I finally got to sit down and think about this…Here’s what I spent the day contemplating, it’s a doozey so feel free to flit about to what is interesting
Trust in Play School Athens…a time with people I never would have met otherwise, a place to push preconceptions and make connections
When asked to describe through the written word the days that were Trust in Play Training week in Athens…it’s hard to sort through the sheer amount of EXPERIENCE that happened. There were trials, there were tribulations, there was jubilation! I could write about it for a long while, so here are some key moments and takeaways that rise to the surface.
What are my preconceptions of a ‘school’ and how did the Trust in Play ‘school’ experience interact with that?
During the Site Specific game making workshop, Sebastien mentioned that certain game frames will bring with them certain expectations in players. If we use elements of a race game, then we know that navigating a balance between speed, time and bodily risk will rise, heightening the pace and tension. If we use a puzzle, the pace may be slower, or a narrative rpg style then a lot of power is placed in the hands of the guide and players follow along with designated moments of interaction. When the term ‘school’ was used for our Trust in Play training week, my preconceptions locked into place without my even realizing it.
I was expecting a structure and a guidance that wasn’t always present and this led to a lot of frustration, specifically during the initial lecture days and the forming of Game Jam groups. For me, a school is a place where a group gathers to learn from each other through the active guidance of a mentor(s). The first activities really fulfilled this expectation; a way to gauge who was in the room, start to know my fellow trainees, to form relationships ie: the lovely continuum line with questions ‘Are games art? Is trust a belief?’, our ‘learning group’ formation, the snake ritual.
But by the end of the first day, I still wasn’t sure who my fellow trainees were or how the different branches were structured and what our long term goals were. I felt popped into conference mode, where I relied a lot on my previous knowledge to carry me through, with most learning more on an individual level rather than through/with my peers. I spent two days trying to figure out why I was so frustrated and then…
The Unconference Day - what a fantastic way to share peer to peer learning! This is a structure that really capitalizes on the ambition to combine trainees and independent attendees. I was finally feeling that I knew who was in the room and achieving the potential to form ‘new relationships’ (which was why I responded to the initial Trust in Play brief). I kept thinking…’I wish we started with this…I wish we did some type of ‘speed dating’ to get to know what we all have to bring and what we want to take away from this week’.
Because there were minimal guidelines for the Game Jam (Trust is a HUGE topic), knowing who was around me was essential and the Unconference Day made me feel more prepared to find a group. Yet by the time the Game Jam came along, I was exhausted. I felt I was navigating the line between being a trainee in a school, being a conference attendee and the many roles that come in each, roles I expected would be taken by others in different moments. I needed just a few more simple rules or guidelines to build my sandbox so I could have a good play. Maybe a decision tree process to choose groups based on some key criteria? ie: Are you interested in a game that has Tech or is physical/mixed media? Once I locked into a group and the creative process started, I was soaring for the rest of the time. Don’t get me started on the dance party or how gratifying it was to see the snake hidden in the city via skype (rituals really are powerful!)
The way Trust in Play sought to stretch and bend what a ‘school’ can be is formidable. I really like the organic nature and level of choice that was offered to me and I’m still elevated and excited by what we experienced and shared. But I came to the school thinking the sandbox was already built. Don’t get me wrong, I love building sandboxes before I get to play in them! For future iterations of Trust in Play School, how can it be made clear that we are building the sandbox together? As the first Trust in Play school it was ambitious and riotous.
Don’t judge the book by the disciplinary cover
There were so many people, from so many fields, who all interact with play in some way shape or form. This is beautiful and our week together celebrated that in a rare way that we need more of in the world. It was acknowledged that there is no one right way to do things and there was an emphasis placed on process. For a theatre maker who lives with a feeling of scarcity and a human who feels a drive for product, this was a breath of fresh air for me and something I think we need more practice on. It was a safe space to critique, to be honest, to ask hard questions, and to revel when things felt right.
Game Jamming can be a lot like Devising Theatre
The game making process took me right back to my devising assignments at Jacques Lecoq in Paris, where 2 to 30 clowns in training, who often don’t speak the same language between them, try to make something a) within a time constraint b) where everyone feels heard/has an input. I was stunned at times with the different interpretations we could each have around one idea. Listening and signposting were extremely important as ideas flitted and flowed out of us like a flock of migrating birds. I loved how my group would take the time to check in and make sure we all felt like we were flying to the same destination.
Sebastien’s urging to test was super helpful, because when no one person is the lead, actually trying the darn idea can be a challenge. Often in theatre this turns into a prolonged discussion of the merit of an idea that gets bogged down in ego with an over reliance on the imagined outcome and not sufficient time given to prototyping. This is ironic to me. Given theatre’s physical nature, it is often easier to get up and try something, whereas games usually have time consuming mixed media or programming involved, in addition to the unpredictability of playing audience members.
Since we were working across disciplines, knowing people’s strengths and what they wanted to give to the project was extremely helpful in then allocating roles. There were natural clashes in what was priority and simplifying tests to the essentials was a challenge (there are always so many things to test!). But I feel that we negotiated really well, and I was so IMPRESSED that the creative technologists in my group (and others! way to go CAthens!) were able to do mock ups or ‘magic simulations’ of how they would expect the technological elements to work in future iterations given more time. Another key point that comes up is expectations - how do we build upon the expectations of a group, not only for the project but how we hope to work? Do you make a game brief? Or is it an organic process that leads from the theme? Similar to theatre, responding to physical objects/props, images, text, music, or in this case a bit of tech was a good concrete way to launch off creation and clarify expectations.
A personal note for me was the relationship between facilitation and game mechanics …this is the second time I’ve ‘slapped on’ facilitation, improvising from the rule set to communicate the game and enhance play a mere 30 minutes from the final play test. It raises a lot of questions for me about how the theatrics and/or facilitation by a human being relate to mechanics.What style serves the game and vice versa? How does the key information influence the style, length, pace, mood or type of facilitation? It also helped me clarify what my personal style and aesthetic is as a facilitator/game master and to think about where to dig deeper or challenge that in the future. I always viewed facilitation and mechanics as enmeshed in my process, but after this week I realize that testing them separately can reveal a lot. I’m now looking at this in a new light and am intrigued how it will affect my interactive devising process in the future.
Communal Dinner! a must. I am pilfering this model for other events I run and will credit the appropriate folks Enough said.
The time is still echoing in me…remnants of our celebration as we thrashed about to music in the very place we had poured our brains and hearts out in a flurry of creation. Ideas spiral and whirl and faces flushed in focus flash in my memory’s eye. We listened together, we made together, we ate together, we danced together, we tried to tap into why and how humans play. I still hear laughter, elevated on a warm Greek wind, that moves me forward with purpose. And cannot thank you all enough.