Mathias Poulsen

Co-founder & Chairman of the Board, CounterPlay

Owner, Play Consulting


Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I have a background in media studies, and have been self-employed since 2008. I started out exploring and encouraging the use of games in education in various ways. While I still support this, I’ve seen myself drift more towards play and playfulness as a vital component in our lives. From the beginning, I was interested in games as objects and games as images of another culture of learning, but the former too often overshadowed the latter. Most people prefer things that are concrete, things that provide solutions here and now. While I can definitely understand this, I’ve realised that games as objects won’t make much of a difference if we don’t change our attitudes, mindsets and culture. For that to happen, we need to be more playful. It’s not just about playing every now and then, it’s about being playful in the way we approach the world.

Why do you think play is important?

There are countless reasons to stand up for play, but I’m increasingly attracted to the most simple one: it’s a fundamental part of human nature, an essential part of our basic needs. Play is simply a prerequisite of living a meaningful life, where you connect with other people.

This feels kinda important, right, but it’s rarely enough, we need to prove a more instrumental value. Luckily, I see many, many signs, from research as well as practice, that play and a playful attitude is necessary to navigate complexity, and I basically think that we’re better equipped to live in this chaotic world if we’re playful. Play opens our minds towards the world and people. In play, anything is possible. The entire world could be different. Your imagination is set free, your creativity runs wild, and your most crazy ideas may be the most meaningful ones. You take risks, and sometimes you end up in unexpected and perhaps even controversial territory.

How do you want to contribute to and shape CounterPlay?

Where do I begin? I hope to contribute in every way possible. If I have anything to say, CounterPlay will keep evolving over the years – for as long as society fails to fully realize the importance of play.

I want to create a much stronger foundation for the festival in general, and for the underlying idea of cross-pollination. I think this is the raison d’être for CounterPlay: to cultivate communities of different playful people, who can challenge each other and deepen our understanding of play. If we want a more playful society (and I do!), we need to embrace and support this diversity.

In addition to that, I’m always trying to make the festival more playful. It’s easy to fall in the conference-trap, and it takes a constant, conscious effort to make the majority of sessions truly interactive, where everybody is participating and everybody is allowed to play in many ways. Related to this, I’m working on creating closer ties to the world outside the festival. How do we increase the chances that people actually leave the festival, go home, and start being more playful in their everyday lives?