Background

Embodied design methods are gaining popularity among design researchers. Through hands on, physical engagement of designers (and other stakeholders), they facilitate accessing and understanding present and future situations, contexts of use, target users, technology, and design opportunities (Höök et al. 2018; Márquez Segura et al., 2016a, 2016b; Wilde et al., 2017). Many of these methods involve designers role-playing as users or other relevant people in the context being designed for, as well as enacting contextual elements in the imagined context of use. For example, enacting the role of non-interactive objects and envisioned technology (Márquez Segura et al., 2016a, 2016b).

However useful for designers, methods for using role-playing in HCI and IxD have been created in ad-hoc and intuitive ways. The term ‘role-play’ is often used interchangeably with other embodied design methods, such as bodystorming (Buchenau and Suri, 2000; Márquez Segura et al., 2016b; Schleicher et al., 2010). At the same time, theories and design methods for designing through role-playing have developed in rich and nuanced ways, deserving additional attention in design research.

Here, we propose a workshop to learn about, engage with, and discuss larping (live action role playing) as an embodied design research method, in particular as: i) a sensitizing activity prior to design; and ii) a test-bed to investigate and further iterate design concepts and prototypes. The workshop is organized by design research experts in embodied design methods and larps, and it is aimed at those interested in embodied design methods, with or without experience with larps and with those methods.

Role-playing in the design process

Role-playing and play have long been used to help people inhabit new perspectives, establish social bonds and trust, and support mental and emotional well-being. The work of Boyd and Spolin laid the foundation of much early work on play, role-taking, and empathy (Drinko, 2013), and informs much contemporary research into play and identity, including the immensely influential work of DeKoven (DeKoven, 2013). Role-playing experiences can produce moments of temporary identity transformation by placing a player into the role of a character in a story (Tanenbaum and Tanenbaum, 2015) by using design strategies similar to those used when training actors to experience character transformations (Daw, 2004; Johnstone, 1987). This allows players to both take on a new perspective and perform a new identity. Exploring these alternate worlds allows for engaging with empathy for lived experiences from others’ points of views and within different contexts. Consequently, role-playing can be used to learn about and empathize with marginalized points of view; particularly in contexts of significant power differences (e.g., in medicine, doctors-in-training role-play situations from the perspective of patients (Nestel and Tierney, 2007)). The empathetic potential of role-playing has been used as a sensitizing tool for designers (Schleicher et al., 2010), to step into the user’s shoes (Boess et al., 2007) and “enact experiential awareness” prior to design (Schleicher et al., 2010). We argue that larps can go a step beyond by focusing on taking on something else than a role: a character with emotions, feelings, and agency.

Larps

Recreational larping has developed into a nuanced form of artistic and performative expression that lies at the intersection of physical games and participatory theatre. Although there are many larp styles and genres, a commonly shared characteristic of larps is that they allow participants to physically enact fictional characters in fictional worlds (Simkins, 2014).

Compared to other forms of role-playing used in HCI and IxD, larps have the potential to foster a deeper emotional connection to, and understanding of one’s and others’ characters, as well as a wide range of fictional situations and settings. In large part, this is due to how the larp experience is supported by a well-crafted combination of simulation, narration, character descriptions, and representational strategies that have been developed in larp design.

This can present important advantages in a design process, yet it also brings methodological challenges including the logistics of the larp experience, and facilitating the designers’ engagement with the larp experience. To circumvent this issue, in the workshop, we will use micro- or nano- larps like those within the larp anthology of #Feminism. These are scenarios that can be played by small groups of players (e.g. two), during a short period of time (10 minutes to 4hours), requiring minimal logistics (only basic props or none at all), which is a suitable format for a DIS workshop.

Larps in HCI

In HCI and IxD, larps have been mainly been used as a domain to design for (Dagan et al., 2019; Márquez Segura et al., 2018); or as a domain that can inspire technology design in other application domains (Márquez Segura et al., 2017). Although larps have also been used as sensitizing and educational tools (Mochocki, 2014; Bowman, 2014) in multiple settings, their usefulness to advance a design process has not yet been fully explored.

In this workshop, we will collectively experience and investigate the potential of larps to sensitize designers, and to further design concepts and prototypes. This will extend the body of work of larps, as well as embodied design methods in HCI and IxD.