Social Play Technologies

With Laura Scheepmaker, Katharina Werner, Katta Spiel, and Johanna Pichlbauer, led by Christopher Frauenberger at the Human-Computer Interaction Group

I joined the Social Play Technologies team in evaluating their first playthings and participatorily designing the third and final prototype, PictureStage.

Due to their different styles of interacting and playing with others, some neurodivergent children often find themselves isolated from group play. The aim of the Social Play Technologies project was to design playthings that foster and mediate social play in groups of children that play very differently.

This research was motivated by social play currently being considered essential for children to acquire complex social and inter-personal skills. In hindsight, many of our assumptions were questionable inasfar as they were built on a neurotypical paradigm of what social play is and how much of it is necessary for whom.

Nevertheless, in the end, the Picture Stage was what we had hoped it could be — the children were proud of their design, and kept finding new ways to play with it.

Our prototypes were designed together with a neurodiverse group of children during a long-term participatory process.

PictureStage is a platform made up of a tabletop reading lamp (similar to the Pixar Lamp, which was especially cherished by one of the kids) with a Raspberry Pi camera capturing the illuminated area underneath. The output is connected to a projector on a stand that can be aimed at a wall or the floor. By drawing or placing QR-tag cubes underneath the lamp, children can re-imagine their playing environment.

Two interconnected play spaces are created: one where children negotiate control over content under the lamp, and one in which they interact with the projections.

The openness to any content, drawing or object, enables a wide range of play activities — the children in our participatory design group interacted with each others’ drawings as a board game, drew onto each others’ bodies in front of the projector, and created an impromptu theater performance.

Read more in our German-language Booklet and our two English-language publications: on Designing Social Play Things for an in-depth explanation of the design process, and on Children As Designers for a discussion of the creative approaches of participants — if you need access, get in touch by clicking “about” in the menu (my email address is in the pdf)!