In the Tampere team we have been talking about how to integrate a game element into the explorations and Social Mapping that the highschool students are working with in Salo. To get an idea of our work so far — read this text on Salo Stories here. In short this first experiment — done in May 2017 — went through a more complex process from exploring (what is there) over looking for new ideas and dreams (what could be there) to conclude by working with how to realise some of those dreams (how to get there). This time — March 2018 — we focused mostly on the first element exploring what is there. But with a game element added.
As our experiments in Salo is part of an art class we took the opportunity to see how far we could use some of the ideas of the french Situationist Movement as an inspiration. We especially looked at the ideas on the derive and how to explore and experience places in ways that tries to push our sensitivity to a higher level and push our preconceived ideas in the background. This was possible and we had some good discussions about stigma, stereotyping and “filters” in general that blocks a more open and unbiased experience.
We worked with two classes that alloved us to test different ideas. The first class suggested first an element of chance where dice are thrown to determine what places to explore. Another idea was a bit similar to the Pokemon Go game where the point is to “collect” as many places and their atmospheres. In the end a combination was suggested where the random places are given a challenge that others have to find and work with — in order to “collect it”.
The other class had a quite strong consensus on looking at a time aspect finding places and then see how they looked before. Yet also a “Feeling Hunt” was suggested, that could supplement the random choice of places from the first class. We worked on how to combine the two elements and came to an idea where the hunt is for places with a certain feeling and then take them into a time machine both looking at how it used to be (and why it changed to the present) or look into the future (how it could change to the better)
We discussed why it was so important to see how the places looked earlier and beside the obvious — learning about the past and the roots of their place — then in Salo this story is also about the sense of loss — Nokia left the city — and how Salo is now a shrinking city. It is a city where all the students indicated they would leave as soon as they could (you dont want to be the last one left alone).
The development of the game first had a prototype phase where we tested some of the dynamics inside the quite impressive high school building (build while the money from Nokia was still there) which has some urban qualities in itself. In the first class we especially tested the element of chance/challenge and with the other class we tested the element of time and how places are (and can be) produced.
The goal of developing this game element is twofold. One is already mentioned and in line with the ideas of the situationists exploring and discovering things or atmospheres that are otherwise overlooked. But the element of play would also ideally make it so much fun that a lot of people will take part and thus create a very strong and nuanced collection of new “Salo Stories”.
The first prototype tested how to find places by chance and the give a challenge of how to experience that place. We did this by pointing at a map of the highschool with closes eyes and then bring a piece of paper along where a challenge was written down. After that the challenges worked as a treasure hunt and people had to respond to the challenges.
Second prototype was focused on the time/change aspect and instead of the element of chance the students could chose the location themselves. The challenges related to things the students thought could be better or were annoyed with (going forward in time): the ping pong table took too much space or why not kick out an ugly plant and get a sofa instead? The responses to the challenges proved to spark arguments pro and con the challenge and illustrated well that same place can be perceived very differently.
While the first class felt that the challenges were not really fun since it took place in the school — a too wellknown territory — the second class seemed to have fun and especially the chance to see what other people thought of your idea for change seemed to be motivating.
Taking the prototypes to the streets
Next step was to take the prototypes to the streets of Salo. First it was the class with focus on challenging each other how to experience a place. We would use the old mapping tool based on harvesting tweets. Unfortunately Twitter has changed the way you add the location to the tweet in a way that makes quite hard to get the precise location, so the mapping tool was a bit of a barrier against testing this part in a smooth way. Many challenges were good: go and smell a perfume, Dance, scream and shout, look from one bridge to the other, take a selfie in front of the Thai restaurant, count the pillars in the parking garage etc.
However the new twitter approach to how to add the location proved to be too complicated for the second class and they hardly added any challenges. We then turned to a more analogue method to work with the time machine and first going back in time as was the initial idea of that group. The more practical work checking info and images out online and printing them out proved to be a relief after the technical mess. We had very good conversations on how places would feel and especially one description of an old school (hard surfaces and cold but still less noisy than the new high school) by a student who otherwise had a hard time getting involved — was a positive experience.
