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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