Masters Degree Study – Module 5 – Precis, “Works Exhibited”

Gareth Sleightholme

MA – Design

Masters Degree Research & Practice – Module 5 – Precis


Hull School of Art and Design

Leeds Metropolitan University

August 2013



Dated w/c 12/08/13


Illustrations List:

Fig.1: G.Sleightholme, Survey Results on Reading Habits in Art School Students as Infographic (plus detail), (2013), Digital, 400mm x 1040.

Fig.2: G.Sleightholme, Research Results, and analysis of data in preparation for visualisation, (2013), Digital, N/A

Fig.3: G. Sleightholme, Potential Links between Empathy and Creativity, with detail showing the possible links between Evolutionary Empathy, Deep Reading, the Reading of Fiction and Creativity. Plus a detail showing links to prior investigations. (2011-2013), Digital/Traditional, 297mm x 700mm (approx).

Fig.4: G. Sleightholme, A Visual Mnemonic for Three Years of Games Design, (2013), Traditional, pencils, ink, through to digital (SketchUp, Illustrator, Photoshop), 800mm x 1700mm.

Fig.5: G. Sleightholme, GameHacker (an Educational Game with no Rules), , developing further visual tools that use a stealth approach to developing conceptual awareness of difficult areas – in this instance Games

 Section 1 – Module 5 – Precis Overview

The work developed over Module 5 of my Masters Degree Study predominantly looks at the relationships between Creativity and those areas which students often see as belonging to a set of priorities that are “Other” or at least outside of their Practical Art & Design Studio Work. It attempts to do this not by focusing on sub-sets, but by stepping back and looking at holistically considered links and teaching strategies.

Subjects such as Fluency vs. Literacy, Reading for Pleasure, General Knowledge, the Importance of Fiction, Geography & Travel, a little bit of General Science, History (global and local); as well as somewhat more ephemeral areas such as Combinatorial Creativity, Synthesis of Influences, Deep Reading and Evolutionary Empathy, the ingredients of Imagination and the myths of being Born Talented and the lone Uninfluenced Genius, the Dunning-Kruger Effect, all areas which seem to either cause dismay or to wash over (as unimportant extras) in several of my own students.

In a practical sense this research has been explored through the development of “Visual Gateways” through which students might access an understanding of the integral connection between, creativity, subject focused Art School studies and the above seemingly peripheral subject areas.

To achieve this I have looked at the assignment of conceptual values to visual and tactile imagery and tools, visualising metaphor and aphorism, and of course research into the preferences of this particular demographic of students, particularly with regard to reading, and cultural activity that might develop wider contexts for students own studies.

The content of this this last module, though abridged and polished for exhibition, should not necessarily be seen as the culmination of the research and practice undertaken as part of my Masters Degree (it is far from concluded, and I will continue to add to it as part of my personal practice as both a creative and an educationalist), but instead a point at which an exhibition of the work can act as a “proof of concept” that the work may well have value in the fields explored. A portfolio, if you will, for showing possible future research collaborators the possibilities and potential outcomes in a neatly packaged form.

The show its self shows only part of this research, but highlights my research and subsequent design and visualisation work which as expanded on above looks at developing an understanding of, and devising countering mechanisms for the disenfranchisement with “deeper reading” and an avoidance of “change” as part of students Art School student’s studies; and further an exploration of the impact that this might have on their studio work, showing in a highly visual, and in some examples, a tactile way, the links between the Will to Experience/Change, Deep Reading, Evolutionary Empathy (as opposed to compassion) and Imagination and Creativity.

Due to the diversity of the projects that have emerged as part of the investigation, it will be more appropriate to discuss inspirations and theoretical underpinnings on an individual basis in each of the four sections below and in relation to the exhibited pieces.

Section 2: MA Project: Development and Modification

This document may, due to the covering of four related but distinct project outcomes, appear lengthy by comparison to convention but if seen as four precis, joined by a joint introduction it becomes a less daunting and more conventional document.

The four areas of study I have focused on for my exhibition are:

Precis 1, “Reading Habits in Students” – Developing Infographic materials based upon Survey Results for use as a possible counter for cognitive dissonance”.

Fig 1 shows the results of a survey carried out over a number of months across a student body comprised of level 4 – 6 (degree students) and to a lesser extent, level 3 (final year B/Tec students)* across two linked Art Schools within the same city. The survey numbers represented approximately 10% of the HSAD art school intake across three years. Ideally this survey will be updated in time for the coming enrolment and a more comprehensive data visualisation graphic produced.

*many of whom will progress onto the HE courses surveyed.

