The growing demand for extreme engagement and its hidden learning potential

Tournament at Burgfest

Tournament at Burgfest

When you successfully overcome adversity against seemingly insurmountable odds or complete a task that involves so much risk that it appears to be at the edge of your limits and so daring your adrenalin levels peak, this is where you take the biggest step forward of learning in your life.

Festivals are spaces that activate this kind of extreme engagement and learning. People either actively seek out or are curiously drawn to opportunities to experience a new high and an amazing learning experience that helps them grow. There's loads of examples where this happens at Burgfest, and maybe a few less obvious ones worth designing for. 

1. There are the rides. I love this hand wound merry go round and a larger gravity-fed version at Burgfest (pictured above).

2. New and exotic tasting experiences by culinary tourists at festivals.

3. There's also role play, or role reversal more specifically. CEOs relish the opportunity to become the poor underdog, while those who have limited means aspire to dress as royalty for a day. At Burgfest I saw the warriors who dressed in the finest armour and those who were understated in style. A Viking I interviewed told me a story of how a doctor would dress down to become a dirty beggar at the festival, which unlocked a range of opportunities such behaving foul mouthed. Nobody suspected it was him for a while.

3. There's always the hero in show battles. These battles tend to have stalemates because most warriors stay in formation for protection. Breaking that pattern is the risk taker who suddenly emerges to take on the whole other army just to expose a weakness their own side can take advantage of. The battle that stood still for minutes is then suddenly over in seconds. And of course, there's nothing more gratifying than being the last one standing in a David and Goliath showdown - I remember many years ago, once being only armed with a spear, standing my ground against a heavily armed warrior and clan-leader who was charging me with shield and sword, and who was a fire fighter by day. Boy did I learn from the flash of insight in trying something new that lead to that unlikely victory. 

Former white House, Chef Marti Mongiello runs  The Inn of the Patriots , Presidential Culinary Museum and the Presidential Service Center.

Former white House, Chef Marti Mongiello runs The Inn of the Patriots, Presidential Culinary Museum and the Presidential Service Center.

Former White House Chef Marti Mongiello, who runs The Inn of the Patriots and the Presidential Culinary Museum in North Carolina, has been a major creative inspiration from the start. We agreed that there was a market for letting people experience similar role reversals and richly engaging learning experiences, where for example, you get to take the elevated risk of getting behind an oxen to plough the field just so you can experience what it was like for your grandfather to do it. Marti has been preserving America's colonial food cultures through living history events, including his own daily historical tours and heritage meals at the Inn. He does it in a way that connects people with the romanticism of the American Revolution and lets people play out their dreams of experiencing a "back to your roots" lifestyle.

Backing this market demand for rich engagement and learning on the edge are the growing number of games that are played as events in urban environments. Great examples are the artistic work by Invisible Playgrounds in Germany.

Traditionally games have ignited that kind of extreme mental activation in boss levels (the end game) and players have devoted hundreds of millions of playing-hours to this on an epic scale. In Sweden I found a growing desire among players (some of who were also foodies) for merging their digital play experience with the forest around them. And when you mix realities this way, you also open up opportunities to not only allow participants to influence a story that is played out in the field but also to decide what lasting value is left behind. Games like these then become platforms for the emerging Creative Tourism industry whose segment, as in Martis' case, may decide to help revive forgotten foods using wood fired ovens to feed the starving and musket clenching rebels hiding in the treetops of the North Carolinas.