Form and Function

This week we’ve been plunging into research and trying to build ourselves a picture of the Flaten system. We’ve been talking to lots of people who use the area and hearing stories about it. We spent some time talking to the Miljöverkstan team, teenagers from the local school who have been doing some research on the area for us, and had a wonderful afternoon walking through the magically snowy nature reserve with Darne (a biologist and head of the bow hunting organisation that practice in Flaten). I think we’re beginning to understand some of the groups that use this old and beautiful area and how the system works.

IMG_4190Learning about the oaks, pines and spruces with Darne and Anna

We’ve also been making the beginnings of some new games – they’re not great, not even that functional, but they’re fun! These new games help us to grapple with the sub-systems and find stories we could use to illustrate some basic systems modelling concepts and some of the lesser known things about Flaten.

IMG_4116Testing the ice in Flaten Sjön

Something I have been enjoying is getting the chance to imagine the range of ways the game might be presented. It’s so much fun to be able to let your mind go wild and think as broad and creatively as possible. You only get complete freedom on this early on in the process and it’s great to push the boundaries of imagination as far as you can go.

One thing we’re thinking about is including perspectives of Flaten in different time periods – for example playing through some of the sub systems as they existed in the 1930’s when sand was trucked in to make a beach and kids were bused out of the inner city to learn to swim. We’re also thinking about giving audiences the chance to see or speculate on what might happen to the area in 50 years time based on information we have of how the system is run today and possible decisions about how it will be run in future.

I occasionally get a bit overwhelmed with the scope involved in making a game about a real life system. There are so many things that could be included. It is a complex system after all. There are also lots of people who use the area, and have some kind of relationship to it. When you being thinking about how to make it a reflection of the way they all see the area, it becomes too big to imagine, and seems inevitable that it will fail to capture this. For me trying to remember what exactly the project needs to do alleviates this imagination overload. The three that I think we are working towards are:

  1. It needs to help an audience who don’t know Flaten understand what the area is and gain some respect for it
  2. It should help audience members to engage in some of the behaviours of a systems thinker
  3. It should help an audience to consider Flaten’s past and what factors could effect its future

Having these points to work towards helps to clarify what is important information to make into systems games, and what can serve the work better as story and outcomes.

The question I would like to ask is: What are the craziest possible ways we could present this system, while still fulfilling these outcomes?

– Nikki

Advice for a 24-year-old theatre maker


It was hard not to feel like the London part of this trip, and indeed the entire trip, had been orchestrated just so we could see our most excellent mentor Tassos from Coney. It was lovely to catch up, and get run through the wonderful game The Green Gold Conspiracy, but Tassos also gave us some solid advice going forward into this new process.

One of the things he said was to consider what advice present-day us would give trusting, naïve back-in-2012 us, before we started Best Festival Ever at the Environment Institute. I hadn’t thought about that Nathan for a while. Fresh from a what-the-hell-were-we-thinking run at Edinburgh. Keen on the idea of “science-theatre,” but not too sure what that might mean. To say he knew what he was getting into would be to lie. What would I tell him, if I could appear to him, maybe over his bed like in Back To The Future? (To update his references?) Anyway, it’s been a couple of weeks since we hung out with Tassos but as we’ve worked through the first week in Flaten that question has been kicking around in my head.

Here’s what I’ve got.

Don’t forget to zoom out. I certainly have a habit in a creative process of getting stuck on details and not looking at the whole picture. And sometimes it felt like (and still feels like) Best Festival Ever missed some things we wanted to put in. We never made a game that specifically shows how actions can have unpredictable consequences. Or that models show the biases of those who make them. But time and again, post show chats have showed that the show as a whole communicates these things very well. Our process is informed by a set of principles and ideas, and the work we make reflects this.

Listen. You’re going to be working with and getting input from a whole lot of people who have a skill and knowledge set that you don’t. This isn’t like working alongside other theatre people, these are people whose expertise is a unique and valuable resource to the work you’re making. For the most part they are really excited to share their work and stories with you, and it’s going to enrich the whole process.

Make, throw out, repeat. This is going to be one of the most intensely generative processes you’ve been a part of. You are literally going to make dozens of games that no one will ever play. It’s going to be a lot of work but when you perform the show for the thirty-somethingth time and you recognise a tiny detail – the saving grace from one of the worst games you can possibly imagine (and did imagine), it’s going to be real nice.

You are going to get super sick pretty much every stage of this multi-year process. You all are. Impossible to say why (winter goblin???). You are going to learn things about medicines and medical services in a variety of countries. And it is going to take you all a few years to learn to not try to be a hero, and take the day off as soon as you need it.

And finally,
You got this. You’re going to come across a bunch of really difficult material, and be working on something the likes of which you haven’t seen before. It’s going to be daunting, difficult to get a handle on, and easy to feel lost in. But you’re working with some really great people and as a group your instincts are on point. You got this.

