AHRC Workshop 2: Academic Perspectives

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Outcome from our afternoon workshop “Tangible Emotion”.

We met for our second AHRC Workshop: Academic Perspectives (see Workshop 1 here). The day brought together play specialists, game designers and academics with a series of talks and workshops to inspire participants on the project’s main goal/focus:

  • The potential of play for supporting children in hospital and recovery space.
  • How to inform the game industry for creating content for the design of videogames which blends both traditional and digital form of play.

Following are some of our notes and pictures. The day started with a presentation about traditional play by Prof. Elizabeth Wood. She first mentioned how play can be “useful”: as adult we turn play for our own needs, we use play for our own purposes. Eg. at school, play can facilitate learning literacy while in hospital context it can help to communicate about pain. Then, she presented a case study of her colleague that looked at play in one specific classroom context where children were encouraged to explore death by a series of activities where they were pretending to die. Excerpt from children’s dialogue were analysed alongside photography of children’s performance/acting and looked specifically at the posture of the body. Her study highlighted that in some cases children are comfortable in playing with such existential issues and often bring their own stories and everyday knowledge into their free chosen play. The following points were raised:

  • Children are generally comfortable to talk about existential issues (spontaeous) in contrast to adults.
  • Children often bring a lot of misconception, how do we deal with children’s misconception of existential issues?
  • In relation to the case study, play is very embodied.
  • Children often used resssources from the setting as props to support their play and to construct their own narrative (wood blocks become bricks).
  • In our society, how death is represented and influence children’s preconceptions?
  • Notes from play specialist: in the classroom “playing death” was fun but in hospital context, this might be very difficult as death is a reality. Real/not real boundaries. Playing with the finalities, come back to life to reality, a different reality than the one in hospital

Our box ready for our “Tangible Emotion” afternoon workshop.

The second talk looked at children’s digital play. Dr Dylan Yamada-Rice presented some research about how children interact with story apps on iPads. With this study, they were interested in finding out what was interesting according to the children in using the app and how easy it was to use this technology. Her main interest was to find out what is it that exists in the app itself that children likes? Following are some relevant points and questions:

  • What is the role of adults in children play? The study looked at parents’ posture and compared two scenarios one with parents reading a book (physical sphere) with their child and one with parents sharing a story through an app (digital sphere) questioning what is the best way to engage with children?
  • Stories app have different levels of engagement: from quite passive behavior (eg. turning pages) to more interactive (eg. drawing input that influences the story). Static vs moving parts, to which degree an app should be engaging?
  • Children seems to be more interested when the app allows them to use the digital parts in a very different way (eg. creative input) from a book (eg. turning page). How can we create some kind of play that moves between the online and offline?
  • How can app design be informed by what we know about children’s play and physical interests? In the hospital context, how to allow children to explore issues that are relevant to them in their real life.
  • In some cases, issues with consistency from one page/slide to the other. Finding the right balance between borring and exciting. Repetitive structures sometimes needed but layers could be added to make the story more complexed and creative: balance between rules and play/exploration (free play).
  • Some children in hospital context have their strenght and mobility reduced so digital game should allow for bigger margin of error with the activity eg. when children have to push or tap somewhere on the screen. One important thing is to try to use different modes, have multiple options to allow them to express themselves (eg. not only movement but maybe use sound).
  • Where do you put the content, how visible it should be and how do you indicate interactive element on each slide/page for children to understand where to tap/push (…). Eg. Use movement to indicate an interactive element.

Sheffield Music Map. More details here.

Following Dylan’s talk on digital play, Dr Matthew Cheesman presented Sheffield Music Map that crosses physical and digital spaces. The app features a range of locations, venues and sites of interest to Sheffield’s rich music scene, past and present. People are also able to upload their own stories and be part of a growing “family tree” that is “an ongoing attempt to capture the sheer breadth and depth of musical activity that goes on in the steel city”. One interesting point of the app which crosses digital and physical spheres is that content is revealed only if users are in the right geograhical area/distance. It works a bit like a treasure hunt and inspired some of us to think about this in the context of hospital space.

IMG_7962Presentation of Cancer videogame by Dr Andrew Chantry. He invited some of us to come and have a play.

In the afternoon we led our worksop “Tangible Emotion”. We started by giving a presentation of our research on emotion (here more details about our research) and presented some of our work that deals with stories and materiality (Caro’s work and Xinglin’s work). We then introduced our activity dealing with colour and texture.

Sample of paper that participant would find inside the box.

Candy that hides an emotion.

First participants were asked to open the mysterious box on their table. Then, they discovered one of the six universal emotions (happiness, surprise, anger, fear, disgust and sadness) that was featured inside the candy. From there, we asked them to write a story that would relate to their emotion. This was written in the inside cover of the box to keep it secret. Then the box was closed and each side of the cube was used to play around with colour, texture and shapes. The activity progressed toward creating a face, a kind of emoticon that would translate the story or/and the participant’s emotion.

Participant writing one personal story inspired from their emotion.

On one side of the cube we first asked them to draw something related to that emotion. They started playing with colour and then with both colour and texture. Finally the last side had to represent a kind of face. At the end we asked participants to swap their box and to guess which emotion others had got. They were allowed to look at the story inside the box which started very interesting conversation. Below are more photos from our workshop.

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One example of a box: story linked to emotion, drawing, collage colour, collage colour+texture and face.

AHRC MAY0814_4 AHRC MAY0814_8 AHRC MAY0814_9 AHRC MAY0814_10 AHRC MAY0814_11 AHRC MAY0814_12 AHRC MAY0814_13 AHRC MAY0814_14 AHRC MAY0814_15 AHRC MAY0814_16Participants swapped their box and had to guess others’ emotion.

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Our workshop introduced well the following talk “Emotion and the visual mode: Case studies from Graphic novels and Japan”. Both questioned how can we portray emotion using visual modes and how it is different in hospital context; when and where emotion does come into play and how to integrate emotional aspect in game design?

In the back of the room there were pictures taken by children in a project Dylan carried to see what kind of image children interact with and what they understand from them. At the end, the photos featured a lot of emotional aspect which raised the following: how children see representation of emotion and how does it change when they become adult? “Emotional and the visual mode” talk also looked at how different cultures express emotion in different way and how emotional expression is emphasised depending on culture (Japan/UK). Below are more of our notes from the talk:

  • High modality: reality as seen (eg. photograph) / low modality, reality as sensed (eg. drawing) = children would be more interested in low modality.
  • David Hockney: painting and drawing remain popular why? Because emotional attachment cannot be expressed with a photograph. Boundary between high and low modality = Photoshop: use a photograph and twist it like a painting.
  • Object having feeling (Japan).
  • Various examples that combine high and low modality.
  • Valuing emotion = foster a comon ground.
  • TV in Japan, square box at the bottom so you see the presentator’s response/face anytime
  • How can you use layers or different spaces to allow different forms of communication and play.
  • How to read images: on the left familiar thing and on the right new things/ideas.
  • How to capture and communicate emotion in the digital?
  • Hard to characterise an emotion in one singular word/concept, especially in mental health/hospital context.
  • Always the head involved in expressing the emotion (head/mind vs the whole body).
  • The work of Eve Stirling: questions  what would digital spaces look like if they were physical? How about if physical spaces were digital?


For the final activity of the day, “Where’s the gore? Graffiting children’s picture books” we were asked to change the meaning of the book by using graffity and collage.

AHRC MAY0814_21Where’s the gore? Graffiting children’s picture books. Workshop by Dr Dylan Yamada-Rice and Prof Elizabeth Wood.

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