Counterplay was an odd experience for somebody like me, who mostly goes to academic conferences. Some of the program was very much like you would experience in an academic conference, with proper citations and all. But most of it wasn’t.
The range of presentations and workshops was huge, with everything from folk games to using playful tools in business. The general mood of the conference was easily grasped: play is empowering, can tear down walls, and inspire. There were many examples of this, from clowning to comfort refugees to building camaderie in a library through an IRC bot.
It’s a side of play that is easily missed as an academic. While I have decent amount of first-hand play experiences, both in digital and non-digital play, seeing how play impacts the lives of others is easily forgotten while trying to puzzle out the differences in different conceptions of play theory. Of course, it doesn’t all stay in the ivory tower. There were (and are) many academics using play in many positive ways.
I was slightly surprised by how well the business side of things was represented. It seems that people are selling play, and it’s selling well. I don’t mean to imply any value judgements here: making work more playful can be great for everyone involved – or not, as many of the speakers remembered to point out. I even witnessed two talks that had concrete guidelines on how to mask or sell play so that it would be accepted by the higher-ups. Play brings joy, joy increases job satisfaction, job satisfaction increases performance. See how easily play turns into work?
I gave a talk on playful politics in a session that also included an analysis of Danish politics. The Danish examples were related to Youtubers commenting politics in their videos, while I talked about the Loldiers of Odin.
The last day was separate from the main event and was called an “unconference”. Only the structure and timing were known beforehand and all the content was created during the day. I ended up discussing how play affects society (surprise!) and how knowledge about play can be created, preserved and dissiminated. Not an easy task, although the research projects I’m involved with of course try to do their best to popularize the results, with varying success.
If you want a glimpse of what went on at Counterplay, you can check out #counterplay16 on Twitter.