Interview: Colleen Macklin


Colleen Macklin teaches at Parsons The New School for Design and directs a research lab there called PETLab. She makes games, media and curriculum in the social interest. She is also a member of the game design collectives “The Leisure Society” and “Local No. 12″. This interview was conducted on June 6, 2011.

Any updates on Re:activism?

Yes! We’re doing an adaptation of the game this summer at the University of Pennsylvania!

Why is it a game?

We initially came up with the idea for Re:Activism as part of the Come Out and Play Festival.  There were still a lot of anti-war protests in 2008, and since we all walked to and from the subway to school everyday, we encountered protests almost everyday.  (Union Square is a focal point for any kind of protest… also a place where the Critical Mass riders congregate.)

Is it art?

Yeah! For the game, I actually consulted with a couple artists who are recognized for their work,Sharon Hayes and Andrea Geyer.  Sharon in particular recreates protest in public.  Would it be interesting for the general public to experience what protesters experience?

Does the art become activism?

It is always interesting to see if you can get people involved in something that would otherwise have high stakes… it becomes a kind of access point.  I don’t necessarily consider myself an activist (since I don’t go to a lot of protests and marches, though I have!).

Is it learning?

Re:Activism becomes a teaching tool — you’re learning how activists engaged in the past, how they protested.  There is a lot of history, a lot of facts in the game, but that’s not what’s important – it’s not like an urban tour.  Rather, the game works by discovering these sites and then actually performing or interviewing or tracing with chalk what people did there.  So if there was a die-in, you lay down on the ground and perform a die-in and feel what that’s like. Then in some ways, when people are walking by (NY is a populated place), and they’re like “what are you doing?” so it becomes a learning tool for the passersby too.  The game players become teachers to the general public.  I think that teaching is definitely a form of activism.  This game tries to engage through an activist teaching stance of experience it, do it – instead of me telling you what this is about.

Any surprises?

One hidden thing in the game that most people don’t think about is that you’re learning how to use your mobile phone to organize your team, document events, and so you’re learning how mobiles can be used in activism.  That’s not made explicit in the game, but if you’ve never shot a video on your phone and uploaded it somewhere, well now you know how, and you might do it again when you’re witnessing something for real.