Why are Boho in Stockholm?

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In 2012, 2 artists from Boho Interactive (David Finnigan and David Shaw) and 3 new Boho associates from Applespiel (Rachel Roberts, Nathan Harrison and Nikki Kennedy) were in residence at University College London developing what would later become ‘Best Festival Ever: How To Manage A Disaster’ (BFE).

BFE emerged from an initial prompt by the former Dean of UCL, climate scientist Lord Julian Hunt, to develop a module to help train policy-makers in systems thinking. Over the next few years, we delved into systems science to develop an interactive table-top performance that used game mechanisms to build systems thinking skills.  We used research from the Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC) in this process, and at the end of a  development period in 2014 were invited over to Stockholm to share BFE with SRC.

Since then, Boho have been performing BFE in Australia and the UK, and collaborating with new partners to create new works that use systems science and gaming. Anna Emmelin, our friend at SRC, invited us to join a partnership and work on the Flaten project – also known as ‘Democratic Nature’.

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Flaten lake and bathing area in February – completely frozen.

Flaten is a nature reserve and lake in the suburban area of Skarpnäck, in Stockholm, Sweden. This beautiful lake area is home to a unique project that brings together partners from science, theatre, education and government to look at the sustainability and governance of the area. The Flaten project is a blend of four elements that power a process of engagement, learning and co-creation. These are:

Youth education and engagement (School children are brought to the area through their schools and camp programs for experience-based learning)

A table top game (that’s us!)

A political process (Flaten is being used as a role model for modern sustainable governance of nature reserves)

Data observation (Programmes and processes to capture, understand, share and act upon data. Lessons from Flaten can be applied in a local, national and global context)

In February 2016, Boho was in residence at Flaten with our partners and friends Miljöverkstan, who are responsible for the incredible experience-based learning opportunities for school children and programs for newly arrived immigrants. Over 4 weeks we gathered information about the social, cultural, political and ecological history of Flaten and began to play with game mechanisms that might use this information to teach skills in sustainability and governance.

Now we are back in Sweden for about 5 weeks of development to create a prototype of our game, and continue the networking and learning process with the Flaten project partners (Miljöverkstan, Albaeco, GivingOS, and many individuals who share their time and expertise with the project). We’ll be back in 2017 to turn the prototype into a polished game that can be played in galleries, board rooms, schools – anywhere. We’ll also be continuing to work and share with our new partners, because this project is a really unique opportunity to share skills and knowledge long-term. It could be that we’ll end up with a game-making process that can be applied to systems anywhere in the world, so we can travel around and create systems games anywhere.

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It’s pretty cool.

– Rachel

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Resilience Pivots

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe had a great few days this week, running shows of Best Festival Ever for friends, funders and stakeholders of Miljöverkstan and Democratic Nature. Doing the show at this point in the process was really useful for me, reminding me of some of our goals, how the decisions we make at this point are reflected in a final product, and the joy that comes with sharing these sorts of games and ideas with an audience.

After the Friday show we got to have a long conversation with some people who are not only familiar with the Flaten area, but who work with systems science and environmental data. This is a very useful relationship for us, and one that will only increase in value as we get further into the process.

In the conversation we touched upon a concept that was new to me, that of resilience pivots. When a system is undergoing transformation, there are some parts of the system that don’t transform. The resilience of these parts is what in effect allows the transformation. In considering the transformation of a system, it is valuable to consider which parts stayed resilient as much as it is to consider which parts transformed.

I believe this is an idea better suited to studying past transformations than predicting future ones – though it might help to understand the impact of a suggested transformation. Identifying where in the system resilience will help transformation and where it will hinder could help create opportunities to effect change.

If someone wanted to turn the Flaten area into a big commercial tourist zone, one resilience pivot point might be the clean water and beauty of the lake – these qualities would have to not change for the transformation to work.

I look forward to understanding this better and figuring out nicer examples.

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It’s clearly a concept that I’m still getting my head around, but I’m very excited that a few years into this process we’re able to talk to experts and learn more nuanced ideas about systems. It shows how far we’ve come since 2012, and even thought it might not be an idea we end up explicitly communicating in a show about Flaten, it’s a new way to look at the system and a new concept to add to our language of our process.

