I was in Greece for a week to meet-up and collaborate with the No Mad Makers, a collective that is active in setting up workshops with refugees.
The wrote a very nice piece about it, check it out HERE
Radical Fun, brah! at Surfana Festival 2016. Filled with delights, also because of a great first collaboration with ApenkooiGym, certainly not the last.
Surfana is a great festival for all thinks active. I had some great sessions with people who were very ‘on-the-ball’. The overall energy of the festival visitors is very engaged and active, as opposed to what you’d find on other (music) festivals. Hope to see you again Surfano’s and Surfettes!
Happy to have participated in this years manifestation of the Dutch Playful Arts Festival, in my opinion the spearhead of Playful Design. From their website
to explore new directions in playful arts and learn more about current developments in this field … The intersection of visual art, performance art and playful design in order to encourage social interaction.
This years theme was ‘Bodies at Play’ and this is where I coined the term Play-Out, as opposed to regular Work-Outs; I believe that if a physical activity is fun to do in itself, there is no sense of ‘Work’, just ‘Out’, still reeping the benefits of the physical outing of energy.
The theme of this Play-Out was Animals. Isn’t the idea of an animal ‘working out’ ridiculous? Yet, naturally, they do engage in physical activities with the sole purpose of keeping their body in shape. For example; think of a dog yawning, putting it’s full body into it. So, more to come, have a peep at the presentation slides and a snippet of the Play OUT!
Had such a great time working with the JES youth-counseling organisation in Belgium. We started with a short theoretical part about the foundations of Play and creating the safe-space of play we call the Magic Circle. We then actually escaped the conference room we we’re in (trough the window)
to take to the field. Great to share some of my favourite games with people that are able to apply them in a social context.
Playful Revolution had a great time at the w00t Copenhagen Play Festival 2015. Another gathering of like-minded designers and visitors of this emerging scene I like to call ‘Playful Arts’; Interactive Intallations, Urban Games, Arcade Games, Folk Games anything goes, really.
This year the contribution by Playful Revolution was a Physical Game Design Seminar, commisioned by Roskilde University. The assignment was simple but clear: ‘Design a Physical Game that will be played during a musical concert’. Important Design Parameters were interaction artist vs. audience and interaction audience vs. audience.
The course was held over a period of 2 months, with weekly skype sessions for the concept phase, and a 3 day intensive seminar on location with playtesting and rehearsals.
We had loads of fun and the frantic, rave-like party game that was produced made me proud to be part of this emerging scene.
more pictures by me from w00t Copenhagen Play Festival 2015 here: Google Photos
The Playful Revolution goes Copenhagen!
w00t Festival is all about physical play. This year the Revolution will contribute to the festival hosting a Physical Crowd Game design course, at Roskilde University. The interdisciplinairy student group has been designing a crowd game for a musical concert setting.
check out the w00t programme, a great line-up of the emerging Playful Arts Scene
A group of students from Roskilde University have in cooperation with a game designer Sylvan Steenhuis developed a new concept combining music and game with focus on interaction. The concert will be an interactive experience, providing the audience to be an active, co-creative part of the concert. The combination of music and game will open up to a common experience for the audience and artist, and in this way try to further develop the interaction between the two art forms.
Ludic Interventions experimenting with the ‘Magic Triangle’, as opposed to that ‘other’ magic shape referred to in game design. a collaboration for Playful Jam @ New Gamegrounds, Brakke Grond, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Here’s a soundbite from my lecture at ‘Duurzaam Kempen’ Geel, Belgium
The event was about sustainable transition community’s and re-envisioning the use of public space; that’s where I came in…
snippet of my talk at the KSAT YOUTH REBELLION exhibition at Post Office, Rotterdam
Rainbow Zebra game, teams colour their part of the zebracrossing until a car comes along. That’s when they run to the next zebracrossing. First team to complete their colour on all crossings, wins.
The Playful Revolution goes to Geel, Belgium.
Cultural Centre ‘De Werft’ has curated this inspiring afternoon with an information market, workshops and theatre. The speakers will elaborate on the themes of sustainability and transition, in their own way. How can playfulness and game design contribute to a better society? come find out! Free entry
more info: www.duurzamekempen.be
An impression of the Urban Hacking workshop, hosted by Playful Revolution and Abner Preis.
I was in Klaten, Indonesia, to teach English as a foreign language. My host at the private school I was teaching at was inspired by my stories about the Playful Revolution, she invited me to host a workshop at the public school where she was teaching English. Continue Reading →
A series of installations at cyclist traffic lights around a busy roundabout in Utrecht, Netherlands. More and More I see traffic is biased around automobiles, resulting in longer waiting times for cyclists and pedestrians. This interventions provides a playful intermezzo while waiting; ‘time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time’.
The installations are based on the concept of ‘upcycling’, using only found material from the surrounding area. This way I aim to create a ripple effect questioning peoples ideas of where you play, and with what.
