Pressing Play – A project was a 3 month design excercise based on the research done in the first half of 2013. Taking on the proposition of how ‘gameful’ design strategies can facilitate engagement with and within physical spaces, I chose to apply the framework developed in Pressing Play – a Research to an underutilised retail shopping centre in the CBD as an urban interiors renewal strategy. This was an opportunity to address two different problems within one space – create a more exciting agenda for the site and to provide amenity and identity to a thriving subculture that needed a physical base. The proposal would have economic benefits and support the City of Melbourne’s objectives of producing innovative makers.
The project consisted of a makerspace that would act as the anchor to the centre and also identified 5 key areas within the site where a gameful design application would engage the various “players” within the site and re-inforce the identity site’s of make, play, test and innovate. The project was presented through the eyes of three “players” – the business person, the maker, and the tourist in a series of plans, sections, renders, exploded axonometrics and short film animation that described the concept. The coloured parts of the plan indicate the spaces that would be designed and occupied during the first phase of the project. “To be made” spaces are areas that would be occupied by new business attracted to the building resulting from the re-vitalisation as maker communities begin inhabiting the building. The section indicates various engagement points for the different “players” that move through the building.
Two working prototype games that would be played in 2 locations of the site were also presented alongside a set of instructional “How to Play” cards for each space – which explained details and configurations of the design, and guidelines on how they could be “played”. Each panel member was given a set during the presentation. Below is the full 3.5m panel and a transcript of the 10 minute presentation that outlines the concept in more detail.
Main Presentation Panel
1. I’m a Player
In this project – Pressing Play, I am exploring potential of ‘gameful’ design strategies for creating engagement with and within physical spaces. By triggering the imagination and taking people out of their comfort zone, this design approach can give agency to experimentation and creative exploration.
2. How this started
I feel like this project began almost when I began the course, as very early on I had been drawn to interactive technologies and engagement and performativity as a way of design. But where I really stepped over from being a spectator to getting involved in the territory was during my exchange to New York in 2011. There I was introduced to the maker culture, games and hackerspaces.
When I returned, I pursued this further with those communities here, I met and began working with various game and playmakers, tinkerers, trans-media artists and designers, really starting to understand their needs. As evidenced by the series of projects done over the last 8 months, in order to really understand the territory I have worked on creating a number of games and gameful interventions.
Some of these interventions were place-specific such as at the design hub, and others were context specific such as waiting spaces like a tram. This semester I curated a games arcade at Melbourne’s indie games festival Freeplay and also designed and tested one of the games within that festival, which became a key feature in the building.
3. Why this is important
Of course, this could all be seen as a hobby, as these communities are at the moment. However with the exponential growth in computing technology and our increasing engagement in virtual realms, it is impossible to ignore the possibilities for the relationships and nexus between so called real and virtual spaces. The project questions the role of the screen and uses it in various configurations to explore how we can perform the virtual.
Also there is a new language of working, terms such as jams and meetups are used not only within these subcultures but is now introduced within corporate environments. This expresses the importance of creating together, reducing the barriers to entry, encouraging risk to send the message that mistakes are allowed and experimentation is encouraged. THIS IS SOMETHING THAT CAN BE DIRECTLY ENCOURAGED THROUGH PLAY.
4. What is the project
The project is located in Chinatown, within the Paramount Retail Centre, between two heavily trafficked streets: Bourke and little Bourke Streets. It is a curious and often unpopulated retail complex in the heart of Melbourne CBD.
5. Aim of the project
The aim of the project is twofold and we will discuss each of these in turn:
ONE – it is a strategy for a renewal of the site.
The renewal is through creating a new program for the site - placing a major workshop / hacker space in the base level of the building. A hackerspace is referred to as open community labs incorporating elements of machine shops, workshops and studios where people get together to collaborate, share resources and knowledge to build and make things. The output from this space would be in the form of retail items, games, playful events, skillshare workshops.
TWO – to create a collective identity and increase visibility for Melbourne’s emerging subcultures dedicated to games, play and interactive media, which currently still remain as separate groups, with little crossover.
This is where my design methodology is really applied. A method to designing in a gameful way is by identifying and amplifying existing behaviours and practice. I have extended this to the design of the space. I chose this site because of its centrality but also because of the interesting characteristics of the architecture, which were overlooked by users of the site. I began to view the characteristics and existing uses of the building as “assets” (a terms borrowed from game design) – and designing ways to extend and amplify them.