With the data recovered I had hoped to show (through something more solid than the usual “anec-data” of education) the attitudes of students to reading, deep reading and wider cultural activity and so a clearer picture of the links of those attitudes to recent discussion amongst “creatives”, “writers on creativity” and recent scientific study in this field.

This part of the wider module [5] would also develop into an exercise in further developing my data visualisation skills and investigating whether visualisation of these results and their use in the studio environment might help engage students with aspects of their own self-motivated learning that non-visual statistical data and the common anec-data-eque rhetoric of the classroom/studio might not.

Before developing the graphics, the returned results of the survey below had to be examined and prepared for visualisation (Fig 2).

It was clear from early collation of the results that the information was going to be difficult to handle or express as a coherent argument, whether this was to do with my relative inexperience of gathering/dealing with this type of data, or the at times broad and seemingly unrelated (and sometimes rather pointed) questions I could not tell.

Returning to the key motivator for my investigation (i.e. do students read enough to augment their studio study?) everything fell into place once I decided to split the data around the results of question 4.

Namely, “Would you say that you only read when necessary?”.

This question had arisen from watching some students in study avoiding where possible the act of reading, whilst seeing and hearing others (a smaller percentage it must be said) discussing books they had read for pleasure.

With that at the heart of he investigation It seemed like a good idea to split the group here and compare the results of those students who might refer to themselves as what Bill Hicks called “Readers” and those that self-confessedly are not.

The factual results of the survey are delivered in colour, so taking up the upper part of the infographic.

Everything below the colour coded survey results are an extention of the information into a wider discussion, an extrapolation of the data above it to show, in a visual way, how a lack of “information/culture > in”, may indeed be related to a lack of “creativity/contextually relevant creativity < out”, akin to William Gibson’s discussion of the “personal micro-culture” (Gibson, 2012), Kirby Ferguson’s Everything is a Remix, Austin Kleon’s “you are, in fact, a mash-up of what you let into your lives” (Kleon, 2012), Paula Scher’s “every experience… and everything in my life that’s in my head” philosophy (Curtis, 2010), and of course the work of commentators and creatives like Kio Stark, Debbie Millman and Maria Popova (a spokesperson and media conduit for many of these ideas) and her discussions of “combinatorial creativity”.

We are shaped and fashioned by what we love.

– Geothe (Kleon, 2012, p11)

Garbage in, Garbage out.

– Austin Kleon’s Mother (Kleon, 2012, p13)

Moving on from context and to look at things from (in this case) a not unrelated visual standpoint I had explored a range of possible visualisation methods (which are discussed and illustrated on my research and development blog), some of which erred toward un-ethical data-junk/decoration, and other which leaned towards elaborate 3D automata, but eventually, as I approached the end of the final analysis of all the data, the visual scheme took a much more contemporary infographic influenced turn. I returned to the reading I had done in year one of my studies looking at accurate data visualisation work (MacCandless, 2012) and the methodologies of ethical statisticians and data illustrators regarding the avoidance of data-junk and data decoration (Tufte, 1997), and of course the direct figurative influence of Otto Neurath’s isotype designs.

I developed Icons in my sketchbook, eventually refining them digitally, most of the final graphic icons where collated and created using a drawing tablet, straight into Photoshop, much of which was repeated layers and repeated imagery to create the pseudo bar charts of book and CD stacks etc.

Wherever possible I asked and consulted with people in the demographic range I was aiming at where the iconography I was using was consistent with their own worldview (teenagers and adults in education).

The final touch on the overall content design was bringing this discussion of “change” avoidance and its relation to creativity as a context for the investigation. I tried to reflect the imagery above it and showed two students, one refusing resolutely to approach or feeling that a barrier was present when the subject of reading was (for study or for pleasure) broached.

It is my intention to use the local results visualised (Fig 1) as part of the broad study skills teaching undertaken within the studio. Possible amendments to the survey, doing it online etc might allow for a nationally based (or more beneficial probably, regional) catchment of results.

Precis 2, Developing Visualisations showing the Combinatorial nature of the Creative Process.

As discussed, elements of the infographic discussed in Precis 1 were influenced by the study undertaken in this section.

This aspect of my research has become the core investigation in the final modules of my study, and will be central to any further study and investigation.

This investigation looks at the possibilities of developing holistically oriented visualisations that may help students understand the combinatorial nature of work in the creative sphere. It does not (it must be stated), however, purport to show a simplistic view of “How Creativity Works”, but instead a map of those things which have been shown to aid and detract from the creative act if the “will to experience” is engendered, with the ultimate goal of allowing the student to place themselves in the most optimized position regarding experience, influence and the opportunity to synthesize those experiences of the world and project them in such a way that others will value/recognize or in turn empathise with the creative work produced.