I will be giving a talk on ‘Playfulness in Public Space by Ludic Intervention’, check out the outline here http://w00t.dk/sylvan-steenhuis-nl/
edit: had a blast at w00t, the festival people were nice enough to put up the video’s of ALL the game talks! Thanks to INDGRB
check it out here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=HhTScuRojgE#at=613
In THE EXPEDITION I will take a group of people to explore a public place and place some ludic interventions.
Free High Fives!
In Veloderive (unaware) participants will be enticed, invited, lured, attracted and misled to traverse onto different routes than they would usually do. An experiential way to explore a city.(Click the title for more information)
Transporteringsdans lets you challenge your physical movements, breaking some conformity, and helping you view the life from a slightly different angle. It is both dance and fitness, with an arts perspective. --Martin Slaatto(Click the title for more information)
Please specify a Flickr ID for this gallery
Last week I went to Berlin to meet up with Florian Riviere, a fellow ‘urban playfulness’ designer. Florian was invited by a pop-up art gallery called ‘Offsites’, a football themed exhibition in an old fire station. He was asked to prepare a 2 day workshop involving the surrounding neighborhood, Kreuzberg. From the first time we met we immediately hit it off, I noticed straight away that we’re on the same level on the subject and share the same ideas. No time was wasted dilly-dallying about as I was immediately immersed in Florian’s workflow, which I managed to comprehend in the 4 days of collaboration that would follow. Generally Florian starts to scout the surrounding area for inspiration and potentially interesting locations. When I met him I tumbled into a first idea of his: Candy Kicker’. He wanted to use gumball machines that are common in Berlin’s street image. They seem to be otherwise abandoned and he was thinking of ways to re-think their use.
Florian is driven by the act of ‘upcycling’, using found materials from the street to re-create and re-imagine the uses. I’ve found this method really inspiring as it forms an incentive to be creative with the materials at hand, instead of manufacturing installations from the ground up. This is in line with Florian’s thoughts about not being a designer but more of a conceptual facilitator, a self crowned ‘urban hacktivist’. To further elaborate on this conceptual facilitator idea, in conversation with Florian I discovered his vision as an artist (actually managed to get on of my prepared questions in): What do you find is more important in your work: The interactive experience or the conceptual message? Florian answered ‘It’s definitely the conceptual message that is conveyed that forms the most important part in my work.’ This also explains his (inexhaustible) drive to share his work on his portfolio website and his facebook page. It becomes part of the piece as it is shared around the world and people re-think the use of the public spaces around them.It’s this message that is central in his work. To convey this message he uses several tools and techniques to invite his audiences to participate. An important technique in this respect is the ‘Do It Yourself’ mentality. By using materials that are found in the surrounding area and using these in his ‘Hacktions’, audiences are indirectly invited to participate. By seeing the simple, yet effective, nature of the hacktions, audiences will think to themselves: ‘He, I can do that!’ It’s exactly this mentality that is needed to evoke participation on a larger scale.
On the final workshop day (an in-depth post about the workshop will follow shortly) we formed a ‘graffiti soccer crew’ to make the last large-scale Hacktion. We set out to create ‘the worlds largest soccer field’ that would cover the entire neighborhood that we were working in. We plotted the outline of a soccer field on our little map, and set out the create hacktions that would mark the places on the field.
When seeing one of these hacktions onlookers would probably raise an eyebrow, possibly a smile, but when more and more of these popped up, audiences will realise that it’s part of a greater whole. The different locations will be collected in a Google Map, that people could use to find places to go and play a game of football. The indirect message of this piece should invite people to let go of preconceived ideas about where and when you should play. By creating small interventions on strange places that invite people to play, an awareness of pervasive(anywhere/anytime) playing will arise. It’s this vision of reinstating playfulness as a way of life that I want to convey in my own work.We had allot of fun with the declarative layer in this piece, acting out our ‘graffiti soccer crew’ roles. Despite it’s playful notion, it’s something about spray-cans and face concealing masks that gets the adrenaline pumping.
I love to play.
An irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw, once said ‘we don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing’ This is really true, somewhere in growing up we tend to lose touch with this playfulness that I’m after.
‘…stop that… behave yourself… grow up!’
My artistic goal is to reinstate this playfulness in my audiences, through my discipline of interactive performance design. I’d like to show some of the projects I’ve worked that exhibit what I want to reach with my Interactive Performances.
First off: the Mad Hatter, a commision for Solar festival. We wanted to design a game that provoked social interaction between strangers. Each players receives a hat with a single ribbon around it, whenever you see another play also wearing a hat, the first one to courteously take off his hat for the other player, receives one of the other players ribbons. Sn example of a simple ruleset that is added to an existing structure, in this case that of a festival, that influences the players behaviour. So your dancing doing whatever you do at a festival, and at the same time you’re looking over your shoulder waiting for an ambush by someone in a paper-mache top-hat.
next up: King of the Chill, or chillzone. A collaborative project in the first year of my course Design for Virtual Theatre and Games, the first urban game I developed.
