Street games and Refugee Crisis

Hi Edgeryders!

I’m sitting in the living room of the Open Village House (dar Nezza) in Sidi Kaouki right now, close to the fire that @johncoate started as every night since we are here, after a delicious dinner cooked from our housemaster @hazem <3
- Spot the donkey in the picture -

The timing couldn’t be better to share both one idea that I’m working on since November, and how being actively involved in Edgeryders already re-shaped and modified this idea and my process.

Maybe that could be useful to all the people that are in Edgeryders and still didn’t grasp yet (as I did for years) how powerful this community could be on helping them with their project / professions / lives

<<< fast rewind <<<
my background is in Architecture (Urban Planning) and since 2009 I’ve started exploring urban games as a tool to change our cities from the bottom, use more the public space and create creative communities around that.

Our first project, CriticalCity Upload , was a pervasive game (which means that could be played everywhere and in every moment) that asked players to perform tasks in the public space.
A task could be, Hugs 10 strangers /
Sing a song out loud /
walk barefoot for 1 km /
improve a bench …etc…

Every year we have +100 tasks on the website and players could pick up their favorite, go outside, perform the tasks, take picture and videos, upload everything on the platform and get points (for a total amount of lot of creative stuff to do :slight_smile:

It was a crazy adventure (4 full-time years of community management / event production / business models / pitch competition / night drives / weekend around Italy / etc) and a pretty successful one too, here is a website (in italian, sorry) with all the missions done (there were 20.000 at the end) by all our players (13.000).

After 5 year we realize that the project more than a urban transformation game, was a human transformation game: our players were empowered to an unexpected level, we lived unforgettable experience in public space, some of them get married or now they are raising families together and we create a very strong community based on the positive feelings that games arise, like, positive attitude, enthusiasm, lateral thinking etc…

You can imagine that after this experience (which was also professionally fundamental) It’s not a secret that I’m always looking for experiences / games that could recreate this kind of feelings on the participants.

During those last 5 years as “professional” game designers we create and produced also various street and urban games
the Getaway
Race the Future
Journey to the end of the night Milan
and last October Open Village Exploration.

All the game that you played as a child in the street were street games, Hide and seek, hopscotch, etc…

One fast way to create a street game (change of place as Munari states in his book Fantasia) is to take a sport -football, basket, you name it- and move it to the urban environment: here you have Urban Golf, Joga Bonito and the Basketball Playground.

Street games are very successful for different reasons:

  • low tech (a ball, sticks, chalk)
  • super flexible (easily adaptable in different contest: street, square, abandoned buildings)
  • very common (everybody played some of that as a child and they have a worldwide strong tradition, also younger generations)
  • low entry barriers (easy rules that kids can explain, simple goals, fast improvement cycles)

I always use them to start conversation with people that maybe I don’t know (this summer I was in a one-month artist residency: second night I asked if someone want to play a game that I knew, after 10 minutes, at least 4 other artist were sharing their games too, and that became also a performance.

>>> fast forward >>>
November 2017

Due to an application that I wanted to do I wrote down a concept for a research that want to explore the topic of street games, but, instead of waiting for the application to I want start immediately to research and work on it :slight_smile:

I’ve called the project DISPLACED, and is a game related project that aims at studying and researching the street games and the game’s practices within the refugee populations in Europe and the Middle East.

Europe will, in the next 20 years, face an unprecedented migration pressure, on top of the failing of the system that is under our eyes right now.
In the long term I think that is important to highlight all the tools that could collaborate on creating a more tolerant system and a dialogue platform, I know, games are considered silly stuff, and the Refugee Crisis (or the European Political Crisis on the Refugees) is pretty hard shit, but still.

My goal is to collect and analyze common patterns and data on how young adults and kids are using games (and in particular street games) in these situations.
Part of the research will focus on the use of traditional games that are typical of their countries of origin, as compared with the use of new games that they have learned in their new hosting countries.
Games (street games) could be used as part of an integration process within the local communities of the hosting countries?

It’s a research project, which means that I still don’t know the output (a street games encyclopedia? A game toolkit that could be used in UNHCR camps?).
With this post I’m officially starting the first phase of the project, and I would love to receive your feedback and help…

------ pause ------

Why don’t you start researching what was already written about those topic here in Edgeryders?
Just click on research and put the term migration #refugee #games

--------- one month later and 60 Edgeryders posts later ------------

Holy shit I have to publish my post about the street games project!

This is what happens if you open yourself to the power of this kind of community.
I’ve decided to explore first what was already in here and the result was really amazing: right now I’ve collected at least 15 new thread to research just reading all the materials that were written on the last year, mainly inside the OpenCare thread, so in the next months I will expand my research following those links too.

