Playing for your Audience; the digital vs analogue dilemma – Janet writes

This summer, we’re playing host to another brilliant Production Placement at Coney HQ, Janet K Howe. Janet has been working as an immersive/interactive director/creator for six years developing a particular interest in accessibility and the power of play, and is currently investigating Coney’s practice as part of an MA course.

To tell you more about their experience with Coney so far, we’ll let Janet take it away:

I have spent the past few months doing a production placement at Coney and have learned so much from my time. There are many things I would want to share but I’ve been asked to write a blog, not a book. One point that I have found most influential is the way Coney approaches the digital vs analog question.

I have been making interactive work for the past six years and one of the biggest questions that continually surfaces is if digital or analogue/live is better. Digital can reach a greater amount of people and over greater distances. While the impact of a live experience is more connected, increases empathy, and cuts through the digital clutter. 

The Root In – An icebreaker game made by Janet for Coney’s latest Playful Social, to enable playful introductions

Coney is engaging with this digital/analogue question in a way that I find more helpful than “which is better?” They are instead asking, “how do we best engage our audience with the topic at hand?” When creating, Coney makers are thinking about: the number of people who will be playing something at one time, how many times it will be played, who are the people we expect to play it, and what do we hope they will get out of playing the game.

Coney makers will often playtest ideas using simple materials to learn more about what works. From that information, they can than invest in either creating a digital version or a more fully designing a live version. For example, one game Coney has been developing could have easily been turned into a digital game. They choose to keep it analogue because they learned that intended audience would likely find playing on a cell phone alienating. 

Using this approach to customizing the format of the game to its purpose, results in the wide variety of Coney’s work. At one end there are very physical games such as 95 Years or Less, which uses props and objects to physically engage audiences in playing through living systems.

Playing part of 95 Years or Less at Coney’s recent Forest Social

At the opposite end, The Verdict has developed from a live game into a digital game. The goal here is for people to be able to take the game home and play with a group of friends after a dinner party. The game The Shadow of the Future falls somewhere in between. It cleverly engages students in a digital game, that then takes them out on an adventure, learning, and exploring a physical space. 

Throughout each process, Coney makers aren’t focusing on what looks trendy, but rather who will be playing. For example, a project currently in development has been crafted for a few different audiences over its lifespan. At each stage, considered adjustments are made based on the group who will be playing. A group of climate change activists will encounter a game in a very different way than people attending a festival, or families at a zoo. Coney grows and shapes the game for each of these audiences. 

This audience focused approach, has flipped the way I approach the digital vs analogue debate. I no longer think about if VR really is the next big thing or if I should be anticipating the swing back to analogue trend. Rather, I have begun to develop ideas and then consider the best medium for my audience. This practice keeps Coney’s work fresh, flexible, immediate, and considerate. I hope it will do the same for me.

Find out more about Janet at www.janetkhowe.com. And if you’d like to say hi and get involved with us at Coney, join our Network and give us a knock. We’d love to hear from you.

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