Anatomy of a terrible (but maybe worthwhile) game


Today Nathan and I made a game that was terrible, but which had certain properties that I think might have some resonance in a game about Flaten.

The game split players into three groups – bow hunters, militant vegans, and beavers – all of whom exist in Flaten. Each group could spend its turn pursuing an easy goal – throwing counters into a cup close to hand – or a harder but more rewarding one – throwing counters into a cup placed much further away. For the vegans (for example) the hard goal was putting on an illegal forest rave – the easy goal was to vandalise the archer’s equipment.

The easy goal for each group was a more reliable way to satisfy their needs in the short term, but had a negative impact on another group in the system, and also added to a common pool of counters representing the number of times the police had been called out to Flaten. As the pile of counters increased, the chances rose that the police would shut down all of Flaten and ban access for all three groups.

No part of this game worked, there is not one single element in it worth keeping. But some of the properties of the underlying game system feel as if they may have some traction in conversations about Flaten.

To tease these out explicitly, the valuable elements I think are:

  • A ‘push your luck’ style mechanism where individual groups pursuing their own goals can push the system the system as a whole towards risky thresholds
  • Elements of decision-making (which goal will your group pursue?) mixed with elements of skill-tester style play (how many counters can you land in your chosen cup?)
  • A roughly consistent game system whose behaviour follows fairly clear rules that an audience can learn and understand


Obviously there’s no point in shoehorning these qualities into a Flaten setting if they aren’t appropriate for the region we’re talking about, but my instinct is that some of these things may have a place in the game we’re creating.

So my question is: Which (if any) of these elements are worth exploring further, and, what aspects of the Flaten setting might be used to help portray these ideas?

– David

Back to it – a glimpse of our process


Hej hej från Sverige, vänner!

Yesterday (Monday) was the first day of our second week in Stockholm. Last week, we were all sick. Today, I am sick again. Our delicate Aussie constitutions have been screwed around by the many hours travelling from beautiful, hot summer weather in Sydney to cold, wet London in a germ-filled plane.

Last week was about getting acquainted with Miljöverkstan, including taking a walk through the snowy nature reserve around Flaten and spending some hours systems mapping with Anna. Yesterday was our first real opportunity to sit around a table and begin to create our new game.

The first point of difference to our last few processes is that for Miljöverkstan, we are creating a game – not a show. Best Festival Ever is performed by three actors, who lead players through the narrative while also facilitating the games, managing the results and dealing with all the props and audience interaction. Taking into account that this new show is for a Swedish audience for whom English will probably be a second language, we are conscious of taking away some of the ‘show’ mechanisms and replacing them with ‘game’ – if there are bits of story to be read out, they could as easily be read aloud by an audience member with no performance experience. Miljöverkstan have also expressed a desire to have a game that could be set up in a gallery space as an installation as well as being something that can be played as an event.

These are our current boundaries as I understand them:

  • audience of 10-30 people
  • audience age range from 14 years upwards
  • modular – if time is short, a section of the game could be played for an audience or group of stakeholders rather than the full game, and it will still have an impact.
  • address the ‘respect x 3’ principle of Miljöverkstan – respect for self, respect for others, respect for the environment
  • be specifically about Flaten
  • using systems principles, encourage people to invest in Flaten as a natural resource – not just of clean air and water, but as a source of health. The Swedish ‘right to nature’ comes into play here, as well as the saying that Swedes don’t go to church, they go to nature.

Here’s what we did today for our first real creative day on the Flaten project:

  • gathered in the house in Skarpnäck, then walked together 20+ minutes across the highway and through the nature reserve to the beach at Flaten. There was some snow overnight, so everything looked nice and frosty.
  • we arrive at our Flaten workspace and take off our boots/gloves/beanies/coats. We make a cup of tea, and spread our systems notes out onto the big table.
  • we did a quick ‘check in’ and scribbled some notes on ‘what we want to get out of this week’
  • Nathan wasn’t at our systems mapping session with Anna, so we start the day by running him through all our notes on the big sheets of butcher’s paper. For the systems mapping process, we use the guide from Resilience Practice.
  • we spend about 5 minutes individually writing out our ‘ideal game’. This is a process we’ve done a few times, and it’s really helpful to get ideas out of ours heads and into a shared space. Also, once you’ve written down that idea that you thought would DEFINITELY be the one and only way forward, it’s easier to let it go. You HAVE to be able to let ideas go.


