Playful Learning

Physical collaborative play for teenagers with cognitive disabilities

Bandjes is the result of the Playful Learning project I coached at MediaLAB in the spring semester of 2015. In collaboration with Orion (Amsterdam’s organisation for special needs education) we developed a game for teenagers with cognitive disabilities and varying levels of motor skills. The goal was to improve their communication skills, collaboration skills and the level of intensity of their exercise in the gym classroom. The game offers a playful way to increase the level of self-reliance, by practicing social skills.

The game consists of 4 bluetooth enabled head bands with an RGB LED that can change color. The basic elements of each game is that a player cannot see his own color, only those of the other players. The logic of the game changes with the different variation (eg. “tag” or tikkertje is one of them), but each game requires the players to communicate in order to navigate the playing field and reach the goals of each game variation. Bandjes comes with 7 documented game variations that can be initiated through a desktop application.

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Embodied design

One of the things that was key in the success of this design project was the very regular use of the method of bodystorming. It’s a technique within embodied design techniques that allow designers to bring their body into the mix. The tacit knowledge the body can bring to any complex problem or design question is often undervalued. Rather than paying attention to what the body knows, emphasis is placed on cognitive abilities such as brainstorming, mindmapping, verbal argumentation, and assessments of an idea based on dry design criteria. I’ve used the technique of bodystorming a lot with my teams, especially teams that were designing games or play. This method is often used on location, to really understand context and instill empathy for the user while ‘playing out’ ideas on the spot, ideally with users. But it is also more loosely described as a method to brainstorm with your body. This is one explanation of it, there’s many.

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Bodystorming for empathy

We used the technique of bodystorming a lot. The initial concepts that were created turned out to be too complex to play, hard to explain and eventually impossible to play with the teens. When bodystorming was introduced as primary method for the student team to generate ideas, the game concepts and play ideas became simpler, and more body-fit to play. The student team agreed to spend an hour bodystorming every morning, to generate ideas. They could bring a prop and start playing with that (chalk, a ball, a gun, a bell) and see where the play would lead. Doing this evokes a very immediate response about what the body enjoys to do, not what we imagine people would enjoy. Especially in combination with lots of observations in class, and occasional playtesting, the design team really started to embody their users in their own playtests, getting a really good grip as to what kind of play was appropriate (simple enough to grasp without a lot of explanation), and interesting for their users who all had very different levels of cognitive abilities and motor skills development.

Bandjes: a highly playable flexible game

The result was a game that was very exciting across the strongly varying levels in the classes we worked with at Orion. Because the concept was so simple at its core, it remained a lot of openness, and space to reinterpret the gameplay by adding rules, props or objectives. It turned out it was a game playable across ages and abilities: our partners, friends, parents and kids all played together at the final presentations at MediaLAB.


Bandjes was presented at Media Art Futures Interactivos? 2015 conference in Murcia, where the first iteration of the prototype was developed as well in co-creation with conference participants and organisers.

Students: Nick Bijl, Dennis Reep, Anne de Bode, Jill de Rooij, Alexander Sommers. Frank Honkoop & Marjolein Duchateau (Orion). Menno Deen (Lectoraat Games & Play)

amsterdam, Design Coaching, games, high school