In particular I was fascinated with discussions of the possibility of a neurobiological explanation that shows that creativity is not something some people are “given” as an “extra” (the myth of born-talent), but is instead an aberrant cognitive behavior; a shutting down of one part of the brain that by accident allows a process, or a set of processes that should not normally happen, to happen.

It seems that “normal brain function” shuts down when presented with extraordinary circumstance – such as the need for a creative solution – , almost like a panic mode, that leaves the brain to do the best it can with more unusual or not common connectivity and brain usage. The shutting down of visual cortex during moments of insight, the slowing down of traffic in the brain causing aberrant routing of information that might just be those unique ideas happening.

Dr Rex Jung states that the shutting down of prefrontal cortex during improvisation means calculated risk taking is accessed/allowed. i.e. Insight, Divergent Thinking and Improvisation (Horizon, The Creative Brain, 2013).

Several other psychologists and neuroscientists also appear to be coming to similar conclusions, many agreeing that a high IQ alone does not guarantee or indeed augment creativity, while people with personalities that readily access a “divergent thinking” model can expect that augmentation.

“Divergent Thinking” though clearly of evolutionary value can again be labeled aberrant, and as a social trait, often is, as it is found predominantly as a characteristic of those who value nonconformity, curiosity, willingness to take risks, and persistence. (Carole & Carol, 2008). Something Edward de Bono commented on some four decades earlier (de Bono, 1967) while discussing Lateral Thinking, something he saw as separate to creative thinking (the only difference its seems is, again, the value of craft in the latter).

Simone Ritter et al believe that surprising or “unusual experience” (Ritter et al, 2012) invites the brain and ones personal thinking to be “more open” to new ways of solving or approaching problems, i.e. “cognitive flexibility”. She has examined the sidestepping of “functional fixedness” through exposure to unusual experience in her virtual reality lab (related directly to my thoughts on experience/mirror neurones/vicarious experience/evolutionary empathy etc.).

This is also the case with simpler  “Schema Violation”, something that even crops up in mundane aphoristic lists for boosting creativity (for example, the act of walking a different way into work to promote new cognitive responses).

Ritter et al’s research does however seem to discount vicarius experience, which I feel might be an over simplification dependant on the presentation of the experience that for the sake of clean results, possibly sidesteps the nature of combinatorial creativity (akin to news papers trotting out tropes such as “bread/bacon/cheese causes cancer”). Some of Ritter’s own research is gleaned from experiments in a virtual reality lab for instance, so why discount the equally genuine experiential reactions of people to highly emotive/poignant literature or cinema which can be just as wholly “immersive” dependent on its quality.

But, it is interesting that as with morbid psychological tendencies such as apophenia (something I feel might have links to the creative process), this is aberrant brain behaviour, the brain in error of normal function, or at least behaving against typical function; and this it seems is where creativity and invention or insight occurs.

Clearly this ability to draw insight and other positive outcomes from a seeming error is of evolutionary advantage. Aberrant behaviours/mis-functioning brain sections (frontal cortex closure etc.) almost reflective of the evolutionary advantage provided by mistakes in genome transference in positive mutation have had.

With a few exceptions, cells do not have specialized mechanisms for creating changes in the structures of their genomes: evolution depends instead on accidents and mistakes. Most of the genetic changes that occur result simply from failures in the normal mechanisms by which genomes are copied or repaired when damaged…(Alberts, Johnson, Lewis et al 2002).

This all points to a possible model (Fig 3) for engendering creative action partly through exposure to “change” and “new experience” (clearly craft is of value in many instances, and that involves another form of will, and again relates to Bloom)

The model I began to investigate (Fig 3) involves the above thinking along with more conventional ideas related to Bloom and Mazlow, including a reworking of Bloom’s taxonomies relating to creativity.

Other cultural influences were explored looking at expressions of psychological concepts related to play and imagination such as Vygotsky’s notion of the “Pivot” (Vygotsky, 1978) at the point of conceptual simulacra acceptance, and noting a related conceptual leap involved at the point of projection of experienced and synthesised experience in order to model that nebulous, ephemeral idea of “imagination”, an often mythologised asset by, and about, creatives.

Precis 3, Developing Visual Tools to aid the student (Art School students having chosen visual information as a primary interface) navigate their studies in a holistic way, using visualised metaphors, and visual mnemonics.


The large graphic produced (Fig 4) explores the potential of a holistic approach to information dissemination through visualised metaphors and symbolic imagery. Avoiding the favoured compartmentalisation approach of looking at parts of a whole in isolation, instead trying to present a balanced representation of useful information for the (in this case study) BA Games Design student (Text & Image).

