Playing the game? A criminological account of the making and sharing of Probationary: The Game of Life on Licence

Date01 December 2020
AuthorEmma Murray,Will Jackson,Anne Hayes
Published date01 December 2020
Subject MatterArticles
PRB939151 375..392
The Journal of Community and Criminal Justice
Probation Journal
Playing the game? A
2020, Vol. 67(4) 375–392
ª The Author(s) 2020
criminological account
Article reuse guidelines:
of the making and
DOI: 10.1177/0264550520939151
sharing of Probationary:
The Game of Life on
Will Jackson , Emma Murray, and Anne Hayes
Liverpool John Moores University, UK
This article reflects on the production and dissemination of Probationary: The Game of
Life on Licence. Probationary is an artwork in the form of a board game that takes its
players on a journey as they navigate the complexities of the probation process. This
article explores the interdisciplinary collaborations that underpinned both the making
and the sharing of the game and examines the benefits and challenges of working with
stakeholders in this way. We suggest that creative methodologies can provide new
ways of engaging with research subjects and new means of disseminating academic
research with a view to informing change.
probation, resettlement, socially engaged arts practice, serious games, penal reform
This article reflects on the making and sharing of Probationary: The Game of Life on
Licence. Probationary is a collaborative commission, produced through socially
engaged art workshops with artist Hwa Young Jung and a group of men on licence to
Corresponding Author:
Will Jackson, Centre for the Study of Crime, Criminalisation and Social Exclusion, Liverpool John Moores
University, 80-98 Mount Pleasant, Liverpool L3 5UZ, UK.

Probation Journal 67(4)
Figure 1. Probationary: The Game of Life on Licence boxed (Burns, 2018).
the National Probation Service. This article seeks to examine the interdisciplinary
collaborations that underpinned both the making and the sharing of the game. The
first phase – the making of the game – was facilitated by a research partnership
between Foundation for Art and Creative Technology (FACT) in Liverpool and the
Centre for the Study of Crime, Criminalisation and Social Exclusion at Liverpool John
Moores University).1 The production process brought artistic producers from the
Justice strand of FACT’s Learning Programme together with a group of criminologists
to explore how creative methodologies and practices of co-production could develop
criminological research. The second phase – the sharing of the game – involved a
research partnership between the academic team and the Howard League for Penal
Reform. This partnership aimed to explore the potentially transformative impact of
innovative methodologies for penal reform campaigns. Ultimately, by sharing Pro-
bationary with diverse audiences, the project sought to develop models for influen-
cing public policy and implementing change.
Presented in the form of a board game (see Figure 1), when activated, this artwork
takes its players on a journey through the eyes of four playable characters as they
navigate the complexities of the probation process. Board games, from Monopoly to
the Game of Life, contain within them the structures and values of the society in which
they are produced, presenting back to us the world in which we live. Probationary
reflects real experiences of being subject to the criminal justice system and presents us
with an opportunity to collectively play, understand, and discuss such systems. The
project sought to explore the ways in which knowledge exchange, via the medium of
art, can lead to a different perspective on individuals’ lived experience of the criminal
justice system. Specifically, the game explores (on an emotional level) experiences of
being released from prison and of resettlement.
Following the announcement in 2019 from the then Justice Secretary David
Gauke, that the changes implemented in 2014 as part of the Transforming Rehabi-
litation (TR) agenda were not meeting acceptable standards in offender management
work, the probation service is faced once again with wide-reaching change. The
subsequent consultation raised important questions about how we learn about the
functioning of the system and how knowledge informs change to policy and practice.
This article provides a commentary on the making of, and sharing of, this game and,