But, in the meanwhile, I would love to hear from you anyway in particular on:

  • things to read > similar research already on the net / reportage from the camps (@alex_levene / street games from different nations that are affected by the issue
  • NGOs, professionals > that are exploring similar strategies in those context (@Sabouny with your clownerie approach probably there is a lot of similarities?)
  • opportunity to set up ground research trip > 3 to 5 days in the different environment leading workshop about street games, learning the ones that are already played, collecting data, etc…

And of course general feedbacks about the process that I’m setting up, I’m a practitioner, not a researcher and I don’t have any idea about methodology.
I want to avoid the exploitation of the people on the ground and being the western designer that, research, as an alien, then goes away and whatever, (@amelia if I would have to use the ethnographer approach in this field how that could work?)
In your experience, what is the better way to approach this kind of research?


A picture of the fire that kept us company tonight



Hey @matteo_uguzzoni, I look forward to read more.about what’s next on your plate.
I basically used the exact same words to discuss my topic (local fresh food cycles) with the guys at the house when I was there last week. Including the necessity of avoiding the white western designer poaition you’re describing. So I can relate and I feel like analysing patterns and cycles on local scales, in order to cross data’s and see what comes out of it, will improve our ability to be more efficient towards the emergencies both the present and the future are putting in front of us.

If I had more time, I.think that I’d spend more days mapping the areas. For you it could mean areas where people are already playing things/games of any sort. Using the uMap tool, you might be able to create a layer, and put details of the observed scenes.
If you’re into analysing patterns then maybe sharing your methodology here will give people around the world the idea if helping you and add markers on your map… I.don’t know. :smiley:

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Hello Gregoire and Matteo … since you’re both out to do research work around your specific areas, I am simply telling the same observation to you both :slight_smile: Namely, that the web already has a lot more content than visible at first. It’s quite an effort to trawl through all the stuff to find the hidden gems, but surely less effort than other research methods (that require in-person travelling, for example).

So … did you try an in-depth web research in your areas of research, and if so, what were the results? I did not try it myself for your use cases, but to illustrate: for the case of Matteo

I would consider the following sources of materials, among others:

  • Facebook groups by refugees
  • Facebook feed of refugees (via Facebook graph search done by refugees you know and who trust you; they will typically have access to the feeds of hundreds of others)
  • documentaries, by professionals and amateurs, that include refugees playing something (and if only in the background)
  • forums for social workers who work with refugees, in the various countries in Europe (reading there and asking them directly about what they know about refugees’ games)
  • ethnographic research articles about street games in the countries of origin, also in the respective native languages

I know this sounds contrary to what we as “Edgeryders The Company” actually sell. But I’d rather see it as a first step: results obtained this way are the “low hanging fruits”, while research methods that involve building an online community need more effort and you would only want to invest that when you are sure that the knowledge you are looking for is definitely not available online … as then, there is simply no way around to motivating people to put their knowledge online. And when starting this work of building an online community, all the web research work will have yielded all the leads to relevant people to invite, so it’s a good preparatory step …


Hey @matteo

what an amazing project you are working on and I can’t believe we haven’t met in person yet :slight_smile: My new project is actually digging more into playing in public spaces, whether through the use of popular street games or some other performance/clowning ideas.
Yes I have many games that I have collected from people, they’re very simple and easy and fun! last year we did a street performance and one of the scenes was a collection of popular street games played by kids. so let me know how I can help in your reserach but also, if you’d like to come to lebanon and work with refugees in different places, let me know @clown me in would love to have you join the team for a qeek or two

Hi Matteo, my name is Ann Cassano, I live in Amsterdam, I work with refugees and (undocumented) migrants here. I would love to hear more from you or others on how to create community. I have been doing projects with local artists and refugee artists, and it creates a bit of a professional network, but not a community. A lot of new initiatives are claiming to create communities, connecting refugees and locals, but when I see their work up close, I notice they are struggling with the same challenges: they don’t really know how to do it, and at some point other concerns take over: funding, results and their focus shifts.

Can I find more about your work somewhere? If you want you can reach me at Also, one of my friends is going to build a community space in a Lebanese refugee camp this spring. If you want, I can get you in touch with her.

All my best,

(as an aside, let me compliment you on saying there is a difference between professional network and community. Many I have seen claim the latter when they are actually closer to the former. Talking about the differences and similarities is a worthwhile conversation.)

