Gamifying a Co-Design Workshop to Facilitate Playful Engagement

This research was done at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology as part of the exact project about designing playful movements and exergames. The academic outcome of this process is published in the following paper:

  • Louise Petersen Matjeka and Dag Svanæs. 2018. Gamifying an Exergame Co-Design Workshop – Playful Involvement of Experts in the Design Process of Balance Training Exergames. In Segah, Vienna, Switzerland, 2018. DOI: 10.1109/SeGAH.2018.8401343
  • The game prototype was presented at the Games 4 Health Conference 2018.

Research Topic

This research project explored facilitating the playful involvement of experts in co-design processes.

Problem Field

As part of the EXACT research project (a collaboration with the Department of Movement Science at NTNU) about exergames for older adults, I wanted to explore playful balance training exercises with physiotherapists. The goal was to gain an understanding of the composition and dynamics of balance training exercises as material for designing exergames.

To do so, I planned a co-design workshop with six physiotherapists working with physical training for older adults. The workshop was planned to explore the composition of playful movement for balance training. The workshop was planned as follows:

  • Playful warm-up with playing traditional games (kispus, etc – also called play building).
  • Knowledge sharing of balance training exercises among the physiotherapists.
  • Design workshop challenge; choose three exercises, and put them together in a playful sequence.

In the first workshop, the physiotherapists found great sequences to do. However, they were too complicated for non-elite gymnasts to learn and even less to perform. What went wrong?

Analysing the empirical data, the physiotherapists had reversed from the playful mindset at the beginning of the workshop to their professional mindset. Furthermore, they were feeling pressure to perform their best in front of their colleagues. As a solution, I turned the next workshop into a game.

Method and Analysis

Besides co-design workshops, the methods used for this study were; ethnographic observation and interviews (participant observer), the sessions were video recorded and annotated together with the results of the workshop (the movement sequences). The annotations were analysed thematically.

For the second workshop, I used the method of Design Games – games facilitating design processes. However, instead of using the design game to explore a specific topic, I turned the entire workshop structure into a game as a means to keep the physiotherapists in a playful mindset.


The results were that the physiotherapists did keep a playful mindset throughout the workshop and could explore playful movements. One physiotherapist reported, “I could do whatever I wanted because I was only playing.” While the design game was not a great game as it required a lot of facilitation, the playfulness of a game – or what Goffman would call the game frame, freed the physiotherapists from the pressure of performing as experts.

Thus, while co-design workshops are great methods for the discovery phase and exploration of topics and problem fields, the creative involvement of experts can be problematic. Theoretically, creative work and playfulness are bedfellows. Thus, exploiting the frame of a board game to facilitate a playful mindset for creative work is a way to relieve experts from having to perform as experts – besides facilitating playfulness in co-design processes.