  • we share these ideal game ideas with each other. This was really inspiring – they were all great ideas, and we have a lot more scope that I previously felt we did. The more time you spend away from the creative work, the less capable you feel.
  • After getting another cup of tea, we wrote down a list of Flaten-specific ‘settings’. Based on our info from last week, this is a list of all the potential game settings and conflicts that we can use to make games – different user groups, areas, system interactions, etc.
  • we split into 2 groups, pick a setting each, and spend 25 minutes coming up with a ‘terrible game’. This doesn’t mean we’re aiming to make something terrible – it’s just a reminder that we don’t have to make something that is perfect or that even works.
  • After 25 minutes, we share these games with each other.
  • lunch!
  • we spend the next few hours talking through game formats, story ideas, creating a list of the systems principles that we might include in the new game. We make some plans for the reset of the week.
  • We bundle up all our sheets of paper, put on our boots, beanies, gloves boats, and walk back to Skarpnäck


My favourite idea from today was from Mutley (David Shaw). In his ‘ideal show’ he offered a format or framework that was centred around a familiar tragic tale – for example, Romeo and Juliet (or as I have renamed it, the Deer and the Fish*).

*there was no fish toy at Flaten so the duck is standing in for the fish.

Using a globally familiar storyline (star crossed lovers) gives us something to tether our games to, helps us with language barriers, places our game into a timeline that moves forward, etc. I think it’s a really clever idea and I’m keen to explore it more – but also aware that this is a process where we have to be ready to LET IDEAS GO so that new ones can emerge.


I’m really excited to explore a few different narrative paths – in the diagram above, you can see that there is one journey (black) where the audience all travel through the game together going clockwise. There is another option, where the audience are in two groups, with one travelling clockwise and one counter clockwise. This would be very difficult to achieve, but oh my goodness I really want to try it. I think it would be beautiful.

Our rule is that you have to end each blog post with a question.

How generalised can we make our game and have it still be applicable to Flaten?


  • Rachel


True factual account of our trip to London: the game

You will need

microscope image of viruses

Image: NIAID – H1N1 Flu Virus. CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

  • A disease counter
  • An immune response counter
  • A 20 sided die
  • A deck of ACTIVITY cards (yet to be designed) (These will never be designed)


  1. Put the disease and immune response counters on the 0 space on the track.
  2. Shuffle the deck and draw a hand of seven ACTIVITY cards.

Continue reading

Back to BFE

The Best Festival Ever team is back for round two!


As of a few days ago we have headed back into development mode and are beginning our next project: a re-skinning of the BFE prototype for a real life complex system -in Stockholm, Sweden.


While we’re here we’ll be getting to grips with the Flaten-Skarpnak area and systems. Flaten is an area in the outskirts of Stockholm which is a kind of nature reserve. There is a lake and swimming area – where many older generations learned to swim in years past – and a forest. We’re working with a group called Milioverkstan who will be filling us in and helping us with the context of this complex system we’ll be working with. We’ll be working  for a total of four weeks initially, with plans to return to complete the project for performance by November 2016.

Flaten1It’s new for us to be working with a real life system. We have extensive experience in creating a simulated complex system, styling it to best facilitate explanation of different effects seen in, or common to, complex systems. This is the easy bit – we can (and have) made systems that suit our explaining and storytelling needs – but now we have to work differently. Coming to a real life system is daunting. Not only because of the unknown environmental and cultural environment, but because the people who use this area are real people, have real connections to it, and will have real feelings about us wandering in and presenting the environment they have a connection with to them. We are very aware of this, and will be treading with respect and awareness, but it’s the things we won’t see that concern me the most.

There is a lot to be excited about though – living and working in Stockholm for a month, learning about a new system completely outside our own and getting a chance to learn what it is to work with a real life community to achieve a representation/game of a real life complex system (and the promise of more snow!).

My question is: How can we gain the most comprehensive picture of a system we have no experience of, within a culture with have a limited understanding of? 

– Nikki

2016: A week with Forum for the Future


So it’s 2016, and we’re back to work. This year is going to be a busy one, with a big project taking place in Sweden: more on that in a moment.

To begin with, though, we packed up and headed off from the Canberra / Sydney January heatwave, straight out to London winter for a week with Forum for the Future.

Forum is an independent non-profit that works with businesses and governments to try to build sustainability practices. Their toolkit is drawn from systems science, as is ours, and there’s long been a good fit. So after a lot of discussion and planning, we kicked off and spent a week together exploring what a potential collaboration might look like.


That included, among other things, a performance of Best Festival Ever at the Proud Archivist gallery in Haggerston, showing off the show to an audience of corporate, government and NGO figures, and sitting with them afterwards to unpack some of their own systems challenges. And spending a couple of days with Forum’s Systems Innovations Lab, sharing a little of our working practices and digging into theirs.

One highlight was a game design workshop we ran with them, which included building a scrappy bundle of new games, rapidly prototyping them, testing them and then teasing them apart. This was really satisfying, partly because it was excellent practice for Sweden, and partly because making games is always fun. Making games is a better game than playing games.


Okay, so my question here is: Forum, what happens next with us?

– David