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Playfields: Prototyping a location based game for higher education.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Playfields (Playfields: Prototyping a location based game for higher education.)

Reporting period: 2016-02-01 to 2017-07-31

Playfields is an 18-month ERC funded project, which aims to create a prototype mobile app for playful fieldwork. It draws on the insights and outcomes of two related projects. The Charting the Digital project (funded by ERC, 2011-2016) investigated new theories, media and practices of digital cartography pointing towards the potential of digital maps in understanding and performing environments in new ways. The Go Go Gozo project (funded by Erasmus+, 2014-2017) focuses on the relationship between mobile methods and playful research in the field, and applies these approaches in a multidisciplinary and international student field course. In order to develop these ideas and to make them available to others, we are now creating the Playfields app as a proof of concept.

The Playfields prototype app we developed allows groups to design instructions for each other, which they then perform in the field. Each set of instructions is guided by a distinct methodological approach, challenging students to think differently about their topic and method of study. The app includes a novel map view as well as functionality for recording notes, images, video and GPS. As such, Playfields is not an educational game, but rather a tool to facilitate playful situated learning experiences. It can be applied to encourage more playful fieldwork, or as an introduction to creative and critical research methods. It is theme- and location-independent, and can therefore encompass different disciplinary, cultural, international and institutional contexts.

The design team consisted of a project lead, four researchers, a game designer and an app developer. This was a humanities-led design process, drawing from artistic and philosophical field experiments conducted by the Situationists during the mid-twentieth century. This project aimed to see if such ideas could be translated into a digital, mobile platform for pedagogic outcomes.

Participants form into groups, have a group-based profile on the app and then join a session. Groups within sessions are able to assign tasks to each other using the pedagogic principles explained above. Groups would then take these tasks out into the field, using inbuilt mobile capabilities (such as cameras and GPS) to record their data, before coming back and reflecting on the process.
The app would also include a web-based platform for educators, where time frames for the sessions could be set, adjustments made, some personalisation would be available and where the data collected on the phones could be accessed for analysis.

The app was developed on an Android platform. This offered a low-cost, accessible platform with general compatibility. There are plans to further develop this app for iOS. The app uses geographic data from Open Street Map via MapBox, successfully integrating digital mapping, field notes/diaries, audio-visual data capture and inter-group chat.

Playtests have been carried out in multiple locations across multiple disciplinary areas in both an analogue and digital testing phase. This includes the:

• Charting the Digital conference, Venice, Italy | October 9th, 2016
• University of Manchester, UK | November 15th, 20, 2016
• University of Warwick, UK | November 21st. 2016
• Canterbury Christ Church University, UK | February 1st, 2017
• University of Siegen, Germany | February 8th, 2017
• Abertay University, Dundee, UK | February 27th-28th, 2017
• DigiLab Showcase, University of Manchester, UK | March 2nd, 2017
• Jagiellonian University, Krakow, Poland | March 10th, 2017
• Playful Media Course, University of Warwick, UK | March 22nd, 2017
• Urban Design field course, Berlin, Germany | March 27th, 2017
• Counterplay ’17 Aarhus, Denmark | March 30th-April 1st, 2017
• Go Go Gozo in Gozo, Malta | May 2nd-12th, 2017
• Games Research Network, Manchester, UK | May 31st, 2017
• Institute for Digital Games, University of Malta | June 16th 2017
• Cityleaks Urban Arts Festival (preparation workshop), Cologne, Germany | July 29th, 2017
• Digi-Lab, University of Manchester, UK | September 28th, 2017

We have published a free accompanying booklet, which explains both the philosophy and the functionality Playfields. Furthermore, we are currently investigating options for publication of the app.

This project has successfully also transferred knowledge from philosophical and theoretical origins – both on a pedagogical and play-studies front – into a usable, replicable and re-locatable tool, able to be used in other contexts.
We have also successfully integrated the affordances of low-cost, mobile hardware and software with potential for pedagogical innovation in a cyclic (rather an unidirectional) process of learning.