Microgames for Neighborhoods: Part 1, Athens

In June 2018, two microgames events, described by and included in “phase A” of our prototype, took place in Athens and Liverpool. With just a few days separating them, their common while complementary approach and their direct results regarding local communities, these two inspiring weekends could also be considered as one major testing event, consisting of two implementation parts. Scroll further down to find out more about the event in Athens!

Part 1: Athens

The Mircogames Team.
The Mircogames Team.

On June 22nd, Karsten, Angeliki and Teja – aka (respectively), “the games specialist”, “the host” and “the rapporteuse”, launched Microgames for Neighborhoods within the scope of Patission Str. We Insist! weekend event in Athens. This event was designed by Kalliga Square Citizens Association, Victoria Square Project and Patission Str. We insist! Microgames were tested in Victoria Sq. and Amerikis Sq. in Athens with participants of the weekend festival and local visitors. This exercise initiated further discussion on how to facilitate meaningful conversation in the environment of cultural change and diversity.

Overall, we discovered that the role of microgame was crucial in the process of stimulating a dialogue about specific undertakings happening in two challenging neighborhoods in Athens. Some parts of the microgame were more appreciated than others, however, the participants were highly engaged in both conceptual and production part of the physical game. In the middle of the day on Saturday we experienced some coordination issues as too many options on how to proceed were put on the table, yet we quickly managed to take charge of the situation again, and Karsten’s facilitation process played a crucial role. We also found out that in-depth discussion on the topics and specific aspects discovered during our neighborhood walk exercise on Saturday afternoon was essential for establishing a thorough foundation for the implementation of microgame on the square on Sunday.

Friday 22 June 2018 18:30 -22:00 | Victoria Square Project, 13 Elpidos Str.
Materials used in a microgame stimulating discussion on open/closed stores and reclaiming the space.
Materials used in a microgame stimulating discussion on open/closed stores and reclaiming the space.

The prototype’s team organized an informal evening meeting at a dynamic creative venue, Victoria Square Project community space. VSP acts as a social sculpture that was created by an American artist Rick Lowe during the international art exhibition documenta 14. We managed to gather a group of 14 participants most of them locals, sharing common interest in artistic intervention, co-creation and producing change within urban communities. Karsten, an urban planner and games specialist from Germany, who also acted as facilitator of the entire event, introduced the session on citizen engagement and activation of public spaces in urban neighborhoods by explaining the microgames format. This opening activity was a very lively interactive session consisting of playing while constructing an introductory memory game. The game stimulated sharing of stories around the table, recollecting tangible and intangible memories and connecting to each other. We gradually began setting the ground for creating diverse playgrounds for neighborhood games in the next two days.

Next, Karsten presented several existent site specific urban games that he co-designed in the past, which deal with reimagining emotions, colors in the city, street names and interventions on the facades of buildings. The core team explained the main aim of the prototype – creating microgames within a short span of time, we defined roles in the group and established some ground rules for microgames creation. The group pointed out a specific need to activate closed retail stores in the neighborhood and one of the participants already came out with the first idea for a microgame: PLEASE DO (NOT) ENTER signs to stimulate discussion on open/closed stores and reclaiming the space. Following the initial brainstorming we created our very first game, RE:CLAIM – an urban microgame to rethink public and private spaces in the city. We concluded the evening session in a room filled with inspired creators and lots of excitement, expectations and motivation for the upcoming workshop.

Saturday 23 June 2018 16:00 - 22:30 | Victoria Square Project, 13 Elpidos Str.

In the afternoon we launched the workshop Games for inspiring neighborhoods together with 14 fully engaged participants. The session opened with a lively discussion on different games scenarios. Our diverse group started brainstorming on various ideas and what our main focus would be and finally, we agreed to proceed with RE:CLAIM game that we designed on the previous evening. We photocopied and folded the maps of the area around Victoria Sq. and Amerikis Sq. to be included in the game kit, and we invited the participants for a short, 30-minute individual walk around the neighborhood with a task to identify the topics they want to work on, observe particular spots in the city and mark them on the map. As we returned to VSP, everyone had completed their initial diagnosis of the surrounding area around Victoria Sq. and came up with interesting details and unique suggestions for our gaming experiments.

Our exchange of ideas triggered a bustling discussion among the members which triggered an intense co-creation process. In the discussion we further investigated the following aspects we found to be particularly relevant: visibility of spaces and the importance of positioning within the city, the changing dynamics of suburban area and urban center at different times of the day, terminology we use to label specific areas in the city and different perception of places like dangerous zones, tolerance in the city, quality of neighborhood and criteria to measure it, different facets of city, contradiction and contrast, inclusion/exclusion, continuity/discontinuity, limitations and accessibility in the city, seeing the city from different perspectives – dark/lit up streets, routines in the city, different paces of moving around, speeding up/waiting and slowing down, public/private in the city, discovering different types of emotion in different spaces, sense of the city.