Here’s a paper that I’ve skimmed through and seems useful, Resilience Pivots: Stability and Identity in a Social-Ecological-Cultural System.

Can the concept of resilience pivots help us to understand past transformations of Flaten, and better articulate potential future ones?

– Nathan

The day the music died.

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My poor hard drive, RIP.

Best Festival Ever is a touring show. We pack all the set and prop items into 4 suitcases and 2 art cases, and lug it around in our cars and on planes. It’s fairly heavy and clunky, but we make it work.

There isn’t really a lighting design for the show, as we’re often performing it in board rooms or office floors with no theatre lighting. When we DO get to perform in a theatre, we have the luxury of theatre lighting (thanks Gillian Schwab at Street Theatre!). It lifts the show a lot, and feels a bit special.

As for sound, we enlisted the expertise of Nick McCorriston before our first Australian run to help us move the show’s sound from my old iPod to something a bit easier to use. The solution was to run a BFE Ableton session through my laptop (offstage) into either a PA system or our on-stage mini speakers. The Ableton session is controlled through the Touchable app on my ipad, which we keep in our little ‘presenting’ area on stage with us. It’s MUCH better than the iPod.

The problem is that I am a fool, and forgot to back up my computer before coming overseas.

The problem is that my laptop crashed 20 minutes in to the Kärrtorps Gymnasium show.

The problem is that try as I might, I couldn’t get the computer to restart and get the show back on track – my hard drive was completely dead.

I tried to solve our most pressing issue (no sound for the show we were in the middle of performing) by plugging my iPhone into our on-stage mini speakers and playing ANYTHING to provide backing music to our games. Not a great solution.

Compounding our troubles was the fact that Nathan was performing while sick (what a trooper), and our audience was a tricky one (see previous post).

With the crisp vision of hindsight, I know what we should have done. I should have backed up my computer and brought an external hard drive with me. I should have put the Ableton session onto Nikki AND Nathan’s laptops. We should have each had at least a playlist of the show music on our iPhones for times when something crashes mid-show. These are things we will do in the future.

For now, I’ve just picked my laptop up from the repair show with a brand new, blank hard drive. Tonight, I can set up my laptop from scratch – and can reconsider what I actually WANT from my laptop and set it up in a way that makes things easier for me to study, to work, and to play.

So I’m asking myself some questions that we ask in our systems mapping process – what do I want from my laptop? What do I use it for? Perhaps there are systems I haven’t considered before that would suit my purposes very well, but I have never tried them because sorting through my cluttered documents seemed like an overwhelming task. I’ve been forced to step out of the system that I used to use for several hours a day, see it from a larger perspective and ask new questions of it.

(I’m trying to be positive about the fact that I’ve lost all my data. Fresh start!)

Questions:

What are the systems we use everyday (like laptops) that would benefit from a do-over? A clean slate to build up from scratch?

To answer my own question a bit:

  • Kitchen pantry and fridge. I know that I am not going to eat trashy food if it isn’t in my house. It is much easier to turn over a new leaf of health and food if I can turn my pantry into a blank slate (ironically this might mean i end up eating a lot of trash in order to start a new ‘healthy’ phase)

-Rachel

Adapting to our audience.

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Each audience is different. Different ages, backgrounds, levels of science knowledge, investment in our process and our product. Some have contributed resources and/or expertise to Best Festival Ever. Some have no idea what they’re in for. Generally we have an understanding of each audience prior to performing each show. One of the first things we do when unpacking our props is decide who our eight headliner choices will be – this task usually falls to David Finnigan, who will take into consideration our perceived audience demographic as he chooses a spread of artists. We hope to have each audience member be familiar with at least one of the artists in our line-up.

The time of day generally has an impact on our audience – early morning is fairly formal, evening is casual, etc.

At the end of our first week in Stockholm, we performed Best Festival Ever for a group of students from Kärrtorps Gymnasium. These teenagers had been coming to work with Miljöverkstan in Flaten for several months, popping by once a week for a few hours to research the area in small groups.

