A close game

The dice rolls. The ball goes round. Pawns move. Cards are revealed on the table. Stare in the eyes, read thoughts. Run, clash, corner, bluff, get ahead. Whatever the rules are, you are almost always playing against someone.

Games come in lots of flavours. But whether it is sports, a board game or a computer game, I find that competition is a necessary ingredient in every game recipe. The challenge to stretch my mental or physical muscles is for me what I most enjoy in a game. And for that I need tough and close competition.

As much as I enjoy winning, I hate easy games. There is not much satisfaction in beating a player that plays badly, be it due to inexperience or mistakes. There is too much downtime, you don’t even have to try.
On the other end, I don’t particularly enjoy playing against opponents much better than me. Don’t get me wrong; it is a great opportunity to learn and admire the beauty of a game. But at the same time, the feeling that I can’t win no matter how hard I try makes me lose interest and not show my best self.

One of the best Settlers of Catan games I've played recently.

My most thrilling games have been close ones, against people that are roughly of the same caliber as me. It is then that you have to get really involved, stress yourself, give your every little bit, and it is this little bit that might mean winning or losing. These games keep you on your toes, make the adrenaline pump or your head buzz with all possible moves and scenarios you can adopt to get one step ahead.

Whether I win or lose, feeling absolutely exhausted at the end of a game is almost always a sign it has been a good one.


Mock the Greek

Being in London, the time inevitably comes when you will find yourself in a discussion comparing your home country with another. Most of the time the discussion goes on lightheartedly, with everyone being genuinely excited about another country’s traditions, natural beauty, culture and any other you-name-it peculiarity. And when things turn a bit uncomfortable, it’s usually easy to stir the conversation to some weird or universally accepted horrible aspect of the english reality to break the tension – the weather being the favorite, even if British are parts of the company.

But every so often there will be somebody that’s just way too boastful about how awesome their home country is and how no other country can even compare to it. If that person happens to be Greek – unofficial statistics show that 66.9% of Greeks abroad have a tendency for this sort of behaviour – please resist your wish to punch them; it’s rarely considered constructive and your host probably doesn’t like blood stains on their floor. Also, do me a favor and leave the economy aside.  Instead, you can pick from a variety of arrows to use to counter-attack from the excellent animation below. I hear what you say, but yes, Greece is identical to Italy in all the situations in the video, except maybe the coffee – our frappe is just way too dominant!

Angry Squares

Six o’ clock. Wake up. A crowd around me, shapes, voices. Despite the fuzzy view, the senses are overwhelmed: desperation, anger, loneliness, a sense of loss. But also warmth, an extended hand, hope. And expectation. Lots of it. I am a few days old.

Except, it’s Sunday evening and I’m 27. But this is the best way I can grasp what’s happening around me. Since last Wednesday people meet here, in one of the central squares, next to the sea and the city’s landmark, the White Tower. A gathering of “indignant citizens” it was called, echoing the spanish gatherings of the last weeks. And one it is.

I look at the faces around me. Spotty teenagers, bearded students, young and middle-aged couples, families, snow-haired elders. But these are not the people I have been used to seeing in demos. Most of them are awkward, out of place. It’s their first time. You can tell they are unhappy, angry some of them. But they don’t really know what is happening, what they are supposed to do. So they stay and listen.

There is a microphone. People take turns to speak. “Number 23 is next” – “no we are not numbers, it’s Kostas next”. Everyone has a story, a problem and some solutions or hopes to offer:  “…on my way here I saw many people digging in the garbage…” – “… no money to pay for water…” – “…education, health and public infrastructures are being shattered…” – “…let’s start producing again to regenerate the economy…”,”…it’s not our debt, we don’t accept it…”.

People nod understandingly, cheer, clap. Mentions of politicians or parties are met by jeers. They want them to leave. The more experienced ones call for organization, for coordinated action, for working groups to systematize aims, suggestions and ways forward. An infant collective brain tries to form synapses, to move from screams to words, sentences, structured thoughts, motions.

Figuring ourselves out...


Will there be more than slogans, jokes, simplifications and demonstrations; painkillers for anger and desperation? Will a way forward different than the one others have already prescribed for us be hatched? I have no idea. No one has.