In sharing the findings from our short walk around the neighborhood we pointed out many polarities and differences that constitute the city which established a solid base for the weekend workshop. After this discussion we divided into content and production group where we started designing the prototype microgame. There were many ideas on how to proceed and we agreed on the following proposal: we shall create a game where we would be inviting participants to walk around the area with a map in hands to reflect about which spaces feel inviting and encourage them to enter and which ones have the opposite effect, in relation to six different “lenses” – age, gender, time of the day, language, coexistence and accessibility.

Sunday 24 June 2018 11:00 - 14:30 | Victoria and Amerikis Squares
The set up in the Square.
The set up in the Square.

First we gathered at the VSP venue and walked to Victoria Sq. where we experienced a lack of interest in attending our workshop. Therefore, we decided to put in action our plan B, and test our games just in Amerikis Sq. where we split up into small groups. Two of the core group members stayed on the square discussing with locals about the purpose of our microgame, frequency of such actions as well as some challenging neighborhood issues with local residents and immigrants populating the square. I went to visit the neighborhood accompanied by a local artist/creator who lives and works in the area, a young documentary filmmaker from Afghanistan studying in Athens and a local girl who was born and raised in the neighborhood. We started our 1,5 hour tour on the main Mithimnis street in Kypseli neighborhood which is known as the first urban area in Athens and one of the most typical streets. We stopped by bhive, an atelier and new experimental space for the arts where the creative director explained us the history of the place that used to be a kindergarden and talked about current initiative of locals – opening up the backyards of private residencies to the public. Our next stop was a pedestrian street Agias Zonis which stretches along Fokionos Negri river that was covered and paved. This is considered to be one of the smartest city planning moves in Athens as the area is closed to the traffic, converted into a long park with stone sidewalks on both sides of the avenue and lots of charming cafes and restaurants. Close to the cinema we ran into the biggest church in Kypseli, Agios Dionisos in Kolonaki (this is one of the most vibrant areas in Athens), featuring an urban park maintained by the residents. There are several boards placed around the park, asking the visitors not to bring their dogs inside the park. Is this a do NOT ENTER zone, we wondered. Further on, we spoke with a security guard at the centre for disabled and people with mental health issues who told us that there are currently 179 people living there. Next door on Diogenous Street is the famous Platanos Taverna which opened in the 1930s and soon became a focal point of avant-garde art life in Athens where artists, poets, writers, filmmakers and famous personalities used to gather. We walked onto Drosopolou and Lelas Karagianni Street, acting as one of the most dangerous areas in town. We looked around Kaliga Square which is the first area in Athens where all buildings had yards attached to them. The residents want to create a pleasant atmosphere on the street there so they have designed an urban oasis in front of each doorway, covered with lush greenery. Famous writer Viktoria Hislop used to live here among others. We finished our walk on Lefkosia Street which is famous for its art deco buildings featuring two doors, one door leading downstairs to the shelter which was used during the war.

Meanwhile, three walking groups were created and decided to follow completely different trajectories around the square. Useful remarks and conclusions were formulated, both during the walks and in the conversation that followed on Amerikis Sq., regarding the use and effect of microgames, and the specific characteristics that games for this particular area of the Greek capital should take into consideration:
• Local communities in both areas were apparently unfamiliar with gaming procedures.
• They needed a more tangible and explicitly purposeful framework: a specific theme, a goal and at least one informed leader by walking group.
• Local communities need further “training” in such activities.
• If the above are offered, then the microgames can be great for team building, social inclusion and alternative mapping of neighborhoods of the kind.
• Microgames for neighborhoods in the tested areas can improve the level of urban consciousness in local communities.
• Grassroots initiatives and networks acting in these neighborhoods should try to use and share the microgames approach in their areas of action.
• They should definitely try to relate more with local enterprises (e.g. have their meetings in different cafes and other meeting points of the area, in order to exchange with the owner and clients).

At the same time, more was happening: a discussion, a workshop and the projection of a documentary film on hip hop and urban culture, were hosted in Victoria Sq. Project’s welcoming space.

Later that afternoon, E=mc2 open jam, consisting of impressive dance and beatboxing sessions on Amerikis Sq, would conclude the event’s activities, gathering a big crowd of locals and visitors. Despite the heavy rain, the beat went on until late that night.

Curious about the second event in Liverpool?

Read the second part of the story about the Mircogames event in Liverpool.

Read more