A simple ruleset: We started off with one couch on the neude in Utrecht, and a big thermometer that would keep track of how many peple had chilled in the chillzone. these chill-points could be spent to buy more chill items that would expand the chill zone. There was a catalogue where the king of the chill, which was whoever was wearing the crown at that moment, could spend chill-points to buy more couches, a bag of pillows or a box of ice-cream, anything that would improve the quality of the chillzone. Because these players wanted that box of ice cream they were actually inviting strangers from the street into the chillzone to gain points and expand the chillzone to be able to hold more chillers. Another example of a simple rulesets that evokes playful behavior.
Since then I’ve always been fascinated to find ways for Evoking Playfulness in Public Space by Ludic Intervention, which incidentally is also the title of my Master Thesis.
don’t worry we’ll get into the different aspects further down the line, no need to grasp it all in one go.
I’d like to show you a best practice. I was involved in the concept-fase of this project. It’s a commercial project, that’s why it’s so fancy, but nevertheless a good case study.
for me a best case for evoking playfulness in public space by ludic intervention. We’ll take a closer look in little bit.
The main body of my research until now has been ‘playfulness’, asking the question: What is playfulness?
It’s not that easy to put your finger on, lucky for me, there’s been quite some academic research on the subject. One of the earliest and most influential works is Homo ludens by the Johan Huizinga. Huizinga was a historian that was devoted to finding the ‘play element in culture’.
I love this bit from his introduction where he says: ‘It’s ancient wisdom, but it is also a little cheap, to call all human activity play’.I think this is what he pleads for by calling his book Homo Ludens, which is latin for ‘playing man’, as opposed to the homo sapien, or rational man, as we’ve been known as since the 18th century.
65 years later, Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman wrote rules of play combining all the academic research and applying it to game-design, great book anyone who’s even remotely interested in game-design should read it. They did a comparison of all the scholarly definitions of play over the decades. As you can see, there’s not really a unanimous definition, everyone has a different approach and different elements they think are important. I’m going to spare you all the technical details because, thankfully, they’ve come up with a more concise definition of
Play is free movement within a rigid structure
At first glance it might seem a little simple to grasp such a complex phenomena as play is, but we’ll take a closer look.
Now first I’d like to take some time to make the distinction between game and play. They are actually on a scale running from paida to ludus, ludus being what we call game play, playing within a confined set of rules, a classic example is the game of chess, where you play within the rigid structure of the squares of where your pieces are allowed to stand, and players agree to certain rules by which your free movement is restricted within the rigid structure.
At the other end of the spectrum is paida, which is actually latin for learning, which stands for the free-form play that we see in children playing in a playground. nobody wins playing in a playground, there’s no points to be scored but it’s definitely a playful activity, and there’s allot of free movement in what you can do with sand.
Paidia and Ludus exist next to each other, they hardly exist on their own, usually it’s a little bit of both. in the book rules of play they visualise this continuum with this model.
The outer rim represents all playful behavior,so everything from crazy dancing to playing in a sandpit, the core represents game play, like playing a game of chess. In between these two is the grey area of the ludic activities, These are playful activities that have the free-form playing aspect but also clearly exist within a certain structure.
A good example is two college students throwing a frisbee back and forth. There’s no strict rules as to how you should play, but there’s certainly a structure where the play takes place, you don’t drop the frisbee and the fun is in spectacularly and creatively throwing the frisbee back and forth. It’s this creativity in playful behavior that interest me, and the goal of my artistic practice, create a framework, a situation that will evoke ludic behaviour.
Now I was looking for what the driving force of this creative playful behavior was and I came out on Spontaneity, as to move freely within a rigid structure one needs to exhibit spontaneity.
I found a like minded person, Josefa Nina Lieberman. (she actually passed away a few weeks ago she was 90, I bet she never stopped playing) As a psychologist she did extensive research into what playful behavior is, she talks about five dimensions op play. Being: Cognitive spontaneity, which you need for solving a crossword puzzle, physical spontaneity in for example some crazy dancing, and social spontaneity which becomes apparent in playing with others and socially interacting. Then there’s the sense of humour that playing makes you laugh, and Manifest joy as playing makes you happy.
So these are some of the elements within the realm of playfulness that I find interesting. As an interactive performance designer I asked myself the question of how do I evoke play? How do I apply this knowledge to get people playing? And as play is free movement, as a designer, how do I design free movement? As play is voluntary, when playing does not arise out of free will it ceases to be playful at once. This posed a kind of design dilemma: How do I design free movement?
I conducted an experiment where I experimented with different sets of rules to see what rulesets evoked the most spontaneous behaviour.
As competitive games tend to do, it turned out to be a very run-aroundey, screamy kind of game. But the most important conclusion came from the feedback session afterwards: The players felt that within the most confined set of rules they found they had exhibited the most spontaneous playful behavior. This made me think of something Jesse Schell said in one of his talks which is ‘good game design is not about freedom, it’s about constraints’. This made me reformulate my question to ‘how can I design a rigid structure that facilitates spontaneous behavior?’
