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Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL

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The Playground

The Playground

Welcome to The Playground, a hybrid world, both physical and digital – encouraging us to reimagine social interaction in times of physical distance.

‘Play is not an act of diversion, but the work of working a system […] Fun is not the effect of enjoyment released by a system, but a nickname for the feeling of operating […] it in a new way’¹

2020 will be remembered as a year of great uncertainty and challenges, possible only to overcome through collective and unconventional (inter)action. Physical distancing and the use of flat online communication tools have stripped interaction of ‘messy’, visceral, nuanced, and unpredictable aspects, removing potentials of play and serendipity in finding ways forward. A response to challenges posed by remote interaction, The Playground creates a hybrid world, physical and digital, playful and serious, critical and affirmative.

Seemingly arbitrary constraints form a rigorous framework for experimentation. The designers’ shared identity ‘The Monads’ forgoes a solely top-down role and, in design process and gameplay, integrate their collaboration as performances, music, poetry, and a co-produced costume. As their avatar the designers are the interface between physical and virtual.

The designers as their avatar ‘The Monads’

The Playground invites players to embark on an evolving journey that re-evaluates social interaction and notions of shared space. It questions what it means to be together when physically not co-located to, over time and collectively, construct a shared environment through messy, unpredictable interaction. This is no diversion, but a profound act of fun as a way of operating to engender change.

Developing a Hybrid World

Narrative Development

Diagram of the Interconnections within The Playground

Within The Playground each group of participants has control over their own actions – but those actions are part of an interconnected system in which The Players, The Landscape and The Monads actions impact upon each other – creating a shifting and unpredictable environment to inhabit.

Landscape Design

Collage of Landscape Iterations

The design of the landscape is based around The Monads – the textures, colour and atmosphere reflecting their individual and combined personalities and identity.

Critically however, the forms and structure of the landscape’s geometry were extrapolated from data of The Monads communications over lockdown – creating a visual representation of their distanced interaction (but nonetheless shared space) during this time.

Tech Development

The Playground requires players to have high degree of editability over the space, in a nuanced way, in order to generate novel forms of interaction in spatial terms. This editability also needed to be exposed at a lower level, so that fundamental shifts could be made in certain scenarios, such as through using code in The Playground Generator or when The Monads enter the game. These factors led to the adoption of the powerful and flexible strategy of using Signed Distance Fields (SDFs).

User Interface

Running alongside the unpredictability of The Playground’s ecosystem, the user interface is designed to contain ’embedded catalysts’ that upend expectations and create unexpected moments within the experience. For example the chat box changes behaviour depending on your location in the virtual space, encouraging different types of engagement and interaction.


To see more about the development, thinking and theory behind The Playground, watch below:

Special thanks to Olivia Jack for creating the amazing tool Hydra, used all the way through the development of The Playground. Thank you to WES Lunn Design Education Trust for supporting the project.

Key References
1. Bogost, Ian. Play Anything: The Pleasure of Limits, the Uses of Boredom, and the Secret of Games. New York: Basic Books, 2016.
Campagna, Federico. Technic and Magic: The Reconstruction of Reality. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2018.
Marks, Laura U. Touch: Sensuous theory and multisensory media. U of Minnesota Press, 2002.
Russell, Legacy. Glitch Feminism: A Manifesto. Verso. 2020.