Rhizome co-op members are involved in a range of activities alongside what we might see as core Rhizome work. This post describes one such initiative and how games can be useful to create both a participative process and a safer space in an often polarised debate. This is particularly timely in light of the upcoming EU Referendum – with a useful link at the end of the article.
Wee Play was a card game created by Perry, working with an organization called ‘So Say Scotland’, for the Scottish Referendum in 2014. The aim was to create a safe space for Yes, No and Don’t Know to come together, think and talk about the referendum. This was needed because a lot of the discussion around the referendum was confrontational and biased for both sides.
How the kit worked
To run Wee Play, all that was needed was a pack of cards, four or more folk and a table to gather round. It usually took about 90 mins but could be played in 45. The pack is divided into three suits on the independence subject: pro, con and information cards. Each player chose two cards from each pack. This created their information base.
The final round was all about making meaning. Players spotted the connections between the cards on the table and clustered them together. This activity often created a juicy discussion.
How the kit was created
In 2013, I worked up a very rough kit and printed out on my home printer. We tried it in Scotland a couple of times, first with a few people at the University of Edinburgh and then with 23 people at the Just Festival, which is part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
In 2014, we revised the cards to produce a long list of 67 pro-independence and 69 pro-UK cards. These were scored by six people and the scores used to reduce the cards by a bit over half. We had couple of trials in March, and then in April a ‘Play and Proof session’ at a café in Glasgow. We then made final revisions in the light of which cards were chosen most often and feedback from participants. I summarised this feedback as “people want big picture stuff. They don’t want the nitty gritty.”
The first batch of 150 kits were printed and delivered in June. Since the referendum was in late September, this was very, very tight.
How the kit creates a safe space
I’ll pick out three features. First, Wee Play is designed to look and feel like a game, albeit one with no winner. That gives a sense of familiarity.
The second feature was the use of cards. A player can select and read out a card that says X without saying whether they agree with X. This is linked to the third feature, which is that the process gives the participants a series of shared tasks. This helps them to feel that they are collaborating rather than competing.
We learned a lot as we went along. For example, a huge lesson from trying out the first draft of the instructions was that having people talk about the topics in the first stage (when people are choosing cards to create their information base) meant that they got into a fixed position. Leaving the discussion till the end allowed players to see all the points first and respond with fresh insights.
Sometimes, the process needed adapting for particular groups to make sure that they felt safe. This is what Cara Spence said about the LGBT Youth game:
“To ensure there’s a balanced debate much of the game is focused around ‘reading aloud’. This can be really daunting for young people. A solution might be to ask if another young person or the dealer reads out their cards. This seemed to work well and other young people were supportive.”
Some of the comments from participants suggested both that we had succeeded in creating such a space for them, and that they were able to make use of it:
“They said it made for a much better dialogue than the usual self congratulatory talk, got them thinking, defining and even disagreeing which is a good thing” – feedback from Sparkle Horse, Partick game.
“Brilliant game thoroughly enjoyed. I’ve learning difficulties and this has done me a lot of good” – participant Café 13 Glasgow.
“I became aware of a number of softer issues like identity, cooperation etc. that I hadn’t really thought about” – player at ‘Play and Proof’ session.
There were some challenges we didn’t manage to meet in the few short months that we had to produce the kit and get it used. About 30% of Scottish population, were undecided at the time and it was difficult to tap into this group. Even where we could, bringing together groups where there was a mix of yes, no and undecided playing together was also difficult.
After the referendum there was a lot of talk about the older generation being the most nervous. They like to gather and like to sit, so it would have been great to reach them – but we didn’t manage to work out how.
Do you want to have a go?
The Wee Play kit is no longer available, but a kit on the EU referendum is available. Email perry AT openupuk.org
For anyone still thinking about how to cast their vote in the upcoming referendum, see the questions tool at www.openupuk.org/eu-referendum. Do pass the link on to anyone you know who is undecided. Tweet #openupEU