Games, storytelling and emotional design can be combined to create a fictive world that lets people view their social situation in a new perspective. This was illustrated by design researchers and students at the Kolding School of Design. On 25 January 2012, they met with experts from the Danish Prison and Probation Service and design researchers from Delft in The Netherlands for a seminar and workshop titled Designing Emotions for Games and Narratives.
By Hans Emborg Bünemann
CONFERENCE Family visits in prison can be a profoundly difficult and awkward situation. The Kolding School of Design addressed this issue in a combined seminar and workshop where a group of students was tasked with designing a game to be played by the inmate – usually a man – and his child during prison visiting hours. The goal is to facilitate a good dialogue by using the game context and humour to mitigate the stigma stemming from the fact that dad did something wrong. By strengthening the relations between the inmate and his family the dialogue helps the child build a relationship with his or her father despite his absence. In the long term, this will increase the father’s chances of successful rehabilitation after his release.
Some of the design students addressed the workshop task by designing the game Dad’s Escape. It consists of a prison yard made in Lego bricks, a die, two homemade gaming pieces and some squares along both the inside and the outside of the wall. One of the two players plays the role of inmate, while the other is a prison guard. The players make their own so-called element cards, which they can use during the game as a source of inspiration for the inmate to think of imaginative means of escape. Every week, the child can look forward to showing up with new cards that he or she has drawn since the last visit. Thus, the goal is not to plan an actual prison break but to use the game and the cards to create the joy of expectation and improve the dynamics of the weekly prison visit, which, experience shows, is often not something that the child looks forward to.
|Narrative cards. “If I take the lunch box, fill it with nails and give it to the prison guard, then he’ll eat the nails and die, and I’ll be able to escape.” An example of an imaginative escape plan that can be hatched with use of the element cards drawn by the players.
Photo: Eva Knutz
PhD scholar Eva Knutz and Thomas Markussen, associate professor at the Kolding School of Design, served as hosts for the event, which focused on the research field of emotional design and on incorporating emotions into game design. Thomas Markussen explains that the purpose is to address game design and storytelling in a serious context. Thus, the point is not just to provide entertainment, but still the humour and the emotions should play a central role. In the specific case the purpose is to investigate how game design can be used to improve relations between prison inmates and their families.
“The game helps the inmate and his son or daughter create their own narrative – a fictive world that lets them view their social situation in a new perspective. By drawing element cards with objects from his or her everyday life the child can use the game to bring the life outside the prison walls into the father’s world inside the prison. For example, a drawing of the daughter’s Barbie doll or a badminton racket can help the two talk about her everyday life. Similarly, the father can use his cards to address topics that may otherwise be hard to bring up,” says Thomas Markussen and adds that the game creates a space where the two, despite difficult circumstances, can share emotions and benefit from each other’s company.
|Research into design and emotions. Pieter Desmet, associate professor at Delft University of Technology, is a pioneer in the field of research into emotion-driven design. He studies how design can contribute to happiness.
Photo: Job Jansweijer
At the seminar that served as the introduction to the workshop the students received input from design research about the role of emotions in design work. This section included presentations by three researchers from Delft University of Technology. Associate Professor Pieter Desmet discussed how the design field has moved from mainly pursuing the development of pleasurable products to also including what he calls design for happiness: design products that have happiness and joy as their purpose. His research is aimed at studying how designers can use happiness-driven design to affect behaviour and thus stimulate durable happiness.
“Consumer research has documented that material goods such as a new pair of shoes, a smartphone or new furniture only ever offer a short-lived mode of happiness,” Pieter Desmet explains.
“Much of our happiness stems from experiential goods, that is, experiences and activities that we engage in rather than products we purchase. This is in part because we quickly grow used to a new material standard of living, while experiences remain permanently open to positive reinterpretation.”
Pieter Desmet believes, however, that this distinction needs refinement, since material goods can play a key role in generating experiences.
“Let’s assume, for example, that you achieve a sense of happiness by sailing. Now, you can’t go sailing without a boat that is designed for it,” he says.
That makes it relevant to investigate the role that products play in generating experiences. According to Pieter Desmet, designers can use this knowledge to promote the users’ sense of happiness by means of design.
In the workshop at the Kolding School of Design, these reflections formed the basis for the students’ design of games for the specific situation of family visits in prison. The field of design, according to Thomas Markussen, also has an important potential in other areas of society that are characterised by conflict and emotionally difficult situations.
“The point of departure for the students in the workshop was the social situation that the game was intended for: a situation where dad is locked up, and his child is coming to visit. That requires a good sense of empathy and understanding for the human and social relations that the game is intended for. This aspect of empathy makes the combination of game, storytelling and emotional design applicable in hospitals and other settings where people are faced with emotionally difficult situations,” he says.
On 25 January 2012, the Kolding School of Design held a combined seminar and workshop under the heading Designing Emotions for Games and Narratives. The event is discussed in an article on the website of the Kolding School of Design.
The combined seminar and workshop was organised by PhD scholar Eva Knutz and Associate Professor Thomas Markussen, both from the Kolding School of Design.
In her PhD project Eva Knutz studies whether it is possible to shape new forms of narratives where computer games can bring out knowledge about children’s emotional experiences in connection with hospitalisation. See her research profile here.
In his research Thomas Markussen studies emotion-driven design, design activism and design semiotics. See his research profile here.
See also the article Designing Means Executing Power, Mind Design #32 2010. It discusses Trine Brun Petersen’s PhD dissertation: Statsfængslet Østjylland som social teknologi – en diskussion af design som et ideologisk og adfærdsregulerende fænomen (The Danish state prison Statsfængslet Østjylland as social technology – a discussion of design as an ideological and behaviour-regulating phenomenon).