Venturing back into physical space

After another year of online activities, we were thrilled to present some of the highlights from our 2021 programme in a physical space full of real people at Next Level Festival. Next Level takes place in Essen, Germany, at Zollverein, a former coal mine and a dramatic backdrop for the questions around the climate crisis posed by these playful works.

It was amazing to be able to think about physical installations again, and we spent some time developing the right approach to each work.

Tiz Creel – Hand-crafted Digital Worlds

To create a warm and inviting social center for the exhibition, we invited artist/designer Tiz Creel to extend the process she used to create the 2021 online festival’s virtual courtyard to include visitors on site. Starting from a few basic references to the mine’s iconic architecture, participants crafted drawings and collages that were scanned and continuously integrated into a growing world.

© Next Level – Festival for Games, Photo: Robin Junicke

It was lovely to see visitors using Tiz’s workshop area as a hang-out space, chatting with Tiz and casually making assets in small groups and individually. Click here to step into the amazing environment that grew out of this process (and feel free to use it for your next online meeting)!

SCRNPRNT – Garden of Earthly Delights

We worked closely with Milan and Neilson Koerner-Safrata (SCRNPRNT) to create a unique physical installation for Garden of Earthly Delights, which remixes assets from the classic strategy game Age of Empires II into a Hieronymus Bosch-style triptych.

© Next Level – Festival for Games, Photo: Robin Junicke

Making use of the wonderfully high ceilings in the space, we projected the triptych onto three individually hanging modules, creating the illusion of a floating painting. At two terminals, visitors could take on the roles of animals and walk around the landscape, stepping directly into the painting. From time to time, online participants would also appear.

A video loop of the conversation between Marie Foulston and Milan and Neilson Koerner-Safrata about the work added additional context.

Phoebe Shalloway – Even in Arcadia

We worked with lighting and a large slanted screen to create a dramatic portal into Phoebe Shalloway’s Even in Arcadia, which explores a hyper-capitalist future full of artificial environments and disposable planets.

© Next Level – Festival for Games, Photo: Robin Junicke

Approaching the installation felt like stepping onto a stage, creating a sense of detachment from the surroundings, allowing visitors to experience the theatrical qualities of the work, which was inspired by immersive theater. From afar, visitors looked like they were at a dystopian control panel on an island of light – perhaps waiting to be teleported – becoming performers themselves.

Hosni Auji – Airplane Mode

After virtually “flying to the festival” with Hosni Auji’s Airplane Mode back in March, we felt it was time to extend the passenger experience of this darkly funny and poetic work to the tactile senses.

© Next Level – Festival for Games, Photo: Robin Junicke

Using a row of real airplane seats from the defunct “Germania” airline, three visitors were able to board simultaneous flights and enjoy an experience shifting between nostalgia, mind-numbing loss of agency and cramped sense of togetherness.

Again, players became performers, exposing the uncanny parallels between our bodily attachment to screens and airplanes as a social sculpture.

J. R. Carpenter & Tomo Kihara – This is not a good sign.

The show at Next Level Festival was also a very first sneak peak for audiences to experience one of our commissioned projects from the 2021 programme: J. R. Carpenter & Tomo Kihara’s poetic and beautiful AR-based work This is not a good sign.

Photo: Sophia Bulgakova

Starting from a video installation explaining how to play, visitors used their own devices to roam around the surreal post-industrial landscape of the former Zollverein mine, playfully placing signs and assembling a visual poem.

Stay tuned for a special event dedicated to our commissions in early 2022. Meanwhile, you can already explore the work at and check out the amazing images from all over the world at the project’s instagram!

Looking ahead

Even though all of the works shown here can be experienced remotely, we were so happy to develop forms of physical presentation as part our new partnership with Next Level Festival.

Gearing up to our 2022 programme, we were able to reconnect with aspects of the festival experience that are central to Now Play This: bringing people together in the spaces around experimental games, providing opportunities for informal, spontaneous conversations and fluid creative experimentation, celebrating play in all of its forms as a full-body experience – with deep ties to the realities of our fragile world.