This brings me to the last phase of my research, of which I’m at the brink right now, applying this knowledge to public space, how can I evoke playfulness in public space?
One of the big challenges of working in public space is that it’s a game in itself, there are all these rules we conform to, you don’t look someone in the eye for more than a split second and everyone has it’s own personal space that’s not easily penetrated. I like to see it as everyone having a protective bubble around him. This is very natural, it protects you from the information overload that is around you all day every day. If you wouldn’t have this bubble your head would explode. But this poses a challenge, as a designer, to penetrate this bubble and get people to play.
I’ve read this book called Pervasive Games, pervasive games are games that exist outside of the computer screen and in the reality around you, it has a lot of similarities to what I call ludic interventions. During our second week in the Media and Performance Lab I had the pleasure to meet Jaakko Stenros of Game Research Lab in Finland. In conversation with him he talked about modding the player, influencing the player in such a way that they enter a playful state, which would be the ultimate goal of a ludic intervention.
I’ve devised a model, based on allot of knowledge gained from the book about pervasive games, that can be used to engage people in public space. There’s three phases and some milestones you can use. I’d like to use the water pistol experiment as a case study.
It all starts with a certain awareness, a noticing that something out-of-the-ordinary is happening, in this case it’s quite the bombastic awareness as there’s people in coloured T-shirts running around and making ruckus, but it’s this awareness that is needed to turn an unaware participant into an ambiguous participant. This ambiguous participant is kind of where the honey is in this story. Small side-set: in the book Pervasive Games they don’t speak of spectator, there’s only unaware participant as anyone in the vicinity of the game turns into an element of the ludic activity. So it’s your goal as a designer to make them aware and curious to find out what is happening.
This curiosity needs to be nurtured in this phase until participants reach a ludic recognition, acknowledging the ludic nature of an activity. A tool to reach this are ludic markers. In this experiment they use the epicness of Red vs. Blue team and of course water-pistols, very clear ludic markers, as they are devices created for the sole purpose of playing.
When a participant knows it’s for playing you need to cultivate a motivation in your participant, a participant needs to want to join in, as play is voluntary he needs to join in out of free will. When he’s motivated to join there needs to be an invitation, he needs to accept an opening to engage with the ludic activity. In this experiment it’s quite the rough invitation, people are just jammed a water-pistol into their hands. An important element in this phase is that participants need to be able to decline the invitation, for example the person in the top right corner who gives the pistol back and continues calling his mom, or whatever he’s doing.
When this invitation has been accepted the participant turns into a player and can start to engage with the ludic activity to finally reach this playful state that I want my audiences to experience.
When in this playful state they’re in touch with the spontaneity and freedom of play, not worrying about turning up for work in a soaked three-piece suit.
I’ve rounded up another week of experimenting in the Media and Performance Lab II (see my post on the first Lab for more info on MAPLAB). I continued looking for answers to the question of ‘How do you design spontaneous behavior ‘. This question holds a design dilemma; once a behavior is designed, or pre-conceived, it ceases to be spontaneous at once. In a reply to one of his post over at deepfun.com, I had a short e-mail conversation with Bernie DeKoven in which he emphasied this dilemma.
Designing for spontaneity. A good problem in deed. Just the kind of task that people who don’t understand fun, or spontaneity, would assign.
Someone else, a family therapist, continued:
Although I don’t think we can design spontaneous behavior, I have observed that we can create a climate wherein its occurrence is highly likely.
This brought me to approaching the question a tad differently: ‘How can you design a rigid structure that facilitates spontaneous behavior’
The first experiment was inspired on a work by Marie Sester. It’s a white box piece where audiences are provoked to spontaneously interact by using motion tracking and a bright white spotlight.
What interested me about this project is the simplicity of the installation and also it’s rigid nature. The light does nothing other that track a single person. Eventhough participants probably know this, they still show playful behavior.
I took this idea and took it into the Lab and experimented with different modifications. By adding more rules along the way, I was curious as to what rule-set would evoke the most spontaneous (physical) behavior. Another sub-question I’ve been jugglin’ is ‘Does more Ludus evoke more Paidia?’ This is quite the playfulness scholar jargon so to translate: Does a more confined set of rules evoke more spontaneous behavior?’
At first participants are released to ‘roam free’ in the test environment, then certain rules are added ‘don’t touch the red light’ and ‘catch the red light’. Let’s take a look
The most immediate conclusion is that adding certain rules to the environment does evoke more physical spontaneity. Participants are leaping around, hunting or fleeing, playing a schizofrenic game of cat-and-mouse. The immediate question that arises following this conclusion would be ‘is this actually spontaneous behavior?’ Since the behavior is clearly ‘game play’ as participants are conforming to an imposed rule-set.
The question that remains is ‘does it matter?’. On philosophical note: Playfulness is about being present, being totally in touch with your surrounding and (can’t get enough of the Bernie quotes)
being open, responsive, yielding to the moment, catching hold and letting go.
To enter this ‘playful state’, as I like to call it, requires a certain willingness of a participant. It is in this respect that Jaako Stenros commented on my presentation of my findings of the Media Lab that there is a certain aspect of evoking playfulness that involves modding the player: Influencing the participant to such an extent that he or she is more receptive to playful behavior. Anyone who’s played Twister after a few beers will know what I mean.
Speaking of Twister, as it’s a good example of game-play that evokes physical spontaneity, it provided the inspiration for another experiment in this Media Lab.
An important distinction in this experiment was that participants were not given any rules prior to participation, removing the inhibitions of any imposed behavior.
The experiment started with an empty floor where the participants were asked to enter. Gradually colored hands and feet were projected onto the floor. After a while music started to play, and then suddenly stopped. When the music stopped the ‘system’ created a coloured plain on the surface a player was ‘occupying’. This process was repeated until most of the floor was completely coloured.
The first ‘free-form’ part was received with little spontaneity. The clear symbols of hands an feet implied a certain interaction, to stand on and touch the symbols with the shown limb. After a minute or two the participants started making up rules for themselves, ‘only touch the red symbols’, ‘let’s try to reach out to each other when the music stops’. It was this last ‘spontaneous action’ that sparked the cognitive leap of understanding the rules of the system. Immediately they sprung into action and started to cover as much ground with their bodies when the music stopped. This introduced a certain element of competition that might have subdued any undirected spontaneity, like in my limb-ball experiment.
Still an important conclusion in this experiment was that the knowledge of a rule-set did evoke more physical spontaneity, albeit that the behavior in itself was implied by the game. Again, does it matter? The fun was there, the spontaneity was there, the players were playing.
playas gonna play
I’m at the brink of an important phase of my research into evoking playful behavior in public space: Defining the rules of public space. The first step in this process would be to define ‘ public space’ . Then I want to analyse the behavioral patterns that make up the conditioned behavior we show. To make a correlation with my research project I will to use the analyses model I plotted, according to the 5 dimensions of play postulated by J.N. Liebermann
I like to think of human behavior in public space as living inside a semi-permeable bubble, It’s a theory I developed in conjunction with a colleague Wieger Jonker, he wrote about it on his blog over here (in dutch)
image courtesy of Wiegerjonker.nl
The thing about the bubble: It’s quite a necessity to keep your sanity in public space. It’s an instinctive defense mechanism against the overload of impulses we are confronted with everyday: colorful commercials, hassle-some street salesmen, cacophonous urban soundscapes and, above all, dreaded social interaction with strangers!
To give some context to analysing this behavior I’d like to introduce the 5 dimensions of play, postulated by J.N. Lieberman. I’ve plotted them in this diagram that can function as an analyses model for playful behavior.
Here’s an example of the model in action, analysing the game of tag.
Lieberman describes 5 dimensions of playful behavior being: Manifest Joy (it’s experienced as fun), Sense of Humor (it’s funny; makes you laugh), Cognitive Spontaneity (as in crossword puzzle), Physical Spontaneity (as in dancing) and Social Spontaneity (in for example theatrical improvisation).
In this diagram the game of ‘Tag’ is analysed, Physical Spontaneity has a strong presence in this game, whereas cognitive spontaneity does not, as there is little ‘intellectual challenge’ in winning a game of tag. There’s also some points in social spontaneity, as deciding ‘who am I going to tag’ or ‘I’m going to tease the hunter and run away at the last minute’ is based on social spontaneity.
To put this into contrast, here’s the model analysing how playful ‘behavior in public space’ is. There is room form some social spontaneity, but any extravagent approach (Hé! Wanna share my banana!) would be frowned upon as it will puncture the ´social acceptance bubble´ described earlier.
The goals of my quest for evoking playfulness in public space is to dissolve this bubble and broaden the spectrum of playful behavior in public space. I want to achieve this by presenting a playful counter-image, or ludic intervention, that audiences can relate to by interacting with them.
By participating in a ludic activity in public space, audiences might broaden their view on how you should behave in public space, and incoroprate more playfulness in their day-to-day life.
Playful revolution! Share banana’s!
Last week me and some of my fellow research-based practice colleagues decided to set ourselves a deadline. A deadline for delivering a first experiment, each in our own individual research practices.
Some words to start off with:
Playfulness is interacting with your environment in a way that provides fun (joyful expression). A definition of play, by Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman, is ‘free movement within a rigid structure’. In my quest for evoking play in public space, I need to present a ‘rigid structure’ to which a supposed audience can relate to. By interacting with this rigid structure a player will ‘move freely’ within it. In doing so, any free movement in this structure that provides fun can be seen as playful behavior.
This leads me to the following question:
How can I design free movement?
How do I design a rigid structure that facilitates free movement.
The concept I experimented with:
Players are engaged in a game where they are to score a ball in the opponents goal, by all means necessary. By gradually adding rules to the game the freedom of movement is constrained, players are prohibited to perform certain actions (like touching the ball with their hands). Then, one-by-one, the rules will be taken away to examine if players exhibit more spontaneous playful behavior.
In other words: will the players move more freely within the rigid structure of the game than they did the first time round? Will they will interpret the rule, or lack of rules, in a new way and explore new ways of interacting with them.
I think that when people play (games) they are never aware of the full potential of the ludic activity. It is only in engaging in playful behavior (entering a playful state) that players discover new forms of behavior within the rigid structure of the game.
As competitive games do, the experiment turned out to be very run-aroundey-screamy, an impression:
The experiment was geared towards evoking spontaneous playful behavior. Afterwards, I asked the participants ‘what was the most spontaneous outburst?’ All the participants agreed that the most constrained set of rules evoked the most spontaneous behavior, like this young man resorting to more primal modes of transportations, when the rules dictated the ball could not be touched with neither hands nor feet.
So more contrains lead to more sp0ntaneous behaviour, touching Jesse Schell’s statement I wrote about earlier. It’s something I could have come up with before hand, but it was good to experience it first hand to see it happen.
The element of competition somewhat tainted the experiment. The participants said their inventive, spontaneous behavior never got the chance to erupt, as they were simply looking for the most efficient road to victory, eyes on the prize, so to speak.
I think the next (multiplayer) experiment should be geared towards collaborative play. By taking away the element of competition, winning will no longer be the main goal, making the playful behavior a goal in itself.
Me and my friends used to play a made-up game we called limb-ball. It’s a modification of the dutch ‘hoog houden’, which is Hackey Sack with a soccer ball. We’d done away with the constraint of only using our feet, mostly out of laziness, and decided we could use the whole of our body, hence the name limb-ball. It was the inventiveness and spontaneity of the game that kept us playing it for hours, where the fun peaked when someone made a never-shown-before move prefferably resulting in someone ending flat-out on the ground.
It’s this game that inspired me for this experiment, I might want to conduct another experiment focussing more on the spontaneity of playing with balls.
Another inspiration for this experiment was the great work of Tom Russotti and his Institute for Aesthletics, some of his inspiring words to end with
[megasoccer] does not aim to create a final rule set, but to allow for a constant shifting and reinterpretation of the rules, creating a more investigative, responsive and interpretive approach to playing the beautiful game.
-Tom Russotti, play artist
In my quest for evoking play in public space I’ve come up with the following flowchart.
It’s divided into three different phases, ranging from tickling the curiosity of a non-suspecting onlooker, to engaging a player to the extent of entering a ‘playful state’.
Let’s take a closer look at each step. In public space everything and everyone is part of the ludic activity, whether you want it or not. Even if an onlooker is unaware of anything ‘out-of-the-ordinary’ happening, he can still have an influence on the ludic activity, hence the name unaware participant. To be involved in the ludic activity an unaware participant must become an ambiguous participant² , this is the exciting phase of triggering an audience to investigate ‘what the hell is going on here’. This makes curiosity the driving force in this phase. This curiosity phase reaches a threshold when a participants recognises the activity as being ludic of nater, e.g. the audience ‘understands’ what’s going on. When this happens the audience will enter the motivation phase, reaching a threshold when a participan realises, ‘this looks cool, I want to join in’. This is when the participant needs to be lured in by being offered in invitation. When the participant accepts the invitation, thus becoming a player, he will be engaged in playful behaviour. When engaged in ludic activity a player will get more and more immersed in the playful behaviour, to the extreme of being totally immersed in the activity, which I’d like to call the ‘playful state’. See my previous post on this.
(click on the image to enlarge)
This model can serve as a flowchart for designing and analysing (ludic) interventions in public space.
²I borrowed this name from the great book on pervasive gamese, see:
Markus Montola, Jaakko Stenros, Annika Wærn (2009) Pervasive games: theory and design. Morgan Kaufmann
playfulness is interacting with your environment in a way that provides fun (joyful expression)
To engage in playful behaviour, one needs to be confronted with a ludic activity, and accept an invitation to join in. Play is voluntary, when it’s not, it ceases to be playful at once.
When engaged in ludic activity a player will get more and more immersed in the playful behaviour, to the extreme of being totally immersed in the activity, which I’d like to call the ‘playful state’. In this playful state a player is receptive to everything in his surrounding, reacting to the impulses with the sole purpose of maintaining or increasing the pleasure of the activity. In this sense play clearly exists outside of ordinary life, and the activity aims to uphold itself.
In my research I am curious to the phenomena of ‘transformative play’, meaning: to engage in playful behaviour within ludic activity (outside ordinary life) that influences your personal behaviour (inside ordinary life).
I see different methods for achieving this effect. The first would be to simulate real-life encounters and activities within a ludic activity. By engaging with the ludic activity a player will show behaviour that might trigger a reflection on his behaviour within his ‘ordinary’ life.
