top of page

Conflict & Solidarity in the Arts


Image Credit: Dorota Ogrodzka


This month we’ve been speaking to Anikó Rácz and Doreen Toutikian, two of the three creators of the RESHAPE Gamified Toolkit. The third creator, Dorota Ogrodzka wasn’t available. RESHAPE has come up on the blog before when we spoke to Petr Dlouhý about a Tarot Deck to Reimagine the Arts. The Gamified Toolkit aims to promote collaborative communication and attitudes amongst people working together on a project. It gives people a chance to express what values are important to them from the start of their collaborations.


Anikó Rácz is an arts manager, business coach and facilitator based in Budapest, Hungary. She is the artistic director of SÍN Arts Centre, a production house for independent contemporary dance makers. She leads international workshops on collaboration, artistic career development and internationalisation.


Doreen Toutikian is a cultural entrepreneur, design researcher, consultant to UN agencies, and a university lecturer from Beirut, Lebanon. In the past 15 years she has founded Beirut Design Week, MENA Design Research Center, LOOP and Omgyno.



Can we start by you telling me how you came to work together, and how the game came about?


Doreen

Through the RESHAPE network. It was basically an effort to bring together a lot of cultural workers and artists from different backgrounds and different places in and around Europe and also from the Balkans to think about how we can practise art better, let's say, for the lack of a better word.


We were in a group called Solidarity Economies and we realised that this is very challenging because we couldn't really understand or agree on what solidarity meant in the arts. With economies, it actually seemed more like funding solidarity. First, it was funding and then we changed it to economies because it just didn't make so much sense with just funding. It became something that could help us navigate this notion of solidarity. Because actually what we realised when we first started these debates about solidarity, was that we were very much not in solidarity because we came from different places and different backgrounds. We had different experiences, we defined things differently, we had different goals and we realised soon enough that working in this big group would be really challenging if we don't actually sit down and understand who we are and what our values are. That seemed the easiest way to handle conflict or maybe even prevent conflict.


Conflicts are bound to happen, and so we decided we were really interested in making a game because it would be a fun way to challenge each other. But it's something that can be repeated. It's something that can be done with many different people. You can keep learning through the game and it's really great way to bring people together at the beginning of a collaboration.


Anikó

As for the RESHAPE experience, solidarity proved to be a huge topic, and our task was to develop prototypes. We had a lot of discussions about what we should do, there were also four other groups developing other things within the project.


After the first half a year or so COVID hit and that changed the way we worked. There were all these big theories flying around and the three of us said we should do something which would be practical, like a tool that helps collaborations, we wanted to do something that helps the field.


So we started from the mutual experience that we had had in our professional career: you are in a room full of almost strangers, your grant application has been successful and now you have an international project to work on together. There is a budget, there are artists and then you start these negotiations. We’d all experienced this not coming off too well. With all the different interests and different biases, how can we get around that to make room for a good discussion before we start, before you implement the project that you devised about 6-12 months before?


Dorota, who is not here, is a drama teacher, Doreen has a designer background and I am a coach. I think our three areas of expertise were a very good combination to create something which is useful.


Can you say a bit about how the game is played?


Doreen

There are conflicts and there are values. It starts out with each one of us expressing what our main values are and why. And then we look into a series of conflicts and really try to understand which values were compromised through that conflict and why. The players have a discussion about that. The majority of these conflicts, if not all of them, are actually things that we all have personally experienced, whether in this group or in different cultural work that we've done before.


Anikó

The idea was that players can talk about conflicts that are not theirs, they don’t have to talk about themselves. Talking about something else is a very good trick because, in fact, you talk about yourself while starting from other people’s conflicts, you discuss your own values and experiences. It offers a platform to have a good discussion.


With COTT we’ve found that it's possible for people to approach difficult subjects while talking about seemingly ‘fictitious’ conflicts they can share their own experiences, which mitigates the awkwardness of such exchanges.


Is your toolkit specifically for the start of a project where people are laying the groundwork, and trying to establish shared values to build from?


Anikó

Yes, that was the original proposal, but I think people use it in other contexts as well.


Doreen

We've definitely had many people say it would be amazing in a place they’ve worked for a very long time.


The last time I played it was at Eleusis 2023 with people who had been organising the European Capital of Culture. This team had been working together for a really long time, and they had come to a point where they were really struggling to communicate with one another. So they brought the toolkit in as a method to speak about values. It seemed to me, at least in that circumstance, when tensions are really high and there are so many different conflict subjects, it becomes hard to open up about things that are right in front of you. A lot of the time, a conflict reminds a player of something else, and it's a good opportunity to bring that in and to say, well, this happened to me actually, and this other time my values were not respected.