Seeking to reference something other than the day-to-day timetabled experience of the student (i.e. module titles and specific brief materials), the imagery seeks to represent something closer to the transferable concepts and skill sets that will accumulate through three years of study. Those things the students will hopefully take with them upon leaving.

In this sense the imagery is not designed to replace the written word but to add to an extended wealth of information using the very skill sets we hope they will have been, or in some cases about to begin, learning.

As discussed in several prior texts and posts in my research, I do not favour the visual here because I believe that all art students are Visual Learners as often proposed or implied in research or eduational texts such as Neil Fleming’s VAK/VARK and earlier neoro-linguistic programming models (Hawk TF & Shah AJ, 2007), I tend to err towards Coffield’s sceptisism (Coffield et al, 2004) in this regard. That said, these students have shown a intrinsically motivated predisposition towards the preference of imagery simply by walking through the door of an Art School as opposed to any other type of institution, it should not then, be too much of a leap  to see that imagery/visual language may be a possible gateway product through which to address/engage them effectively.

So why an illustration built up of symbols rather than a flowchart or some other visual form? The answer is complex and covered at several points in my earlier research, but mainly,Aristotle.

The greatest thing by far is to have command of metaphor. …for to make good metaphors implies an eye for resemblances (Aristotle, Poetics, 335BCE).

This act of identifying resemblances is at the heart of art and design practice despite for the most part remaining unspoken about. The craft of coding one thing with references to another or several other concepts is the skill that makes everything from the sympathetic magic of Lascaux’s cave paintings, modern advertising, poetry, comedy and writing itself, as an effective tool for communication, work. What Robert Frost (in an interview in The Atlantic, 1962) described as the “feat of association”, the height of which “is a good metaphor”.

So, here I had to be able to develop imagery that looked to convey specific concepts and ideas and the visualisation of metaphorical or analogical extensions seemed in this context to be an appropriate tool..

…one need only think of the frequently metaphorical nature of oneric [dream] images …the verbal itself often elicits references to visual, aural, tactile, and olfactory experiences (Eco, 1984).

With these thoughts in mind almost every element from placement to rotation was considered in the design of the visuals, rather than an arbitrary composition based on a particular aesthetic (again harking back to Tufte’s avoidance of decoration of data wherever possible – Tufte, 1997).

Specific though perhaps not so obvious examples include:

In the Year 1 Visual (Fig 3, Upper Left): The hangman game and dice are placed in the shadow  of the toolbox, showing the sublimation of game play related study to the building of transferable design skills. The Rubic’s Cube dismantled and in the process of being put together rather than solving it in the conventional way, looking at alternative solutions to difficult problems. The Idea Helmet/thinking cap rests upon books and a sheet of paraedolia sketch exercises, showing that ideation is built on study and producing large bodies of initial design work.

In the Year 2 Visual (Fig 3, Centre): Theory study is physically linked to Game-play, Environment Design and Client Related practice and the Self-initiated Project, showing the interrelated skills and knowledge needed to be evidenced in project work in this year. Steps leading into the book piles, showing that some deeper reading around subjects might be necessary. The majority of the Games Board, central to the image is built up on subjects studied in year one (see the labels on the boxes).

In the Year 3 Visual (Fig 3 Lower Right): The boat denoting the Final Major Project is being readied, packed with the toolbox and the gamesbox, showing that the project’s content should have content built on studies from years one and two, including Design Skills and Gameplay related knowledge. The boats name “Frank’s Song 2” shows that it may be related just bigger than the self initiated project from year two (a boat of a similar name in the visual, if smaller in size). Frank’s Song? “I Did It My Way”.

In the Module Shape Diagram (Fig 3, Lower Left) I have chosen to show the Critical and Theoretical Studies strand “within” the studio based strands, to show that it is integral, and not a separate subject existing outside of “what they came here to study”.

I openly acknowledge that for some students the visual language explored here may still need some decoding, if that is the case it does not mean the visual has failed, it just means a “shift in gear” on the part of the tutor to explain possible meanings within the imagery; the graphic becoming a different but still valid learning tool, looking at visual language, semiotics and symbolism prior to fulfilling its primary remit as a mnemonic to augment text based descriptions of the student journey.

It is my intention that the development of this visual will not only add value to the student experience through the para-Socratic questioning of their existing knowledge and their ability to find a map that shows why we teach what teach , but how that teaching and suggested study builds up over three years into a cohesive whole. As well as acting as a handy Mnemonic reference for myself as a tutor when explaining the above.