I have designed a series of playful spaces that are located at key points of interest / disinterest within the building, that will hopefully mushroom and attract other related business. The centre is likely to attract a younger demographic interested in games and interactive technologies but also a creative segmentinterested in innovation, participatory learning and unusual experiences.
This gives the otherwise transitional and almost invisible site a new narrative and agenda. My use of ‘gameful’ tactics and human computing technology will inject humour and deploy play throughout the site. I hope to get people comfortable with play and learn that rules are only guidelines and through play, one can learn to do things differently. This attempts to make public a way of engaging through play.
6. Framing the project
From my research in first semester, I framed the projects within a series of levers – systematic, environmental, relational and experiential. I have given them equal hierarchy in the design toolkit, however taking a few steps back, I realize that as designers we think about the systems and environments which situate the relational and experiential aspects – which is how the project is viewed here.
A series of characteristics for the relational and experiential are used to key each space in order to situate them. Read the characteristics.
7. Introducing the Players
The building can be used in a multiple of ways but I have imagined 3 kinds of players that would inhabit the space.
I have set out the pathways of these 3 players – the business man / woman, the tourist, and the native (maker / gamer / creater).
8. Start the journey
Since some of you are new to the project, I thought it most appropriate to begin this project through the eyes of the tourist. I have also placed some “how to play” cards at the foot of your chair which you can refer to if you’d like more details of the spaces.
WORD OF MOUTH
Imagine walking down Chinatown – Mimi realizes something interesting going on the façade of the building.
The interactive game on the façade spatialises what goes on with the buildling – it is an invitation to interact and make through drawing.
Through this I am questioning “How can the buildling reach out and speak to people on the street?”
“How can visitors be invited into an experience of gamefulness right from the start?”
This encourages engagement with content generated within the building before one even steps into the building. It signals to the public that the centre is open towards public engagement and the screen in this case is a mediator and transmitter of that message.
Entering the building – there is a hive of activity, something she doesn’t feel like she is a part of, hence she goes up the stairs
She encounters a space full of building blocks in the way of foam cubes, table tops, cushions, drop down sound booths as well as various screens that can be used to create anything you’d like – tables, chairs, staircases.
This is a “store front” space where the makers can come and engage with the tourists, they can configure the space together to display and perform whichever new idea they are working, this also becomes a space to show of new projects which can be purchased.
One of my key learning’s have been that by getting people to participate in the process of creating increases their investment in the building. Hence this is a space that encourages engagement, bringing back the play into retail. This also allows visitors to view the activity of the makers below, but not disrupting their process and concentration.
The aim is to take the focus away from pure consumption of finished goods but about ideas, innovation and relationship with the maker. This space is inspired by methods of unstructured play and movements such as the New Games Movement.
The atelier model I propose is a place where you can test and directly invest into a product, it spatialises the crowdfunding movement, allowing participants to see the ongoing process and discuss prototypes with the maker.
She then realizes she can go downstairs and engage with the hackerspace. This space is fully flexible, which moveable furniture, seating and storage units, inflatable pods and screens for privacy, allowing for co-working, light making, soldering and meetings. More intense construction and making is done further back at the more industrial workshop section at the back. This space can also be turned into a physical game space, with theatre lighting and large screens for participatory theatre and also immersive game play. The economic model would be one of light membership, covering basic amenities and also to give makers a sense of ownership and respect of the space. Proceeds of sales of future products / services could be pledged back to the space once they become commercial. This should hopefully foster a community where successful makers will help support new makers. Also the rental of nearby space to various suppliers, retailers, cafes and bars will go towards covering the costs of the makerspace. It is important to keep in mind that this space does not have a commercial or profit-centric agenda.
As she leaves the make shift space, she notices the black columns running through the building, and because the open, even Donkey Kong like nature of the space, these columns visibly traverse the three levels of the building, alluding to the transfer of ideas from the base level up to the top levels.
Black screens as the new white gallery walls – active wayfinding, shops can pay for active content, foregrounding digital motion and ‘backgrounding’ us as the virtual content.
The content displayed on screens display different narratives guiding visitor’s movements through the building – getting people to use all the different staircases and ramps.
The escalators can become part of the system, with the handlebars being embedded with touch sensors playing music by designers and artists.
