between The Artist and The Curious Stranger
So, what are you doing exactly?
I work through a practice, in which I facilitate playful experiences for people. These experiences allow players to re-imagine the world around themselves, and at the same embody it.
Do you have a name for this practice?
Yes, Transformation Games.
Who is this for?
Everyone, since no-one is ill-fit to play.
What happens in your work?
Imagined, and thus highly subjective and unrepeatable situations arise. Either on an individual, or on a collective level. The role of the work (and my role) is to help these situations take shape in reality, to facilitate the conditions for the experience.
In playing the rules, roles and structures of the outside world are temporarily suspended, inviting the players to step outside of their everyday reality.
On one hand this allows one to experience ways of being, seeing, thinking and behaving that is beyond the mundane. On the other hand, stepping into the artificially created world of the game also points back at the artificially created structure of one’s everyday life. Through playing, we can understand that our daily social and political structures are no more different than the arbitrary structure of any game. And through this understanding we gain the agency to change, to transform these structures. This understanding is The Critical Escape.
Elements of rituals, role-playing, and exercises in movement, imagination and attention are incorporated into the everyday reality, thus interacting with it, and transforming it.
Could you elaborate on these elements?
Sure, click here!
How long does a Game last? How many people are usually involved?
That varies quite much! From a couple of people and a few hours, to large groups playing together for days, or even weeks on.
Where do the Games take place?
Just about anywhere, as long as there is space for the participants to be by themselves and pay attention to one-another. We played Games in private apartments, corridors, parks, storage closets, kitchens, yoga studios, and so on.
Okay, but really, what should I expect?
Expect to play, in real life, with other people. Nothing more complicated than that.
For a more extensive F.A.Q. on what to expect, click here!
How do you develop these Games?
Through trial and error. I run Secret Fiction, a platform where we invite participants to try out and collectively develop different games, rituals, exercises and so on. We do this through occasional labs, workshops, short retreats, and so on. We then take the experiences we have as a base to develop works for the future.
This process is also the way we collective produce most of the knowledge and ideas that shape the practice of Transformation Games – making it an empirical practice.
What is your role in a Game?
I provide the framework, the guidance and the support that this experience can become something powerful, yet still safe to undergo. To put it bluntly, I’m the facilitator between the participants and the facility of the Game itself – a living extension of it, so to say.
Where does this practice come from?
As a child, I would spend all my summers playing with other kids, for weeks and weeks on. We would pretend that we are the citizens of a fictional kingdom – a Kingdom where all what happens is up to us to decide.
We could become whoever we wanted to be – knights, wizards, explorers, merchants, kings and queens, you name it. Besides the fact that it was great fun to do all this, what I found that the moment I returned to my everyday life, I was somehow not the same as before.
The experiences I had while I was embodying a fictional character also affected me as a real person. To this day I hold onto these experiences as the most Transformative thing ever happened to me. These camps were rooted in a 80-year-old Hungarian tradition of role-playing as a tool for political agency and alternative education. Currently I co-run a similar fantasy camp for kids, in rural Hungary.
I see, but how does that translate to your present practice?
Years later I found myself coming back to these experiences, and start to wonder what role can it have in my life now that I’m an adult.
A role that is beyond just a memory of my childhood summers.
This is where the practice of Transformation Games came in.
To put it very simply, Transformation Games happened when my path as maker started to consciously enter into a dialogue with my past, as a citizen in the fictional Kingdoms of my childhood.
From what I experienced as a kid, I’d like to believe that there is way more to what playing can offer for us – something that helps us shape and navigate ourselves in the world that we live in.
So is this also a political practice then?
Yes. I think of Transformation Games both as an artistic, and a political practice. Playing is an active social agent in discovering other ways of seeing, being and behaving.
It allows us to step into a space where we can create, explore, and experience, and embody realities that would not happen otherwise.
And these realities can lead us to new understandings about ourselves and the reality we live in. Not only that, but these understandings can make us realise the means and the potential we possess to re-imagine and transform the structures that govern our everyday life.
What is the purpose of this practice?
There is no explicit purpose, or governing ideology - the same playing is only 'playful' as long as it is not tainted by any rhetoric. Transformation Games is a practice that is intended for facilitating the conditions for new experiences and understandings to happen, rather than proposing a specific one.
In this sense Transformation Games are anti-games: There is no winner or loser in a Transformation Game, with ‘creating an experience itself’ being the only goal.
This sounds a lot like performance art, improvisation, participatory theatre. What is the difference?
Firstly, there is no audience or cameras involved – no one to perform to.
Secondly, it is a collaborative practice; where every participant of the experience is also the creator of it. It is not scripted, and there is no division between active and passive roles. We do not have artists, performers or audience here. We are the thing itself.
This sounds a lot like role-playing. What is the difference?
There is no dress-up involved and no fixed roles are adopted - unlike the classic image of Live Action Role Playing (LARP). Instead, a neutral space is the backdrop and participants themselves create the experience; based on a rudimentary outline, developed and guided by the facilitator.
This sounds a lot like some sort of therapy, psychodrama, or alike. What is the difference?
In a Transformation Game one’s everyday responsibilities, hierarchies, and social roles are temporarily suspended. This is the great power of playing games, overall:
The frame of a game provides one the opportunity to safely interact and make decisions outside the mundane way of thinking. Transformation Games are designed to be safe, yet powerful to undergo, keeping the fact in mind, that the experiences of the fictional and the real often overlap one another.
These principles are present in many forms of alternative therapy. What sets it apart from practices like Psychodrama, Family Constellations, and so on, that in Transformation Games there is no explicit therapeutic goal involved.
Of course, transformative experiences can and do arise during these Games. However, I’d like to think, that is what should be the case with art in general – it should allow us to undergo experiences that would not happen otherwise.
But in principle, no form of playing or art substitutes therapeutic care. If needed,
participants would be advised to seek professional help – just as in everyday life.
Isn’t this whole thing dangerous to do?
No, not really. Here we are the creators of a social situation, not the subjects of it. We decide what we want to experience.
So, compared to other social situations in life, like going to school, being employed at a company or having a dinner with the family, this is way safer. Here, since we are only playing, we can be daring, while taking care of one another. This is not Stanford, or Milgram. Nothing is compulsory and you can opt out any time, without any consequence.
This is the emancipatory power of playing – it allows us the safety to bravely approach the unknown.
What are you up to these days?
I hope to develop Transformation Games into a practice that goes beyond me – that is, it becomes a practice that can be passed on, picked up, adapted by anyone interested. I think of my role as being a part of a process, intertwining with the inherent human desire to play. Because of that, it’d would just make sense to explore how can my practice can become something that is not just mine anymore.
Are there others doing this kind of stuff? Do you work with them?
Yes and yes! Click here for some lovely people.
Can I read more about the practice and where does it come from?
Yes! Thing is, I just finished writing a short publication.
It’s called The Critical Escape, developed together with graphic designer Márton Kabai. You can find it here.
In the publication we intend to explore playing and playfulness as an autonomous form of art and as a tool for political agency.
The Critical Escape is a part of the larger research project, ‘What is Within?’.
You can find out more here: http://whatiswithin.com/