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GAME ON: rethinking how we teach, learn and the spaces within which this happens.

I first started considering game formats as a tool for teaching and learning around 2017 and remember requesting a one to one with, the then Director of New Art West Midlands, Craig Ashley. I was in my final year of studying for BA Fine Art & Contemporary Cultures. I was full of frustration at not knowing what I was about to face after I graduated and equally determined that I wasn't going to be one of the many graduate artists who 'fall off a cliff'. I wanted to do something about this cavernous gap that so many fall into.

"I want to create an artist toolkit, one that gives the best chance to graduate artists once they're out there on their own"

That was my impassioned plea to Craig even though I didn't really know at that time how exactly I was going to go about it. I received a lot of encouragement from him and also Mindy Chillery at Coventry Artspace as well as others. I continued to have conversations with them over the years as I began to develop ideas of what an artist toolkit might actually look like.

I also began to look at game formats as a part of my art practice during my artist residency in 2018 to 2019 at Coventry Artspace. During that year I was expanding on research I'd undertaken for my dissertation on stigma and social housing and the precarity of housing status in 'modern Britain', how identity, belonging, status, agency and autonomy are so wrapped up in our sense of self and how we perceive others.

I had always enjoyed playing the game Monopoly, originally named 'The Landlords Game'. Created by Lizzie Magie in the early twentieth century, it was a commentary on the monopolizing greedy landlords of the time. It struck me that not much has really changed, the gap between rich and poor has grown ever wider and the narrative ever more slippery and divisive. Monopoly seemed to me the perfect game to use as a starting point to open up conversation and re-imagine what the game might look like now.

During my research I discovered other artists who had used game formats within their practices, such as Olivia Plender's, 'Set Sail for the Levant', (2007) and Michelle Lewis-King's, 'Flux-Off', (2012), part of 'The Collect', Rogue Game Symposium at Spike Island. Both of these games were participatory and gave agency to the players to alter the aims of and rules of gameplay. Also part of that collective were Local No. 12 and their 'Metagame' which was a card game with a twist, with players discussing arts & culture based on what they thought rather than what they knew.

Another artist Sam Ingleson, currently Associate Dean; Enterprise & Engagement, School of Arts, Media & Creative Technology at University of Salford, with the game 'Proposal', Ingleson has gone on to research and develop games as valuable educational tools.

The workshop for 'Re-imagining Monopoly', '32 Brains', (2019) was a big hit and all the participants were keen to keep going when it came to an end. Most noteworthy was the feedback from one of the participants

[these type's of conversations are usually really difficult to have and so don't happen, it's been good to talk about money, housing, and debt in an open and non judgemental way]

The inclusion of game formats continued later that year. Coventry based collaborative Co-op(t) commissioned myself and artist, Adam Neal (as 'Spam & Chips') to create, develop and deliver an artist workshop. I had begun having conversations with Adam about the artist toolkit and we had decided to collaborate on developing the idea. We saw this commission as a great opportunity to pilot some of the ideas we had discussed about using game formats as way to have fun whilst learning.

'Mock the Weak', was a participatory workshop to explore artists’ experiences navigating the ‘art world’. Co-opting game show facets, ‘Mock the Weak’ operated as a framework from which discussion could take place around issues of accessibility, inclusion and diversity amongst others. Games included, 'Countdown Conundrum', 'The Numbers Game', and 'Image Bingo'.

These were all great experiences for developing an artist toolkit that uses game formats, either as in person participatory workshops, board games or within a digital space as an app or internet platform. The artist toolkit it remains a project in the pipeline!

Coventry Artspace have always provided professional development opportunities and support for artists with their own artist development programme which has been relaunched this year. I was approached to co-create and co-develop a board game and extension that would help artists avoid some of the common pitfalls faced by artists and signpost them to sources of further information and support. Collaborating with artist Janet Tryner was an opportunity to realise some of the concepts I'd been exploring over the last few years. As well as the content of the game we had to create and develop the gameplay and the graphics, and we chose early on to combine a board and narrative card game. We both felt it was important that the game provided an opportunity for conversation and that there were no winners or losers but opportunities to share knowledge and seek knowledge. The brief was to create a game that 'navigated disaster' in key areas: Copyright, Health, Safety & Welfare, Equalities Act 2010, GDPR, Safeguarding, and Ethics & Confidentiality. We agreed that art practice development is very much a navigation of challenges, a journey with many pathways. The inclusion of scenario cards provided starting points for discussion and 'doom cards' produced worst case scenarios. All players approach the game as an artist and one other 'character'. The roll of a dice and action game tiles kept the element of chance, as well as providing a visual journey. Players collect progress points in the form of slotted triangle shapes that they can piece together to build a structure which provides a 3D representation of their progress through the game.

Using a similar format with a few tweaks we also developed the game "Working in the Public Realm". Both games are offered as part of the Coventry Artspace Artist Development Programme.

Close-up of Navigating Disaster soft board, scenario and doom cards, and game pieces
Image credit: Janet Tryner

Working with members of the Coventry Artspace board of trustees and advisory board, we were able to draw on their experiences as well as our own and other artists to include scenarios based on real situations. Due to the nature of the game being one of collaboration and conversation, the game can take, on average, approximately 4 hours to play.

I have now started my MA Arts & Education Practices at BCU School of Art and game formats, spaces and methodologies will be a part of the next 12 months and shared within this blog.

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