Learning/Working/Living a Playful Life

I’ve always tried my best to share my work, ideas and thoughts. It’s a combination of trying to live up to all my talk about transparency and sharing; of having the audacity to think some of it might actually be relevant and of appreciating how much I learn by doing so. This also applies when I’m confused and not entirely certain which path to follow (which is not at all a rare situation).

Now the dust has settled after CounterPlay ’15, and I’m considering what to do with my life. It sounds dramatic and it may very well lead to some fairly big changes. I’ve been working as self-employed since 2008, and it’s been a wonderful adventure. I allow myself to think I have helped, maybe even inspired, a few people along the way and I have done some things I’m proud of today.

I’m involved in many projects, but it feels too fragmented, disconnected, too lacking in continuity and cohesion. Despite constantly working with amazing people, I feel detached and somewhat alone. This is emotionally taxing, but it also diminishes the potential impact of my efforts. I also need to radically improve my “business model”. I must be honest (also with myself) and admit that I’ve probably cared too little about making money and too much on doing stuff I thought was important. I must create a bit more stability in this area as well (not thinking about money only leads to having to think a lot about money).

I’ve been in this situation before, and I thought I was on track to finding a solution – but here I am again and I’m considering (at least) 3 possible paths:

A couple of good people responded:

I’ve spent a lot of time over the years trying to bridge gaps and connect domains while also making an effort to combine the things I myself work on.

So how do I get to the sweet spot?

3 domains of my work

1. CounterPlay

CounterPlay is the most obvious path, as it’s already here and I’ll keep working on it for (hopefully) years to come. Earlier this spring, the second edition took place and I think it went quite well. With almost 200 adults and around 50 kids, it definitely felt bigger this year and I hope we’ve now proven there’s an interest and a need for something that brings people together to explore playfulness.

Now there’s a bit of momentum around the festival, we want to use that as a starting point for experimenting with playful interventions outside the festival. This is at an early stage, but there’s so much going on in the field and at the festival that we would like to develop and implement.

Some things need to change, however. The festival must be transformed into an organisation with more people feeling ownership, collaborating to keep developing the festival. We also have to secure additional funding, as relying solely on registration fees is too unpredictable. In short: to take the next step, we must have an actual organisation able to cover expenses, including salaries for a few people and we’re looking into possible funding schemes (sponsors, funds, Creative Europe etc).

2. Non-profit organisation for educational experiments

Over the years, I’ve been involved in numerous grassroots projects, mostly in education. It’s been spanning from concrete experiments (e.g. with games) to fostering a more transparent culture and nurturing (playful) communities. I think it’s important to keep making these efforts and experiments, but it’s extremely hard to maintain based solely on the efforts of volunteers. Like with CounterPlay, we need an organisation with a shared focus and some resources. I would love to create something that is open, transparent, networked and building on the energy and passion of grassroots. It should be able to carry out concrete initiatives when needed and to become a strong voice in the public debate. The idea about making it non-profit is simply to align expectations and make the purpose clear: it’s about making meaningful changes, not profit.

3. PhD

Finally, there’s the Ph.D. that might, as Rikke suggested, be the best opportunity to tie things together. I’m really intrigued by the ability to ask hard questions and to dwell upon the, delwing a bit deeper than is otherwise possible. What would it be about? Yeah, that’s a hard question right there: Learning, being human, (subversive) play, playfulness, global citizenship, challenging and changing the world.

Cultivating playful communities as a catalyst for changing the world?

I think it captures some of the duality that intrigues me. It indicates “being playful” is an approach to doing something in the world, a means to an end. At the same time it argues that simply “being playful” is a way to change the world, an end in and of itself.

I remain wildly interested in education, but I’m also a little afraid of focusing too narrowly on formal education. I want to explore what it means to be playful and how it can challenge the establishment – in education and in life. How can transgressive play lead to empowerment and emancipation?

A few quotes that illustrate the “eclecticness” of my thoughts:

“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 […]Education must fully assume its central role in helping people to forge more just, peaceful, tolerant and inclusive societies. It must give people the understanding, skills and values they need to cooperate in resolving the interconnected challenges of the 21st century” (Link)

“The more students work at storing the deposits entrusted to them, the less they develop the critical consciousness which would result from their intervention in the world as transformers of that world. The more completely they accept the passive role imposed on them, the more they tend simply to adapt to the world as it is and to the fragmented view of reality deposited in them” (Link)

“The essence of our argument is that playful behaviour and playful thought can generate radically new approaches to challenges set by the physical and social environment.” (Link)

“Play can also be attached to specific ways of acting in the world which entails playful experimentation, such as trying out ideas and things, tinkering with materials, testing boundaries, taking risks, and iterating. Here, play and playfulness account for voluntary, passionate and persistent social activity, characterised by positive emotions, high reference value and creativity. Play is about considering alternatives, re-reading the past and to opening up possible futures. It means using the imagination, in order to enrich and expand one’s experience and understanding of the world” (Link)

“Play is disruptive as a consequence of being appropriate. When it takes over the context in which play take place, it breaks the state of affairs. This is often done for the sake of laughter, for enjoyment, for passing pleasures. But like all other passing pleasures, play can also disruptively reveal our conventions , assumptions, biases, and dislikes. In disrupting the normal state of affairs by being playful, we can go beyond fun when we appropriate a context with the intention of playing with and within it. And in that move, we reveal the inner workings of the context that we inhabit. […] Playfulness means taking over a world to see it through the lens of play, to make it shake and laugh and crack because we play with it. (Link)

Common denominators?

How is all this related? Playing and being playful is embedded in everything. So is the importance of communities, of cross-pollination, of being in, challenging and changing the world.

I’ll be spending some time in the coming days & weeks describing the three areas and figuring out how to merge them. I would absolutely love to hear from anybody with thoughts to share – in the comments, on Twitter, on skype or a hangout, or over coffee or a beer. While I think these are my most viable options, I’m open to anything

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.