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I see what you mean @matthias . And of course previous work has to be produced before any investigation on field.
What I learned from checking (not as deep as required though) before exploring the local fresh food in Essaouira is that sometimes, the semantic used in an area is not the same in another.
For instance, there is not much labelled as “locavore” outside of western countries/people vocabulary.
This semantic differences are making research online difficult on the very western perspective kind of topics. It’s not always the case but sometimes, I feel like a previous field exploration is needed, to check any correlations between both fields. Including language and semantics.

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Hi Mathias, thanks a lot for clarify this, which was basically the step that I took researching in Edgeryders first.

I think is the right first step to-do, as I said just wondering around here I found 15 new leads that brought me to very interesting discoveries.

It’s a very good exercise to:

  1. understand that you are not alone in your research
  2. cut down the clique gringo fantasy
  3. enlarge your network

So yeah I will focus on this first!

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Hey @Sabouny thank you for the kind words!

Yes I’m very interested on ear from you about the games that you experimented, they sound great :slight_smile:
And of course I will love to play all of them!!

I’ve applied for an art residency in Beirut (let’s see if I manage to get in), if so, we can organize a urban games workshop!

Hi Ann, thanks for your comment!

CriticalCity upload was our first and only community, it lasted 5 years from 2010 until january 2015, the online community stopped but the real one don’t, we organized a gathering this year in Milan and still dozen of people showed up.

I’m not a community builder/manager (@johncoate and @noemi have more experience then me) but we had some strategy that we applied during that period in order to grow and strength the project.

We were lucky because our game was a pervasive one (definition here), which involved the real world a lot, in the sense that in order to get point you have to testify with videos or pictures that you really did the task requested (for example in this task you have to build a horse statue and put it in a square, very hard to fake it!).

The focus was all around the tasks so our player (ie community member) where very exposed and very real, you really get a sense of who was there, because of the actions that they were performing and testifying.

When we realize that, we changed the technology of our website in order to have those actions right in the middle, so instead of having the scoreboard in the home-page, we had the task of the week, or the most voted task, or the player of the week.

We realized also two other things during this experience.
The first was that in order to have energy you need new player coming-in in a continuous flow, it was like waves that were leaving some new sand layer, I think this is a metaphore for the concept of organic growing, you need time to let you community sediment and grow slowly but steady.

So part of our work was directed on find always new players (we used almost exclusively fb ads), and when we stopped that (because of lack of resources) it was a little harder to continue (but we’ve managed to play for 1 year and a half more).

We also refused to create community for clients when we received offer that were wrong in time or time-related (we need to have XXX players in 2 months, can you do it?), I don’t think that this kind of community (pumped community if you want) last long.

Ok, so to sum up:

  • actions and performance in the middle
  • documentation of those
  • organic grow

and finally I will say that Live events were also something that really helped.

Our players were all around Italy, so we used to take the car and drove to them, organize a Task together and spend the day discovering new cities.
That was very powerful, both for us (lot of energy every time) and for the rest of the players (hey those people are real!).
Some of the most amazing experience came from those “collective tasks” like:
“Clean something” (we cleaned Milano Centrale Train Station )
or “create a Living Room in a public space” (a performance that ended up with a free concert with hundred of people listening in Bologna)

So I will add:

  • live events
  • time

to the above mentioned list.

For the records, we were funded for the first year (Fondazione Cariplo), the second year we managed to find smaller funds, the third year we sustained ourselves with micro-donation, the fourth year we taught a group of +10 community member how to manage the game and together we managed it for free for 1year and a half, after that the effort was too hard and the growing too low to have energy in the community.
Here, if you read Italian, there is a resume website

About your friends, yes, it will be great to get in touch, is he/she here in Edgeryders?

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Hi Matteo,

This is great info. We are planning to do something with a group of people without documents in Amsterdam. This kind of info is very useful.
There is no budget, so I don’t think we will have much web presence. But I was thinking about games to do with this community, tasks such as you describe, and show them on social media. The role of this group is very fixed in the discussion: they are victims, they need more resources, and I would like to turn it upside down: they are capable, they have resources. Doing things for/ with the city could work, while rewarding them for taking a role.
I am making this all up as I go along, I have to check with the people how they feel about it.

Is there a book/ website you could recommend on community buiding in real life, games I could use? @johncoate @noemi

My friend is called Narda Beunders, you can find her on Facebook. She isn’t on Edgeryders (yet). Her organisation is called .

I totally forgot to say, but I also work with Deep Democracy. It’s a method for dialogue and conflict resolution developed in South Africa. We use it in the group, because it deals with conflicts which are in the group’s unconsciousness: you can feel the resistance, but nobody yet knows exactly why. It is also a great tool to get minority voices heard:

All my best, thanks for your message.


I don’t know of a book that specifically focuses on your concern, but a Google search did reveal some interesting things, including a number of articles on things other communities have tried…