Denis Robert, Canadian Ambassador to the Kingdom of Denmark, interviewed Philippe Beaulieu-Brossard, Co-founder and Co-executive President of Archipelago of Design on Project Albatross at the Danish Architecture Center during Project Albatross’ co-design workshop in Copenhagen, June 2021.
Co-design workshop outcomes
Between June 22-25, the first Project Albatross co-design workshop took off after two online preparatory sessions. The aim of the workshop was to set the conditions for a ‘military design game jam’ where participants would attempt to radically re-imagine learning design as a serious game, or as we prefer to frame it, as a virtual transformational learning experience for defence & security contexts.
During these four days, we immersed participants from the Innovation Methodologies for Defence Challenges (IMDC) network into the world of video game designers. We provided minimal guidelines hoping that this would lead participants to prototype unexpected game features by leveraging multidisciplinary teams composed of senior military officers, student military officers, military design instructors, scholars as well as software and game designers.
Learning from veteran game designers Ilan Graicer, Louis-Martin Guay and Thomas Howalt, we challenged ourselves by resisting the academic workshop model that we became too comfortable with in the past. Instead of inviting participants to talk, we invited them to make. This was easier said than done. On June 22nd, participants conceptualized by talking and whiteboarding. On June 23rd, we left no other choices than making. Many turned their game concepts into physical representations using Legos or cards. But on June 24th, participants became full-fledged makers by turning their prototype into interactive playful game features. Participants overcame their own limits. They succeeded in following their untethered imagination of what a military design inducing learning experience might be like in a physical game format. By the same token, they experienced, more or less painfully for some, and more or less playfully for others, that design concepts cannot stand on their own. In other words, participants reconciled themselves with prototyping-testing as the core activity of game design, and perhaps, any design endeavour.
Each of the four teams developed around 3-4 game features in the end. Ofra Graicer’s team developed “Melt”, a series of game features leveraging Virtual Reality (VR) to re-imagine learning design as a sense-making experience. In so doing, they proposed a novel flight path for not only learning design theory, but also share what design feel like.
With “Fix It”, Col. Jean-Michel Millet’s team focused more on the role of empathy in design by forcing players to play one stakeholder to the next in continuous international peacebuilding negotiations.
With “IoS”, Col. Sonke Marahrens’ team focused more on creating uncertain conditions inviting novel strategies in global pandemic crisis management.
Finally, Col. (ret.) Jeremiah Monk’s online team consolidated their vision finding inspiration in the feedback loop between the Dungeon Master (DM) in Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) and the players. As in D&D, the DM (renamed Design Master here) becomes the interface between the players proposing novel design concepts and the environment – in the form of plausible future scenarios – forcing players to redesign. This feature enables the open-endedness that design requires and challenges linear approaches to complex problem sets.
We no longer navigate in unchartered skies anymore. The four prototypes combined with the very experience of prototyping them provided Project Albatross with the valuable unexpected insights required to move on. Thanks to the combined efforts of over 35 participants online and/or in person, we opened several flight paths that were unimaginable to us before the workshop. Whether we decide to include, to name a few, perceptual change, empathy, uncertainty, or feedback loop with the environment as game features, we know more how we might do so concretely now. And, thanks to co-designing, these flight paths are not only feasible, but they are also already resonating with the IMDC community as well as with some student officers from Canada, Denmark, and the United States.
In the near term, we will exploit as much as possible the hard-earned lesson that promising (game) design concepts cannot stand on their own. They are the result of a thousand prototyping-testing driven iterations. We will move towards cataloguing, crafting and prototyping design mindset inducing game mechanics in themselves including those iterated during the workshop. In so doing, we will more fully discover what might work, what might work differently than expected, and insure the playfulness of Albatross as a learning experience.
How might we play such a virtual transformational design learning experience? How might we set the rules? How might we make it fun? These questions may sound easy, but they are extremely demanding and will require a lot of prototyping and play-testing before we generate a proof of concept.
For this next part of the Project, we are looking for an aspiring game designer to assist us in the process of translating game design concepts into engaging playable features. For joining the core team for the next phase, see our job posting with deadline on Aug 7th.
We will keep the Albatross co-design community in the loop for follow-up events online and in person as we incrementally turn this dream into a reality. Please reach out to Project Manager Jonas Groesmeyer (firstname.lastname@example.org) to know more about the project and perhaps, to join us in this journey straddled on this majestic bird: the Albatross.
For reading about the experience of Andrew Barron, a participant, see his blogpost here.