Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Playing Games in Poland

Written by Ilonka Zlatar and Shelli Hellman

We arrived bright-eyed (albeit a bit disconcerted) in Wrocław (pronounced vraht-suave), late to our first meeting, after learning that arriving trains can change platforms with no warning. After copious apologies we began discussing our plan for the following morning with Piotr, our collaborator (and life-saver) from the Centre for System Solutions. All of our training from the past month was to be tested in the next few days, as we finally observe what had come to be known simply as "the Game". 

We had played the game, observed ourselves in a video recording of a community meeting -- which in itself was an interesting learning experience; personally, I discovered annoying things I never knew I did, and that I can somehow come to conclusions that nobody wanted! -- learned to observe verbal and non-verbal communication, and discovered our unique personal bias toward how people interact (I'm definitely an optimist!). In Hungary we bonded with the land after which the game was modeled, and acquired a deeper understanding of the complex social-ecological system. We had discussed our research questions and had our observation sheets and materials ready to go. Were we really ready to do this? A bunch of culture-shocked natural scientists about to drop the calipers to pick up just a pen and paper, the tools of observation for this social experiment. I'm sure we learned more about ourselves -- our doubts, fears, strengths, and weaknesses --  than we ever imagined by stepping out of our comfort silos. 

Our question seemed simple at first:
Do relational activities affect content outcome?

In other words, does the way that people interact with each other change the financial and ecological success of the game? Does balanced leadership, having rules for communication, and sharing a common understanding of the problems produce more capital? More stable systems? The answers to these questions would be much more difficult than we thought.

The next morning, we took the trams to the Wrocław Research Centre EIT, where we observed our first game with researchers, students, and environmental professionals. I think each of us felt a bit overwhelmed trying to interpret what was happening, filling our evaluation sheets and furiously taking notes as the "years" kept rolling by faster than you could learn to pronounce Wrocław (, no vra...). 

Knee-deep in gameplay. Photo by Maggi Sliwinski
Pondering life and everything... Yep, the game does that. Photo by Noelle Hart

 After an exhausting day of observation, which gave us a new respect for those who do this frequently, it was off to a fantastic Polish meal with our hosts. The next morning brought a tour of Wrocław, and we discovered the charm of a city that is still rebuilding itself after Poland broke away from the Soviet block in 1989. Many sculptures around the city are beautiful reminders of the struggles of a country with a complicated history of invasion and revolution. I was surprised by how beautiful Poland was. It's one of those countries that you don't really hear about much, not a tourist destination for most travelers I've known. I was enchanted by the architecture and the history that dripped out of the buildings. 
Just a door. In Poland. Photo by Ilonka Zlatar
Gnomes are the emblem of the revolution in Wroclaw. Photo by Victoria Chraibi

Dinner with our hosts, Piotr and Magda. Photo by Shelli Hellman.
A statue, commemorating the efforts of students who carried books out of the library that was flooding by the historic flood of 1994(5?). Photo by Ilonka Zlatar
 As the week went on, we visited Rzeszow and played another game at the University of Rzeszow. The participants were mostly students studying for a Master's degree in Economics. Having previously worked with participants who study or work in policy and natural resources, the economics students offered a refreshingly new outlook on the problems presented in the game. During the lunch break many of the IGERTs had the opportunity to chat with the Polish students about the differences in graduate education between Poland and the U.S. The university and the students were exceptional hosts, and the experience gained in the second game made us all more comfortable with the observational process.

Participants discussing their game plan. Photo by Victoria Chraibi
 Once again we had to bid farewell to another city and after a near-death van ride, we arrived at the last destination on our Polish itinerary. We observed our third and final iteration of the game at the University of Science and Technology in Krakow. The game was lively and kept us on our toes. 

The participants convene for a community meeting. Photo by Shelli Hellman.

 Our hosts arranged another tour the following morning. The enthusiastic tour guide went well beyond the original scope of the tour and some of the IGERTs were treated to more than five hours of history, architecture, and culture in Krakow. 

IGERTs touring Krakow. Remnants of a fortress in the background. Photo by Ilonka Zlatar

In the old town, within the ancient city walls. Photo by Ilonka Zlatar

Awesome buildings everywhere. Photo by Ilonka Zlatar

Beauty abounds in Krakow. Photo by Ilonka Zlatar

Castles everywhere. Photo by Ilonka Zlatar

The underground museum next to us, the chapel in the main square behind us. Photo by Ilonka Zlatar
 After our game observations concluded, the IGERTS parted ways. Some returned to Vienna while others spent an extra day in Krakow and made a trip to Auschwitz. Being there, in a place where millions of innocent people were robbed of their lives, will stay with me forever.  
A few from the mountain of glasses taken from the victims. Photo by Ilonka Zlatar

Auschwitz. Photo by Ilonka Zlatar

Auschwitz. Photo by Ilonka Zlatar

 Poland was a beautiful surprise. The people were warm, the architecture beautiful, and the cities charming. I had no expectations when I arrived, but I left knowing that someday I will return.

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