The screens and speakers could potentially recede as features into a background material if there is no content being displayed but could then come to life at various points, mimicking life inside the building.
The bird leads Mimi up the stairs towards a mysterious space.
The Secret Garden questions the digital divide, as spaces becomes more real and real spaces become more virtual.
It is a place that looks like a digital space but then is inherently very tactile and sensory – hear organic sounds and smells.
Some visitors will potentially feel uncomfortable while passing through, but a massive relief at the end. Others will feel like the space is entertaining and enjoy indulge in the unfamiliar, heightening their senses, teaching visitors something about themselves and their motion patterns.
The secret garden is inspired by a beautiful sunlit spot at the top level which is terrible unused. From the start I had wanted to place a garden space for refuge but was choosing between whether to simulate a garden or to create a real growing one. Finally I decided to incorporate both concepts, as a play on the duality of our existences. The simulated garden tries to take on ideas of virtual reality where it is sensorial but always feels slightly unnatural, and by placing a real indoor roof garden at the end, the visitor is really asked to question the duality of the virtual and physical worlds we currently inhabit.
Games are often seen as a perpetuator of an increased obsession with our screens, and this attempts to address gamefulness through body and also sensory awareness as part of the hospitality / social offering of the space.
The mazelike simulated garden can be experienced from a number of vantage points – high, through windows and through periscopes that provide viewpoints into other parts of the space such as the growing garden.
The real growing garden can be seen at certain viewpoints from the exterior but can only be accessed from one point of the centre. The secret garden bar will be designed as a series of corridors in the dark. People tend to move really slowly in the dark and take longer to explore and feel. The experience tries to awaken the senses that can be dulled by repetitive work during the day and the transition between the simulated and the real garden would create an interesting sensory exercise. It offers a journey in through a simulated garden of textures, smells and sounds before arriving at a real garden at the end. There will be a landscape of hanging elements such as plastic strips, tinsel etc that will create different sounds when blowing in the wind, there will also be a variety of nature sounds and smells. The floor will consist of a mix of hard and soft elements such as concrete, sand, fur and uneven material. The landscape will be repetitious with changes made by the mix of physical elements and sounds. There are clearings with seats within the room where players may sit and try to re-centre. When players reach the end wall, a window opens and they are presented with a drink and the way out. The journey of how each player moves in the dark is mapped with sensors and a mixed drink / cocktail is presented to them as an interpretation by a bar tender of their path which they can enjoy in the real garden. Having a number of people move through the site together means that they may potentially bump into each other or try to reach for the same elements, this increases the intimacy of the experience and also potentially the sense of danger and forbiddenness.
Now if Mimi were to enter from Bourke Street, she would have had a slightly different experience…
On the other side, the Bourke Street entry is marked by a number of random ATMs being placed within the centre, this becomes one of the main reasons people use the centre and then they just exit the building. I propose to extend this occurrence and turn it into a feature of the building. Placing these ATMs within private vestibules in the front store of the building, each vestibule requires the cracking of a simple code to get in. This code is a randomly generated 4-letter word for which visitors need to act out the motions in front of a motion detector. These are semaphore actions that require large gestural actions. These are similar to the Dance, Dance revolution type games that teaches you a language the more you use it. This creates a different type of performative interest to the other entrance to the building. In this case, the screen is a gateway, which needs to be overcome.
The main concept is to use gameful tactics to highlight the performativity in an everyday act.
At first it seemed like a simple intervention, but the more I think about it, the more layers it seems to offer up. If we think about the semaphore touch points as a keypad (body activated) there can be much more designed into it, for example mistakes or interesting body movements could be rewarded by interesting outcomes – for example when my housemate tested the prototype, she had fun twisting her body to reach some of the letters, people who play might not even be interested in getting cash.
Going to the bank may actually become delightful!
Within the project, I will have explored three themes –
How gamefulness can give agency to play and to do things differently,
How gamefulness can create a collective identity and dynamic, and
How gamefulness can play a part in creating spatial and body awareness.
These themes help unpack the potential of gamefulness as a place-specific approach to creating engagement.
The project is a review of retails spaces today and suggests new ways of approaching retail through a language that is familiar with contemporary shoppers. It also begins to address the needs and concerns of a growing subculture and it’s place and identity within the current urban landscape. The project also hopes to begin addressing broader questions of the role of screens as mediators and how we can perform the virtuality that is become increasingly pervasive in our lives.