AHRC Workshop 3: Videogame Designers Perspectives

App by Stripey Designs.

We were all looking forward to this third session « Videogame Designers Perspectives » where new team members joined us for the series of talk and workshop which focused on both physical and digital games experiences. The project is half way through and the day started with a reflection on our journey : Prof Elizabeth Wood summarised where we were at and with Dr Dylan Yamada-Rice, they presented the talk from Copenhagen Play Festival which featured some of our previous workshops and findings :

  • Game/play that provide opportunity for rules to be changed by players
  • Prioritizing playfulness
  • How emotion could be portrayed through visual modes (showing works by network researchers/artists Richard Finn & Matthew Cheeseman – Phenix Project)
  • How to use images/visual modes to express emotion (referred to Medikids, introduced in our previous workshop)
  • Using play to provide opportunity to express emotion
  • Play boundaries (dark play: bring dark issues = referring to Elizabeth last presentation with game “playing dead”)
  • Physical x Digital Play = ?!

Until now, there is no age restriction for the game that will be designed. Both Dylan and Elizabeth mentioned that we did not narrow down our ideas to a specific audience and this will need to be decided next : for what age the game is designed for and if any specific children group is targeted (eg. limited mobility). In game industry games are usually designed towards specific audience and age group in order to work out marketing purposes and what kind of themes/content (that is “acceptable”) should be delivered to this specific age group.

Dylan and Elizabeth presenting some research.

Nigel Little from the successful mobile game company Distinctive Games presented Play, Toys and Games (with applications in the hospital environment). For the last 24 years, he designed games from design to programming to sales and marketing. The company started with designing games for consoles and from 2001, their market shifted towards designing games for mobile phone. Nigel’s talk explored play toys and games and the differences between those terms and how toys and games’ attributes could be used in hospital environment. He first made the distinction between toys and games. Then, he shown that they both link to play: you play with toys and games are being played. However play is a simple word but very difficult to narrow down to a strict definition. He gave us different definition to reflect on.

Play is the aimless expenditure of exuberant energy. (Friedrich Schiller)

This vision of play could be said to be outdated as today, one could argue that play does not need to have any benefit but you can play for its own sake. In the book The Rules of Play, Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman define play as:

Play is free movement within a more rigid structure.

Another one by spanish philosopher George Santayana:

Play is whatever is done spontaneously and for its own sake.

But play can also be planned and is not necessarily spontaneous!? He asked what did we think and Elizabeth commented on her experience and mentioned the definition of a 5 years old who once replied to her:

Play is whatever you want it to be!

Nigel carried on with definition of games. One of his slide I am therefore I game, observed that play is “an animal instinct” and playing games is as much a part of the human condition as story-telling. He then described some basic aspects of games :

  • They are entered willfully by participants
  • Games have goals/conflict/rules
  • Games can be won/lost
  • They are interactive (active vs passive)
  • They have challenges
  • Games are closed formal systems

A game is a problem solving activity, approached in a playful attitude. (Jesse Schell The Art of Game Design)

Nigel Little presenting Play, Toys and Games (with applications in the hospital environment).

In his presentation, Nigel differentiated toys from games and questioned what are toys in a digital settings? He then presented different aspects :

  • Usually children turn the toy into a games
  • Toys on their own have limited entertainment value (short periods distraction, solitary play)
  • Playing games and telling stories is much more entertaining
  • Toys are immediate, you don’t have to explain the rules (can be useful).
  • Games engage for longer periods of time (can provide stories/challenge and cause emotional responses)

And finally his talk looked at play in hospital context and how both attributes of games and toys could be useful. Some of his arguments echoed the play specialist description from our first workshop day especially with how important is to be sensitive to people’s belief:

  • Preparation Play: Story-led games could help communicate what would be happening to them.
  • Distraction Play: Toys useful due to immediacy or existing games that are known to patient.
  • Developmental and Rehabilitation Play: Game that could allow measurement of rehab progress.
  • Post-Procedural Play: entertaining patients while their stay at the hospital.
  • Bereavement Play: Very difficult due to differing beliefs.

Steve introducing different apps that overlap between physical and digital play.

We were lucky to have Emma and Steve from Stripey Designs who introduced us to their very cool physical/digital playful/creative tools. Their company started to create software for schools first. In the past they noticed a lot of negative attitude towards iPads so when starting the company, they wanted their work to crossover between digital and physical play. For example, Squiggle Fish app uses the iPad to bring children’s drawings to live. The company experiments with all sorts of new technology that could be turned into playful experience. For example, Steve worked on using technology which picks up colour from the closest artifact. What about if physical artifact could influence digital system/world?!

Participants trying out Squiggle Fish app.



iPhone picking up the colour of the red block.

IMG_2798The “ice cream van”. Physical artifact/play augmented with technology.

