A series of personal reflections by a rowdy priestess
The first question most people ask when they find out I’m the High Priestess of ARKO, a nomadic play temple, is: “WHAT, exactly, is a play temple?”
We’re on the bleeding edge of PLAYMASTERY™ over here at ARKO so I can understand someone wanting some context. The thing is: I’m not in the business of providing easy answers. No, I’m in the business of asking provocative questions.
Thus my favorite answer is quite frustrating for those who desire clarity:
“Anything you want it to be.”
See, here’s the thing: since inception, ARKO was always intended to be a catalyst for next level connections IRL. I wanted to go beyond what the bars and basic nightlife could deliver, ya dig? And that meant coming back to the basic roots of connection and seeing them through a totally new lens. In order to write the map, you need to lean into the mystery.
Hang with me for a minute here. What most people don’t know is that ARKO’s origin story was inspired by these two things:
- The mythical boat in the bible that carried humans to a new world. (Am I having a Kanye moment? Maybe.)
- A daydream I entertained at work one day about spiriting a pirate ship full of scallywags around the world. (Same same but diff amiright??)
Why a boat though? I’m not a religious person. I did, to my mom’s chagrin, skip out on Sunday Skool class when I was 15 and never returned to the Catholic church. I was a teenage werewolf much more interested in the boys and besides, the dusty religious myths just weren’t relevant to me. Which means they didn’t resonate. More important: maybe I wasn’t ready to receive their full meaning.
What I find compelling is Carl Jung’s belief that humans speak across time in universal symbols. And that somehow, these symbols — such as a magic vessel navigating deathly waters — are embedded deeply into our collective consciousness, providing us with a story that serves as a map we turn to again and again.
TL;DR: We are living in an era that’s re-writing what it means to be human. (And this isn’t the first time we’ve had to do that.)
The existential allure of a miracle boat is not lost on me — nor the need at this critical moment for a similar conceptual vehicle; a Deus Ex Machina to enter the scene and save us from ourselves before we run out of fertile soil. Of course we feel lost at sea.
Now, this soliloquizing is all to say: a year after Trump was elected I had a bad day. (We all did.) As a creative coping mechanism, I shared my modern cruise pirate LARP on Facebook.
The resulting hilarity in the Facebook thread led me to an interesting idea. While co-creating this brave (if albeit imaginary) new world , I asked myself: Where did the story end and the real world begin? It was a powerful — and revolutionary — thought.
The signs of a deep narrative slowly disintegrating are all around us. In a dying empire, violence becomes pervasive. We sign up for escape room experiences and jump out of planes to shake us out of stupor. We scroll until our thumbs are numb. The ancient symbols are still alive; they’ve just evolved into emojis.
One of my favorite writers once wrote that every advancement casts a shadow. And many more educated than me in these things argue that we are living in one now. As a society and as a species, we are existing in the in-between. (Or maybe it’s the upside down?) To beat the symbol of the boat to death: we are a ship adrift.
Which leads me to The Adventure Paradox. What comes next? This is the question ARKO asks.
We are a species of expansion on a slippery slope, scrambling to define a set of rules — maybe a new story to live into? — to right our ship. We are headed into new horizons, drawing the map as we go, and to be honest, we don’t have a fucking clue.
The future isn’t guaranteed — even if we do have some intriguing guesses.
If you ask me, it is the *perfect time* to be a pirate. The pioneering spirit thrives on adventure and exploration — and what is that really but improv, innovation — PLAY? Why so serious fam? To play is to innovate, to expand, to liberate. Only there’s one caveat: people are afraid.
In seeking to know exactly what ARKO offered, people desired answers that kept them safe. At the heart of the request is the desire to protect against uncertainty. And yet — we live in a world that constantly changes. The ability to go beyond survival, to ultimately thrive, hinges on our ability to roll with — not resist — chaos and complexity.
Thus as a Certified Playmaster, I believe that to define play does people a disservice. Wouldn’t it be more fun to answer your own question? To decide the terms of your world?
We learn to walk by stumbling first.
We grow when we are faced with new circumstances and strategies that stretch us.
We forge new ground when we dare to draw a new map.
When we trust what is inside us.
If we are brave — if we are willing to risk everything, including and especially our sacred egos — then we might encounter the explosive flow of life that lies beyond our fear; that is the foundation and absolute nature of our radiant being. This is the power of true presence.
In presence, the mask melts away.
We experience ourselves transform in real time.
We start to dance with life.
Because play is the eternal nature of the universe.
If there’s one thing I want you to walk away with, it is this:
It is a radical act of sovereignty to ignite the spark of your being without apology.
To be fierce in your vulnerability.
To allow it all in.
To accept that yes — without question — you can have it.
You don’t need to be guaranteed anything.
But just in case: I give you permission to play. Without reason. Without rule. Without apology. Without fear. Without hesitation.
The boat is just another symbolic microcosm of something much larger and more infinite here. After all — isn’t Mother Earth the original MEGAYACHT?Either way, I’m realizing that this experiment is really about asking a question so big that a new world had be built to answer it.
I’m not here to tell you what ARKO is or isn’t, because spoiler alert: life is what you make of it. The game we are playing requires everyone. And the good news is that all answers exist here, in the space of possibility.
And YOU get to decide what comes next.
Katharine Hargreaves is a writer, facilitator, and culture alchemist living and playing in California. A translator of tectonic patterns of transformation, Katharine invents interactive experiences and social rituals for a new humanity. She is the founder of ARKO, a culture lab for human connection and AWAKYN, a card game changing the world one magic moment at a time. Find more of her writing at The Fearless Experiment: a way to evolve your world through adventure or get on her monthly mailing list for raps from a real life wizard.