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NOTES - Site Specific Game Design

Hello all!

Here is a short summary of what we did this afternoon in the square by Technopolis with Sebastien. Apologies for the sporadic or brief nature of this midnight hour brain gathering after a great communal dinner and day together.

Once we arrived, we broke off into 4 teams of about 4 to create a site specific game in response to the square. I arrived late so was not sure of the wording of the initial prompt. We looked around for a few minutes in our teams and had a brief discussion about initial reactions, then came together to plan the rest of the session. The idea was to create for 30min, playtest, then have a 2nd iteration session and a 2nd playtest. The goal for the playtest? Share a 5min experience. What actually happened was that our 1st playtest ran over time, so we only did one design/test round followed by an indepth 20min discussion around our game making process in groups and the process of recieving feedback from players.

We ended up with four very different games! Here they are as I remember them in their simplest forms.

  1. One group placed their game over the metro air tunner grate - players had to walk along the cement edged rim of the grate in time to a clapping rhythm led by a facilitator. The clapping got steadily faster. When the subway train came by below ground the facilitator and audience screamed. This was the signal for the players to run across the grate and grab magnifying glasses strategically placed in the metal grating.

  2. One group set up an explorative relay from the Metro end across the square to ‘Joy Island’ Technopolis, the home for our Trust in Play. Players were divided into two teams and had to successfully scout out the route as individuals and then go back to accompany each team member with them to Joy Island until everyone arrived. Two levels of movement were allowed - walking along cement rims or hopping (with only ever 2 feet at a time) across the square ground tiles. Once facilitator was at the Metro starting line, two others at check points half way along the journey for each team (holding other instructions?) and one at the finish line ‘Joy Island’.

  3. One group made a race in which two partner groups had to navitage the circular loop path made by the ribbed and dotted square tiles only. One partner was ‘walking blind/blindfolded’ while their counterpart guided them from their position on the central island. When the walking partner reached the dotted sqaure tiles they had to shout ‘SWAP’ and switch places with their guide. This was done while carrying 4 little sqaure house shaped blocks. At the half way point, the walking player has to blindly stack the blocks to swap out with their partner and continue. The second half of the race is done walking backwards and the first player to arrive back to their starting square THEN blindly build their tower again wins.

4)The last group made a narrative journey that culminated in a marriage dance ritual without a set end. The three design teams were asked to stand on their own ‘island’, one of the delineated grass and tree inner areas bordered by cement (one team per island). They were given a walky talky and proceeded to receive the story and instructions from the game designers in the central island through the walky talky. Firstly, players were told they and their ‘society/culture’ were non-verbal, only communicating through movement and sound. Players were then asked in their three groups a) create a way to to say hello
b) create how you say yes and no
c) create a mating ritual dance
Now it was time for the seasonal Marriage ceremony, where all islands come to the central island to find pairings of 3 or 5. Three designer/facilitators came down to gather each island and guide them to the central island while one designer/facilitator narrated the journey. Once players arrived, they used their mating dance to pair off into 3’s and 5’s with other islanders and all celebrated with a full group dance whether they paired off or not.

Some big take aways (please feel free to add to/elaborate on this in replies!):

  • when asking for feedback, players tend to give suggestions, ideas and speculations about what can be done differently or expanded upon (especially if they are a group of designers themselves :wink:
    ----> designers, do you want suggestions or ideas at this moment in your process? if so, set aside a separate time to hear them/let players know to save them for now. Don’t take speculations or suggestions if you don’t want them

  • how can we keep focused on what ACTUALLY happened in play?
    —> in addition to gently steering players away from suggestion mode, ask open ended questions that are specific to what you want to know/what element you are focusing on
    ie: ‘was it fun/boring/challenging?’ becomes ‘what moments do you remember the most/enjoyed the most/made you feel uncomfortable?’ ‘were you in competition with other players?’ becomes ‘how were you feeling/noticing other players?’

  • before and/or after your test, have a think: what questions do I want to answer, what do we want to know/discover, what interesting moments came up in play that we focus on through open eneded questioning?
    ---->players need to be guided to focus on what you are testing

  • were there any clear or strong moments in the play test? GREAT - now how do we stabilize and hold on to moments?

  • using experience factors that already exist ie: race, relay, narrative journeys - how do the preconceptions around these known forms effect the game play experience? ie: ranges in mood, player agency, risk etc.

  • facilitation and game play as two potentially different factors to test
    —> you may have a complicated game with many rules and at the top of your test you let players know that it may be confusing but the ‘explanation/tutorial’ is not the focus of the test, something in game play is.

  • what is it about the space we respond to when making site specific work?
    —> groups responded to geometry, texture, sound, sight and other passerbys, mood, nature, architechture etc. Tools that were added included props/tech (walky talky, orange blocks, magnifying glasses) and emotion cards

  • the metro airtunnel group enjoyed their design process including physically trying ideas before the official playtest. the other groups appreciated how members communicated, almost always adding or building upon previous suggestions. the narrative group had many possibilities on a theme that coalseced once the time constraint of 5min length was reminded

  • what is winning? is it always good to have an ending? how much agency do we want the audience to feel/have?

As we wrapped up, Sebastien suggests that we all have some time to talk to each other and find ways we would potentially resond to the feedback we received from our playtests today. If you have any ideas, pop them down below :smile:

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Thank you for these notes @BagelandBalloon!