A second method to achieve transformative play would be to cross the boundaries, or magic circle, of the ludic activity and traverse into the realm of ordinary life. By fading the border between play and ordinary life a player might gain the insight that play is not only useful for it’s own sake, but is can also be applied to day-to-day activites to complete them with more joy than before, improving the quality of life.
I’m aware that the last few sentences contain some assumptions on the social value of playfulness. By stating this I see the need for asking the question: How can I test the (transformative) effects of any ludic activity?
I barely have time to duck when a fluorescent yellow frisbee zooms past my head. Further down the street a man in a grey business suit throws down his briefcase and with an athletic leap catches the frisbee before it lands on the ground. He get’s to his feet and with a graceful movement throws the frisbee further down the street. After brushing the dust off of his pantaloons he picks up his suitcase and proceeds around the corner. The man in the grey business suit holds pace, looks left then right, and steps backwards into the shadow of a doorway.
‘You have the merchandise?’ an invisible voice asks. Without replying the man in the grey business suit opens the suitcase, revealing it’s content. Two identical guns, gleam in the half-light. Medium calibre, long barrels. The hidden figure picks one up, they’re fully loaded, judging by the weight of them. ‘My payment?’ The man in the grey business suit is here for business. A hand, dripping with water, comes out of the dark holding a plastic bag filled with what seems like hundreds of multi colored bouncing balls. The man in the grey business suit accepts the bag and takes one of the balls out. He tests the ball, bouncing it on the ground. He nods approvingly after bouncing the bouncing ball on a few different angles in the doorway. The hidden figure takes the briefcase, he’s still holding one of the gun’s. The man in the grey business suit freezes when he hears, out of the darkness, the gun being cocked. Repeated pumping noises fill the deserted doorway, then the dripping hand once more reveals itself from the darkness, this time holding the fluorescent pink and yellow gun, aiming it directly at the face of the man in the grey business suit. ‘I’m sorry.’
The man in the grey business suit splutters when the high calibre water stream hits his face. He’s blown backward onto the pavement, struggling against the force of the water stream, the stream pushes him of the curb and he’s spreaded across the hood of a parked car. In the fall the bag of bouncing balls is launched into the air and is ripped open.
A soaked woman, in her mid fourties, comes running around the corner, armed with two Super Soakers. Without even looking me in the eye she forces one of the water-guns into my hands and, with the same movement, grabs one of the balloons dangling from the ammo-belt around her chest. The, evenly soaked, middle-aged man skidding around the corner is greeted with a water-balloon in the face and two streams of water coming from our super soakers. The man is helpless, overpowered by our superiority. He produces a deafening war-cry when a white van screeches to a halt behind us, the side-door slides open and an attack squad rushes out, armed to the teeth with water-assault gear. We take a few water balloons to the head before being thoroughly soaked by five high calibre water streams. I’m disoriented in the choas of water and pumping sounds, after a minute the chaos stops. Everyone’s empty.
Smiling broadly everyone looks at each other and disperses withing seconds, the van screeches off.
I’m left standing alone, drenched, holding a fluorescent pink and yellow water gun.
The past week has been dedicated to the Media and Performance Lab. After conducting my first experiment here, I wanted to try different approach. In the first experiment I wanted to evoke playful behavior by presenting a context, an environment an audience could relate to, that implied ludic behavior. It was successful to a certain extent, it worked, people showed playful behavior and engaged in the implied ludic activity. By conducting this experiment I came to a deeper understanding of Salen and Zimmerman’s definition of play: ‘free movement within a rigid structure’. As said before the ludic activity was implied: ‘kick the football into the goal’. This resulted in superficial playful behavior, conforming to the implied interaction, rather than stimulating spontaneous playful behavior.
As a side note: this conditioned behavior was emphasised by the context of ‘experiment’, inviting a test-subject into a space where ‘something is supposed to happen’. Making an audience realise that anything out-of-the-ordinary is happening at all will prove another challenge to overcome when conducting experiments in public space.
In the next experiment I wanted to create an environment that evokes ‘free movement’, spontaneous interaction with the (presented) environment. The Performance Engine functioned as a reactive space, by using fiducials (shapes that can be recognised by the sofware) the audience can influence the music composition that is playing. By showing or hiding the fiducials, different elements of the music could be activated. Buy placing the fiducials on different locations in the space the volume could be influenced.
The possibilities of interactions were limited, I was curious as to how the audience would interact with the system: Will they show spontaneous interaction? How long will it take for them to figure out the system? and most importantly, will they have fun doing it?
The implied interaction, or code, was clear: move around the fiducials to manipulate the music. As the only parameter the audience could influence was volume, most of the spontaneous behavior, like waving around a fiducial, dancing or sudden movements, was not ‘rewarded’, that is to say, there was no feedback of they’re (inter)action. This lack of feedback seemed to be demotivating to continue showing any spontaneous behavior.
Half-way trough the video, another element is added. Instead of controlling another element of the music, this fiducial manipulated the overall speed of the music. This proved futile for the audience to understand the system. However, it did trigger further spontaneous behaviour, as the new ‘tool’ required a re-evaluation of the reactive environment.
I think this curious spirit of exploring the possibilities within a (rigid) structure is quite important for evoking playful behavior. It is, for example, what children do all the time: test their environment for it’s usefulness.
I’m still thought wrestling the dilemma of how to design free movement.
Today was the first day experimenting in the Media Lab, which houses the Performance Engine. (check out talltreelabs for more info)
So far into my research I’ve managed to accumulate quite some theory on the subject of ‘playfulness’. Mainly in the field of game design, I am, after all, a game designer. I’ve found useful knowledge on How to evoke playfulness.
As useful as the knowledge may be, I’ve been having quite some difficulty putting this theory into practice. In the end I think it all boils down to choosing a context for the experiments, with the emphasis on the choosing part because it doesn’t really matter what you choose as long as you choose something to go with. The same applies to my subject of playfulness: without a context playfulness is non-existent. This bring me to a deeper understanding of the defition of play by Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman: ‘Play is free movement withing a rigid structure.’² At first glance, this definition might seem too simple to describe such a complex phenomenon like play, but it encapsulated the essence of being playful: free movement. For example, kids apply free movement to the stacking of wooden blocks, exploring the rigid structure of physics. As a juggler, I explore my free movement by throwing and catching multiple balls, exploring the rigid structure of gravity and challenging my own physical boundaries.
This brings me to the dilemma of applying game design strategies to evoke ludic activies: How do you design free movement? Well, you don’t. As Jesse Schell poses in his book The Art of Game Design, good game design is not about freedom, it’s about constraints.³ All we can do as designers is create a context, a rigid strucure that an onlooker/participant/player can relate to.
As I said, I’ve had some difficulty in designing such a structure, which was quite frustrating, I’m supposed to be a designer after all, aren’t I? That’s why I wanted to embark on this research in the first place!
So, what happened: I chose to go for a personal fascination ‘the Ball’. A ball is a powerful playing prop, other than violent appliances (like hunting), a ball is mainly used for playing. Therefore it forms a clear ludic marker, a symbol that makes the activity recognisable as ludic (Latin for being of play)
That’s was about as far as I got, so there I was, with a sack full of balls (there I said it) asking How can I evoke ludic behavior?
This experiment had a clear code of interaction, that is to say that there was a clear implied interaction. The declarative layer, the squidgy football and projected goal, formed the structure the participant could relate to. The structure changed according to the player achieving goals (hitting the targets), increasing the difficulty of completing the goals.
The combination of the ludic marker (ball) and the declarative layer (football, goal), formed a very clear code of interaction. After a few second of looking around to asses the situation (off-screen), the playing commenced. When the structure changed, the code of interaction remained the same. When the football goal changed to a target, the code of ‘kicking’ remained in effect. The participant eventually refrained to other modes of (physical) interaction: catching the target with his hand, ‘dunking’ the target by jumping on it. When this did not result in any feedback (audio of cheering crowd) the participant used his hands to throw the ball at the target.
In the next experiment I want to design a structure that evokes more ‘free-form’, spontaneous play. Designing a rigid structure that evokes elaborate ludic activties.
²Katie Salen; Eric Zimmerman (2003) Rules of play Cambridge, Mass. MIT Press
³Jesse Schell (2008) The art of game design: a book of lenses. Morgan Kaufmann
Hello world. There, I said it.
This is the first post on my blog, documenting the progress of my Research Project. It´s titles How to Evoke Playfulness in Public Space.
I work with playfulness. Rulesets are the game, playfulness the name.
Play is inside everyone of us. It comes by nature to children and it is the way we have learned much of what we today take for granted. It’s impulsive, it’s energetic and loaded with vigour. Why have we stopped being playful? How can we reach back down inside and unleash the inner playfulness. Have we been conditioned by our parents? By our sociological environment?
In this research project I want to reverse engineer our conditioned behaviour in public space. By introducing interventions into public spaces like streets, shopping malls and bus stops I want to invite people to engage in ludic activities.
In collaboration with AAN collectief
The Mad Hatter is a pervasive game, taking place in a predefined area, using a ruleset to give player’s an augmented experience of the world around them.
Armed with a Paper-mâché top hat, and a single fabric ‘life-line’ ribbon, players walk around and hunt each other.
You can attack each other simple by taking of your top hat for someone, in a gratious manner.
The player that takes of his hat the first, takes one ribbon off his victim, and attaches it to his own hat.
The player with the most ribbon’s at the end of the game, is the winner.
‘The Mad Hatter’ debuted at Solar Festival 2011.
Preparation: Making 150(!) Paper-mâché top hats.
Please specify a Flickr ID for this gallery
Urban Experiment researching playfullness in public space. Autonomous Project, 2nd year Design for Virtual Theatre and Games @ Utrecht School of Arts