Anikó

The framework of the RESHAPE project was for international collaborations, but because it was created within such a huge collaborative international context, the focus was on cross-cultural conflicts or misunderstandings. Since the project ended the Hungarian adaptation of the game was also made and in this one, we collected conflicts from our own field, which was a different approach.


Thinking about what solidarity means across various cultural contexts must have been a challenge. Do you think working in a three was helpful?


Anikó

I don’t know if this will answer your question but it was important for us that all these conflicts are not about who is right and who is wrong, but to understand the different standpoints. In this sense, I think it does improve people's solidarity because you suddenly think about why that person has that opinion, or why that person did that. It is a tool to improve people's thinking from different perspectives.


Doreen

I would add that it's not so much about a particular value. It's a lot more about the method in which we work and understand each other, that’s what actually creates the feeling of solidarity. That's the thing we first started from. We couldn't really define it because the more we try to think about what solidarity is, the more we see it is different in different contexts, every single time.

I would see something in a context - at that time protests in Lebanon were taking place, I’m from Lebanon - and I was giving examples of solidarity within protests and within crises. But someone else would say okay, but for me, solidarity is also just about getting somebody to give me a ticket on the bus because I don’t have money. Other people would say that solidarity actually is more of a systemic approach of the state involving taxes etc. Once we realised that, we wanted to focus more on what creates this understanding of solidarity within the context that you are in, regardless of what other examples of solidarity there are out there.


So could you say it's actually about encouraging a listening practice where players are encouraged to open up to other people's points of view, as much as some kind of lexicon of solidarity and value? It's more about how to negotiate?


Doreen

Yes.


Anikó

Well, after all those conversations, I wouldn't dare to say that there can be a definitive list of what solidarity is. We all understand it in so many ways. If each of us understands it in such a different way, the task becomes opening up to the discussion or understanding what solidarity is for me. Then to understand how other people take it, seeing it from other positions, from your cultural perspective and mine. It’s very culturally specific.


Doreen

It's a little bit like training your mind to deal with the inevitable circumstances that will happen and understanding that it's never really about right or wrong or this person or that person. If you manage to understand that everybody's just coming with a certain set of values and it's the values themselves that are in conflict with one another. If you can manage to bring yourself to think that way, then the idea is that you can remove the personal from it and understand any kind of conflict situation by taking that into account and trying to understand others’ values.


Anikó

It's also because in an international context, it can be hard to understand each other, and it's just a cultural difference. We've all had those conversations where a person seems rude but it's just a cultural difference. We need to be open and accept that there are differences. I think it's already an act of solidarity to accept that - the cards can serve that purpose.


Doreen

It has definitely happened when I’ve played with certain groups, where participants would say that they don't really see where the conflict is here. Why should this even be a conflict? But from there we started having really deep negotiations and debates as to the why and how… get deep down in there. I think eventually everybody who plays this game changes their mindset a little bit. I'm not saying it changes it fully, but it does force you to think about things that you wouldn't otherwise.


Anikó

Where the real commitment comes in, is the last step. You can have a conversation about conflicts and values, and then if you follow the rules, in the last step each of the players will commit to guard a value in that collaboration. That’s where the real value is for the development of the group or team. I know about a big Creative Europe partnership project titled Stronger Peripheries, in which the partners played the game at the start and they have included the values to guard in the collaboration agreement.


Was the Toolkit solely funded through the RESHAPE project?


Anikó

Yes, it was. Because there were some big institutions amongst the partners, such as the British Council, Göethe Institute and more, the game received wide visibility. I think there are so many wonderful games around, but because all these high-profile institutions were involved the dissemination was taken care of.


Is it still possible to buy packs of the game?


Doreen

It's never been for sale, nobody buys the game. It's always free. We were working on a digital version but it's not finished yet, and we're having some issues with the developers at the moment.


So there was a finite number of physical sets printed?


Anikó

There were 300 sets printed within the programme, and that was distributed amongst the partners and RESHAPEers and whoever else could get one.


Doreen

And there were other ones that were made in different languages, which were also reprinted and sent out. I mean, I’ve made so many versions, I don't even remember. There's a French version, Portuguese… Your Hungarian version is different though.


Anikó

Yes, that's an adaptation really. Reso, a Swiss organisation reprinted the English version. There are still a few packs available, people keep asking for them. So yes, a finite number. It's a pity that the online version hasn’t been set up yet, I don't know if it's ever gonna be made.


I think it's important that we deliberately developed the game in a way that you can play without a moderator. So you have the pack and the instructions and you can go and play it. Playing the game itself is a collaboration development practice of that given group.


I'm interested in this in terms of COTT as well. You say you're developing a web version, but is there something beneficial about the fact that it is a physical set of cards? Even if it's just that people have to physically be in a room together?