Apart from the old and now empty school (mold) the 2 other groups chose to work with an old grain elevator that is partly empty and a shopping centre/bus station, Linjuri, that is also partly empty. (See a collection of photos here from Linjuri)
With the first class we decided to go the analogue way and first discuss the challenges already posted on twitter — how do you try to push people to experience and express how it feels to be in places? Based on that, the 4 groups would define one new challenge each — just using the location written down (no twitter) that all the students would do. 1. Go to the Linjuri bus station and look where the people go from there. 2. Go the water cistern on the hill next to the church and note what you first can see. 3. Go to the swimming pool and bang the big round ball sculpture. 4. Write a nice message on a piece of paper and go to the shopping centre, Plaza, and leave it there.
In the next class we would first go through the reactions to the challenges. 1. People at the Linjuri bus station would go mostly to Turku and Helsinki. 2. People would mention that the first noticed EG the grain silo looking over the profile of Salo seen from above. 3. People would talk about the sound it made when they banged the big ball sculpture — first echo and then humming. 4. People felt good leaving the positive messages to other people in the shopping centre.
We then discussed in the groups how they thought their challenge worked — did they learn something new about the place etc? 1. On the bus station the answers were quite similar and as such not that interesting, which lead to a discussion on what would be more interesting to look for and how the place felt loomy or eerie. Or how it felt on top of the hill looking over the city where one student had a positive experience seeing the city as more beautiful (less ugly) than she otherwise thought or the positive feeling of overlooking the landscape and city. Most students had already been at this spot, but it was still a new experience since they would only go there in the summer. Just like the Linjuri bus station it is not only the place but also the time of being there that defines the experience. The experience of the of banging the ball sculpture sounded — literally — fun, but did not really bring much new about the place as such. And the otherwise sweet challenge to pass on positive messages to strangers in the shopping centre — by leaving them on a EG bench — felt good but again nobody really noted EG the reaction of people finding the notes.
What was a conclusion was that a good challenge would be easy yet having a twist such as going to the top of the hill at an unusual time. That the linjuri bus station it was clear that asking where people were going resulted in very similar and rather generic answers while it was easy in the discussion in class to find much more interesting experiences — Eerie. A vote by the students showed that 10 liked the church/hill challenge where the other 3 challenges got 5 votes.
For the class that worked with the places in the time machine the last part proved also a challenge — how to go forward in time and imagine something new. As already said the format leaves very little time to work with the various elements of these experiments yet in the short time these ideas do reflect the dreams and maybe fears of the students. One group that worked with the old grain silo came up with a ideas that would use the height of the silo for a spectacular restaurant in combination with some wellness elements. A second group suggested that the old and empty school would be turned into a museum of Salo that would address a problem of having many small museums scattered around the city today. What might be more a suggestion that reflect the dreams of the students more directly was how to work with the empty shopping centre/bus station: an indoor skate ramp that would follow up on a reputation that Salo used to have as a hotspot for skaters attracting people from Helsinki and Turku. Also some more practical considerations regarding organising this as a part of a youth club nearby made this project closer to pointing towards a possibility that the students could push for themselves.
The time restraint and the fragmented format of fitting into normal school schedule (and some tech problems) worked against making the students get a real feeling of how and why places/cities change and especially how the students themselves can be part of that change. Yet the general feeling was that the concept of the Time machine as a game element would work and that there is both an interest in knowing and discussing how things used to be and how the could be — especially getting responses to your new ideas seems to be a good motivator.
As a final thought it seems that the two game elements — the challenges and the time machine — could both work in a progression that goes from experiencing the place here and now — the challenge — and then looking at the place seen in a dynamic perspective — how did it become like it is (going back in time) and how could it be better (going forward in time). As such the challenge would work as the first part in the time machine.
A side note on the problem on mobile devices. While we try to use it as a tool in these explorations it was quite significant how a source of distraction it is also. While this is old news, one particular experience was still food for thought: One quite clever student whom I tried hard to involve since he had experience in playing the game Pokemon Go was almost all the time on his phone and quite “demonstratively passive” in group work etc. One day the art teacher was ill and instead another teacher would be present to check that all students were there etc. She got very upset at this particular student since he simply refused to stop playing on the phone and gave him a hard time. What is remarkable was that he then turned into the most active of all the students, helping translating from finnish to english and came up with the word “eerie” for the bus station. A clearly talented but also easily bored student that seemed to be addicted to his device not only distracting his own learning process but also blocking his potentially important participation in the collective work.