Developing our ability to imagine and adapt through gamification

I joined the Future laboratories for professional and personal development [FUTURES 2020-2023] during the academic year of 2021-22. My Middlesex University colleague Pedro De Senna had already been working on the project for a year and I was struck by the possibilities ahead of us to play! Playing is often dismissed as a verb that invokes immaturity and often isn’t considered suitable for serious grown-up work and certainly not academia! But for Pedro and I, and many of those that work in the realm of performance-making, it is through play and game that we stumble upon moments of insightful discovery. And this only emerges because we make choices. Kapp (2012) clarifies that ‘Gamification is not a cheapening or diluting of real learning. Serious scenarios are undertaken in game spaces […to] help learners acquire skills, knowledge, and abilities in short, concentrated periods of time […] Gamification is a serious approach to accelerating the experience curve of learning, teaching complex subjects, and systems thinking’ (13). FUTURES 2020-2023 therefore had the potential to become enriched through the application of practical workshop skills lifted from the practices employed in the field of Theatre Arts.

Choice in everyday life is often subconscious due to its development through repetition in ritual and routine. We sit in the familiar seat on the bus or stand in the same area of the platform awaiting our train, patterns of behaviour become second nature and the original decision-making is resigned to history. Only in unexpected circumstance are we forced to make inventive improvisational choice. This will typically emerge through the intersection with others in our daily lives, sometimes fortunate and other times unfortunate consequences will manifest. In the workshop of the theatre practitioner however we will often play through games to explore unfamiliar scenarios so that we may be better prepared as performers. Our lived experience here is real but held in a context of safety where participants may relish in the opportunity to fail.

Necessity however holds equality in the investment rather than the failure alone. As Etchells (1999) clarifies, albeit when writing upon performance, the need to be aware of risk, in as much as one must be invested, is vital but cannot be at the expense of overplaying the status of risk above any other concern. ‘Investment wants us naked, with slips and weaknesses, with the not-yet and never-to-be certain, with all that’s in process, in flux, with all that isn’t finished, with all that’s unclear and therefore needs to be worked out […] Investment forces us to know that performative actions have real consequence beyond the performance arena’ (1999: 49). This flux resonates in the potential of play as failure in the workshop becomes necessary to ensure that experimentation with Futures Literacy is to be an honest process for the participants.

FUTURES 2020-2023 has been an opportunity to skill share practices built into the frameworks of Applied Theatre, Performance Devising, and Improvisation. And to bring these areas to fruition in developing workshops for aspiring professionals to enter their respective industries. In collaborating with our European partners from leading institutions that sit outside of Theatre Arts practice, we have shared techniques from Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed, Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt’s Oblique Strategies and Keith Johnstone’s Improvisational Theatre Sports and Lifegame. The Applied Theatre practices of Boal provide the foundation to empower non-theatre makers to become activated in the realm of play, reimagining real-world experiences and testing scenarios for actual social change. This socially engaged practice sits at the heart of what we have continued to develop, adding random elements of unexpected stimulus inspired in prompt cards of Eno and Schmidt and finally acts of understanding status, ordinariness and improvised response in the skills of Johnstone.

Dr T J Bacon