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.


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!

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