What Are the Rules? Festival of play and games

4 Dec 2021—13 Mar 2022
Season: Santa Barbara
Project: Let’s Pretend

Two days of fun and collective games for everyone who creates games and everyone who plays them.

The idea of the festival of play and games What Are the Rules? is to figure out how we can play together. Its starting point will be the image of a courtyard. This was where we met as children, explored the world, learned its rules, and where we decided how we'd play, for whom and with whom we'd play. Common games differed slightly in each yard — they focused on the special characteristics and needs of the players so that the game would be fun and interesting for everyone. Now it seems that we are less and less sure of how to have fun by ourselves and rely more and more on what the entertainment industry offers. But what if you come up with your own rules again?

Picture by Sofia Korotaeva

When we play, we accept the world exactly as it is, with all its imperfections. After all, in order to walk on the pavement without stepping on the cracks, we first need to recognize that they exist.

— Dmitry Vesnin, co-curator of the festival of play and games

During the festival, the GES-2 House of Culture will turn into a metaphorical yard where we invited famous game designers. A game by James Earl Cox III made especially for the What are the rules? breaks with the traditional idea of winning and losing and explores the possibilities of playing together in the post-pandemic world. Pippin Barr demonstrates a physical version of one of his already existing digital works that in part raises the question of how games can come back to the real world from digital space.  A few months before the start of the project, an open competition was held among Russian game creators and artists. The most interesting versions of their performative, verbal and outdoor games can be played by visitors of the GES-2 House of Culture. There will also be a secret game during the festival.

Play and improvisation are the basis of the festival and the project as a whole. They provide the form in which art is created by the audience themselves. Our festival is an opportunity to immerse viewers in performative practices thanks to the tools of games that we all know and can all use. Of course, we know very well the situation we're living in and use Covid precautions as a topic for some games — in much the same way as a game in the Harry Potter series: A boggart stops being scary when people laugh at it.

— Katya Porutchik, co-curator of the Let’s Pretend programme

Before the festival opens, a workshop will be held by the co-curator of the festival, the game designer Dmitry Vesnin. He'll  show how to breathe a second life into board games that are gathering dust on a shelf after some pieces got lost or we got bored with them.  During the festival visitors can also take a mediated tour with a specially designed set of cards available at GES-2 throughout the Santa Barbara season.

The festival’s public programme focuses on the cultural context of the game process, the preservation of courtyard games and their adaptation for exhibition and museum spaces. But visitors will also discuss how modern games (for example, Pokémon Go) are changing the concepts of the street and yard as playgrounds.

Dmitry Vesnin, co-curator of the festival

Game designer, teacher of “Storytelling in Interactive Media” and “Robotics for Kinetic Installations” courses at the Higher School of Economics, as well as a course on game design at the Institute of Business and Design. Curator of the Games and the Future section at 2×2 Media. Took part in the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale. Author of the Backtracking channel on Telegram.

James Earl Cox III

Experimental artist specializing in interactive media. Works in various formats and genres of games, adapting them for a wide audience. He studied game design at the University of Southern California, and now is the co-founder of the Seemingly Pointless film and computer game studio. His works have been shown at the Smithsonian Museum (Washington) and the National Center for the Arts (Tokyo).

Pippin Barr

Game designer, lecturer at Concordia University, author of the book How to Play a Computer Game. Considers computer games as performative practices. He created the game “The Artist Is Present” which reproduces one of the most famous performances of Marina Abramovich — in it, the players, like actual museum goers, wait for hours for their turn to sit at the table opposite the artist.