Play with Purpose.

Conference Breakout Session, University of Bedfordshire, March 2020

This conference was designed to encourage, reveal and develop notions of Play as the catalyst for invention, creativity and new thinking.

I presented a session that I called ‘Game for Two Players’ Due to a misunderstanding at the conference it was titled “What is it? An action. A magic trick. A participatory performance, projected. An animation resulting from the performance” which was appropriately tangential for a situation which relied on a certain amount of uncertainty, mock-authority and participation.

The organiser, Dr. Janet Emmanuel, was kind enough to describe the session as ‘fascinating and presentation provokingly immaculate.’ The associated PWP2020 publication was postponed until September 2020 to allow for complications caused by the Covid-19 crisis.

Below are materials that were provided to the audience at the start of the presentation which was already in progress during the afternoon’s presentation, to the side of the main stage. Further below this are images and the animation which resulted from the session.

Set up

The players, as seen on camera.


Game Play

Two players face each other across a table.

On the table are the wooden shapes that make up the pieces for the game.

The camera is set to automatically take an image every 4 seconds during game play, adding each image to an image sequence which plays in the space. 

The performance is scheduled to last 20mins=1200sec= 1200/4=300frames=300frames at 12 frames per second = 25 seconds of looped footage.

We hope to begin before the audience enter so that the game is underway and no explanation is possible. You should have the feeling that you are late and that you will have to work things out for yourself. Perhaps the audience would help this impression and shh if you ask what is happening. The game must be approached with intense seriousness.


Before the game begins coloured building blocks are placed at random on the gaming table.

Each player takes a turn to move a piece on the table.

The piece the player moves and the way they move it is entirely based on the aesthetic choice of the player. They may begin making towers or bridges, or they may have their own aesthetic motivation. Each player may choose to play co-operatively with the other player or in opposition to them. 

The player can wait for as long as they need to take their move, but when they take their move they must make the move between frames, moving the piece and returning to their original sitting position within the 4 seconds between one click of the camera shutter and the next.

The Aim of the Game

The true aim of the game is to make an animated loop of game play without being photographed moving, so that in the final film the pieces appears to move by themselves on the table top. During the game the progressing animation is projected as a continuous loop, ending in the live image, in the gaming arena.

Maybe both players have won the game if neither are ever seen moving on camera. Maybe any player that is seen moving will feel so ashamed that they will relinquish their place to another player. 

In this way an arbitrary set of playful circumstances becomes a competitive sport.

Participating/Changing players:

At anytime the audience may remove one of the players and take their place by tapping them on the shoulder.

The image capture is paused to allow the new player to take the place, and exact seating position, of the exiting player.

The game continues as before with a new figure on screen.

A debt is acknowledged to Paul Hatcher/Chris Shepherd’s Stare-Out Championship animations. Big Train (1998-2002), Channel 4.

The animation satirised televised sporting events coverage and its over-excited commentary, inspired by events such as the World Chess Championship, boxing and the football World Cup. The sketches are set during the World Stare-out Championship Finals, a staring match which is described as a global event broadcast all over the world. (accessed 02/03/2020)

This event is intended to play with the idea of games and arbitrary rules as a source of creative interaction and interplay between people in an unfamiliar, less defined and arbitrarily codified context. 

The tribalism and jargon of sport, which can exclude those who are not within it, is present here in satirised form, and comment, expertise, and participation can be co-opted by anyone who wishes to take part.

“What is it? An action. A magic trick. A participatory performance, projected. An animation resulting from the performance

Player One: Sue Withers Player Two: William Bishop-Stephens
Player One: Mystie Long Player Two: Emma Barrow  
Instagram: @emmabarrow776

Player One: Mystie Long (Instagram: @mystielong_art) Player Two: William Bishop-Stephens
Player One: Mystie Long Player Two: Emma Barrow 

The resulting animation

%d bloggers like this: