2019 Symposium

The Liveness at Play events took place between September 30 and October 4 2019 and served as the initial planning meetings related to the SSHRC grant “Sustaining Liveness in Participatory Experiences.” They brought together the main members of the Montreal, and London-based, Liveness teams as well as Jaakko Stenros, our Finnish collaborator. On Friday, October 4, we held a one-day symposium that explored the themes of the grant. It was open to the public and included additional invited speakers, namely Lawrence Switzky and Matteo Uguzonni.

Capes, Not Cloaks

On March 9, 2019, the Liveness Research Group made capes—not simply for the love of fashion or to show off sewing skills but also so we could experiment with the use of costume accessories during a subsequent playtest of what became The Other Market.

Work on the design and play-testing of such a public, participatory experience was, of course, severely constrained by the COVID-19 pandemic. We, nevertheless, continued to meet regularly for in-depth, online discussions on design criteria and related research questions.

Peddling Mysteries: A Liveness Boardgame Prototype

Scott DeJong and Courtney Blamey

How do you design for participatory liveness when the world is shut down? While working on the now-titled Other Market, we were stymied by the pandemic’s lockdown but still wanted to explore what the game could look like. From it was born a whirlwind of scrap paper to actual paper prototyping that led to a playable boardgame prototype that helped build the final game. Called Peddling Mysteries, the game modelled a walk-through of an otherworldly market. Let’s break it down.

At the time, we had talked about designing for triads—groups of three that would walk through the market with each participant having their own role. The easy answer for us was to think about cooperative game design models with asymmetrical gameplay. In short, three people, three different roles facing off against the system, not each other. The roles could be understood as follows: one would be a Peddler (someone able to trade), another an Artisan (someone able to make), and the third a Flaneur (able to get otherworldly insight).

Figure 1

We also knew this would take place in a market, and we used the online map-making tool incarnate to think about how a board might work (Figure 1). The market needed to feel alive, interactive, and dynamic—we needed more than art. We decided to focus on the environment, creating cards as a tool for imaging the various stalls, activities, and interactions happening within the space. So we did two things: we gave each location its own set of wares that players could trade for, as well as an event whenever players entered a location.

Figure 2

To do this, we had to move from pretty (and sometimes silly) art to cards as representative locations (remember that this was just paper prototyping) (Figure 2). We used Roll20 to simulate a tabletop and created a set of cards that reflected different shops with their own unique narrative (Figure 3).

Figure 3

But the game, as a great tenant of game design, needed a challenge—an obstacle for the player to overcome, and flipping a card when you visit a shop doesn’t afford that nor give the market a feeling of tangible liveness. So we made two things: Event Cards and Corruption. Inspired by other cooperative games, Corruption was a sliding scale showing how player’s actions (or lack thereof) were contributing to the market’s instability.

Figure 4

Corruption was meant to create an opponent. Players needed to complete their quest (typically gathering a particular set of goods to unlock a narrative about the market) before the market closed. Yet, Corruption influenced the story as well as how the market might close. Each round players would draw an Event Card, and it would either give them Corruption or have an effect based on how much Corruption they had (Figure 4). This not only put players on a clock, but showed them the consequences of their actions. Sometimes locations could get corrupted, causing issues when players went in and out of them (Figure 5). Here, we bumped into another design challenge – how to represent players moving through the market.

Figure 5

In a LARP, actions like moving through the space are somewhat taken for granted; they are viewed as part of the pacing of the game where players’ choices rest in where they choose to go. For us, this translated to making boardgame mechanics. We wanted to reflect the design ideas for The Other Market at the time, which involved each player able to collect information through their unique abilities or knowledge. Players were a team, and each character had their own abilities, which ranged from being able to trade at stalls (Peddlers), being able to make resources for the team (Artisans), and spending them to gain special resources or reduce corruption (Flaneurs). This was coupled with a base set of actions from moving and playing cards that allowed them to do the skills above. The idea was to keep turn actions simple but make the choices within them still weave into the game’s environment so that players could impact the market environment through their actions and decisions.

Unfortunately, Peddling Mysteries stayed a prototype, a proof of concept of translating a LARP into a boardgame, and an opportunity to test ideas. It taught us how much can change through iterative prototyping and when to kill your proverbial darlings. The game held promise and showed some interesting dimensions of thinking through live cooperation in a very “non-live” time. Digital tools created some interaction, and bringing players together in virtual tabletops kept participation active. Today, it remains on a shelf and a Google Drive, a memory of the COVID design era while The Other Market lives on as its final form.