How Game-Making Can Inspire Change: Coney and their Playful Activism

Published on 14 June 2022

The very first thing we did upon entering the room for Toby Peach’s workshop on Playful Activism was play a game – which rug, of the many on the wall, would you take home with you? Is your answer still the same after hearing what others have to say?

Playful Activism is all about finding the gift and the conversation you want to have, and making them work together. Figuring out who the recipient is, how your message will land, and the value (magical, physical, and educational) of your gift, and how to turn that into an experience that will start a conversation, is at its core. Peach, who works with children and teens to start these conversations, told us all his creative superpower is game-making: he can find games in everything, even the most mundane objects.

Toby Peach and his chosen carpet (photo by Ailbhe Noonan)

To introduce us to play and how important it can be, he had us play a game called “coin jousting” – each player got a 2p coin and had to keep the coin on the back of their hand. The catch? Other players could come in at any point and swipe the coin off your hand. I found it unusual for artists to play a game that involves competition rather than cooperation, but it did raise the interesting question of group and wider societal dynamics – when do we help each other and when do we go all in for ourselves? Coin Jousting helped loosen up the atmosphere as we were all a little nervous, and after a few rounds of testing strategies and running around we were all feeling better.

As we got to know each other by finding out two “mundane superpowers” and one “creative superpower”, it became clear that each of us could contribute something in our own way. And indeed, we did. The six of us were from different backgrounds and cultural contexts and everyone brought something different to the workshop. I have long been told I make the perfect cup of tea if given the parameters, so the group was delighted to find out that I could make them tea. I didn’t get the chance to demonstrate, alas, but it was a humourous moment. Through a round of questions after discovering in pairs that myself and the woman I was sat beside were both theatre critics and journalists, and have both been published online and physical, we also found out that we were all people who had rugs that were in storage in our houses.

Photo by Ailbhe Noonan

Everything we were talking about was building up to creating an idea of our own about how we could use the space to create a gift for Bibu and ASSITEJ. My partner and I were inspired by the history of the space as a print warehouse and the large open central space separated by black curtains, and decided we could use the space to create an escape room about changing perspectives. Children age 10-12 would enter on one of three routes that would take them through a series of escape rooms exploring access barriers, critical thinking skills, and misinformation. They would collect clues in each room and at the end would be faced with a challenge that required them to use all the pieces they had collected and skills they had learned to solve it. Every child would get to keep one of the pieces/clues as a reminder of what they learned and that individually, things may seem impossible to change, but when we come together as a group and work together, we gain the power to change the world for the better.

I enjoyed the workshop a lot more than I thought I would – it was fascinating to see such interactive theatre being displayed, and a lot of the projects discussed were things I would have loved to do as a child. Going forward, I think incorporating playful activism and gift-giving/game-making and changing how we interact with technology as theatremakers will allow us to reach a much wider audience and connect to people who may not otherwise have experienced culture and the arts.