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!

A festival of play & games

I like to play (no shit, Sherlock).

I like to explore play.

I like to talk about play, and I like to bring people together, who play, talk about play and make other people play.

In the past, I have been responsible for a few minor conferences on games and learning (more here & here), both extremely inspiring endeavours (though also very demanding and slightly intimidating). For a while, I’ve been wanting to do something more, building on these past experiences. I wanted to broaden my scope on games & play, and to create an event, that is embedded locally here in Aarhus, but embracing inputs and people from around the world. It’s about learning, of course, but it’s also about all the other ways games & playful activities can improve our lives – whether play is the purpose, or we have our aims set at goals external to playing. I want to create a place, where all kinds of people meet and talk; people who are usually not likely to stumble upon each other (e.g. game devs, educators, librarians, health care professionals, private companies etc.).

I’ve written a fairly long description of my plans, and used the term “CounterPlay” as a (working, perhaps) title:

“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)

My goal is two-fold:

  1. To expand our understanding of games & play

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

And here’s a bit more:

CounterPlay is a tribute to and an exploration of the many ways, in which a more playful approach can help us live better lives. We 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.

And this tweet captures much of it as well:

Along the way, I got ambitious and wanted to build something big. I wanted an international conference  spanning  several days with multiple tracks, workshops, an expo etc. Even though there’s a few events in this domain  in & around Denmark (most notably the brilliant W00t in Copenhagen and Animated Learning in Viborg – both great events, that I want to support as much as I can) I still don’t think the space is saturated, and I feel like my approach is different enough to be relevant.

For those of you with whom I engage on Twitter, you know about these thoughts, as I’ve been talking about this with regular intervals (many of you have been very encouraging as well – thank you!). I almost feel a bit silly to keep coming back to this, and I’ve been a bit insecure as to whether or not my plans are really viable (to be completely honest, I’ve been thinking and talking so much about this, that I’m simultaneously A) afraid that it never happens and B) that it does happen, but fails miserably. None of these concerns are even remotely rational, I know. It’s all in my head). Also, I reminded myself about this:

It’s obvious, that I can’t do something like that by myself. I’ve investigated a number of possibilities, among them the fact that Aarhus is ” European Capital of Culture” in 2017. I haven’t really had much luck, though, and may not have tried hard enough (I clearly haven’t. If I had, I’d have been somewhere else). Even so, I’m currently left with a feeling, that, right now, I’ve got two options:

Either I forget about the whole idea (for the time being).

…or I scale it down (probably to one day), make it more low-key and just go ahead and do it by myself (and draw on anybody interested).

As this is something I really want to do, the former is not too attractive, and the latter is how I often work, anyway, so it’s not much of a choice, really. It just took me some time to reach this (fairly unsurprising) conclusion.

I haven’t given up on the dream of something bigger, but it’s always easier to allow something to grow, if it’s already up and running.

As it happens, I’m also currently planning the next iteration of EdCamp Denmark, that takes place in Aarhus on April 5th. Consequently, I’m contemplating possible synergies between the two. Maybe some people would want to attend both? Maybe I could host the two events the same place? Maybe someone would even be interested in sponsoring both?

For now, I’ll spend as much time as necessary during the fall talking to potential speakers, finding a relevant venue, and possibly acquiring a few sponsors.

As always, I’d love to talk to anybody interested.

All that’s left to say at this time:

It’s happening.