Play is an essential part of a person’s development from a child into an adult. Robert Hughes says that our biological drives are “genetic rivers, whose primeval forces come from deep within us and that play, as a drive exists to help children make sense of their immediate worlds.” One can’t help but intuitively accept this observation even without all the evidence that supports it but a question does need to be answered and that is what constitutes healthy play that aids positive development and growth in the individual? (It’s not only children that need to play.)
We can’t send children to play on the streets anymore to find and make their own entertainment. The times and social mores have changed too much for us to go back to that. Yet those concerned with how children are growing up know that constant interaction with a computer screen is OK as far as it goes but is no replacement for the wild rides of the imagination that can be construed from old cardboard, discarded bric a brac and a bit of space to move around and make some noise.
“I wanted to create something to bring back this free spontaneous play. Moving away from computer play. I wanted to make something that would bring old and young together, playing together and creating their own play. I wanted to explore how embedded technology could encourage these playful interactions.”
Jogo conists of a circular table with four rings of sixteen holes laid out concentrically. Each hole represents 1/16th of a musical measure and pitch varies on distance from the centre. The sound is defined by the placement of multi-coloured table tennis balls being placed over the various holes in combinations limited only by the player’s imagination. At the base is a camera which was pulled from a play station which looks up at the holes and can recognise the colours of the different balls. Each colour generates a different note. There is also some additional lighting present to aid the camera in picking out the colours.
The form of the table was defined by Emma’s idea that, “A tabletop is a natural social space and I use the circular shape because it can be approached from all directions. There’s no head of the table, it’s circular and everyone is on a level playing field.”
While the project is still ongoing, initial research took three months of focus groups and watching children and, just as importantly, adults in the play environment. Emma points out, “There are no social boundaries with children but adults would be more wary with interacting with strangers. So I wanted to create the same sort of play first talk later that children would to bring about this new social interaction.”
It took another month to build the Jogo displayed in this article. Emma learned computer vision code to hack the PlayStation camera and the project itself is programmed in Processing a programme specifically designed to make coding a more accessible process for the ‘visual design communities.’
As well as being naturally interested programming she also felt it was important for the project to understand the process and have more control. On her experience with arduino which she will be using for a hardware version of the project she says, “the program is quite usable even if you are not technical minded yourself. It’s a good introduction for creative people to get into making things talk.”
In the case of Jogo this is technology facilitating the experience of play. A table tennis ball is a tangible object that is familiar and easy to use and by choosing a particular colour of ball and a place to put it sound can be produced. There is no game of Jogo as such. It is open-ended in nature. One can invent as many rules or form of play as one likes. Or not. Just let the balls fall where they may and enjoy the results.
Emma says, “ It’s quite meditative. It could be used in therapy situations as it is quite soothing. It was interesting that people were saying that they enjoyed seeing other people playing with it or hearing other people play with it.”
As more ways, such as Processing and Arduino Sketch, become available and make seemingly difficult programming tasks more accessible to non-programmers or people who would not normally consider themselves as remotely techy all sorts of possibilities can come into existence.
Ideas can cross-fertilize in these newly created pastures of possibility. Talents from different disciplines can come together in ways previously unimagined and maybe essential activities like play and socialisation will become reinvigorated by these new developments.