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Unlock playable places, play with the community

MA 2023
Future Play, Kid-friendly design, Gamification, Community Engagement

Islington is densely populated and many children live in poor overcrowded families, thus more play space is being called for. There are already many places to play in the community, and large playgrounds are only a small part of them. The real problem is that people, especially kids, don't know about these places and how playable they are.

So we designed Play@, a game-driven service that can be practised by play organizations to unlock playable places, bridge different players in the community, and establish a playground-centred network. In layman's terms, it is a toolkit that can be used by play organizations to transform real communities into games, which will map out all the playable spaces in the community and highlight the uniqueness of each place.


London Play, a charity with the vision of "building a city where all children have the freedom to play”, acted as our academic partner, providing us with access to industry experts, playgrounds, and workshop opportunities throughout the whole process.

Three Corners Adventure Playground are our closest collaborators, providing us with volunteer opportunities to engage with kids and a proving ground for testing prototypes.

Play workers Kerri and Dom from Make-Do Play, an adventure playground offering free play activities for kids, also provided us with a wealth of industry insight.


Children need more places to play.

Islington is one of the most densely populated of London's 33 local authority areas, with around 104 people living on each football pitch-sized area of land. According to the Mayor of London, 43% of Islington children are living in poverty, thousands of homes are legally defined as ‘overcrowded’, many of them do not have gardens. So it seems like children & play is limited by the number/size of playable spaces and there is indeed a strong call for more play access in the community.


We do have a space issue, but most importantly, we have an awareness issue.

But in fact, according to the city plan of Islington Council, Islington already has 12 adventure playgrounds, and apart from hundreds of public green places, there are more than 400 hundred undesignated open spaces, such as community playgrounds, and open spaces in residential areas. So what is the real problem?

Through observation & communication with children, and interviews with parents and playworkers, we found that the real problem is that people, especially children, are either not aware at all or know very little about other places to play in the community. Most children have their own fixed circle of play, and the boundaries of that circle are mostly home, school, and an adventure playground or two.

It is worth mentioning that adventure playgrounds, such as Three Corners, are well-known in the children's network because of their large area, diverse activities, and many challenging facilities, which also makes a considerable number of children not interested in public green spaces and other open spaces in residential areas without such engaging facilities. So, being aware of where else activities of play can occur may not be enough, and what's more worth pondering over is, how do we encourage children to jump out of the original play circle and explore more and different places?



Provide a clarity about what places are open, playable, and child-friendly. 

Field Participation

Then, nourish a strong willingness in children’s minds to step out of their original circle of play and continue to explore more and more playful spaces in the community.


Map - Board Game

Basically, we want to map out all the playful places in the community, and highlight the uniqueness of each place, to show the complementary relationship between different spots. Based on these, we use an attractive medium and interactive method, that is, a board game, to wrap the above core ideas, so that children can subtly learn where else to play and the special features of each place in entertainment or even competition.

The basic rules are, at the beginning, each player can get a stamina card which contains a certain amount of points, and each place they explore during the game costs a certain amount of 'power'. When the stamina points are exhausted, the game is over. Take turns rolling the dice to move forward, each time players reach a place, they can either explore it or skip it. Choosing to explore can get them special cards unique to that place, and the scores and element types marked on the cards will affect the final score. 

Worldview - Live Game

We wish that the children should be able to really explore those open playable space and discover their own unique points of interest, and we wanted the process to be fun and stimulating for them, so we looked at the design rules of some themed playgrounds and games and found that having a good backstory and worldview was an essential part of these games to enhance the sense of immersiveness and purpose, thus enhancing the play experience. We therefore combined this idea with a well-konwn historical story of the Three Corners adventure playground and designed a more macro story that is set in the community at large, giving children and parents tasks to complete as they explore, thus stimulating their desire for field participation. By doing this, we actually transformed the whole community into a playground.

Worldview: "A long, long time ago, a severe fire hit a place called Three Corners and caused serious damage. Therefore, people built a powerful, specialised fire fighting robot to protect this place". Many years have passed and the robot has been destroyed by mysterious forces, so to avoid another tragedy, people are calling the explorers to come to three corners, repair the robot and protect the world.

The basic rules are, players can get the game manual from Three Corners, which will introduce the worldview of this live game in detail, . Players carry their passports, follow the map to find places to explore, and search for & collect stamps. After the players complete the collection, they need to return to the Three Corners to complete the entire story and get rewards.


Play@, a toolkit

So, these are our interventions, including a board game and a live game, to deliver clarity and emerge field participation. But is that all? This board game, as well as the Three Corners-centred live game, are just our test products on a small scale, actually, what we really want to deliver is a game builder that can be used by play organisations such as London Play, to improve the playability of different communities. Introduce Play@: A game-driven service for organizations to unlock playable places, bridge different players in the community, and establish a playground-centred network. It has two parts, a board game builder and a live game builder. The previous one can help turn the community into a board game, and the later one can help create a reality based worldview and turn the community into a live game.


For children & parents: concise play information will be passed on to them, which can enable children to have more freedom, options and access; And the real, deep engagement in diverse places is intended to contribute to their learning and development.

For adventure playgrounds: A huge play network centred on the adventure playground will be formed; Play facilities and activities will be improved with more frequent interaction between playworkers from various play places.

For other play organizations: By practising Play@, play organisations can reach more and further places, connect more and more diverse local organisations, expand their influence, which can be beneficial to attracting funding, and achieving their vision.

For the community: With more visits, the utilisation rate of public open space will be improved; These engaging games and strong play atmosphere will attract more and more visitors, even outsiders; And the happiness of the whole community will also increase.


We want to thank Andrei, Reece & Danny from Three Corners Adventure Playground, Kerri & Dom from Make-Do Play, a group of playworkers from Markfield, who shared their lived experience and insights with us; 

Francesca & Guy from Awesome who provided us with their knowledge; 

Paul, Jon, Caroline & Chrissy from London Play who with their expertise helped us make sense of it all! 

John, Nicolas and Judah who give us guidance, advice and encouragement along the way.

Finally, we want to hug every child that we met through the whole journey!

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