Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Board Game Prototype as Cultural Probe — Research Through Design



"Creative Differences" -- a board game design that I am working on, being tested a protospiel.

Bill Gaver and Tony Dunne developed a research method called a "cultural probe." For Gaver and Dunne the purpose of this method is to explore the context for a yet-to-be-defined design. A cultural probe is a designed object or designed kit of objects with a set of instructions that is given to members of a community (or subjects). A cultural probe may be something like a camera or notebook that the subjects use to record certain aspects of their lives. Subjects use the cultural probe and then return it to the designer who then uses it to gain insights that they might be able to use for a new design.

Cultural probes have been on my mind a lot lately. Not too long ago I attended a "protospiel" — i.e. a collaborative design workshop for board game designers. I had the opportunity to run playtests for a friend's game. It was a great experience and gave me a chance to, from a different perspective, see designers work. I took a lot of photographs, audio recordings and some video clips.

It occurred to me that it might be possible to use a board game as a sort of cultural probe. For example I could design a board game, bring it to a protospiel and have other designers collaborate to help me with the design. In fact I've already done this. But what didn't occur to me at the time is that I could do this — taking notes, photos or video and essentially use the board game as a sort of cultural probe. In some aspects it would of course not be a probe in the ways envisioned by Gaver and Dunne. But, it's an idea inspired by their work and I think it might be an interesting twist that could be useful for my research.

Can a board game be used as a type of cultural probe? Would I need to design the game in any particular way or could it be almost any design? Are there things I could learn about designers by observing them as I playtest a game designed as a cultural probe? To some extent I have already been doing this. But, I haven't done it with any intent explicit to this notion of "board game as cultural probe." I'm not sure where I will go with this or if I will use this idea. But, I feel excited about the possibilities. In this instance the probe could be a means of examining many aspects of collaborative design.

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