My extensive notes on the practical development and design of the imagery and this final graphic can be found on my blog.

The context/subject dealt with in this graphic was one of several explored at sketch stage; these others (still to be drawn up as additional imagery) include:

  • “Looking at the myth of tutors Marking Down project work”
  • “Hours worked at home vs. hours worked at college, a work life balance chart for students engaged in HE study”
  • “What happens if I fail to submit work in time/at all for my degree?”
  • “How a project travels through a Games Design Company”

All of which stemmed from an idea explored by a colleague and myself to create a large graphic looking at “How a project travels through a Graphic Design Agency”.

Of all the work produced over the two years this possibly bears the closest resemblance to my previous work and my original intentions for my study; the reliance on representational (if at times also symbolic) drawing as an underpinning factor in the visual, as well as its format being print based (a poster, if you will).

It will be interesting to see results based upon the reaction of students (and educators) beyond those who have seen the early tests and development.

The graphic exhibited will hopefully be being used with our BA Games Design students this coming semester (September 2013), whilst in a further development of the concept, an interactive online version will be explored.

Precis 4, Developing further visual tools that use a stealth approach to developing conceptual awareness of the importance of deeper research.

The Socratic questioning method mentioned above has been one of the most successful studio tools I have found as an educator. Allowing students to take ownership of their own learning and their experience of learning. The boredom many students find themselves lamenting probably stems from the passivity of much of their chosen activity and interactivity. Even those students who every year declare themselves avid gamers are simply admitting that they are willing to hand over their cerebral activity to, in many cases, other distant played creatives (geographically and perhaps culturally and so conceptually) who have made decisions about what they can and can’t do in an environment/theme dictated by even more distant “market forces”.

The leap that these students then had to make from passive consumers of games to investigative and reflective developers of content for others is large. Especially when moved into a module in which they are confronted (perhaps for the first time in their education experience) with difficult to pronounce philosopher’s names, let alone their work.

It had also occurred to me very early in my lecturing on a broad curriculum based games design course, we (the tutors) find ourselves walking a fine line between teaching “Games Design” and “Asset Development”.

I can understand how the student’s interpretation of what they are doing  in college/at university can begin to lean that way, especially perhaps for those interested in 3D modelling, and especially for the first half of the first year whilst reorienting themselves to self motivated learning and higher academic standards.

I also understand, because I personally place a great deal of stock in the design process and drawing, having a background in illustration and production design. But as beautiful and interesting as Concept Art and 3D modelling for Games can be, it is far from all there is regarding Games Design, and we should be exploring the theoretical side of Games Creation with our students as well.

Previous modules had highlighted the valuable potential of tapping into the competitive culture of these gamer students (The Drawing Game), and so it seemed an interesting model to use in the developing of an understanding of content development and conventions within gaming (other subjects might want to take note also, UKIE statistics state that 1 in 3 people in the UK now describe themselves as gamers).

The process of teaching this subject can be difficult, especially as this more theoretical side to the Gameplay/Games Design design process (especially with students who are deeply immersed in playing games) often remains hidden from the year one degree student, overlaid as it often can be with the distraction of tangibles such as “high end graphics” and flashy visuals.

This process often involves the “painful” exercise of relinquishing of one set of values and the uptake of another, that I have often described as a difficult bit of surgery, the separation of the gamer from the potential designer, and the showing of one to the other so they become aware of each other.

My Game Hacker research project had in its conception seemed like a simple way to do all of the above.

  • Develop autonomy with regards to rules and challenges in game play design
  • Develop an awareness of groupings and commonality of conventions of game play and game mechanics across a range of games, across a range of media.
  • Show that their knowledge of gaming and games design mechanics and conventions goes deeper than the passive playing of games and the competitive playground barracking of peers with personal high scores and other competition oriented stat’s.
  • Whilst building an awareness that the process of imbuing games with challenge and reward through mechanics and gameplay design is not self-generating or a result of self-evolving code, but designed by individuals and collaborators with purpose and knowledge.

It is intended to augment the sessions in which we look at the Theoretical & Psychological elements to/behind Games and Play (in particular the module previously called Aspects of Play), looking at the theory of Flow (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi), the work of Callois and others, as well as ideas related to “Gamification“.

All of which gives students the opportunity to understand/predict audience expectations, as well as a little more structure by allowing them to identify the core types of play they are directing their audience to partake in when designing “game-play” elements or rules for their game prototypes.

The term Gameplay has been deconstructed, defined and described in various ways, Sidney K. (“Sid”) Meier, the American/Canadian games designer (universally acclaimed by critics as one of the most influential practitioners in his field) and architect of the game “Civilization“, suggested it was simply,

“A series of interesting choices.” (Rollings & Morris, 1999, p38).

Somewhat simplistic, but without doubt exposing the major element that can be lost or overlooked by students of Games Design. Especially in their desire to rest control from their potential audience with fixed-future characters and linear stories and plots; i.e. Choice.

That said, it is possible to draw parallels between complex game choices and branching decision systems found within fully immersive digital game worlds and their more overt (yet potentially just as complex) counterparts found within board games. Using board games allows us to distance ourselves from elements such as graphics, animation and 3D modelling and concentrate on game mechanics and structure.

It is for this reason I decided to look at boardgames as the starting point for a way of teaching students about designing rules and “a series of interesting (adaptable and expanding) choices”.

Game Hacker the experimental board game I have developed is designed to strip some of that distracting digital sheen/or “chrome” away and get the students to look at the fundamentals of devising rules and regulatory devices, whilst still being fun to play.

Game Hacker an Abstract Strategy Game with no rules (until you make them).

The game would be presented as other boardgames as a boxed set with a set of (none exclusive) quality pieces reflective of “German (or German-like) Games” that can be augmented at a later date with either, additional versions of the original box, or smaller bespoke/branded expansion packs or sets (see blog descriptions of expansion possibilities), or simply “hacked with pieces,  and gameplay from other games.

Full description of the potentials for expansion and the pysical design development and production of the game can be found on my blog.

A series of repeating jigsaw pieces (9 distinct repeating pieces, that interlock/extend endlessly like a train set or a scaletrics track – see Fig 5) some with pre-assigned values in the form of graphic icons that can be “interpreted” by the players as rules, actions or mechanics. For example: Roll again; Portal in/Portal out; Lose a Life; Attack; Miss a Turn; Puppet/control other Players; Shift Board Tiles; Co-Op, and Supernatural Power-boost. These mechanics would be augmented with “Chance Cards”, with a dditional attributes: Supernatural Powerup; Lose a Turn; Portal In/Portal Out; Flight; Write a New Rule; Get out of Jail; Go to Jail; Gain/Lose Wealth; Cards to collect to allow free movement of board tiles etc (fuller breakdowns of these attributes can be found on my blog). These “drafted cards” will alter game play by offering the chance to add or counteract existing rules or just add further complexity.

There is of course nothing to stop players setting the tiles up to represent other game boards, the interlocking tiles can be configured to represent a typical chess/draughts board, Ludo, the Cluedo board or even the ancient game of HafneTafl or any variations on these themes.

Further custom game elements that fix to the tiles (via jigsaw fixings) could be added by people/designers and upon a commercial release shown on a central forum on the internet.  Bespoke Game Hacking would be encouraged, it would be great to see some of the invention used in the construction of Domino-Topple Challenges and Rube Goldberg Machines. This could be shared and so continue to expand the games potential.

User testing with none games students, with ages ranging from mid-teens to mid-forties have proved successful. The current game is a prototype, designed primarily for use in my own studio with my Games Design students and as such it continues to evolve, but it is my hope to look for a publisher to discuss its development for a wider market.

I am particularly grateful for the assistance through the provision of additional examples, discussion and read-throughs given by Paul Starkey, Nathaniel Griffiths-Scott and Matt Heaney, and to Sarah Regan, Adam Brocklebank, Natalie Wilson, Gene Little and Amara Tonkiss for their hours of help user testing the game.

In conclusion my practice across all these projects as always have followed a typical design process starting with: Drawings, Sketches, Mind Maps, Diagrams, Pen and Ink notes and doodled ideas and the use of 3D Modelling software.

Midpoint iterations have as predicted been created in Photoshop, Illustrator, and digital Print (not printmaking).

Some of the final iterations and developments final pieces included elements of solid 3D design (non-digital), product design and hand drawn schematics as well as Printmaking and Photoshop, and I used several methods not common to my practice involving laser cutting and heavy traditional paper pressing to achieve special effects such as the embossing of my Game Hacker box lid. All of which can be found documented on my reflective and development blog.

It should also perhaps be noted that though not involved in Fine Art practice at all (making final “exhibition” a redundancy in the process of design, replaced instead by client presentation techniques) the course exhibition has led me to engage skill sets I have used in my practice of museum and exhibition design, including the early schematics for the shows shape within the space, and the practical design of the exhibition brochure/catalogue, again, developmental notes and design discussion for all these areas can be found on my blog.

Finally, to reiterate, this body of work is just the start of a much larger research project that will be ongoing alongside my educationalist practice, continuing to look at engaging students with those aspects of their studies that they often see as irrelevant or divorced from their studio practice, through the development of holistic visuals and other non-text oriented tools that can act as visual mnemonics or maps through this meta-learning process, and hopefully lead them into a greater engagement with Deep Reading, and Broader Experience & Change as positive aspects of advanced study.

Appendix 1 – Selected Inspiration, Sources etc.

Map books, Infographics books, the work of practitioners such as Olly Moss, Edward Tufte, David McCandless, Jason Munn, Jay Ryan, my own practice, the relationships between environment and information (several years working as designer in visitor attractions and museums), large scale text as art (Paula Scher, Gordon Young/Why Not Associates – “The Comedy Carpet“ – etc.).

…finally, related to, and perhaps springing from, the above – New/Current issues relating to the combinatorial approach to various educational theories and a more unified, holistic overview of education theory related to “creativity”.

The work and discussion of people like Austin Kleon, Milton Glaser, Maria Popova, Paula Scher, Debbie Millman, Charlie Rose’ Brain Series (Episode Twelve: Creative Brain), a discussion about creativity with artists Richard Serra and Chuck Close, neurologist Oliver Sacks, Ann Temkin, chief curator of painting and sculpture at The Museum of Modern Art and Eric Kandel of Columbia University, “Working on your Own” – Susan Cain on Introverts, Extroverts and Ambiverts (the ones in the middle) – Visual Version

Also looking at the psychology based ideas such as the Theory of Flow – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Bloom et al and related areas touching on the act of creativity, and teaching creativity in schools, and how to inspire personal exploration of those theories in our students.

Appendix 2 – Reasoning and References.

Clearly this type of game puts the onus on the players to develop there own rules, and to do this effectively they must probably go through a phase of trial and error, perhaps failing to create a rule that allows satisfactory gameplay and having to recover from failure through redeveloping ideas. At which point we can begin to see the whole game as a metaphor for Independent Study, particularly with their engagement with the theory of Games and Play.

Caillois – Four Play Forms

1 – Agon, – Competition, the opportunity to beat an opponent. Chess being a highly Agonistic game. – GAME HACKER can be played as a single or multi-player game against a custom devised system or as a player-on-player attack and defence strategy game.

2 – Alea, – Chance, rolling (fairly balanced) dice for example. GAME HACKER allows for multiple chance opportunities through its hybridisation of various Dice and custom Teetotums etc; as well as the incorporation of Card Drafting.

3 – Mimicry, – mimesis or roleplaying …what BGG calls “Acting”. GAME HACKER allows for themes or “chrome” to be over-layed only dependent on what the players have to hand or their own interest. The game could be spy themed, one minute, science fiction themed the next. Plots and “roleplay” could be devised to the complexity that the players deem suitable. Or abstracted to the point of no Theme or “acting”.

4 – and Ilinx, – from the Greek For “Whirlpool”, or vertigo, in the sense of perception altering elements to games, for example the game where you spin around a cricket wicket with your head touching it and then try to run in a straight line, blind mans bluff, the “drunken” unresponsive controls in the bar in the digital game Red Dead Redemption, and even the altered or obfuscated viewpoints mimicking the “fog of war” evident in this emphasised 3D version of chess,   “Rough Terrain Chess” (below). – GAME HACKER can be played in a way that new configurations can happen mid-play, at the roll of a dice or the draught of a card.

GAME HACKER can also (as many other games) be devised/hacked as a drinking game… and that definitely covers Ilinx.

Csikszentmihalyi’s Theory of Flow (see part of my “Hacked” version of his chart above) – to me there are clear links between Flow, a students ownership of their own learning and engagement too. Perhaps the conditions and causality are not yet fully clear as to the links between those students willing to push into unfamiliar territory regarding knowledge and experience (See other posts on The Learning Process/Fear of Failure) and Flow – but through observation it can be seen that those students willing to push into this area (hopefully the “Game Hacker” Board Game encourages that)

Csikszentmihalyi stated that happiness is derived from personal development and growth – and flow situations permit the experience of personal development.

He suggests that three conditions that have to be met to achieve a Flow state:

  1. One must be involved in an activity with a clear set of goals and progress. This adds direction and structure to the task.
  2. The task at hand must have clear and immediate feedback. This helps the person negotiate any changing demands and allows him or her to adjust his or her performance to maintain the flow state.
  3. One must have a good balance between the perceived challenges of the task at hand and his or her own perceived skills. One must have confidence that he or she is capable to do the task at hand.

 – Csikszentmihalyi, M.; Abuhamdeh, S. & Nakamura, J. (2005), “Flow”, in Elliot, A.,

Handbook of Competence and Motivation, New York: The Guilford Press, pp. 598–698

Put More simply:

Clear Goals – in this instance – To devise and implement rules for a game of their own making – whilst learning about games, and hopefully having FUN.

