Hubbub has gone into hibernation.

Making cultural events more playful

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These are sketches from a presentation that I delivered a while back to a room full of organizers of cultural events and creative agencies from Utrecht. This was the culmination of a study commissioned by the city of Utrecht, in which we looked at ways of adding playful elements to the programs of some of the city’s major events. The presentation was received well and we are now moving forward with some of the ideas first explored in the study, so I thought it would make sense to write a bit more about that first step here.

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First, a bit of context; this project – which for obscure reasons we codenamed Tako – is part of a larger thing named PLAY, which is the brainchild of Jeroen van Mastrigt, professor at the HKU‘s game- & interaction design research group. The aim of PLAY is create a place where the general public can experience playful culture in all its facets, where creators of games and play can present their work and where organizations from various domains can meet, collaborate and learn about what it means to be playful in an age of pervasive technology. The exact shape and form of such a place is kept deliberately vague, something to be explored and gradually determined over the coming years. The study Hubbub was asked to do is one of the first steps in this long-term process.

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So, our task was to meet with a number of organizations in the city who organize events in what some would call the ‘traditional’ cultural domain. Together they make up a significant part of the cultural infrastructure. Their topics include film, theatre, classical as well as contemporary music, animation and even the culinary arts. To what extent were there opportunities for mutually beneficial collaboration with these events, so that we could experiment with playful add-ons to their programs and they could connect with existing and new audiences in playful ways?

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The process we employed was relatively straightforward. We met once with each organization, and performed a semi-structured interview exploring their background and goals as well as concrete plans for the upcoming edition. We also investigated previous experiences with games culture and tried to get a sense of some of the important issues each organization was dealing with at that moment. This last aspect in particular proved fruitful for finding ways of aligning playful concepts with organizational needs. Most conversations also included some initial brainstorming about potential concepts.

We next processed all the interview notes and rapidly generated and visualized concepts for all events. These then formed the basis for a big deck of slides we used to present the outcomes to all organizations as well as key creative companies and individuals. The presentation was used to gauge the response of the organizations to our ideas and collect feedback. Luckily, the general consensus was that we were on the right track, and that it would be great if some of these concepts would be made reality. To wrap up, we collected all the feedback, annotated the slides and published it privately for the benefit of all the participants.

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I think we achieved several things with this project. We now have a clearer a clear view of what is going on with some of the city’s major cultural events. We’ve managed to provide them with a different perspective on what games and play can offer them in terms of audience engagement. And lastly, we have a bunch of concepts that we know are considered valuable by these cultural events and are therefor worth pursuing further.

Looking back, I think this project really demonstrates the value design processes can have in the cultural domain. I’m also super excited about directing a number of playful projects that are incredibly situated in an urban context, and that relate to the physical and social life of a general (non-geek) audience.

So what’s next? The past few months were spent finding the means to realize at least a subset of these concepts. It looks like that’s been taken care of. So we are now in a good position to select a first group of events to work with and connect them to suitable creative companies. If all goes well, you’ll be able to play with the first results of those pilots come fall this year. We’ll continue posting on the project’s progress here.

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