Designing a playground is one kind of challenge, but we wished to bring it a bit further by either trying something drastic or meaningful – all in all something more than just a playground. Trying to create a setting that can be uncomfortable and then make it more enjoyable and pleasurable, was a more interesting challenge. But an otherwise uncomfortable setting can still be important as there are things to learn, so why not try and make it a playable scenario? Making it safe and explorable, fun, but also help prepare for such a situation. So a playground with a player experience that mostly centers around exploration, simulation/role play, learning and perhaps some critical design. Thus we tried to go the extra step and design more than just a playful field, making scenarios connect in one setting. But making a uncomfortable situation into a playful one, brings ethical issues and challenges in design.
Approach of idea – Critical design, places of waiting and boredom
As a beginning there were many things we wanted to work towards when creating the idea: critical design (like a playground where you could play inside a human and their organs), learning experiences, but also for the playground to actually fit in its environment or at least have it a place that made sense. A playground that could in one way feel disgusting but also learningful. Tossing these wants aside as it was too much to include at the same time, it was then focused on just where would it be possible to make an environment more interesting: Where are we bored? The airport was chosen as it had more freedom for brainstorming ideas, than the bus or train station, mostly due to waiting time and space. Bringing the aspect of learning experience, the idea of having the freedom to roam around in an airplane was brought up, giving the players the ability to explore an otherwise restricted place – possibly killing boredom and curiosity at the same time. Having a plane that looked and felt similar to a real one, having actual objects that are in a plane, like gasmask, and have the freedom for the players to do more or less what they wish with them. But still having the sense of a safe and playful environment, to encourage imitation, exploration, with no rules.
The critical design was later retraced as the idea continued trying to be more open for a broader audience; not only children or adults. So ideas bearing similarity to the idea of the human body was replaced with a more friendly minded design approach – trying to be more inviting rather than in its aesthetics than discomfort.
Sections, flow and learning with play
By having a plane crashed it was easier to have sections of smaller playgrounds without having it all in an inclosed space or room, giving instead a stronger sense of openness and freedom. But to keep a sense of relation, connection and flow in the playground’s entirety, it was decided to still have something that linked the parts together, to encourage players to follow a certain path through the plane exploring everything. It was important to feel that the world of the playground still felt as one. To do so, each part was linked via robes, or bridges. However, to avoid enforced movement, each part of the plane, the head, body, back, wing and ground, all had different ways of accessibility in terms of entry. With each section of the plane, although each having their own different possibility of play, had to have an open area to allow free and fast movement around and in the plane.
As for each section, although not simulating a real life experience, they each still had to resemble more or less a real plane, but having added playful fields or elements to make it more of a playground, rather than a learning simulation. For example, having the head of the plane simulate a cockpit, but in a more simplistic setup. Having a less advanced cockpit, but still have some buttons, levers and alike would give some sort of minimal feedback, like lights, lowering or raising numbers resembling altitude or having a steering wheel. Nothing that is too grounding or rule based, that would otherwise create a game instead of a resemblance to a toy. Similarly with the back or the wing of the plane; it is more a setup of an environment that allows for actions.
The only part of the plane that may seem rule-based in some fashion, is the body of the plane. Here the plane tries to softly simulate the sense of turbulence by having the seats rumble at specified times, and having oxygen masks hanging from the ceiling. It was debated whether or not the entire room should be shaking, however that would make it more forced upon the players, hence why it was scaled down to only having the chairs shake. That way people passing by was not forced into a different play environment that was the turbulence simulation.
The last thing to mention is the use of props in this playground. Elements like pillows that resemble luggage are open for play in their design; they are soft, light, sturdy and resembles something recognisable and is something that fits in the context of an airplane – An oxygen mask is not designed to be a toy. However, it was included for the sake of simulation and imagination. In itself it is a boring piece of rubber and plastic, but in the setting of a turbulating plane, it allows for more interactable entities that supports the feeling and imitation of being inside the turbulating plane. And so the playground Playport came to be.
Context of play, ethics of the airport and other security issues
Although Playport seems to have a good sense of flow and possibilities of play, caught in the idea process of designing playable parts, the actual context, being in the airport, was slightly forgotten. Certain security measures were considered, for example not having the bag storages able to be opened in the body of the plane. But in the efforts of trying to continue to have coherent connections and a context that made sense with a plane broken into parts but still having robes and bridges in between, it broke with the context of the airport. It was no longer a broken plane inside an airport, but a crashed plane in a jungle setting inside an airport. It was originally intended to be a playground for people waiting at the airport, but nothing specific about this playground says that it can not be anywhere else. Why have this at an airport and not in a regular park?
Another thing is the possible ethical issues of having a crashed plane as a playground inside an airport. The intention was to allow players to explore a plane and simulate the idea of crashing, although it may be fun in play, it may not be to everyone’s interest to make that imaginative setup when playing. Even the aesthetics of a crashed plane in an airport could appear less inviting for play to some people, even with the context of a bright and colourful jungle. Perhaps if the setup of the playground was trying to imitate more a plane being build, it would appear less disturbing for participants. This way the plane could still be in parts and aspects like the turbulence room could be made as a setup for testing the planes functionality, ensuring that the plane is safe and functional. The idea of a crashed plane did spring from critical design, though and it was debated multiple times whether or not to go all out with a more critical approach, like having pillows of bodies, or going with the learning experience. It was the more friendly approached that stayed in the end, but then the remaining context should have changed along as well to make the theme and context more safe.
As a final note airport security was neglected for the sake of having an open brainstorming and design process as possible. However, it should have been brought back into consideration when designing the playground as it was meant to be designed for an airport context. This is also part of the reason why this playground, although playable, is not designed for an airport, but is a playground with an airplane context.
Overall Concluding Statement
As for the player experience, it was achieved and even added an additional player experience, being feedback, a playground was created, but not without its issues. More or less forgetting some of the key elements in designing for something, it was forgotten that the playground was suppose to be specifically for airports. In the end it became more a critical designed playground imitating a tragic setting, while making it more playful and friendly. It has some learning experience elements, but is not so much that it is in the way of free play and flow. Playport is playable, but may not be for every visitor of the airport.
Power Point Presentation: