support myself and the projects I find important. I’m fine with that. I currently consider turning all my activities into non-profits to remove the focus on profit (or reduce it as much as possible). Also, If I cared about becoming rich, I would probably not have spent 7 years being a self-employed grassroot activist in domains, where money are scarce.

I also don’t care about a career as such, progressing through a series of more or less predetermined stages. I’m not here for raises, fancy titles or lots of employees/subordinates. I do love, however, to feel that people appreciate what I do. I definitely like the recognition.

My strategy (business model, if you like) is to create opportunities for and with people, and, by doing that, to create opportunities for myself in the process. I try to never do anything for my own sake, but I also always do things to that will allow me to do more things I like doing. If I can do that for the rest of my life, I wouldn’t wish for anything more.

I imagine that the clearer I can make these considerations to anybody I interact with professionally, the easier my life will be and the further I can come on this endeavour of mine.

If I could make one wish, it would be this: I hope nobody would ever suspect that I’m in this game for any other reasons than the ones stated above.

I’m not and I will always work against hidden agendas, as I don’t find them conducive to positive changes. Agendas are fine, we all have them, but why keep them hidden?

Anything is possible

I’m stubbornly idealistic with a pinch of naivety. Surprisingly enough (at least to me), the older I get, the more I insist on pushing this to the forefront. When I was younger, I would tend to hide it away in some misguided attempt to be as society seemingly wanted me to: realistic, conscientious, ruly.

Sit still, do as you’re told, don’t make any trouble. That kinda stuff (I was never good at it, but I tried).

While I still have my lapses, I’m learning to stay confident in my belief that it’s important to be idealistic, to be naive, to dream of a better world and to pursue that dream.

I genuinely believe that anything is possible, but I need to occassionally remind myself:

Whenever you want to change things anywhere in society, you’ll get the feeling that it can’t be done, that things are set in stone.

Don’t believe that.

While it will take a lot of work over long periods of time, it is possible.

Say you want to change the world:

In the end, what’s the alternative?

If nothing else, the conviction that anything is possible will certainly make more things possible than the idea that nothing is possible.

It’s not about the games.

I’ve made myself known to people as somebody very interested in games (in a learning perspective, but – hopefully – also in general).

That’s fine.

I love games.

Despite this fascination, I’ve felt an ever increasing concern over the past weeks and months:

It’s a gnawing feeling that has only been growing stronger. Basically, I don’t think games will solve anything.

Some time ago, I gave a talk at the SETT (Scandinavian Educational Technology Transformation) conference in Stockholm, where I tried to elaborate a bit on these thoughts:

There’s a lot of content in that presentation, and I had to rush several things during my talk. I’ve been thinking about this, and feel that it might be a good idea to examine a few topics in further detail.

While I wanted to question the current focus on games, I also wanted to stress that a lot of games are actually really interesting. Take this:

Or this:

Or this promising take on civilians in wars:

Ok. We’ve established that I (still) like games.

One thing is all the fascinating games out there. While there’s always room for improvement, I’m quite opmistic & excited for what’s happening in this field.

It’s another and more problematic thing to ask if “games work” in education, but that particular question is an incredibly popular one.

Work for what?

Control? Transmitting knowledge? Maintaining “the banking concept of education“?

“Education thus becomes an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor. Instead of communicating, the teacher issues communiques and makes deposits which the students patiently receive, memorize, and repeat.”

Inspired by Gert Biesta, I’d say that “education is a practice, that always needs to engage with the question of purpose – what are we doing it for?”

This is my current suggestion (it’s a constant work in progress, always up for negotiation):

Education should seek to create the best possible foundation for people to live rich and happy lives, by empowering children and young people to be in the world with other people, to make difficult decisions and to use technology to express themselves and solve meaningful, complex problems in creative ways.

This is not likely to happen on a large scale if we don’t change the way we perceive of and practice teaching. 

It’s also not likely to happen if we use technology or even games to simply “transmit” knowledge to the students for them to internalize. I mentioned, that Minecraft is not important because it’s a great game (which it clearly is), but because it so convincingly illustrates how amazing learning can take place in very different & open arenas.

I think that “play” and “being playful” is really important in all of this. Even more important is the notion of “subversive play”, which game scholar Jesper Juul defines as:

“Play against the intention or authority of the game design/game designer”

 Stephen Totilo once wrote a nice comment on subversive play over at Kotaku:

“I’ve assumed that not following the rules was part of following the rules.  I’ve believed that to play a game partially involves playing with a game, shaking it to see if it breaks, poking it with a stick to see how it reacts, and, of course, always shooting the character who is talking to you in a game to see if they even pause their speech (usually, they don’t).”

I think students should be allowed and even encouraged to “poke” education “with a stick” and “playing with it to see if it breaks”. It would definitely challenge our desire to control whatever happens in the classroom, but that control was always an illusion. If we want students to become innovative & entrepreneurial people who feel competent to engage & shape the world, we need to do this. The same goes for allowing students to figure out what it means to be human and make choices to impact the life they want to live.

One approach to empowering students can probably be found in the many initiatives to transform education from “a shift away from a ‘sit back and be told’ culture towards more of a ‘making and doing’ culture” as David Gauntlett writes. In my talk,  I quoted the always inspiring Paolo Pedercini (AKA @molleindustria) from his thoughtprovoking talk at the recent Games for Change festival:

But one thing I can tell for sure: the act of making games about social issues, has always been a profound transformative experience for me.

 I came to the conclusion that there is a greater liberation potential in designing games rather than playing games.

 I argue that next step of games for impact doesn’t lie in some technological advancement but rather, in helping people to engage with the practice of game design.

 Liberation.

How often do we talk about the liberating potential of education? And if all education does is teach us to follow the rules of education, how liberated are we really? If education is not liberating, what is the purpose?

In this, I’m completely in line with Carl Anders Säfström & Gert Biesta, who wrote a “Manifesto for education” a few years ago:

“We propose that to speak for education in an educational manner means to express an interest in freedom and, more specifically, an interest in the freedom of the other: the freedom of the child, the freedom of the pupil, the freedom of the student”

Having very clearly stated that I haven’t reached any conclusions, the only thing I dared say, is that we need to cultivate communities of play. We need to create spaces for playful experimentation, where we don’t assume the answers (or the questions) are given beforehand.

David Gauntlett wrote a really nice piece on this, arguing that:

“If you want to have a culture of playful learning and experimentation, you need adults to have embraced a culture of playful learning and experimentation before you can expect that we might try to make it happen in schools.”

“we need adult culture itself to become more playful and creative, because only then will that really be seen as something valuable that we can hand on to children. We have to look at culture as a whole system, and not think that the ‘education’ bit can be separated off and fixed without changing the rest of it.”

I completely agree, and I’ve always been convinced, that this needs to happen across domains. In fact, I think it’s one of the most important things we can do:

It’s probably also one of the most difficult and intangible. How do you create safe spaces for play, where adults feel playful? How do you nurture communities, where playful experiments is the norm rather than rare exceptions? Where we live life in playful ways rather than merely play a game from time to time?

Luckily, much is happening in this direction already. Lots of amazing festivals & conferences are  emerging for different audiences around the world. People like lifelong playful veteran Bernie DeKoven continue to show us how to be more playful in all aspects of life.

As for my own work, the festival CounterPlay is my most ambitious attempt so far at cultivating such communities, and to bringing people together from many different domains (see reactions from the first edition, which has held in Aarhus earlier this year).

All of this is unfinished thoughts (when is a thought ever finished, by the way?). Even so, it feels like I’m on the right track here and I’ll definitely keep moving in this direction in the time to come. I ended my talk with these questions (from the CounterPlay-SmallTalk game), and I’ll do the same with this post:

smalltalk_back

smalltalk_implement

Do we need games for learning?

I have again and again argued, that most learning games (or what we choose to call them at any point in time) are often quite disappointing.

At the same time, I still believe good (learning) games are relevant – as one tool among many.

There’s of course also the ongoing discussion whether or not it even makes sense to distinguish between games and learning games. All games are about learning something, and games can be extremely relevant in education without being actual learning games. Furthermore, in many learning games you end up spending too much time on learning something, that is external to playing the game.

Games like Papo & Yo, Cart Life, Papers Please, and (the elephant in the room) Minecraft are brilliant examples of games that are not built explicitly for learning purposes, but which are nonetheless challenging players intellectually and emotionally.

Regardless of this discussion, and regardless of my hopes for better games for learning, what we really need is not learning games.

Or any kind of games.

Or teaching materials or technology in general.

What we really need is not technology (as such), it’s better, more meaningful and relevant educations.

This might seem obvious, so why am I spending the time writing?

I am very concerned that we (again) end up perpetuating the mistaken belief that technology is some kind of holy saviour.

I see these overly optimistic headlines all around the world, stating that games or play or MOOCs or Flipped Learning or [whatever hypeword tomorrow brings]…will save education and eventually the world.

I don’t care much for such predictions. To be honest, I think it’s utter sensationalist nonsense.

To boil it down, tech will solve nothing. We may have new opportunities with new technologies, but it requires changes in the way we think, work and organize ourselves. Changes won’t just magically follow in the wake of technological innovations.

Here in Denmark, I’m part of a forum hosted by the Ministry of Education, where we are looking at the field of “digital teaching tools”. While I unequivocally applaud the initiative, these meetings often leave me confused, because what are we talking about? Do we just want better teaching tools/technologies? We do, of course, but I’m struggling to figure out how much emphasis we should really put on this, and how much we should put on changing the structures, cultures, goals and purposes of education.

If we think of games as nothing but more efficient means to simply transmit knowledge to the students, but otherwise change nothing, we’re not really getting anywhere. That would just be reinforcing the notion of students as recipients and consumers of content.

What is really important in education, then?

Many things are important, of course, and this is an important discussion to keep having. Should I capture as much as possible in as few words as possible, I’d say something like this:

Education should seek to create the best possible foundation for people to live rich and happy lives, by empowering children and young people to be in the world with other people, to make difficult decisions and to use technology to express themselves and solve meaningful problems.

There’s much more to it, of course, but I generally think about education as a way to learn how to be human, how to be social, and how to be and act in the world.

…and this is where we can really learn from games and (not least!) play.

The “magic circle” of play creates a safe space, where we can experiment with roles, with scenarios, with being in the world, with being together, and we can do so in creative ways driven by curiosity, excitement and joy. These activities can be structured like games, or assume a more loose, playful and less controlled structure.

Remembering Salen & Zimmerman’s definition, “play is free movement within a more rigid structure”.

Education then becomes a question of striking the balance between structure and freedom, with emphasis on the latter (if you ask me). The “free movement” is essential if we want students to take ownership of their own learning.

None of this is about technology. No, it’s much more important than that.

It’s about how we’re being humans. Together.

Monument Valley

Many people lament the current state of the games being developed:

“There’s too many games, that are not really games.”

“Games are too easy today.”

To me, none of this is a problem. It simply goes to show that there’s an increasing diversity in the games being made and the people playing them.

This is a good thing. In fact, I’ve already written about my love for diversity in games:

All of this is to say, that if you think the term “game” refers to a homogenous field, you should probably look a bit closer.

Games are not just about shooting or sneaking or walking or jumping or solving puzzles or driving cars or even overcoming challenges.

Games can make us smile and laugh, they can make us feel fear or hope, they can make us feel small or invincible, they can make us question what we take for granted or they can, when they’re really good, make us think about what it means to be human.

Games are simply experiences, that can be about anything, that can come in any shape and size, and if we prove unable to ever come up with one label, that catches what all games has in common, that’s not a problem at all.

No, it’s actually a testament to why I love games in the first place.

Now I just finished Monument Valley, and it made me think again about some of these discussions.

Shaun Musgrave wrote about this in his review over at Touch Arcade:

There are games that lean more on giving you interesting play mechanics and challenging you to master them in order to overcome some sort of challenge, and there are games that lean more on the side of giving you an experience. You get rare cases where the line is straddled fairly evenly, but for the most part, games are going to do one of those things very well and give less attention to the other. Both types have their fans, and many gamers love both, but when a game comes along that strongly favors one type and does it well, you often see confusion from the opposite camp. I say this because even though I expect it to get a lot of well-deserved praise, a lot of people aren’t going to like Monument Valley very much.

Monument Valley is a fairly short game, and while there’s definitely more game-like features (e.g. challenges & puzzles) in MV than, say, Dear Esther, a huge part of my fascination still has to do with “just being there”.

The first thing that struck me was how absolutely gorgeous the game is, and how the combination of aesthetics create an atmosphere so dense, that sometimes I just stopped playing altogether to take it all in.

The game is clearly inspired by M. C. Escher, and works like the impossible stairs of “Relativity“:

Escher

Ken Wong, designer of MV, talks a bit more about sources of inspiration:

“Escher is just an easy way to explain the game to people, there are so many other bits and pieces that inspire the game. Windowsill, a game by Vectorpark was a big influence. We talk about Fez, Portal, Sword & Sworcery and Ico a lot too. The aesthetics of the game have been informed by everything from bonsai plants and poster design, to arabic calligraphy and Tarsem’s film The Fall.”

With a direct connection to Escher, the primary challenge in MV lies in figuring out the quirky and impossible (but very consistent) spatial logic. Most levels are very straightforward, but an occasional one had me experimenting for a bit before moving forward.

Sometimes, solving the puzzles sent me straight back to just absorbing the atmosphere, watching how the turn of a lever made the world change in beautiful ways.

As a whole, Monument Valley may not be the most gamey or challenging of games, but who cares?

Well, many people do, and that’s just fine.

This game or any game can’t be all things to all people at all times. To me, it was simply a wonderful, condensed and completely captivating experience of exploring a beautiful universe with an intriguing spatiality.

A lack of continuity?

The first edition of CounterPlay is over, and while there’s definitely lots to change & improve, I’m generally extremely happy about the way it turned out (read more about it here).

Now it feels like I’m in a big hole.

A part of this is surely just me being really, really tired.

Exhausted, to be honest.

That’s to be expected, as organising the festival was pretty intense. I should take some days off, and with Easter coming up, that’s happening soon.

Another part is probably just a completely natural void in the wake of a big project.

Even so, there’s this gnawing feeling that I should make a full stop and think about the way I work & live. I’m constantly thinking about these things, but for some reason, now feels like a particularly good time to do so.

What am I concerned about?

There’s a lot of dilemmas in this.

I’m doing so many things all the time (and constantly  tweeting about it), that, to any bystander, it probably seems like I’m doing absolutely fine.

In a way, everything IS just perfect. I love the freedom, the chaos, I love the things I do and the people I’m involved with, and I like to think, that I am actually moving perceptions and people.

I’m, plain and simple, happy with what I do.

I’m not exactly a person who cares much about money or business’y things in general. This is obviously a huge disadvantage, when you’re self-employed. My priority is always to A) do something that’s fun & challenging while B) hopefully making the world just a tiny bit better, more humane and playful. Money is not a part of this equation – except that they are, of course.

Ever since I started, 5-6 years ago, I’ve been involved in a broad range of activities. A lot of it has been related to games and digital media in education, but I’ve also been working with “games as culture”, and I’ve been doing a few projects on games & playfulness in companies & organisations. I’ve been doing many consulting jobs, a lot of talks at conferences and seminars, a lot of workshops, courses for teachers, a huge pile of writing and experimental projects. I have been part of creating multiple initiatives & events for knowledge sharing and networking (#skolechat, EdCamp Denmark, Spil i skolen).

Oh, and of course CounterPlay, that got me thinking about the importance of meaningful events in bringing people together.

CounterPlay opening - by Zuraida Buter
CounterPlay opening – shot by Zuraida Buter

All of it has been revolving around changing the perception of when & how playing can be meaningful and valuable.

Moving forward, I hope to follow my own lead from CounterPlay, exploring playfulness & games in projects and events across domains (e.g. culture, learning, business) as well as playing with and without purpose. I want to create more meaningful learning experiences for people in education, but I also want to encourage simply playing (also see this post on “my playful dreams with games“)

So my immediate challenge is this:

The perfect situation would probably be one, where I have 1-2 steady projects, while still leaving enough time and space to launch new initiatives as I see fit.

As with everything I do, I’d love to have conversations about these things. I’ve only been able to be working on so many amazing things because of the people I’ve met over the years, and I’ll only keep moving forward because of people.

A cup of coffee, a beer, a phone call, a hangout.

Anything goes.

The Hemingway App

I love to write.

Usually I end up experimenting with everything, including the language. Part of writing in English, for me, is improving, using and evaluating new words.

Why is that?

Well, I’m really curious, always striving to explore new approaches to writing.

I see writing as playing with words, exploring their relationships and meanings.

What happens when I use this word instead of that? How does it change the tone of my writing? The general meaning? How do I make my writing less serious, more playful, curious and fun?

Oftentimes, I’m wondering how I can become a better writer. I’m definitely not a native speaker, and while I write a lot in English, I have much to learn. In my few glimpses of realism, I know that I don’t have time to take a course, or otherwise engage in any kind of formal education.

This leads me to a place, where I hope I can improve simply by writing.

In a way this is my approach to most challenges these days – do stuff, reflect on stuff, learn stuff, change stuff.

