Children’s playworlds are a complex interweaving of physical and digital dimensions, with the border areas between ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ becoming increasingly blurred. The popularity of apps like Pokémon Go and the growing use of these apps by young children suggest that mixed reality play is an expanding area. In these hybrid spaces, the distinctions between online and offline, physical and digital, real and virtual become increasingly hard to discriminate, with play moving across boundaries of space and time in new ways.
In March 2018 Kate Cowan will explore perspectives on mixed reality play through a short research visit to Denmark funded by the DigiLitEY COST Action. Linking with researchers from the University of Southern Denmark and toy designers from the LEGO toy company, this visit will focus on the newly-opened LEGO House in Billund which aims to bring together play, creativity and learning through exhibits spanning physical and digital forms.
Photos thanks to Patrick Otley and Jill Hawkins
The research visit will involve discussions with members of the LEGO design team, a seminar given at the University of Southern Denmark and a visit to the university’s partnership preschool to consider physical and virtual play in classrooms. Bringing together researchers and commercial toy designers, this collaboration will consider the possibilities and constraints of different toys and spaces for play and will investigate the liminal border-areas where physical and digital play are increasingly mixed.
Key insights will be shared through blog posts and a research report for DigiLitEY. You can follow updates from Kate on Twitter @katecowan
It is with considerable sadness that we report the death of Iona Opie (née Archibald) on 23 October 2017, aged 94. Her ground-breaking work on children’s folklore, especially play and games, undertaken together with her husband Peter, has been inspirational to our own research. In particular, the Opies’ archival collection, which Iona donated to the British Library, Bodleian Libraries and Folklore Society Archives, is central to our current project, Playing the Archive, and its predecessor, Children’s Playground Games and Songs in the New Media Age.
We are grateful to have had her support for this work, and glad to have the privilege, like many scholars around the world, to build on her legacy.
The team is beginning work on the immersive worlds component of the project. The VR and advanced visualisation specialists at the Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) at University College London, Valerio Signorelli and Andy Hudson-Smith, are testing out ideas for VR and AR (augmented reality) worlds. Working with the materials in the Opie Collection, they will help to bring the games and songs of the past to life. In the picture above we are testing a prototype for an augmented reality avatar.
Playing the Archive: Content Creation and Consumption in the Digital Economy is an ambitious programme of research and cultural production, exploring the nature of play by bringing together archives, spaces and technologies of play, along with people who play, both old and young. It runs from September 2017 to August 2019.
Funded by the EPSRC through the Content Creation and Consumption in the Digital Economy call, the project will digitise and catalogue substantial sections of the Opie manuscript archive at the Bodleian Libraries, creating a new catalogue designed and hosted by the Digital Humanities Institute at the University of Sheffield; design a virtual reality play environment based on the archive and install it at the V&A Museum of Childhood, London, and the Weston Park Museum, Sheffield; and build experimental ‘smart’ playgrounds in London and Sheffield.
Connected to the digitalisation of the Opie Papers, the project will create a virtual, immersive world enabling users both old and young to playfully engage with the archive, experiencing 1950-60s play as Virtual Reality, freely available to visitors at the V&A Museum of Childhood in London, and the Weston Park Museum in Sheffield.
This 3D, Virtual Reality experience will also include games played by today’s children, such as handclapping games with songs based on popular music and film. This work will be a collaboration between archivists and cataloguers at the University of Sheffield, and specialists in VR and advanced visualisation at the Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) at University College London. They will co-design these new tools with children and with older citizens who contributed to the original Opie surveys, now in their seventies.
Using the ideas created in the other parts of the project, the project will tackle one of the challenges of play in today’s society by building two experimental playgrounds in regeneration sites in Sheffield and London (the Queen Elizabeth II Olympic Park). These playgrounds will use innovative approaches to playspace and equipment, but also incorporate ‘smart’ objects linking physical play to the historic objects in the archives of the Bodleian and the V&A Museum of Childhood, both partners in the project who will contribute towards the design of the digital tools and resources. The playgrounds will exemplify ‘mixed reality’ play, combining the physical and the virtual, and linking the play cultures of playgrounds and videogames as they are already linked in children’s imaginations.
The catalogue for the first series of the Opie Archive is now available online. This series of documents includes documentation relating to the Opies’ book The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren (1959), including materials from their teacher-correspondents, as well as a wealth of material relating to children’s games and rhymes. Another set of documents includes entries to the Camberwell Public Libraries Essay Competition, showing how children understood the world around them and imagined the future.
Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford
Sarah Thiel has written a dedicated blog post on the Bodleian Libraries blog about the newly-catalogued collection.
One of the central strands of Playing the Archive is to digitalise the Opie Collection and create new ways for users to interact with it. The archive is housed at the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford. These two posts from the libraries’ blog discuss the origins of the archive, the challenges of cataloguing its material, and the personal papers of Peter Opie.
(Photo courtesy of Bodleian Library)
Nursery rhymes, childhood folklore, and play: The archive of Iona and Peter Opie
Eton College, a journey to India, and wartime Britain: Personal stories from the Opie Archive