One Easy Step: Research Phase

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.

Interesting things for July 2016

Above: Gamepost by Josh Lee, due to appear at the Market Street Prototyping Festival in October.

This is July’s collection of interesting things going on in live games and embodied play – open calls, upcoming events, and interesting articles we’ve come across recently.


Submissions are open for the Leftfield Collection, a curated show of interesting new work that sits within EGX at the NEC, Birmingham, 22nd – 25th September 2016. They say: “We’re also especially interested in accommodating custom hardware and unusual games (e.g. Tenya Wanya Teens, Glow Tag, and Line Wobbler are things we’ve shown before). If you have such a project, by all means submit.”

Response: Block Stop’s “By The End Of Us”

This Tuesday, we popped over to the opening night of Block Stop‘s “By The End Of Us” (running at Southwark Playhouse until 11 June – two more nights, as of now).

We’ve shown Block Stop’s work at a couple of events in the past – at the Wellcome Play Spectacular and at Now Play This 2016. They make “staged interactive events in which participants simultaneously experience both video gaming and theatre”.

What this tends to mean, in practice, is that there’s a playable actor – a performer with a camera strapped to their head – whose point-of-view is livestreamed, in videogame first-person view, to a player. The playable actor asks for advice as they explore tunnels, talk to other performers and hunt for their objectives; the player gives instructions and suggestions, attempting to navigate the actor successfully through the story (solving puzzles, defusing bombs, tracking down enemies, suggesting things to say to other characters, etc etc).