Permission to Play

Two weeks ago I returned home from an epic weekend in Copenhagen, absolutely exhilarated and full of joy to an extent I haven’t felt for a long long time. I’m still riding the high. I was attending the wonderful w00t festival of play with plenty of other likeminded souls (including a pretty impressive percentage of my Irish brethren). As is my way, I needed to analyze why I felt so fucking great when I returned home instead of just enjoying the moment. But that’s all good folks, because I realised something I won’t forget any time soon - in our modern culture, once we “grow up”, we don’t allow ourselves to open up, to discard the masks of appropriate civilsation, to enter a playful state of mind. 

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It seems that in our society - once you hit a certain age, playing becomes something shameful, something different than the freedom and joy it was when we were children. Adults must work, must worry, must be diligent, must focus on such concepts as advancement and survival. Play is frivolous, childish and embarrassing. All playful instincts are sublimated into sex, work competition, sports - but there is something missing: pure play without purpose, engaging with others on the simplest and easiest level.

 No wonder so many adults lose their spark and become joyless greyfaces working like automatons on things that cannot possibly be of real joyful interest to anybody. People feel the weight of societal expectation upon them and….just…..give up. I don’t want to give up. Do you?


While the tweet above made me laugh with recognition when I first saw it, now it makes me sad. The poster for the w00t festival (right) offered a different slant on adulthood: "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing". 

I feel the truth of this - I felt younger and more alive during my weekend of racing and dancing around an industrial estate in the Copenhagen suburbs than I have in a long time. I remember my grandmother, so vibrant always, never without her playing cards. I was *tired* before w00t, filled with worries about money, about work, about all the kinds of things that will happen or not happen, regardless of my worries. To anyone who is now feeling weighed down, worn down, whittled into a shell of their former selves I cannot recommend attending a play festival enough. And there are loads more of them! Play Vienna, GameCity Nottingham, Hide & Seek, and many many more.



Shot taken by  Mikkel Bøgeskov Svendsen  

Shot taken by Mikkel Bøgeskov Svendsen 

The people were the best part of the whole experience: open, fun, happy, engaging and friendly. Compared to many standard “con” scenarios I have been to, there were no cliques, no pedantic rule-wankery, no sexism, no superiority - just excited people and pure fun distilled into each game. Smiles and inclusion were all I saw around me. It was the baby bear’s porridge of not-too-organised and not-over-engineered. Despite my reclusive INTJ nature, it was easy to make friends, to join a gang, to be part of something. One of the incredibly awesome people we met, Nicklas, even took @theAllThing and I all around Christiania on the Monday after the festival.



There were so many talks during the weekend that were really interesting, including my highlights:

- Richard Lemarchand talking on constraints as a way to get creativity flowing & his top experimental games of 2012 (no surprises there for me: Starseed Pilgrim, howling dogs & Space Team.

- Zuraida Buter talking on the new playful culture and the myriad games collectives springing up all over the world. You can keep up to date on playful culture through following her tumblr Playful Culture.

- Miguel Sicart talking on why play matters through a fascinating philosophical rant (“Fuck games!” - we should focus on the play/verb rather than the thing/noun) that took in Nietszche and Greek tragedy;

- Simon Andersen talking on making friends with boardgames and how frame theory/oscillation fits into this (lots of tips on throwing people off their game via insults!).


and of course…the Games!

And then the games - dear lord the games - I took notes on each game I played over the weekend and I somehow managed to play 19 (!) games within 2 days in addition to all the talks, dancing and chatting. I can’t talk about everything we played, but I enjoyed every single one. Here’s the highlights:

- The fun and privilege of playing the games of the masters game design students there, Socks of Chaos and Mussades being my favourites.

 @theAllThing's carefully-tended high score of Hummingbirdman Rally

 @theAllThing's carefully-tended high score of Hummingbirdman Rally

- The physical games including Hummingbirdman Rally (right) which @theAllThing was very proud of winning, Turtle Wushu which was definitely the Irish favourite of the festival (join our league!), and the Danish folk games which unleashed the most hilarity and uninhibited fun - they made it possible to play games between children and adults and across a langage barrier, in games that have no winners and still offer players a great time, check us out on Danish TV!

 @theAllThing as the Top Noodle fending off the Idiots

 @theAllThing as the Top Noodle fending off the Idiots

- The Playstation Move games, incuding the mental challenge of Idiots Attack The Top Noodle where one player (the “top noodle”) must control their brainwaves to relax and focus against a team of “idiots” trying to distract them, the almost-indecent GlowTag which involved an awful lot of butt-slapping (and giggle fits), and Johann Sebastian Joust which was like a more-jazzy, less-fun Turtle Wushu.

- The LARP-style games. I had crazy fun in an abandoned industrial warehouse area holding up a sweet shop by gunpoint during the day and racing around in the pitch dark terrifying and killing people as a Weeping Angel at night thanks to Philipp

- Train Mafia! Like Werewolf, but if you died you had to get off the train (!!!) - cruel and wonderful.

The weekend made me realise how much play can give us permission to have fun, to step outside of ourselves, to unleash ourselves from our internal “I can’t, I shouldn’t, I wouldn’t” propriety filter. It helps remove fear - in my regular life, I would never hide out in a tiny pitch-dark-spider-filled stack of palettes waiting to jump out and kill people, but the Weeping Angels game made that not only necessary, but acceptable and extremely fun. I didn’t even realise that my internal omnipresent spider-censor wasn’t operating correctly until afterwards, when I felt joy to have overcome it!

I revelled in 48 hours of the kind of atmosphere that allows you to dance in broad daylight without even a drop of drink taken and feel no embarrassment (which I think is tough for Irish people). It was so inspiring playing all of the great games others are creating that it jolted me into jotting down ideas for my own game all weekend in spare moments when a new thought arose. Fingers crossed you’ll play my game next year!

So, can you give yourself the permission to be playful? Isn’t it time to stage a ludic intervention (love this phrase courtesy of Sylvan) on your life?

Multi-thanks to all the wonderful wonderful people who made w00t such an incredible experience - roll on next year!


All the crew out on the last night. Idea and shot by  Chad Toprak

All the crew out on the last night. Idea and shot by Chad Toprak