That goes a long way, but it still leaves me with numerous questions. How to avoid the blind spots? How to see what I do wrong, when the nature of the problem is, that I don’t know it’s wrong? How to change the less appropriate habits and patterns?

Who knows – the Hemingway App might be (part of) what I need?

The Hemmingway App - my writing

It feels a bit like a game, with the constant feedback encouraging me to change words and sentences for more accessible writing. In doing so, I might become more reflective about the way I use the language.

More importantly, it feels playful.

CounterPlay – a playful journey

About a month ago, I wrote about my plans for creating a festival of play & games in Aarhus. In the meantime, I’ve been working on turning my plans and ideas, my dream, into reality. Lots of exciting things are happening, and a growing number of people are expressing their interest & willingness to contribute in various ways.

It feels like things are finally falling into place.

What is this?

CounterPlay is a recurring 2-day festival that aims to bring together anybody working with play and/or games:

  1. To expand our understanding of games & play

  2. To contribute to a wider awareness of the potential impact of games & play

“Referring to ludic or playful vitality in its most transformative expressions, counterplay speaks directly to the disruptive creation of the new through the reiterations of gaming” (Apperley & Dieter)

CounterPlay is a tribute to and an exploration of the many ways, in which a more playful approach can help us live better lives. Let’s focus on the excitement, intense engagement and rich experiences of people involved in all kinds of playing experiences. This sparks an investigation of how play can be transformative, change our thinking, push our boundaries and lead us places, we never imagined.

I want to break down barriers, further insights and contribute to the slowly evolving and widening perceptions of what play & games is and can be. I want to establish a stronger foothold for informed conversations about play and games everywhere (from the long description

To focus and structure the event, I operate with these three categories:

  • Playful Learning
  • Playful Culture
  • Playful Business

Playful Learning covers the entire field related to play, games & learning, in & out of education. How can specific games be used as teaching tools? How are games catalysts of “interest-driven learning“? Why should students make their own games in school? Can games inspire us to think differently about learning?

Playful Culture is all about the many, many ways in which games and play are a large part of our culture. What are the relations between games and other media?  How can libraries become even better at working with games? What is the future of games journalism? Are we moving from a focus on “games” to a focus on “play”? Stories from the frontlines – what are the stories people bring back from the virtual adventures?

Playful Business explores how public & private organisations & companies can benefit from more playful approaches. Can games support better healthcare & public health? Is it possible to use games as a means of communication? Can games be used for teambuilding and other HR-purposes?

Furthermore, the notion of being playful is at the very core of CounterPlay. Playing is not just a means to an end – it is a very legitimate and attractive purpose in itself.

I will be juggling with many different formats, ranging from the structured, more formal talks over shorter pitches to open-space sessions and hands-on workshops. Oh, and there’ll be a playground, of course, where you can try a selection of games and engage in various playful activities.

I also want to make it as easy as possible for participants to meet up, to talk, to develop ideas & concepts, or simply to play.

I’m playing around with a possible schedule, which currently looks like this:

While this schedule is still subject to change, I think it is quite indicative as to how I expect the final version to look. Now I’m working to fill it with amazing people, and it seems an impressive part of my network are keen to embark on this adventure with me.

Who should come?

I have a strong belief, that all of us are in constant need of fresh perspectives, of talking to people with backgrounds different to our own, to see the world of play with new eyes. We need to allow other people and new experiences to challenge our more or less consolidated ideas and beliefs.

CounterPlay is literally for anybody who is already working or wants to work with games and playful activities. Basically, if you are interested in figuring out how you, your colleagues, your company or organization can become more playful, and how that can be fruitful and valuable, come play with us.

Being more specific, these are some of the groups I hope to see:

  • Pedagogues
  • Teachers
  • Researchers
  • Journalists
  • Librarians
  • Game developers
  • HR & communication

When & where?

aarhus_gmapsAs mentioned, it’ll be in Aarhus. This is not (only) me being stubborn in arguing, that important things can take place in Aarhus. I think many cool projects are gaining momentum here, and I would love to support this. While embedded locally, the perspective is international. I’m thinking English as the primary language, and I’ve talked to several people around Northern Europe, who are keen to be part of this.

I’m collaborating with the main public library here, and they might also host the event (this is not confirmed, and we’re currently examining if it’s a feasible solution, if there’s enough space etc.).

