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Playspot: Playgrounds Linking Cities Together

This playground in Odense is an interactive dreamspace. It is linked to similar places in Esbjerg and Vejle, and you create patterns of light and sound together with children and adults in the other cities. Medea’s Mads Hobye is one of the developers.

Playspot Odense - Photographer Kim Rune, used with permission
Playspot Odense – Image Credit: Kim Rune

Playspot is designed to be a dynamic and explorative play area across the three cities. The interactions at each site are shared with other cities, and this allows for interactions across cities via the system’s “built-in personality”.

You create patterns of light and sound together with children and adults in the other two cities. No single player has full control but will need to explore the many buttons and collaborate with the other players to understand and make sense of the game.

Playspot Odense - Photographer Kim Rune, used with permission
Playspot Odense – Image Credit: Kim Rune

There are, simply put, three modes of play:

Chaotic game: The system is quite neutral and serves primarily as a sampler or drum machine. Users can play themselves and create their own game with the sounds.

Wild game: The system makes only one repetition. If a person runs quickly over the buttons, the system activates the buttons that he has touched only once.

Duet playing: The users can create soundscapes or sound images that play until the activity drops to a level where the playground believes that everyone is gone. These loops have intervals at about 10-20 seconds. The playground has other hidden interaction opportunities that you can find by exploring the possibilities of each button.

Read an article in Fyens Stiftidende about it (Danish).

Watch a video of Playspot in action.

On-site observations
Mads Hobye has been observing the playground in Odense. These are a few of his initial observations:

Right at the beginning one of the technical developers asked the kids to test the system as hard as they could so he could see if it worked for the opening speech. This became their guide of how to interact with it. What was thought as a poetic playful interaction became a crazy push-as-many-buttons-as-possible interaction. It was interesting to see how his initial comment became the dominant understanding of how to interact with it.

You would have expected they would get bored pressing the same button over and over again, but the embedded complexity of the buttons were enough to keep them going. It seemed like they were fascinated by the different sounds and colors and the circle of light when you pressed the button many times. I tried to show them the aura function where you could hold your hand above the button and get sounds as well. It did not make sense to them and I did not manage to get them to do it themselves, they wanted to touch the buttons.

During the interaction some confusion appeared – the kids were trying to find purpose or meaning of the interaction. Depending on how they touched the buttons, different colors would appear. This led one girl to ask what the blue one meant. One guy responded that it meant the she was close to winning. This resulted in him becoming the guide of the installation with multiple kids asking him what the different colors meant: red meant you are dead. White meant you were an angel and yellow you were sweet and green meant you got a point. It was clear that they started to create their own stories and interpretation of the interaction. This was one of the intentions of the design and it was great to see this happening.

When food was served some of the kids stopped playing and started to eat. This changed the interaction of the remaining kids. Some started to be more fragile with the interaction and less aggressive other began to jump from pubbe to pubbe exploring the physical properties of the interface. It was good to see a more reflective-exploration mode than the push-as-many-buttons-as-possible interaction.

From my point of view, it was interesting to see a product that I had conceptionally designed, but not constructed and programmed myself. At first I did not know what to think of it, but when I had  played with the system and watched the kids play with it for I while, I started to relate to the design and its qualities. Further, I felt a little handicapped because I could not tweak the parameters to see different ways people could respond to the system as I am used to. This relates back to the whole concept of craftsmanship and digital sketching. I have to say that PlayAlive did a marvelous job converting my initial specifications into a working system. My reflection here is more concerned with my need to iterate while the system is in use on location and how I as a designer embody my own work.

When most people were gone I stayed watching the piece. This became a really poetic moment because people in the other cities were still playing with it. Since I knew this they became ghosts playing with me in the street of Kongensgade, Odense. It was a quite intense feeling of being connected without being connected – a lot stronger than I had anticipated. I presume there were quite a lag due to the signal travelling between the different cities via a gsm network. This did not remove the sense of presence.

A sign has yet to be made for the installation, which means people are on their own to figure out how it works. I wonder how formal instructions will affect the interaction? I hope the instructions will not destroy the curiosity of just exploring it.

I look forward to observe it when it is warm and people have more free time. At night the streets are occupied by people going to bars. It would be interesting to see how those people would interact with it as well.

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