TRUST IN PLAY: European School for Urban Game Designers (TiP) brings artists, game designers, playful auteurs, academics, municipal decision-makers and citizens together in a co-operational process of urban games creation.

Using playfulness, participatory design and creativity, the project explores methods of empowerment and artistic cooperation between different European stakeholders active in the urban play sector, as a means to improve the employability and financial sustainability of urban game designers. At the same time, TRUST IN PLAY highlights the fact that, through the co-creation of urban games, all stakeholders involved can contribute to reducing tension and fear in the pressure cooker that is a modern urban city today.

Question #2 Who Participates and what are their needs?

Over the past decade, a small but vibrant international scene of game designers has become fascinated with working in public urban spaces, producing experimental projects & formats, from festivals and events to installations and mobile apps. This scene consists of teams of artists, tech enthusiasts, artistic performers, game designers and curators of playful art, working in public space, often with an interest to address social issues. However, most of their projects do not stand the test of time or are abandoned before reaching their full potential. Teams usually pop up, driven by their need to work with certain issues in their own unique and playful way, blending diverse artistic practices. They struggle to make their voice heard; they may even become the centre of media attention for a while. And then are left back to square one.

Urban game creators are often set up as collectives who struggle under the pressure of finding the means to sustain their vision. Funding for urban games is meager and creators usually focus their fundraising efforts mainly on personal connections, rather than professional networking. Being interdisciplinary by inception, the urban play sector also needs to integrate best practices from art, design, business and communication in order to provide sustainable income. On the one hand therefore, there is a specific skill-set and creativity involved in the creators’ work (artistic means, techniques, research methods, working with different stakeholders from public space, etc); on the other, urban game designers seem usually unable to develop a sustainable business plan, especially since they do not offer a specific repeatable and reproduced product and seem to lack the management and business skills that could help improve their sustainability as creative professionals. Moreover, they do not have direct access to a network of stakeholders established in the cultural field, which could help them to both finance and promote their work.

TRUST IN PLAY empowers urban game designers with the help of experts from the sector, who impart their knowledge and experiences through a mutually beneficial training process, involving soft and hard skill-set training and networking opportunities with municipal decision-makers and established cultural institutions. Benefits for the urban game designers include enhancing their professional capacity (artistic and business skills) and acquiring the tools necessary to start working sustainably. The project Consortium actively involves experts with considerable experience in state of the art urban play projects, experimental artistic games and playful experiences. Partner experts are fully aware of the organizational difficulties of bringing successful experiential outcomes to the public, even more so in public spaces, where the element of the unexpected is ever-present. Through a specifically developed co-operational methodology and a series of traditional and online training sessions, TRUST IN PLAY supports urban game design teams and inspires them to keep on creating playful interactions in public space.

Question #3: Why do we focus on the Urban?
European cities are in the forefront of a fragile global system. Financial crises, violence and the increasing fear of fundamentalism-related terrorism have added more uncertainty to the daily life of many Europeans, especially those belonging to vulnerable social groups. More than two thirds of the European population lives in urban areas. Cities are places where both problems emerge and solutions are found. They are places where problems such as unemployment, segregation and poverty are concentrated; but they also provide a fertile ground for culture and innovation, for individual and collective creativity and for mitigating change.

Question #4: Where is the Trust?
Within the last decade there has been a gradually noticeable lack of trust that citizens show to their respective governments and to each other, which is inevitably linked with the rising levels of loneliness and marginalization in modern societies. As European citizens and members of the creative community, we feel not only the need, but the obligation to address such issues of fear and mistrust and to discuss them openly, utilizing culture as our main means of expression.

Question #5: Why do we choose to support Play and Game Design?
In the rapidly expanding culture of fear and mistrust, currently nurtured in urban environments, playful co-operation and game design can produce opportunities for social interaction and relationship building. On a political level, games allow information to be shared and discussions to be made, offering a broader perspective on issues at stake and creating empathy. On an institutional level, games promote experiential opportunities that may help bond teams and encourage people to think about their behavior. On a personal level, games can train people to deal with certain processes, unexpected difficulties and surprising situations.

Playfulness has been used as a trust-building tool between communities and teams, spearheaded by the American ‘New Games movement’ in the 1960s. A more recent expression of this practice has been the use of games as a means to tackle difficult issues and strengthen social bonds, as well as a problem-solving method, bringing top down decision-makers together with bottom up stakeholders. Urban Games have already been adopted by cities in piloting projects with great results across the globe; such as Oslo’s Trafikkagenten spy game app, that allows young citizens to act as “secret agents” for the city, live-reporting any difficulties or safety hazards that they encounter. They also create emotional moments in public space (see for example Blast Theory’s Rider Spoke), in an effort to explore how games and new communication technologies create new hybrid social spaces, in which the private and the public are intertwined.

These two different games are good examples of how both high and low tech playful creations may invite the public to be co-authors and a visible manifestation of the game, allowing players and audience to explore emotional and intellectual resonances of personal and public situations. As structured systems, games motivate interaction with a set of rules that are, in most cases, straightforward for the player to understand through instructions or feedback. Play elements and playful urban spaces have an inverse relationship with fear and mistrust, since the prerequisites for a place to be playful are that it should be safe, accessible and inclusive. Moreover, games, when properly conceived, can act as feedback systems that prescribe certain kinds of player actions, while accommodating changes in the system that emerges from play. We believe that by enhancing playfulness in public space and creating methodologies of training towards a more humane urban design and architecture, it is possible to reduce social tensions relating to issues of fear and mistrust.

Games offer a means to address problems in a fun way, to talk, interact and work together for a shared goal. TRUST IN PLAY gives the opportunity to representatives of the urban play sector to make adjustments to their current setting and create tangible solutions, which may have real impact on their lives and not just their leisure. It promotes cultivation of skills, training in new business models and peer-learning, through a process of transnational co-operation, while keeping an open eye to shared problems and common themes.

Question #6: How can we achieve this?
TRUST IN PLAY ventures to prove that, when equipped with the proper skills, aware of the particular needs of their audience and encouraged to co-create, urban game creators may become a new force of social inclusion.
By targeting short term (urban game designer sustainability) and long term issues (inclusion, unity and trust in public space), the project:
• helps artists/urban game designers “up their game” and expand their artistic and entrepreneurship skills,
• familiarizes citizens/players with new ways to interact in their shared urban space and
• enables the visibility of these interactions by the public sector, policy makers and established cultural organizations, enabling sustainability for the urban play sector as a whole.
TRUST IN PLAY assists and promotes the skills, work and creative opportunities of urban artists and urban game designers, bringing them into the next phase of professional maturity and creating a positive effect on social cohesion and the reduction of mistrust in European Cities, through inclusive playful art and urban games.