I need to confirm the dates, but as I’m also planning an EdCamp in Aarhus in the spring, on April 5., I’m thinking about having the festival in the days leading up to this, April 3th and 4th. This might change, but I’m fairly certain it’ll be in April. More on this very soon.

Economy

bag_dollars (Medium)As this is something I’m building from scratch, I don’t have a huge pile of money to spend. I’ll strive to keep expenses at a minimum, while making sure that I cover the expenses of speakers, partners etc. The primary source of income for this first edition is, most likely, going to be what people pay to participate (which I, again, don’t want to be too much).

I don’t have any elaborate sponsor schemes up and running yet, but if you are interested in becoming a sponsor, get in touch and let’s talk about it.

In the longer run, I would like for this to evolve into a financially sustainable entity, but with a non-profit approach. I want to be able to pay people for the work they do, but I don’t want to accumulate a large surplus. Should it ever become relevant, such money will be spend on improving future conferences as well as supporting similar initiatives.

Who & how?

Me & a dinosaurSomebody might want to know who’s behind this, and what the agenda is. That’s more than fair, not least because I’m constantly advocating transparency as an ideal, and I try really hard to always go as far as possible in this direction.

I’ve been self-employed, working with games/learning/culture, for the past five years, and it’s been the most amazing adventure, that I dream of continuing…forever.

I’ve described elsewhere, why I think CounterPlay is a relevant initiative, that might make us more insightful on the characteristics and potentials of play and games, hopefully in playful ways.

My personal stake in this project is, that A) I’m uncontrollably curious and would like to broaden my professional scope, while merging my many different fields of interest, B) expand my network in a meaningful way and C) in the longer run, I would like CounterPlay to become a permanent & sustainable part of my work.

At this point, I’m the only person responsible for CounterPlay, which means, that if it ends up being a spectacular failure, it’s on me, and I’m fine with that (if it’s a success, I’ll happily share the spotlight with everybody involved).

I’ll try to keep everything as light and agile as possible, leaving as little administrative work for myself and anybody involved. So far, most of this has been done with Twitter, Skype & mail. If it doesn’t get more formal than that, it’s fine with me.

Do you want to play along?

I’m currently talking to a host of brilliant people, who are showing an interest in collaborating, in giving talks and in other ways contributing to making this happen. For that, I’m immensely grateful. I want this festival to be an open & inclusive one, one that embraces the diversity of these fields, and one that is continously shaped by participants. I want it to become whatever you need it to be, and any input is most welcome.

Do you want to give a talk? Host a workshop? Showcase/playtest a game? Do you have comments or questions?

Get in touch, in whichever way suits you!

Candy Crush Saga

I usually try to play all the games, that people talk about. The big AAA hits, the small indie gems, the hugely popular games for handheld devices and anything in between. I do this out of a mix of professional interest and my eternal personal curiosity. I have much to learn about games, and playing as many games as possible is one way to further my insight. Therefore it’s a bit odd, that I, without making any particularly conscious decision, haven’t paid much attention to the biggest free-2-play games recently. Games such as Clash of Clans, Hay Day and Candy Crush Saga (though I have played a fair amount of Subway Surfers). Regarding Candy Crush, the situation has changed recently.

The frustration embedded in that tweet is a nod to the amount of time, a game like this can easily consume. I don’t believe games are “addictive” the same way cocaine is addictive (this is not to say, that games can’t be part of, let’s say, “addictive-like issues”, but it’s a complicated matter, that I might talk about in another context. Not now). I also don’t think “addictive” is anything to strive for as game designers. BUT a game like CCS, it’ll devour hour upon hour.

Many people seem to experience this:

First impression? Yeah, as everybody has pointed out by now, the people at King has certainly played Popcap’s Bejeweled:

At the same time, CCS adds many new mechanics & challenges to the mix, and there’s a nice variation from level to level. Score a certain amount of points (sometimes within a certain time frame), clear some (increasingly tough) gel, move “ingredients” to the bottom of the screen, combinations of these etc.

Without knowing Bejeweled in detail, I definitely don’t see CCS as a rip-off. It’s clearly inspired, but that’s the case with any game.

Is it a deeply rewarding experience?

No, I don’t think so.

That, however, does not mean it isn’t satisfying to play. It very clearly appeals to the human fondness of identifying patterns, as described by Raph Koster:

Games are puzzles. they are about cognition and learning to analyze patterns. When you’re playing a game, you’ll only play it until you master the pattern. Once you’ve mastered it, the game becomes boring.

All the crazy visual & auditory feedback also adds to the pleasant feeling of accomplishment (though you can certainly argue, that the feedback doesn’t always feel meaningful or proportionate):

These elements make up a game, that brilliantly captures my attention, and even though it’s perfect for brief playing sessions, I often play for as long as I can with the lives I have.

candycrush_iapBeing a free-2-play game, it, unsurprisingly, makes numerous attempts to make me buy stuff (in-app purchases, IAP). I can buy “boosters” that helps me blow up the candy, and when I run out of lives, I can pay to continue playing. If I don’t, I’ll have to wait. Now, I don’t have any qualms with free-2-play as such. I don’t think it’s evil or unethical or that it’s killing gaming. It can be done in good ways, it can be done in bad ways.

But, as I suddenly remind myself, this is not an essay on free-2-play. I don’t think I’ll ever write any such thing. Other people are already doing that, and that much better than me.

Suffice it to say, that so far, I haven’t felt the urge to pay anything, yet I’m having a good time. This stance might be a self-induced challenge – how far can I get on the cheap? I have a feeling, that as levels are getting harder, it probably becomes increasingly difficult to maintain my approach (though this piece suggests, that “70% of the people on the last level haven’t paid anything”)

You get obvious advantages from paying, as the game becomes easier and playable for longer stretches of time, but the game is perfectly enjoyable without them.

Summing up, this video is not entirely fair, but it’s also funny, so I guess it all evens out:

GTA V

Initially, GTA V mostly just annoyed me. Annoying characters, annoying gameplay, just annyoing. I don’t care much for driving around, waiting for something to happen, and I had absolutely no interest in the characters. I found the light (yes, the actual light) in the game world to be awfully pretty, though.

GTAV_light

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but at some point, I started to care. It’s not comparable to the way I cared about Walther White or Ellie or the entire cast from The Wire, but I do care. I want to know, what happens to them. I want to be there, when it happens (yes, I would also like to actually influence what happens to them, but I’m afraid that’s not an option, as someone decided most of that beforehand).

GTA is an unruly beast, a giant mess, trying to be so many things, all at once.

It’s a huge open world, where you, allegedly, can do more or less what you want to. Thinking about it, I don’t want to do all that much, really (though some of these stupid things are somewhat funny). I don’t care about the possibility of playing tennis, buying stocks, going to bars, doing a triathlon, or even chasing the infamous GTA easter eggs.

I am impressed by the scale and the attention to detail. I genuinely am. That excitement wears off ,though. Sometimes it’s just irritating, because everything is so far away (yeah, yeah, you can get a cab, I know) and driving does get old.

At times, the scale allows for a wondrous sense of exploration, and some of the missions use the world really well.

To an extent, it all feels alive. Like it’s all happening, with or without me.

GTA is pretty obviously satire, a caricature of society, of people, of technology, of popular culture. While often not particularly clever, but there are moments, where I just sit and laugh. Like this conversation between two (of the three) main characters, Michael and Trevor:

“Protohipster”. Yeah, I laughed.

The same goes for some of the in-game commercials, which are mostly experienced when listening to the radio while driving:

Lifeinvader

What GTA is, is a game for people who play games. It’s not a game I would readily recommend to anybody not familiar with games. It’s simply too unwieldy and overwhelming. Too much.

Just look at this “gameplay trailer”:

I’m convinced that only people playing games like GTA would care about most of what is promoted as “unique” about this game. The three characters. All the things to do. The scale. The technical prowess.

Oh, and I guess only people playing games like this could possibly accept or ignore the terrible ways, in which GTA depicts women. It’s a huge discussion, and many fine pieces have been written on this topic, so I’ll do nothing more than to quote Helen Lewis:

“Yes, it’s misogynistic and violent, but I still admire Grand Theft Auto”.

All this being said, I am happy that I care to spend this many hours with any one game. Even though both game, story and characters are terribly frustrating at times, and often just plain terrible. I like a lot about this game, but damn, there’s much that I don’t feel particularly excited about.

…but now I gotta see it through to the end (meaning the end of the story, not the end in any completionist “gotta-do-it-all” kind of way).

If you want to read more about GTA V, here are some of the articles I can recommend:

Johnny Kilhefner – Death by Los Santos

Tom Bissell – Poison Tree: A letter to Niko Bellic about Grand Theft Auto V