We’ve been fortunate enough to be a partner at the international Next Library 2015 conference, which has just taken place in the fantastic DOKK1 building here in Aarhus (where CounterPlay ’16 coincidentally also happens to play out next year).

I was there on behalf of CounterPlay, and contributed with a super short “ignite talk” and a longer “Play & Create“. Both were framed around the same basic assumption:

I think playful people might be better equipped to live in this world

While the ignite talk was pretty terrifying in its hectic intensity, the “Play & Create” session was absolutely hilarious. Both were utterly amazing experiences. The same goes for the Next conference in general. I’m extremely impressed by the Next conference crew, the use of the venue and – not least – the incredibly passionate, sincere and inspiring participants and contributors (do take a look at the #nextlibrary2015 hashtag, which is full of important ideas & thoughts on the future of libraries).

A World of Playfulness

20 slides, 15 seconds each. Seriously. Who thought the Pecha Kucha format was too lenient and decided to shave off 5 seconds per slide?

Anyway, it was a great exercise in getting to the point and keeping everything sharp (I’m not saying I succeeded, but I enjoyed trying).

Why not engage one of the biggest and most confusing questions I’ve currently wrestling with?

I tried to show some of the possible links between “global citizenship” and playfulness using a couple of my favorite quotes:

it’s wrong to think of playing as the interruption of ordinary life. Consider instead playing as the underlying, always there, continuum of experience” (Richard Schechner)

To play fully & imaginatively is to step sideways into another reality, between the cracks of ordinary life” (Thomas S. Henricks)

Playfulness means taking over a world to see it through the lens of play, to make it shake and laugh and crack because we play with it” (Miguel Sicart)

In the end, I asked two questions.

One regarding the work being done at libraries all over the world (by people like the participants at Next):

Could you embrace playfulness as a strategy in the transformation of libraries?

The second question was directed at all the people using libraries:

Could you create libraries that to an even greater extent help people become more playful?

Here’s my presentation:

Play & Create

This session was longer (90 minutes) and took place in the open space at the ramp in the middle of DOKK1.

After my brief introduction, we played a couple of rounds of the wonderful “Turtle Wushu” developed by Invisible Playground (I wasn’t able to find turtles, alive or plastic, so maybe what we played was in fact “Dice Wushu”).

TurtleWushu_3 (Medium)

We only played for 10-15 minutes, but it really had an impact on the energy of the remainder of the session.

I then talked for a bit, trying to provide som background for the game we just played and the upcoming play jam. My basic argument for playing and being silly is something like this:

It’s not so much about the games or play activities as such, but rather about learning to be playful.

Together, we came up with three words or dogmas and each group would choose one of these as a starting point for developing a “new form of play” in 30 minutes:

When the groups started jamming, an already nice atmosphere turned into something almost magical. They were so engaged in the task at hand and clearly didn’t hold themselves back.

In the end, we had three concepts that could readily be played by others, each based on one of the three dogmas.



In the beginning, this was played with a blindfold or eyes closed. You had to sense where the other players were and then smash their balloon.

In the final version, you were allowed to see, and you could defend yourself with bubbles that the other players couldn’t move through.


The idea behind this was the fact that we rarely go exploring the spaces we often visit.

You begin by spinning a bottle. Then you go in that direction, and introduce yourself to the first stranger you meet and challenge that person to a “bubble race”. You blow a bubble each, and try to move that bubble as far as you can.


Here, you had to stand in a designated spot and play out one of three roles: blow bubbles, catch bubbles or use a piece of paper to prevent the catching of bubbles.

There is a rotation system, so you move between the three roles. That can be done after a set number of bubbles is caught or a set amount of time. You can add more players for increased difficulty (and confusion and laughs).

All three forms of play were hilarious and certainly made a lot of people (Next participants as well as regular library visitors) smile and laugh.

The fact that the workshop took place out in the open created a disturbance and “friction” for the regular guests at the library, which was extremely interesting to watch:

This was one of the best experiences I’ve had doing a workshop for a long time and only because of the wonderful, sincere and hugely energetic effort of the participants!

One of the participants said to me, with a big smile, that he hadn’t done something like this since he was a child – with the underlying question: WHY haven’t I done something like this since I was a child? (well, that was my interpretation, at least).

That really meant a lot to me.

Other people came up afterwards and thanked me, which made me a little proud and super grateful, but it also just made me want to thank the participants. They did most of the work and they made sure the session was that much fun.

I need to do something like this again soon. It seems to be even more valuable than I would have expected.

Here’s my presentation:

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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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