But for me, even if nothing more comes out of these gatherings, they have already achieved something. They have brought people out of their shell. They have reminded them – or even showed them for the first time – in the most vivid way, that there is such a thing as a public space, a community. A space where we can meet, talk, be heard, decide and act. That can involve honesty, trust, solidarity and compassion.

And in such a space politics can only follow, not as a hunt for power or an occasional half-hearted vote, but as a vision sculpting solutions and a better future.

White Tower On Sale

Past and future on sale


Can online engagement empower people? In an attempt to answer this question, Dave stumbled upon the fuzzy definition of empowerment and shared his thoughts. He ends up defining motivation, information and action towards an outcome, as the necessary parts of empowering someone. Now I quite like his definition, and it’s always a good start to a meaningful discussion! So I started to write a response, which then turned out a tad too long. And then I thought: what the hell, let’s make a post!

Now, to get potential lawsuits out of the way, I acknowledge in advance that I’m not a connoisseur of the subtle connotations of the english language. But to me, the word empowerment sounds like one of these buzz motivational words (if you don’t get quite how motivational it is just search for empowerment in google images!) that more confuses rather than facilitates this sort of discussion.

Putting my linguistics hat on (source: clipartpictures.blogspot.com)

In my simple understanding it means to enable, to endow someone with the power to do something. In that sense, it implies provision of a way, or a medium to an end, and it encompasses mostly the information part, which should necessarily point out a way to action as well. Motivation helps, but is not necessary in this definition, as well as the final outcome.

A quite different but not unrelated meaning of the word is for a person to feel empowered, that is, more self-confident or satisfied as a result of achieving or knowing it can achieve something. In this definition, a palpable outcome is desired.

Now that we got the linguistics out of the way, let’s get to the point, which is I guess how do we make online engagement have an impact on real life (you native speakers think of a word for that!). And here Dave’s decomposition comes much better into play. A well designed website can relatively easily be good in one thing: providing information. If it is a social networking space it can also provide some engagement. The real game changers are motivation and providing a course of action (the latter is the empowerment!).

The second is also usually the easier part: from online actions in its simplest form (donating money via a credit card, signing an online petition, re-tweeting or broadcasting a message) to real events like arranging a fishing trip, a tree planting or a pressure event. Choosing an effective course of action is another big discussion for another time.

And lastly, motivation. Now, that’s where it all becomes difficult – not only for online, but also for any more “conventional” community. More so if you think that motivation is usually inversely proportional to the effort required for the action and the scale of the result: it’s much easier to convince someone to sign an online petition claiming more recycling is needed, rather than to get them to recycle more.

Motivational? Perhaps back in the day... (source: flickr)

I won’t give a structured answer, mostly because I don’t have one. The usual approach is to appeal to reason (if we don’t cut carbon emissions, global warming will destroy the earth) or a sentiment (people die every day due to lack of water, so stop wasting it). In a world flooded with pictures, the more original this appeal is, the more likely it is to engage someone – is the motivation it provides proportional though?

I tend to believe that there is another factor that maybe is even more important in this equation, and that’s attitude: how much a person is ready to change their mind and their life, learn and act. And that’s something that goes far beyond a website. It’s education, and family, and friends, and society – the conceptual monsters that all these discussions inevitably have to face. But I won’t go down that road. People willing to act, for whatever reason, do exist. A website provides a medium, a platform, to bring them together, to communicate information in an original, engaging way and maybe hint towards courses of action. This is a spark. Put it together with the right material – human creativity – and a small fire might be on its way.

Back in my undergrad days, I was lucky enough to take part in the starting of an online student community. The basic idea was to help each other with the courses and have some fun chatting online. What noone of us imagined, was that this would lead to real changes, small but significant, in our everyday student life. Because some people saw that some things were not right. They had some ideas how to improve them and were willing to pursue them. Once we gave these few people, lost in a 2000 strong student population, a way to find each other, get together, and discuss, there was little doubt: changes were on the way!

The results? A new departmental library, run partially by students on a voluntary basis and new departmental computer facilities. A cooperation between students and teachers better than ever before. An increased awareness and participation of students in the department’s life. A sense that if you needed support, there was a community where you could find it.

Oh, and yes, the empowerment. That we could and had made a difference. All we needed to do is try.