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Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL

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Covid Playground

Covid Playground

‘Fun is not only the delight in success, but also the panic of uncertainty, the agony of failure. It arises when figure and ground swap places and surprise us. The familiar turns strange; we no longer grasp it fully. There, facing the world’s stark truth, we either throw up our hands in disgust or dread—or we persist and discover something new’ ¹


What is a Playground?

A playground is a set of constraints, or system, that can be interacted with or worked. A playground can be a playground, but so can a game of football, a cooking show, or an interactive artwork. In each, participants can learn to understand the constraints, figure out ways of engaging with them, and produce novel interactions. Often these interactions can have a degree of “messiness,” uncomfortable, awkward, surprising and exciting moments that can create opportunities for even richer interactions. Covid Playground takes the constraints of the global pandemic as its starting point, to try to produce a space in which these interesting and messy interactions can take place in a mixed reality environment – combining the physical and the digital.

 

In a world with constraints that shift daily, perhaps we can learn something from the theory of antifragility ² – a quality that favours adaptability over robustness. Together, can we enter the playground with this mentality? In a globally shared experience, can we use digital media in a less flat, sterile way than the Zoom meetings that have become the norm? Can we submit to the constraints, and find fertile ground for experimentation?

Covid: A Shared Experience

Can we find creativity in the way we submit to the constraints imposed as a response to Coronavirus, and take this approach into the future to deal with the shifting mixed reality of the 21st Century?

Lockdown and its associated constraints have been difficult for us; all of us. Those in precarious positions have become even more precarious, and even for the privileged, life has been affected in immeasurable ways.

Our work has always focused on the processes behind the work, not just the output, and we believe exposure of our own practice in an open and honest way can help us to recognise the similarities and differences in our experiences. We have spent months agreeing and arguing, crying and laughing, squeezing, digging, extracting and reforming, and what we present is not the resultant product of that time, but a cathartic communion of chaotic components. We want to invite you in, and show you that your experience was not a solitary one, it is an ongoing and globally shared one. We don’t want to strip-mine it for content, we want us all to smush these blobs of Plasticine together and create something new.

We have worked in many media to analyse our experiences, trying to use the constraints of each to tap into things inaccessible by the others, and have found strength in ambiguous and ineffable media that allow us to explore felt experience.

Collaborative Play

Pictured are co-created costumes we are developing to investigate our shared identity as designers. 

We believe that we need each other; we don’t want to produce another experience for you to complete passively in your home alone, we want to make the world bleed into your space, and vice versa. Setting our own constraints and continuing to work in a haptic, tactile way alongside our digital investigations has grounded our work in experience rather than simply in either the physical or digital world. We don’t want to simulate the feeling of being with others, we want us to actually be with others, in a mixed reality space. We believe that you all are the vital ingredient in our project. We can design the constraints that circumscribe the playground, but we need you to be the ones to play in it.

Covid Playground aims to be a collection of investigations whose configuration and re-configuration allow for new meaning to arise from the chaos. 

Covid Playground will be a shared space gluing together smaller reconfigurable playgrounds, including a multiplayer generative artwork, augmented reality filters, co-produced costumes, theses and a playground generator. The project sets out to prefiguratively suggest that we can have rich, messy experiences in shared spaces, and sets out to examine what those spaces could be if they aren’t simply described in ‘spatial’ terms.

The initial playground will take the form of an online stream in which we transform participants’ descriptions of lockdown experiences into “masks” under various ever-shifting constraints. Join the live stream on Twitch and come and play.

 


References
1. Bogost, Ian. Play Anything: The Pleasure of Limits, the Uses of Boredom, and the Secret of Games. New York: Basic Books, 2016. Kindle.

2. Taleb, Nassim Nicholas. Antifragile: Things that gain from disorder. Vol. 3. Random House Incorporated, 2012.