A MAZE. / Berlin 10 amazing things from the home of playful media

A MAZE. / Berlin describes itself as representing and celebrating ‘the new wave, the hottest shit in games and playful media culture beyond the mainstream.' The festival brings 4 days of play, collaboration, knowledge sharing and music to Berlin. I was there to find speakers and ideas to enhance festivals at the National Science and Media Museum. I left invigorated and full of thought and ideas. Here are 10 reasons this is a great destination for festival inspiration.

10 Amazing Things About A MAZE. / Berlin

1. What a welcome

Festival attendees were greeted with a rousing introduction from Festival Director Thorsten S. Wiedemann, complete with ‘fire fountains.' Wiedemann welcomed the ‘artists and storytellers of the digital age’ encouraging them to ‘f**k the mainstream,’ stay underground and create playful media not rooted in making money. 

2. Cool cardboard (and foil)

A MAZE. has a lo-fi vibe. Exhibitors were banned from bringing banners and glossy marketing materials. All signage was made from natural, recyclable materials - a policy that added to the anti-industry feel of the festival and focused attention on the media experiences themselves. Many artists had also included everyday materials in their playful projects.

3. No barriers to play

Experience design was carefully considered at A MAZE. Games and playful media exhibits were facilitated or had clear instructions. Play was democratised and anyone could appreciate the festival’s exhibition, even if you’d never picked up a game controller before.

4. Film relevance

I organise both a film and a video game festival, and sometimes switching between the two can feel jarring. A MAZE. conference speakers constantly referred to film in their presentations. This helped reinforce the relationship between film, VR and games as media that all tell stories with light and sound.

5. Value of respect and code of conduct

A MAZE. has a strict code of conduct. There were a number of ways you could report harassment to the festival organisers who were committed to taking action to help anyone made to feel unwelcome or uncomfortable.

6. Good VR

Fresh and different VR experiences were featured throughout the A MAZE. exhibition and discussed in the conference. Museums were a strong theme in VR presentations with projects like the Museum of Other Realities and the Museum of Symmetry transporting you to beautiful digital art spaces.

7. Girls

There were girls… everywhere! This may not seem surprising considering that 51% of the population is female, but in the context of a games-focused event it was fantastic to see. My experience of UK games festivals to date has seen a very male bias - the festival design and commitment to safely demonstrated at A MAZE. should provide key learnings for organisers wanting to diversify their events.

8. Great speakers

Every speaker session was just great. I attended 15 speaker events over the course of 4 days and there wasn’t one that didn’t hold my attention and give me something to take away. Which leads me to...

9. It made my brain hurt… in a good way!

A MAZE. gave me so much to think about - from the future of digital arts spaces to the challenges of digital presentation. But, most of all, it made me think about how I can make my own events more playful, inclusive and welcoming.

10. I designed a game!

I joined a STEM Play workshop to discuss how game makers can advance science. Working in a small group, we planned a game around studying the movement of water and erosion. It was thrilling to design the project (on paper) and pitch it back to the other workshoppers.

A MAZE. / Berlin takes place annually at the Urban Spree Gallery in East Berlin. If you're a playful media artist looking for exposure or collaborators, or an organiser looking for ways to enhance your events, then this could be a must-attend festival for you.