Asking the student to tap into their own existing knowledge and to value their own grasp of gaming convention as a means to creative development of unique outcomes, not unlike the premiss of Socratic Questioning.

Immediate Feedback – Competition and each progressive achievement or successive “roll” and move provides a feeling of moving forwards. Even seemingly negative aspects such as missing a turn or having pieces removed from the board, in a game situation increases engagement and perhaps teaches something about devising games with balance and challenge.

Balance between opportunity and capacity (or current skill level) – As above, this game can be played simply by rolling dice and moving pieces towards a central goal to start with, the players adding levels of complexity as they go.




Bloom – In line with some recent rethinking regarding Bloom’s Taxonomy – Here Reversed and seen as part of a cycle where Creating or Playing can happen first…

Semiotics – The ability to infer different meanings in a particular sign, or to assign meaning to a particular symbol or signifier. This in itself could be a session related to critical and theoretical study.


Appendix 3 – Other Rule Hacker/Extension Tile Pack Games include:

a – Fluxx – A rolling rule adapting card game.

b – Carcasonne – A strategy based extending terrain game – Visual

c – (The World Of) Munchkin by Steve Jackson (US) & John Kovalic.


Appendix 4 – Other interesting Games utilising Symbols over Text include:

This film/Raven/tarot themed game over on by Todd Sanders (dumarest123)

Graphics Resources – I took a look at after a discussion with Paul, a great resource if only for inspiration.


Appendix 5 – Illustrations relating to the Text (here embeded above with hyperlinks).


Selected Bibliography:

McCandless, D, Information is Beautiful. (2012) Collins.

Tufte E. R., Visual Explanations (Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative), 1997, Graphic Press LLC, USA.

Gibson, W. Distrust That Particular Flavour, 2012, Putnam.

Hodson et al, published in Psychological Science, Jan 5th 2012

Ritter, S M, Damian, R I, Derks J, Dijksterhuis A. et al. 2012, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Volume 48, Issue 4, p. 961-964

Wade, Carole; Tavris, Carol (2008). Inviation to Psychology. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson – Prentice Hall. p. 258. ISBN 978-0-13-601609-0.

de Bono, E., 1967, The Use Of Lateral Thinking, Penguin Books, GB.

Jønsson, A., Korfitzen, E.M., Heltberg, A., Ravnborg, M.H. and Byskov-Ottosen, E. (1993), Effects of neuropsychological treatment in patients with multiple sclerosis. Acta Neurologica Scandinavica, 88: 394–400. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0404.1993.tb05366.x (Page 6).

Alberts B., Johnson A., Lewis J, et al. Molecular Biology of the Cell. 4th edition. New York: Garland Science; 2002. How Genomes Evolve. Available from:

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological proceses. Chapter 6 Interaction between learning and development (79-91). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Heller S. & Vienne, V. 100 Things That Changed Graphic Design, 2012, Laurence King Publishers.

Hawk, T.F., Shah, A.J.. 2007 “Using Learning Style Instruments to Enhance Student Learning”, Desion Sciences Journal of Innovative Education.- http​​://

Coffield, F., Moseley, D., Hall, E., and Ecclestone, K. 2004, Should we be using Learning Styles? London: Learning and Skils Research Centre

Hawkes, T. Structuralism and Semiotics (New Accents), 1977 (2 edition 2003), Routledge, London/NewYork.

Eco, U., 1984, Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language, Indiana University Press/First Midland Book, USA

Arnheim, R. Art and Visual Perception (A Psychology of the Creative Eye) .

Baudrillard, J. 1990, Cool Memories 1980-1985, Verso, London/NewYork.

Bass, J, Kirkham, P. Saul Bass – A Life in Film & Design, 2011, Laurence King Publishers.

Glaser, M, Art Is Work, 2008, Overlook Duckworth. New York.

Gangwer, T. Visual Impact, Visual Teaching: Using Images to Strengthen Learning, (2009), Corwin Press, USA.

Rollings, Andrew; Morris, Dave (1999). Game Architecture and Design. Coriolis Group Books. p.38.


Curtis H. Paula Scher – Artist Series – via

At 9pm, BBC 2, 16th March 2013, Horizon aired a programme The Creative Brain ”…How Insight Works”.- Here on BBC iplayer

The Visual Teaching Alliance – Online resource for and by teachers

Board Game Geeks’ Glossary of Board Gaming Terms & Board Game Geeks’ Glossary of Game Mechanisms

~ by hesir on August 19, 2013.

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