Doreen

For sure, but that’s the same with any circumstance you meet a person. If you meet someone in person, there will always be more interaction and more emotion, you know, rather than just doing things online, definitely.


Were you tempted to keep it as a physical game for that reason?


Anikó

No, we want an online version basically because it's not always possible to be in the same room. I don’t think the game needs to be physical. But the web version has been difficult to develop. We don’t know if it’ll ever be done.


Doreen

It still might be, we don't know. But while we don’t have the online version, we still play the PDF version. We have a very basic PDF version that each person has and it's still easy to play. You don’t need the cards in themselves, as long as you can read the conflict and you see the value someplace, you can easily play it anywhere. It's just that it's nice to play it with the cards.


Anikó

And it's cards. I mean, people like playing with cards. It adds to the experience.


How do you know who's playing the cards, do you try and keep track? As the game has been disseminated, has it created a network or community of people who now use the cards and feed into how the toolkit can be used?


Anikó

There is no official or formal way how we keep track of it, but I hear about it. It’s all through informal conversations whenever I present it, and I’m always happy to hear how people use it. Some people just use the value cards for other activities or for other workshops. I also use just the value cards for my workshops.


Doreen

I get a lot of people sending me pictures and videos on Instagram and Facebook, saying, look, we're playing the game! It's so nice that that still tends to happen. But no, we don't really feel the need to know exactly what's going on and who's playing it. We’ve thought that if we do have a digital version that kind of thing would be easier. People could save things or know how many logins there were in a user-friendly way. Maybe people could change some conflicts or add some or add values.


Anikó

You know, it’s really nice when I go on trips or to conferences and people ask if I’m one of the people who made the cards and if they can have a pack. I get that every month.


Doreen

Every time people play it from a certain place, Greece for example, they say they would like a Greek version, but a version that also addresses their specific challenges. The whole thing is a prototype designed with an open-source mentality so anybody can create their own version, that’s totally fine by us. I see a lot of potential for that to happen.


I still have some packs left, so I'm really selective about where I leave them.


I played it with the Creative Europe project that I’m on right now. Most of our partners are from North Macedonia and Serbia, and they have their own challenges. When they read and look at the cards they comment that this would be great for them. As long as there is somebody there that's willing to fund it, it has the potential to develop.


Anikó

An international organisation called Eunic made a version of the game. I was really surprised. I was at a conference and someone told me they’d used that version of the game. Eunic even credited the Toolkit, although it was developed in their own way. It still feels very much alive. That’s how we know about what's happening, because of the way it's been reshaped by other organisations. That’s given it big visibility. I think the success is due to its simplicity and adaptability.


Do you think the simplicity and usability of the game have something to do with the way the cards are designed to provoke conversation between people, rather than individual interpretations? It’s not the cards that are doing the work but the players.


Anikó

For me, it's not really a game, but a team coaching tool.


Doreen

Yeah, the thing that happens most is the realisation that a lot of the difficult situations people experience working in the arts are very similar. You also realise that because there are conflicts, somebody is immediately triggered and once that happens, that emotional response is there from someone, talking about it can become difficult.


Anikó

I think it really changes the language or the discourse between these people, so it helps in that respect. That's why I think it's a coaching tool because people start talking about themselves and their values, and that shapes the conversation as well as the quality of the collaboration.


Did any other games influence you?


Anikó

Konrad Gadzina is a gamer from Poland, who helped us through the development. He sat with us online and listened to our conversations. Then he would give us feedback about the game elements. He showed us some rules of games but he didn’t interfere with the content. He just had a lot of skill and knowledge of gaming that was very, very helpful for us. The process felt simple because he helped in keeping it simple.


Doreen

I think Dorota was definitely the one that had the most interest in gamifying. She does this in her work anyway. I'm a big fan of Cards Against Humanity, so that's also something that played in my head when I was designing them a little bit. Not so much in the context of what it is, but maybe a little.


A lot of the inspiration came from psychology, a lot of it comes from a few toolkits about universal values and whatnot. We've listed all of them on the RESHAPE page.


I miss working on the game, that's for sure. It was really a great time. Now that the whole project has been over for a while and we're back to business as usual, It was a really nice time to be creative within the conflicts of the creative world. You know that's what I really loved, how our different disciplines meshed together. It turned out to be much better than we all expected. We just thought we’d see how it goes. Actually now when I look back, this is still happening and Eunic has its own version… you know, sometimes you underestimate something.


Anikó

It was a wonderful process. It was a lifesaver for me during COVID because we did the development in the middle of it and met every week, doing something that was so important to me personally and the three of us working together, it was just a wonderful experience.


Right now I’m in an Erasmus+ project in which we are developing a board game for sustainability in the arts.





28 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page