Experiment 1: Limb-ball

Posted on 11/04/2012

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? or 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