Radical Alternate Futurescoping: Solarpunk Vs Grimdark Workshop
ACADEMIC MINDTREK CONFERENCE
Academic Mindtrek 2023 was an exciting conference based at Tampere University in Finland and focused on Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) that featured talks and workshops in research and development on games, gamification, human-nature interaction, AI, robotics and lots more, including punk game design!🌱🧷✨🤖
Intelligent Games and Games Intelligence (IGGI) PhD researchers Prasad Sandbhor and Sarah Masters proposed and delivered a design and research workshop at Academic Mindtrek 2023 titled Alternate Radical Futurescoping: Solarpunk vs Grimdark. The workshop was conducted in a hybrid set-up and involved the co-creation of mock-ups of play experiences dealing with eco futures and climate action in solarpunk and grimdark themes.
A dedicated website was created for the workshop that provided information about its purpose and enabled participant registrations. It was promoted over Twitter, Linkedin and various communities interested in climate change and game design.
The workshop received 15 registrations. 11 participants (6 online, 5 in-person) took part in the workshop as 4 registrations got cancelled due to various reasons. The participants belonged to diverse backgrounds such as PhD and postdoctoral research in games and HCI (that included 2 iGGi PhD researchers), creative arts, future visioning and game design.
Workshop slides and reference materials were emailed to all participants prior to the workshop in order to help them familiarise themselves with the topics and methods being used.
Participants were given a choice of either forming a group or working by themselves to create a mock-up of a play experience concept. 4 participants (1 in-person, 3 online) opted to work by themselves as solo creators while the rest formed 2 groups (1 group of 4 participants in-person and 1 group of 3 participants online). 3 participants (1 in-person and 2 online) joined only the mock-up creation part of the workshop.
The workshop aimed at bringing people from diverse interdisciplinary backgrounds together to conceptualise speculative play experiences for climate change engagement. Therefore, the workshop format included the facilitation of mock-up co-creation, initiation of a community of radical alternate futurescopers and reflection on the design journeys followed to articulate the opportunities, risks, challenges and effects associated with working on solarpunk and grimdark genres. Details about the context, goals, format and schedule of the workshop are available as a workshop can be found here
The workshop consisted of 4 phases - introduction, conceptualisation, mock-up creation, and critical reflection discussion. The slide deck provided here was used across all phases of the workshop.
In the first phase, participants were introduced to solarpunk and grimdark genres and given prompts for mock-up creation.
In the second phase, they were taken through hands-on exercises using Critical Game Design, Triadic Game Design, and Design Box methods to support them in ideating and developing their concepts.
In the third phase, participants created conceptual mock-ups on the medium of their choice.
The last phase of the workshop involved a showcase of the participants' mock-ups, followed by a thorough discussion and critical reflection session. They also reflected on their own emotional journeys during the workshop.
The workshop used a dedicated Discord channel for collaboration and communication between the organisers and both online and in-person participants. An itch page was set up for hosting the mock-ups created during the workshop.
The workshop produced 6 mock-ups of play experience concepts that followed solarpunk and grimdark genres. Although the design brief to the participants expected them to choose one of the two genres, it was observed that all concepts preferred an amalgamation of the two genres.
The concepts generated during the workshop included a game about surviving the winter of 2023 in Ukraine, an open world VR experience related to deep sea impacts of climate change, a grimdark game related to urban forests, a resource management game about developing green spaces in cities, a city building game dealing with flood management, and a strategy game on climate refugee migration conflict.
In the fourth phase of the workshop, participants presented their play experience concepts using mock-ups and took part in a reflection exercise over a Miro board. The reflection exercise included 6 questions dealing with the design process followed, the challenges faced and the takeaways from the workshop. Preliminary insights are as follows:
>> Reflections on the design process and workshop format -
The format of the workshop was found helpful by the participants. They reported that the prompts given were useful in quickly deciding the topic and using it as an anchor for the design process involving the triadic game design framework and the design box method.
>> Challenges faced -
The participants noted that while ideating in the context of the prompt, it was easy to slip from one genre to the other as some prompts had an inherent inclination towards one of the genres (for instance, a prompt about the climate refugees aligned with grimdark genre more than solarpunk). Some participants found managing the scale or scope of the game topic difficult during the workshop. It was also shared that following solarpunk aesthetics in the limited time and resources was challenging. Another feedback comment related to the challenges said that it was hard to work with solarpunk as its overtly positive vibe was “killing the dramatic elements”.
>> Feelings and takeaways -
For most of the participants, the takeaways from the workshop were related to the design processes followed and game design strategies for designing and developing games and play experiences for future research. When asked about their feelings about the future in the context of climate change experienced during the mock-up creation journey, they said that the duration of the workshop was too short to observe the feelings. Here are a few selected participant comments on the question:
“Did creating your mockup change the way you feelabout the future in the context of climate change, if so, how?”
"Not sure if it made me feel differently about climate change, but definitely about using games to tackle the issue. And about the potential of both solarpunk and grimdark conventions to convey different ideas."
“Tips the scale a bit, games have been a great way to spread your message and awareness as you immerse the player to think and live your world”
“It was very illuminating; an alternative way of brainstorming and fleshing out solutions. I feel more optimistic about climate action.”
CONCLUSION AND FUTURE WORK
Overall, the workshop was successful in achieving its objectives. The participants learned new concepts and methods of design and were able to create innovative play experiences with a climate change lens. The critical reflection discussion helped them articulate the challenges of creating solarpunk and grimdark artefacts. The workshop and the conference also served as an opportunity to connect with other researchers working in the domains of climate change games and human nature interaction. We intend to work further on the mock-ups created during the workshop and the feedback comments gathered in the form of a research publication.
We want to give a big shoutout to all our amazing participants for their contributions. We couldn't have done it without you!🙌We would like to say thank you to Academic MindTrek Conference 2023 for hosting us and to IGGI - Intelligent Games & Game Intelligence for supporting us with its collaboration fund to make it happen.😊
Prasad Sandbhor, Sarah Masters
3 Oct 2023