Jackson et al.
in doing so, explores key findings which we propose might be useful to those con-
sidering how we can learn differently and inform forthcoming debates.
By immersing players in an emotional experience, Probationary seeks to reveal the
subjective, precarious, and seemingly random nature of life on licence; through play,
we begin to see the effects of policy failure. The emphasis on game development for
the participants in this project was based on a drive to evoke empathy in players.
However, the project team were acutely aware throughout of the potential charge that
by making probation into a game we were not taking it seriously. It is our belief that to
‘play’ in this setting is not to deny the pains of probation (Hayes, 2015) or to under-
estimate the upheaval experienced by those working in a system in constant flux.
Instead, Probationary is a serious game that seeks to educate and inform audiences
through the medium of play.
The ‘artivist’ potential of serious games
As a team, we were influenced by the idea of ‘artivism’ (or the activist qualities of art)
and methods through which art can be used to seek to achieve social change. Arti-
vism involves merging ‘the boundless imagination of art and the radical engagement
of politics’ (Jordan, 2016: 1) and at its core it aims to be transformative (Diverlus,
2016). By amplifying marginalised voices (Roig-Palmer and Pedneault, 2018), the
drive is to harness art’s ability to inspire us to ‘take on different perspectives and to
reimagine our worlds’ (Nossel, 2016: 103). The overarching aim is to effect social
and political change through a focus on the educative role of art. To this end, one of
the key functions is to foster dialogue and to create and drive conversations usually
around sensitive, difficult, or overlooked topics (Duncombe, 2016; Roig-Palmer and
Pedneault, 2018). It is this central thrust to this type of work that attracted us as
researchers seeking to examine a probation system in a state of flux.
However, we are not the first to suggest that this approach could be well suited to
the examination of criminal justice institutions and campaigns for penal reform. Roig-
Palmer and Pedneault have argued that artivism can serve as an ‘effective pedago-
gical tool’ (2018: 17) that can foster ‘advanced learning experiences for distinct
criminal justice settings’ (2018: 20). In terms of art as activism in this field, there is
evidence of real impact in the United States. For example, in 2013, the ‘Tamms
Supermax Prison’ in Illinois was closed in part due to a 2-year campaign, led by artist
Laurie Jo Reynolds, referred to as ‘legislative art’ (Reynolds and Eisenman, 2013). In
the United Kingdom, opportunities for the visual and sensual characters of injustice to
effect policy change are growing but are yet to reach the impacts of US models.
Nonetheless, the ability of art to influence public discourse and opinions of policy-
makers remains a salient matter for those aiming to effect change. Alternative
methodologies for the collection of evidence – for example, Fitzgibbon’s use of a
‘photovoice’ method (Fitzgibbon and Healy, 2019; Fitzgibbon and Stengel, 2018) –
and the dissemination of research findings that challenge normative assumptions are
increasingly relevant in criminal justice and penal reform endeavours. As a team of
researchers, our interest therefore lay in the ability of this approach to change both
our work and our objects of study.

Probation Journal 67(4)
In this project, we sought therefore to adopt an artivist approach in the production
of a ‘serious game’. The practice of using games for purposes other than entertain-
ment can take us as far back as ancient Greece (Wilkinson, 2016), but from the 18th
century, there are clear attempts to use games for a range of political and pedagogic
purposes (Mayer and Bekebrede, 2006). The origins of the modern concept lie in the
work of Clark A Abt who sought to improve education through the use of games that
‘have an explicit and carefully thought-out educational purpose and are not intended
to be played primarily for amusement’ (1970: 9). Such games have been recently
developed to educate and inform audiences on a startlingly diverse range of issues
including, but not limited to, climate change policy (Castronova and Knowles,
2015), infrastructure management (Mayer and Bekebrede, 2006), Alzheimer’s care
provision (Arambarri et al., 2014), and the promotion of cross-cultural awareness
(Nyman Gomez and Berg Marklund, 2018).
Games can be a valuable tool in explaining complex systems and phenomena that
are hard to explain through standard means (Castronova and Knowles, 2015). Much
of the development and related scholarship on serious games today is focused on
digital games (see Do¨rner et al., 2016; Ma et al., 2011), but there is still work being
done on analogue versions and arguments made for the use of card and board
games in educational settings. As Castronova and Knowles explain, by making the
rules explicit, board games can allow players to ‘see in no uncertain terms the ways
that a game’s various mechanisms link together to form complex, dynamic, and non-
linear systems’ (2015: 42). In relation to the broad scope of work in criminology, we
have seen...

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