Empty Houses

Empty Houses explores the potential for abandoned buildings to be re-used as sites for dangerous play for 8-10 year olds.

 

Empty Houses was developed with Jeannette Petrik, Matthias Borowski and Birgit Severin

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Eindhoven was previously a manufacturing city. It is now littered with construction sites and old industrial areas, which are always surrounded by fences. In our development, we were inspired by adventure computer games. We used elements from these games like tools, challenges, obstacles and levels in our concept. Players are required to first get over the fence and discover tools to overcome challenges to move to the next stage of the game. The players will be required to think creatively, explore their own limits and act in a team. Through trying, failing and completing challenges they will feel responsible for their own success in the game.At the end of each site (level) a stamp illustrates the way to the next level.

By signifying abandoned buildings as a new play space, the disused property is recaptured by the community. The game play itself is engaging, character building and hands-on – it is a surprising resource of dangerous play for children.

 

Empty Houses is a project that was completed by four Master’s students at the Design Academy Eindhoven, during a three day Game Design workshop with Jeroen van Mastrigt. The task for this project was to design a game in Eindhoven, to explore Dangerous Play for 4-10 year olds.
Eindhoven was previously a manufacturing city. It is now littered with construction sites and old industrial areas, which are always surrounded by fences.
We remember playing in dangerous places as children – exploring places we were not allowed to go: houses which were being built, old cars, abandoned mines, an old crane, and a brickworks factory. These places are now fenced off to prevent theft, for safety concerns or for fear of prosecution.
We want to provide access to these places for kids aged 8-10 by designing a game to get into the property, through the rooms and a series of challenges, to an endpoint where a token of achievement awaits. Each site is one ‘level’.
By signifying an abandoned site as a game, we also imply that it is somewhat safe for children to play in. The signage also shows that children on site are partaking in an authorized game, not trespassers on private property. The game reclaims unused land and gives life to abandoned buildings, which otherwise can stay idle for years on end.
These sites are unknown places which are forbidden and exciting – stimulating the imagination about what might have been there before, how they became abandoned, and what might still live there. They are a significant opportunity for dangerous play and children’s games.
Some of our inspiration came from adventure computer games, like Tomb Raider and Monkey Island. We wanted to carry the ideas of levels, skills, tools and challenges into the real environment of the abandoned house. These games, and more current editions are already embedded in the mind of an 8 year old. They understand the signs within a virtual game – we aim to bring these signs into the empty houses. For instance, the idea of picking up and using a tool, or completing a level.
While searching for sites in Eindhoven, we recognised a similarity between the various challenges associated with different sites, and a level structure in a game. We decided that different sites would be different levels.
Our first site is also our first level. It’s an abandoned factory on Kanalstraat – quite close to the city centre. There are several rooms to move through, and challenges throughout. We went on site to test out some challenges that children aged 8-10 could achieve.
On approaching the building, one sees the flag from the outside – a sign that this site is a level of the Game.
The first challenge in each level is the fence, which one might climb over or slip under. The fence is an initial challenge to filter out those who do not fit the game demographic – children who are too young and parents of players.
The player must find a point of entry and from there on, locate tools to complete challenges. Some challenges may require team-work to be completed. There may be more than one way to complete a challenge. The tools are marked specifically for use in the game, and would ideally be returned to where they were found to ‘reset’ the game.
Although there is rudimentary signage throughout the level, the game structure is not necessarily linear – challenges may be attempted unsuccessfully, until the players find a specific tool which is part of another challenge. Through failure and retrying, players might find new ways of overcoming obstacles and feel a sense of discovery and success.
The challenges stretch the boundaries of a 8-10 year old’s thinking and physical capabilties. The players will be required to think creatively, explore their own limits and act in a team. Physically, they may be challenged by heights, small and confined spaces, speed and balance.
Throughout the onsite installation, there are small devices that play subtle soundtracks of squeaking doors, banging windows and distant voices. These add a realistic element of excitement, tension, suspense and surprise to the player’s experience.
At the end of the challenges, the players reach the end point – a stamp which signifies that they have completed the level. They can stamp this on their hand to show to their friends or on a piece of paper to collect all the levels. The stamp shows the location of the next level. The real reward is having completed all the challenges and to have got to the end of the level.
Our challenge was to design just the right amount to signify the abandoned site as a level in our game, while leaving some things to the imagination of the players.

Empty houses re-appropriates abandoned buildings for children to take part in dangerous play. By signifying these areas as a new play space, the disused property is recaptured by the community. Additionally, the game play itself is engaging, character building and hands-on – it facilitates a surprising resource of dangerous play for children.