There are a couple of things we needed to consider in order to perform BFE for this particular audience.

  1. English is their second language – and for some, it is their third or fourth. This means we need to enunciate and slow down a little in our delivery.
  2. They’re not here of their own accord. When performing in a theatre or science centre, we’re usually working with an audience who have chosen to come along of their own volition – they’re interested in the science or the games, or curious about seeing something new. They’re taken a step towards us, and we work to meet them in the middle. With ‘forced’ audiences, we have to take 2 steps to meet them. Not that they’re hostile! They just aren’t on the bandwagon yet.
  3. The jokes won’t land. We wrote the show for an English-speaking audience based in Australia or the UK – there are some jokes and humorous descriptions that some people might get, but most won’t. We have to ride that wave as performers the best we can, and try to keep our energy up without audible laughter.
  4. The trade-offs game may have less discussion of ethics.
    If our audience doesn’t have brand familiarity with our sponsors, they’re just picking based on weight.
  5. We may have to repeat some instructions
  6. They already have a social structure. Often we’re performing for groups that don’t know each other, and we have built an awareness of the moments where a sense of ensemble is established in the audience. It’s a little different with groups that already have a structure or hierarchy – still interesting for us to observe, though.
  7. They will NOT think we are cool, and might think we’re talking down to them. Teenagers ALWAYS feel as though we’re talking down to them a bit, maybe babying them, by asking them to play systems science games. Adults are much more on board, and often assume that teenagers would LOVE the show.
  8. We need to give audience members their scripts a bit earlier than usual. We have a few bits of dialogue that we ask audience members to read aloud for us. For an English-speaking audience, this is my process:

Rachel: *whispering* Hey, would you be able to read some lines out for me?

Audience: *nods*

Rachel: You’ll be playing ‘Ted’. *points to the highlighted lines* I’ll let you know when to start.

And then I stand a little behind them and give them a little tap on the shoulder when the line just before theirs is wrapping up. For a Swedish audience, I try to give them the text a line or two earlier to give them a bit of reading time.

When performing for an adult audience in Sweden, we still have to take some of these things into consideration – speaking a bit slower, enunciating, etc. Our three shows this week for various stakeholders and systems scientists went really well, and I hope that there wasn’t too much lost in translation.

The biggest problem for our Kärrtorps Gymnasium was my laptop dying mid-show (more on this to come…)

A question to end with:

How can we, as outsiders who don’t speak Swedish, creating a show to be performed in Swedish for a Swedish-speaking audience whose first language MAY NOT even be Swedish, make sure that our work AND the work of Miljöverkstan doesn’t get lost in translation?

-Rachel

Making a Game About A Real System Is Real Difficult

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One of the most exciting, and also daunting, parts of this process is that for the first time we’re applying the skills we’ve been developing over the last few years to a real-world socio ecological system. We’ve done a few mapping processes now, for a fictional beach town, a newsagents stands (that we realized afterwards didn’t actually exist), our friend’s theatre show and a music festival. But mapping the Flaten area, and translating that into a game, has brought a whole new set of challenges.

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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.

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  • 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

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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.

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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

 

Empathy Gaming

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Today I found this article from a news publication back home – Empathy Gaming

“An emerging category of role-playing computer games is demonstrating how the genre can be used to discuss awkward, even painful subjects, writes Patrick Begley.”

I’m familiar with games such as Papers, Please and as Nathan said when I shared the article with him, it’s great to see games from indie developers getting coverage in publications such as the Sydney Morning Herald.

With Best Festival Ever, we are certainly attempting to use gaming mechanics to bring to light moral ambiguities, decision making tactics and questions about ethics and systems management. While the article makes the point that many of these indie ’empathy games’ are not focusing on fun, we definitely want the audience experience of our show to be very fun. Having fun means that you’re more likely to take risks, more likely to continue playing even when the results take a dive, more likely to participate in group games. (At least, I think so).

Take a look at the article and try out one of the games.

– Rachel