At the Earlybird café at 17 Jalan Pinang, retro videogame music and the excited chatter of players set the atmosphere for a modern remix of the old-school arcade. We’re here at “Don’t Play Play. Play!”, a Singapore Design Week 2019 programme, organised by Chemistry, a creative consultancy.
The event aims to bring not just fun to curious participants, but attempts to explore, define and blur the connections between gaming, design and innovation.
At the entrance of the “design arcade”, which consists of six unique table-top games, players are given a card to collect stamps from each of the game booths in order to win prizes. The games are punctuated by opportunities to tour Chemistry’s studio (which is just above the café) where participants were able to see the inner workings of the consultancy.
Every station is manned by one or two game masters who designed the games. At “Tri to Win”, three players have to communicate and collaborate to get three coloured balls into their respective holes by tilting a maze board. Along the way, they’ll meet “traps” symbolising the typical challenges often encountered in design projects, while working to stop a menacing black ball from dropping into the holes and destroying their mission.
A follow-up talk, “Play for Work” dives deeper into the underlying concept of the arcade and argues for the use of games at work. Pointing out how businesses from different fields often encounter similar challenges, the team describes how a game’s ability to break down barriers in communication and act as a simulation provides designers a step-up for solving problems at work.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
The Chemistry team began exploring the use of games in their work when they received some hand-me-down game consoles, and a colleague started to build a retro MAME arcade cabinet.
Soon after, “we were approached by a potential client, who needed both change management, on-boarding and training services. We decided to embody their best practices and pain-points into playing cards, threw in a couple of wild cards, developed rules, and the first iteration of our card game was prototyped,” explained Jeffrey Koh, Chemistry’s Director for Strategic Ventures.
From that point, the team realised they could inject any kind of content based on current events, emerging trends, technologies, as well as specific organisations and their practices, into the games.
Koh added: “A more generic version that addressed an organisation’s innovation readiness was then created, which was a real exercise for us in systems thinking, as the rules, playstyle, content and design all needed to come together. This is the iteration of the game we are sharing at Singapore Design Week 2019, and it inspired the team to create more games that address the challenges that every organisation faces.”
Games can be played for fun, but can also be customised to specific uses, Koh elaborated.
This includes identifying out-of-the-box thinkers, and cross-functional problem solving and collaboration. One example was a series of information game stations that Chemistry developed for SMRT’s Service Excellence Roadshow Event. The pop-up event helped to bring across the organisation’s service excellence values to over 2,000 ground staff through games.