Play & Learn: Part 7 - Interim stage

The illustration course organize an exhibition in February to showcase the student's work in progress. My intention was to finish the game before the show so I could focus more on my IPS and external project. I spent roughly three weeks making bricks in the ceramics studio, experimenting with the laser cutter, ordering paper samples and working with InDesign. I went pass my initial deadline with two days, but I still managed to hang my work before the vernissage.

Even though I worked really hard, I still did not managed to finish all game elements. The game boards are a bit too anonymous, the information text on the cards suffers from too many hyphenations, and the paper I printed the rules on was too thick. I did address some of these issues for the Kolla! competition, but I suspect it will take a while to fix every tiny concern.

One thing that irritated me about the interim show was the lack of interactive space. I really wanted to showcase my game on a table with stools or chairs so that people could actually play it, but had to put it on a shelf as shown above. I mean, it is not the first year the course had the topic Play & Learn, so you think they would be better prepared for this.

Play & Learn: Part 6

How do you make a game less fun to play, but not making it preachy or boring? I did not want to change the game system too much since it was rather balanced and enjoyed by all test players. No, my approach was to work more on the visual identity of the game. After discussing my problems with tutors and other students, I decided to make the game boards separate and more human-like to create empathy and compassion. Another aim was to emulate the graphic design from the time period in the rules and cards, as well as adding trivia about the experiments. Finally, I also decided to add images of damaged teeth to visually emphasize the consequence of the experiments. Some of my discarded ideas include red ID number on each board as well as forcing the players to wear surgical masks during play.

I returned to London about a week before the spring term started. This gave me plenty of time to discuss my ideas with the 3d design and ceramics technicians. They advised me to only make the tokens in porcelain, unlike my original idea were everything but the lips were made in a slip mould. Because of this, I had to come up with new designs that moved away from time-consuming ceramics to something that would be easier to mass produce. I also needed to ensure that the final design would not be too grotesque and off-putting. The minimal board designs would be cheaper overall, but they did not evoke the same emotions in the players as the larger face-shaped boards that I finally went with.

I decided to make the boards out of birch plywood since birch was one of the most popular woods in Swedish design from the time period. After a trip to the 4D ModelShop in London, the silicon lips were changed to plastizone due to time constraint and costs. I also laser-cut a special token tray that I used to make roughly 180 porcelain tokens that was sprayed with an transparent glaze. I order paper samples from G.F. Smith and Paper Back, but ended up printing on some thicker paper from a local stationers due to time limitations. While I did all this, I also read the book Sockerförsöket by Elin Bommenel, which explain the experiments, from the historical and political context to the scientific methods and collaborations with the industry. The book also mentions the consequences of the experiments, the controversies regarding the final report and how it was used to reform the Swedish dental care. It was three intensive weeks to say the least!

Play & Learn: Part 5

I finally had an idea for my outcome, but I needed to research different games to better find game mechanics that better conveyed my message. I originally looked at Kalaha and other Mancala games, since they are both very simple and offers loads of different strategies. I also wanted to make game tokens that represented teeth, so that the players would literally handle other people's teeth while they played the game. I also looked at Operation and Crocodile Dentist since you are encouraged to remove parts from the patients. I even played with the idea to make a disembodied face to collect the tokens from, but it felt way to grotesque and disrespectful.

This is another quick sketch on flimsy newsprint, but this wireframe helped me to structure the rules and visualize what kind of game elements (boards, cards, tokens) that I needed to produce for the mock-up. Since the rule system itself conveys a message, I realized that I needed to playtest it several times with friends and other students.

This mock-up is made of three thin MDF boards that were laser-cut into 9 mouths and 126 tokens, which were used to estimate roughly how many bricks should be collected each turn and when the game should be considered finished. I wrote the first draft of the rules based on these tests and designed 11 kinds of cards the player would use during play. I have played it several times against other students and it seemed fairly well-balanced. Some suggested that I should add some sort of consequence for removing the last token from a mouth, but otherwise it was fun. Way too fun. Honestly, I was not prepared that it would be so fun to remove teeth tokens from minimalistic mouths!

How do you make a game less fun to play, but not making it preachy or boring? I did not want to change the game system too much since it was rather balanced and enjoyed by all test players. No, my approach was to work more on the visual identity of the game. After discussing my problems with tutors and other students, I decided to make the game boards separate and more human-like to create empathy and compassion. Another aim was to emulate the graphic design from the time period in the rules and cards, as well as adding trivia about the experiments. Finally, I also decided to add images of damaged teeth to visually emphasize the consequence of the experiments. Some of my discarded ideas include red ID number on each board as well as forcing the players to wear surgical masks during play.

Play & Learn: Part 4

I discussed my work progress with Jen, one of my tutors. She argued that I should incorporate some of my personal projects, which include 3d design and game design, into my IPS. I personally disliked the idea and felt that it did not suit my intentions, but it did get me thinking more about the Play & Learn project.

Jen’s suggestion reminded me about games for change, a concept I came across at Södertörns Högskola when I briefly studied game graphics. The idea is to use game and their interactive design to discuss political questions regarding environment, equality, civil rights and more. While most of these games were digitally, I remembered a board game named Train designed by Brenda Romero.

Unknown artist. (2013) Brenda Romero's train. Read more about the game on Venturebeat.

The players are instructed to load trains with small humanoid markers and push them to the end of the rail. When one train finish, the game reveals it destination: Auschwitz. The game thus discusses the Holocaust and the moral issues of following orders. While some have questioned the ethics of exploring these themes through a game, most of them who played it have felt an emotional connection that is hard to express through text, images, or even movies.

