Working on CounterPlay ’16, it’s clear that we need to also focus on the way the festival is organised. Even though we want CounterPlay to be deliberately (somewhat) chaotic to support a more relaxed, informal and playful atmosphere, we also strive to make it as meaningful as possible.

It’s a constant dance between rigid structure and full-blown chaos. Some people want more of the former, while other wish for more of the latter. People are different, and there’s no way to make everybody happy, but we’ll try to keep learning from our experiences. It needs to feel right, and that calls for some consideration and changes on multiple levels. I think the festival should retain some of the conferency elements, while also moving more towards a proper festival. So far, CounterPlay has mostly been for those who pay to participate in the whole shebang, and while that is a good foundation, we also need more open access to parts of the festival. Maybe the festival could be an entire week of playful events and then the confestival (that is supposed to be more festival than conference) would be Thursday-Saturday?


How do you structure something like this? counterplay_schedule (Medium) For the first two festivals, we’ve used three parallel tracks representing (roughly) culture & society, education and organisations. It also served the purpose of signalling the different approaches to playfulness. It was a way to say:

Hey, this is not just for teachers / librarians / consultants / leaders / journalists / politicians / game developers / commuicators / and-so-on

Rather, it’s for all of these people and many, many more. We wish to cultivate communities of different people, professionals, who can benefit from playfulness in their everyday life and work. This remains at the core, but I think, however, that we may need to create a more flexible and transparent framework and maybe it’s time to leave the three rigid tracks behind. Maybe we should instead use a combination of a more elaborate tagging system with informative keywords and an indication of the complexity of each session. If a session is based on,say, specific experience with designing for urban spaces, and it requires a bit of knowledge beforehand, it could be tagged: Creative Development Design Urban Spaces Complexity: Medium   We would still have to schedule things, so too similar sessions are not right on top of each other, but I think we could make things a lot more flexible and transparent with the right tagging system.


We’ve been experimenting with many different formats, and we’ll undoubtedly continue to do so. What we really want, is to increase the level of interactivity: less one-way talk, more debate, action and play. We suggest that every contribution is playful by nature, but we should probably take it further and have less traditional talks. Maybe we could reduce the “talks” to a handful of keynotes and some super short talks (e.g. Pecha Kucha or Ignite) and focus more on the activity-based content? Maybe something like this, where the main formats are PLAY/CREATE/DEBATE?

CounterPlay is about many things, but play is obviously central. It’s important for us to create spaces for many kinds of play, letting diverse groups of people play in many different ways with many different purposes. Next year, we’ll have the best conditions for this with the big open spaces of DOKK1 and we strive to put play at the heart of everything. TurtleWushu_1 (Large)
The festival should be a space for creating, ranging from making games, toys and new ways to play to creating new ideas and ways of thinking about play. We should have spaces for building things out of cardboard and wood as well as bits and pixels, and generally remember that to create can mean many different things. 2015-10-11 14.43.09 (Small)
We love insightful debates and conversations, and the idea about bringing different people together to explore playfulness together calls for lots of opportunities and spaces where these exchanges can happen. It can be panels, roundtables, informal conversations, open spaces and much more. The important thing is that it’s not just one person talking. 20150410_115537 (Small)
While the interactive elements should be central, sometimes the best thing is to listen to inspiring people share their passion and unfold their arguments in a bit more depth, and I imagine this can take place in a handful of keynotes during the festival. 20150410_090646 (Small)
These super short and condensed talks can be extremely energetic and inspiring, and would be a perfect way to share ideas and experiences for further work and discussion.


The festival always aims to explore playfulness from many angles and in many different areas of society. We won’t try to force everything into boxes and categories, but we will be selecting specific themes to investigate in a bit more depth. For next year, we are currently exploring a few themes in more detail:

LeadershipUrban SpacesPlayful SocietyCardboard
We read an article and had a discussion in our Facebook group on “playful leadership”, and it seems like a very important topic to investigate. If we want to create real changes anywhere, leaders play a central role and need to participate in the ongoing conversation and exploration.
We’re very interested in creating more playful cities, and enabling playful interventions in urban spaces. When people start playing in our cities, it creates a kind of friction that helps us question the very purpose of the city.
This is a probably too broad and in a way it’s more a part of our long-term goal to create a more playful society. Even so, we’ve had some really interesting conversations with people on what constitutes a playful society, how we move in that direction and how we know when we’ve got it – and more. Follow #playfulsociety on Twitter to keep up.
We hosted the Global Cardboard Challenge, and we love all the creative constructions people are making when playing with cardboard, so we’ll definitely include this as a theme in the festival.

Aside from these, we are still open to suggestions.

I would personally like to also explore areas like “playful activism” and “playful global citizenship”, but let’s hear what you think.


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Mathias Poulsen

I think a playful mindset is essential for us to live better lives together. I organise the CounterPlay Festival to cultivate a #playfulsociety.

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