Claudio Pires Franco presented Narrative in games adaptations from other media. He is a media research consultant with specialisms in children’s and youth digital media. In his presentation he introduced different approaches of game adaptation from three different perspective: reader, gamer, film fan. According to him, the ideal is to achieve a balance between the three. In order to illustrate his presentation he shown a case study of a game adaptation “Muddle Earth”. The idea of adaptation and using cultural/well known icons and characters in games design links back with some of the network’s research where we noticed how children engage more easily with things they are already familiar with.

Presentation by Claudio Pires Franco.

His presentation looked at how source text is manipulated through different medias. His research observed what kind of journey from paper to TV series to games and how close the game for example will/should stay from the original story (eg. book or film). For him it is important to have the right balance between originality and consistency. For the Muddle Earth case study, the game is a complement to the series so it had to be somehow faithful: “staying on brand” to be consistent with the original. However, he makes the distinction from fidelity to translation and emphasized that consistency is also different from fidelity. The talk was followed by great conversation about films and series’ adaptation from book for example where we felt that generally more value is attributed to older/traditional media than new media. This is about authority/statues of book which always compete with for example film adaptation.

Hollywood Approach by Nigel Little.

Later Nigel Little presented Narrative in Video Games. He first described narrative as spoken or written account of connected events (…) a gripping narative with characters, emotion, entertainment and meaning. He questioned video game narrative and observed that all games do have some sorts of narrative. He mentioned about the “Hollywood’s Approach” and introduced different games that he categorized according the following groups:

  • Lite narrative (eg. Donkey Kong’s/Angry Birds) story purely provides a backdrop to the game but does not influence game-play, and gives a small amount of meaning of your action. From 70s-90s what we most had.
  • Linear narrative (eg. Lara Croft) structure more like book/film, player taking control of the main character in completing some sort of action/puzzle in order to reach the end. Usually 3-act structure (beginning, middle and end), character develops through the game and all players experience the same story.
  • Branching narrative (eg. Mass Effect) very challenging to create = one developer calculates over 500 hours of development to produce 2 minutes of game-play for a branching narrative. Multiple path through the game to be created, very hard + expensive. Branching narrative started in middle 90s.
  • Narrative environment (eg.Grand Theft Auto/Word of Warcraft, set an environment, provide a setting and some characters and you create your own narrative) environment where the players is free to behave how they want, the most expensive type of game! Started early 2000.

Nigel concluded that there is no better narrative, they all have potential and we should focus on player experience first, how it makes people feel rather than how you achieve that.

Angry Birds game.

The last talk of the day Playing games: Exploring physical and digital play crossovers by Dylan highlighted the potential of digital play in hospital context. For example, how movement embeded in digital play could help rehabilitation. Finally she questioned which process/way we should adopt and if there is a right path to go: from physical to digital or from digital to physical. She was interested in how the digital and physical versions of games differ or are similar to one another? What is different between the book, the series, the iPad app (…) what essence is kept through?

This led well into the last workshop of the day: Graffitting board games: How can they include open-ended content, medical settings and digital possibilities? In groups of 2 to 4/5, participants were invited to play games an think about both how to adapt them to be suitable in hospital context and what kind of role digital technology would play/add to the physical game.

Xinglin and Elizabeth playing Angry Birds.

Pile of games to play with for the workshop Graffitting board games: How can they include open-ended content, medical settings and digital possibilities?

Participants adapting physical games to hospital narrative/context.

For this one, participants picked Tension Tower and created a new version inspired from hospital context: turning the tower into someone’s body and thinking of the red dots as cancer tumor to be taken out (We know, this sounds horrible but it is an experiment!). Indeed, it was surprising how using game and play enabled us to go a bit “crazy” and dark with such a topic.

So with this new version, players would hopefully understand that you can have things taken out from your body but you could still stand up ok (…) Once taken out, the red bit which were thought bad could be revealed as being indeed healthy parts (green H). This illustrates the risk taken sometimes by doctors in order to cure their patients. They also thought about digital opportunity looking at how the red dots could be randonmised and how each bits could be embeded with health content to inform players about the illness.

The new version of Tension Tower

Simpsons Monopoly turned into a half physical/digital Zombie game.


Mouse Trap adapted in a digital interface that encourages patient’s mobility to move the iPad in order to build their tunnel.

Game Guess Who adapted to hospital context.

Our Hospital Heights Game (© Caroline Claisse/Xinglin Sun/Dylan Yamada-Rice/Elizabeth Wood) at the workshop day.

Finally, in order to wrap up we presented our game Hospital Heights and talked about the different feedback we received at the conference. We then invited participants to play our game and welcomed more feedback! They generally liked to play the game, they understood the rules ok but generally wondered what some of the categories (eg. MiiSpace) featured on the cards were. Also, we observed some kind of competitive behaviour but we think that the game is not competitive enough and needs more “twist” in order to be more playful and surprising!





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