Unknown artist. (1949) Mongolida män, Vipeholms sjukhus för sinnesslöa, Lund. Thomas Olssons arkiv.

I also decided to focus on the Vipeholm experiments, two studies that took place from 1945 to 1953 at the largest institution for mentally disabled in Sweden at that time. Back in the early 20th century, the Swedish dental hygiene was extremely bad. Some studies estimated that up to 99.99% suffered from extreme caries and tooth decay, which were expensive to treat properly. The Social democrats financed a dental care reform with taxes, but it was costly and controversial. In order to gain support, they initiated an expensive experiment to find what could prevent caries. After two years of study, the scientists have not got any results.

In order to save their – and the politicians - faces and secure financial funds, the scientists decided to rework the experiment. They decided to provoke caries by feeding the patients toffee, chocolate, caramel, and sucrose. Some of the control groups ate twice the average consumption, while also leaving regular saliva, urine, and blood samples. Many of the patients were bedridden and/or unable to communicate, which makes their participation questionable. Furthermore, neither the relatives nor the politicians were told about this change in advance.

The study managed to once and for all show an undeniable correlation between sugar and caries. It changed the dental care not only in Sweden, but also in the rest of the Nordic countries as well as US. Children had to brush their teeth twice a day and limit their candy consumption to once a week. During late 50s, schoolchildren had to check their tooth status regularly with special dentist nurses called “fluorine ladies” to ensure strong teeth.

The Swedish dental hygiene was saved, but only by an experiment that breached the Nuremberg Code. Neither the patients nor their relatives were informed about the study or how they could withdraw, neither were they compensated. Furthermore, it took over a year for two dentists to repair or pull out all teeth that got damaged due to the experiments, and they did not even treat all patients. The scientists and doctors argued that the patients should be happy that they finally contributed to the Swedish society.

Play & Learn: Part 3

University started with a group project, where I collaborated with Auguste, Ev, Molly, and Sophie. The first task was to present your research and ideas to the others in your group. We had less than 10 min to prepare, which explains the extra sketchy sketchiness of my wrinkly newsprint sketches.

Since most of us have chosen the same theme and Sophie actually had some ideas of a potential outcome, we decided to expand it. The first meeting was fruitful, but I think we left with very different ideas of how we wanted to expand it. I got really frustrating during the next meeting since it suddenly felt that people wished to redo the process entirely rather than polish it.

Photographs by Ev Laguë

After discussing the different points of view, we came around and decided to focus on how much work was needed to process sugar. The users had to cut down sugar canes with a machete to reach the sugar chest, which they needed to unlock with a small key. They then had to withdraw a piñata sugar loaf with some sugar nips, before they smashed it. When they broke the loaf open, they would find 12 sugar cubes with some educational illustrations that correctly arranged describe the whole work process. My task was to design and make the sugar chest and lock mechanism.

I originally wanted to make the chest in wood, but we felt that it would take too much time. I therefore switched to 3 mm and 5 mm foam panels, which were cut, glued and painted with acrylics to look like wood. I also used some mirror cards that was left from earlier projects to create nails and hinges. The design was comically exaggerated  and yet simplified, without the drilled bottom and drawer that was commonly used to save every grain of sugar.

However, the thing I am most proud of is the padlock, which I designed based on ancient Iranian locks as well as an interactive display from the Science Museum. The lock is simple yet functional and could really be locked with a key that Auguste designed and laser cut.

Most elements came together rather nicely when we prepared for thedemonstration. The sugar canes were colourful, the tools were functional, the chest was stable, the piñata loaf was beautiful, and the sugar cubes was graphically clear. I thought our work was one of the most engaging pieces, but we still discovered several areas we could improve on. It was for example unclear for the people testing it to understand that they were supposed to cut the canes and smash the loaf. We should also have reworked the loaf so it would be possible to reuse it, perhaps by using Velcro or something? I also thought I should have made the lock bigger so the key would be more in scale with the other tools we had. Overall, it was a nice project and I am very happy with the end result.

Play & Learn: Part 2

I decided to leave the topics aside for a while and look at the research suggestions provided the tutors. It was a great mix of videos, children books, graphic design, and work done by previous students, which helped me to start thinking outside the box and imagine possible outcomes of the project. Here are some  of my sketchbook spreads:

I also visited the Science Museum in London and looked at their permanent exhibition to see how they used playful interaction for educational purposes. I wish in hindsight that I spent less time downstairs and more in the “Engineer your Future” room, where they keep all their wacky science experiments. Wished I did some more sketching up there as well, but there were too many eager kids and watchful parents for my comfort. With that said, the hammer mechanism in the second image became pretty useful during our first group project.

Play & Learn: Part 1

Last summer we had to choose between four different primers which would become the foundation for our final year projects. One of these primers was Play & Learn, which focus on creating an interactive and playful learning experience through illustration and design. I choose to focus on thehistory of sugar, mostly because Nordiska Museet in Stockholm had a temporary exhibition on the subject. Here are some of the location drawings I produced during my visits.

Everything was new to me: even though I have heard the connections between sugar and colonialism, I had not yet understood the direct connections to slavery and rise of racism. I did not know that the sugar industry was the 7th largest industry in Sweden during the 1930s. The Swedish government lowered taxes for the industry to create job during the depression, which in turn propagate the cheap and healthy benefits of granulated sugar. I was also surprised to learn that sugar was used in Middle Eastern medicine to create the first medical pills and tablets during the 15th century, and that it was a key ingredient in medicine up to the 20th century. All information excited me, but it also became a problem: how would I ever be able to limit my focus to just one topic?