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One Easy Step: The Research Continues

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We’ve now spent two weeks putting different things in the Quad at King’s College London – from hopscotch courses to plastic telescopes to big cardboard frames – as part of our research into public play for the upcoming Arts & Humanities Festival.

Today is our last day of observations before we start sitting down and sifting through everything we’ve discovered. And there’s a lot to go through.

For example, look at the different sets of footprint trails above. We started off with one very simple trail, then got progressively more complicated – and each time the trail got more complicated, we found we had many more players. Barely anyone tried out the first version, maybe two people in five hundred – but dozens of people paced along one of the final routes.

One Easy Step: Research Phase

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Are people more likely to hop along a red hopscotch course, or a blue one?

Would they prefer to follow a straight set of footprints or one with a big loop-the-loop?

If you put a telescope on a swivelling stand, how many people will stop to peer through it? If you stick an arrow to the ground, will people look to see what it’s pointing at? If they do look, how many of them will stop and follow it?

Matheson Marcault is really interested in cultivating play in public space – but we don’t often get a chance to dig into why some interventions work and others don’t, to watch how people behave in response to different installations and see how tiny changes affect their participation. So we’re really excited to be working on a research project that starts to investigate exactly this: what minimal interventions can really make people play in public space? What subtle changes can increase or decrease the level of their engagement?

We’re doing this at King’s College London, as research for One Easy Step, an installation we’ll be making for the upcoming Arts and Humanities Festival in October.

We’ll be trying out different theories and different super-simple installations in the Quad at the Strand campus for the rest of the month, and watching and writing down exactly what happens each time we change something, add something new, take something away. And then we’ll be writing up everything we find out, and creating a report to share the things we’ve found out.

So far we’ve found out strange little things like:

    • 95% of the people who play are in pairs or groups. Usually the whole group doesn’t play – it’s just one person – but that one person won’t play if they’re on their own.
    • People on their own will, however, do a weird half-play walk – following the line of a hopscotch course but not jumping, for example, or stepping firmly and deliberately in the squares in a way that could be coincidence, but clearly isn’t.
    • The same hopping-and-jumping course laid out as hopscotch boxes or as footprint shapes gets many, many more people engaging with the hopscotch than the footprints.
    • Nobody cares what colour a trail of footprints is – except for smaller kids, who really really do.

…and as we continue to change the setup we hope to find out a lot more.

Alongside our practical research, we’re talking to playground designers, installation artists, curators, architects and other people with an interest in the nitty-gritty of playful public space – finding out what they’ve discovered about getting people to play – and putting some of those interviews online. We’ll also be doing a quick survey of the academic literature in this area – there’s a lot out there, but for practitioners it’s often inaccessible (either literally or metaphorically).

We’ll be summarising everything we find out through the process – interviews, reading and watching from our sinister observation tower – into a report at the end. And we’ll be trying our best to make the things we discover useful not just for us but for other people making playful interventions and installations in public space – so if you have a project that you’ve collected interesting stats on, or observations that you’ve written down or even just noticed, and you like to share them, do please drop us a line.

Our Projects

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Since forming in June 2015, we’ve worked on the following projects:

Playable Patterns (ongoing). Digitally created patterns, projected onto walls and floors for physical play. Made as part of a residency at QUAD.

Games We Found at the V&A (2016). A set of boardgames designed to be played on patterns taken from the walls and floor of the V&A.

Drawing Games (2016). Pencil-and-paper games designed to help players create a work of art, created for NYU’s No Quarter exhibition.

The Scientific Village Fete (2016). A set of fairground-style challenges for New Scientist Live, designed to explore ideas around astronomy.

One Easy Step (2016). An ongoing project at King’s College, researching public play and creating an installation for the Quad.

The Wind and the Weather (2016). An online game about Amy Johnson’s pioneering flight from England to Australia.

Now Play This (2016). A three-day festival of play at Somerset House, running as part of the London Games Festival.

Gamechangers: Football! (2015). Ten football variants running in the centre of Nottingham. With GameCity and Nottingham City of Football.

Prediction (2015). A half-article half-game challenging players to find ways to predict their futures. For Hack Circus.

Tweet Like It’s 2099 (2015). A game about writing tweets in a series of distant futures. For New Scientist.

Manifesto! (2015-16). A live manifesto-building game played by passers-by. Made for Frequency Festival, also shown at Beta Public and Game On!

The Light Machine (2015-16). A game that invites players to make pictures with light. Made for the Barbican’s Serious Play weekend, also shown for Discover Story Centre.

Now Play This (2015). A pilot version of Now Play This, our festival of games and play at Somerset House.

Wellcome Play Spectacular (2015). An evening of games for 1500 people at Wellcome Collection.

The Racing Line (2015). A live drawing game for two players, made for Here London.

54 Cities (2015). A set of cards that’s also a puzzle, leading players on a series of walks around Kensington and Chelsea. Made for InTransit festival.