Don’t hate the players, hate the game.


Last month I attended a workshop in Bristol that explored the concept of playable cities. For a one day conference, it felt a lot like this…

Source: Giphy


If you’d like a summary it was one day, sixteen speakers, eight debates (give or take), one complimentary lunch (with a frickin’ homemade brownie!), one exhibition, one riddle, one key to the city, one story workshop, fifteen city change makers, several demos and heaps of questions. Although, much like RTÉ Players’ ads, you can’t get to the good stuff the short way so I’ll break down the best bits or the ones that resonated with me.


The day kicked off with name badges and informal networking – shudder. The group was a real melting pot of artists, academics, policymakers and producers…oh, and a copywriter. As soon as we were handed streamers on sticks I knew that any awkwardness would be quickly shaken out of us.



A guy in a t-shirt with the words “Delete Your Account” on it took to the stage first. It was Miguel Sicart, a play scholar and author of “The Ethics of Computer Games”.




He talked about who had the right to play in a city and how, despite its appearance, cities aren’t black and white systems.



Next up was Erin Walsh, head of City Strategies at Future Cities Catapult. She discussed how city councils can work more closely with the people that live there to make great things happen. She illustrated this through #OurManchester, an open co-collaboration project where Manchester Council ask the cities’ people to send their proposals for improving the space for everyone living there.



This simple open dialogue put people in direct control of where the money went by pledging to the project that they felt strongly about in a Kickstarter style process. For a list of some of the projects that have been funded click HERE.



Daniel Hirschmann, of Hirsch and Mann and winner of the Watershed’s current Playable City Award talked about some of his past projects such as “The Vigo Instrument Cloud”, an interactive biometric experience created for Namibia Breweries Limited.



And some things that inspire him like “De-Fencing” an urban project by Jair Straschnow. The artist saw a problem: sitting facilities are in urgent need in Mozambique. His solution was to use the cities existing assets. These are elements that are woven into the fence and can be pushed or flipped in and out.



Although most of Hirsch and Mann’s work is quite digital, Hirschmann kept dipping in and out of analogue (more in than out). What it came back to again and again was simplicity. The RedBall project is the perfect embodiment of this. It’s a travelling public art piece by American artist Kurt Perschke and considered the world’s longest-running street artwork.


Stuart Nolan, a self-titled research magician told us all about his mission to make mind readers out of 1000 people through muscle reading.



Poet, playwright and performer Inua Ellams told us not all those who wander are lost. He founded the Midnight Run, a dusk-to-dawn cultural walking tour of the city that brings strangers and local artists together to play while the city sleeps. He urged us to negate the frenzy and hysteria of mass media and reality TV for actual reality; to reclaim our cities and rediscover them with collective child-like wonder.



The second half of the day was all about exploration. After lunch, we sat in a crypt in the heart of the city and wrote short stories together.


brownie not featured

We thought about where we came from and the future of that space. We were then asked to pick a place in our city that had been forgotten then write a story about the future of that space. My story? Moore Street in the year 2263 – a YouTuber’s Utopia.



Overall, the conference drew you in from the get-go; educating, entertaining and interrogating you while encouraging you to take part, ask questions and explore. The ultimate conclusion of the day is that play is powerful. It can be a new dialogue where words just aren’t enough to get a point across. It can bring strangers together so learn to strike a chord in your city through play.