Play About Place Symposium unpacks the “playable campus”

By Dale Leorke and Aramiha Harwood

The Future Play Lab’s annual Play About Place Symposium returned for its fifth iteration, this year held at RMIT’s Melbourne CBD campus and coinciding with Melbourne International Games Week in October 2023. Its theme was the “playable campus”, with talks, workshops and playable installations exploring how creative placemaking and experimental game design in public spaces can make university campuses more inclusive and resilient.

Wyatt, Leorke and Innocent Q&A on the “playable campus”. Photo by Carlo Tolentino.

The symposium opened with a keynote by Dale Leorke and Danielle Wyatt, who discussed how examples of “playable libraries” from their book The Library as Playground might translate to the playable campus, followed by a Q&A with Lab director Troy Innocent. The symposium then involved two hands-on workshops where participants were invited to reimagine and rebuild RMIT’s Bowen Street as a space for play, interaction and reconnection with nature, Country and place using LEGO. Both workshops had about 18 participants, most of whom were women or non-binary.

Alongside the symposium, five playable installations created by students in the Lab also ran across the RMIT campus, putting these ideas into practice.

Playable Campus as a Living Lab

The first workshop was co-facilitated by Innocent and Lynda Roberts, Senior Advisor in Creative Communities at RMIT, along with Leorke, Wyatt and Prof Lisa Given, Director of RMIT’s Social Change Enabling Impact Platform and Professor of Information Sciences. In this workshop participants were invited to recreate Bowen Street – an internal street that runs through the heart of RMIT’s city campus and serves as a corridor between two busy roads at each end – based on how they think it should look in one year’s time.

Several rectangular tables were joined together with LEGO baseplates at their centre to provide the “canvas” on which participants would recreate Bowen Street. Participants tended to stay at one section of the table and contribute various LEGO pieces to build up the campus’s infrastructure, buildings, outdoor furniture, public spaces, and – of course – people. Others focused on curating their own “mini-sections” of the campus, some of which included a graveyard populated with skeletons “for the ‘under’ community to meet and discourse”; two “daredevil stations” connected by a tightrope, a drone-racing course and climbable animal bridge with rewards at their end; a rave site for “nighttime activation”; a Holocaust memorial “for reflection but also private alienation if you want get away from the fun of Bowen Street”; and a shark-infested reimagining of nearby Melbourne City Baths.

Although, as Innocent sarcastically acknowledged, “not all of this will be possible” to create by next year, it did prompt a rethinking of RMIT’s campus around “thresholds” of entry and how these thresholds might invite its surrounding community in: “Why would someone from outside the university come if they’re not a student? For knowledge, to learn something, or discover something, or experience something.” The discussion that followed focused on how universities might encourage this discovery through playable installations. As game designer Hailey Cooperider put it, “you’re changing people’s default relationship [with Bowen Street] from ‘thoroughfare’ to something to dwell or engage with. And the great thing about play spaces is that they can create that moment of liquidity in people that allows them to shift their relationship.”

For Roberts, these issues spoke to “the future of the university” itself: “on one level, they’ve become more like businesses and there’s often a paywall to knowledge” but at the same time RMIT city campus is “a very public porous space and that makes me think about how you make RMIT’s knowledge equally public. How do you invert the university in this space through the dwelling points, as points of invitation and exchange?” This might happen, one participant suggested, through “easter eggs embedded in the environment itself, like geocaches or QR codes that spark curiosity.” Another noted that universities “tell stories already” and “we can use that wisely” by making people “aware that the university also holds an interest to people that use imaginations.”

Regenerating Place through Indigenous Ways of Being

N’arweet, Phillips, Harwood & Innocent. Photo by Carlo Tolentino.

The second workshop was led by N’arweet Prof Carolyn Briggs AM, Boon Wurrung Senior Elder and Elder in Research at RMIT. She was joined by facilitators Dr Christine Phillips, Senior Lecturer in Architecture and steering group leader of RMIT’s Architecture and Urban Design Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Engagement Committee; and Dr Aramiha Harwood, postdoctoral researcher in the Future Play Lab.

This workshop again asked participants to recreate Bowen Street, although this time based around the campus’s natural landscape and geography before European colonisation – where a waterway once flowed through its centre – while responding to the campus’s present relationship with its surroundings. Innocent suggested that the opening of a new railway station in Carlton, to the north of Bowen Street, could redefine how the northern buildings of the RMIT city campus connect with the main campus. At the south end of campus, meanwhile, there could be stronger connection with the hustle and bustle of Melbourne Central and the State Library, linking them via RMIT to the shops, cafes and museums of Carlton in the north.

Cardigan Street in Carlton, where RMIT’s planned “CBD North” campus will extend. Photo by Aramiha Harwood.

In contrast to the wildly fantastical designs the previous workshop produced, this workshop was somewhat more measured and grounded. One participant requested that a Google Maps satellite view of Bowen Street be shown on the screen, and participants then assembled the LEGO baseplates to replicate existing buildings, open spaces and parks – although with Bowen Street reimagined as a river. Instead of people, the campus was predominantly populated with native plants and more-than-human creatures which had largely been driven out by urbanisation, such as turtles, bats, spiders and insects. An outdoor stargazing zone was set up with beds for people to lie down on and observe the night sky, while a separate community space was established for human gathering and sociality.

In this way, Place or Country could be a pedagogical tool – working as a mnemonic device to help learners remember important advice and/or knowledge from teachers. Perhaps the design of this northern precinct could incorporate these facets of Indigenous ways of being and knowing? Reflecting this, participants created an Indigenous community garden – which could teach knowledge of medicines, herbs and foods – aligned with cosmological and seasonal designs of the garden itself, in one of the enclosed spaces around Building 57. 

The workshop ended with a yarning circle in which N’arweet provided some quiet advice and knowledge of her own experiences around this area of town. At times, when she has needed to be in Carlton, she has felt that the city and the urban landscape – the streets and the built infrastructure – have blocked her travels from the CBD: “my problem was I couldn’t get through. I was trying to constantly weave through a system that blocked my way.” She also felt that the redbrick, working-class exteriors of the RMIT City campus buildings best reflected its working-class origins in the former Working Men’s College, as well as acknowledging the locally accessed clay and materials to make those redbricks.

N’arweet suggested that we take a photo of the final LEGO-made precinct from above, looking down. She said we were making a Map of Country, in our minds and in our imaginations, and it could look like much Aboriginal art that we see in our galleries. This brought home to all of the workshop participants that we were engaged in a Creative project that – while looking into the Future – we honour our Indigenous past. What we are bringing about, through Creative Play, are new ways of imagining and interpreting Place  – with the help of Creative Indigenous Knowledges and Practices. N’arweet concluded, “we just got to unlock all that ancient knowledge in all of us. I think that’s one of the things we’ve forgotten to do. We are entities that are made up of so many different influences, but we exist.”

Dale Leorke is a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Sydney and a member of the Urban Play Network. Aramiha Harwood is a postdoctoral researcher at RMIT on the Future Play Lab’s Play About Place research project.

Urban Play School transforms RMIT into a “playable campus”

During Melbourne International Games Week in October 2023, the Future Play Lab partnered with RMIT Creative and RMIT Culture to create a “playable campus”. Students in the Lab’s “Urban Play School” program designed five different street games or installations that invited passers-by to play with Bowen Street – which runs through the middle of RMIT’s city campus – and with one another in unique and creative ways.

The five games were all made from simple, recyclable material like cardboard and paper tape and used accessible rules or low-tech devices blended with thoughtful game design to transform the street into a playground. They were originally designed for outdoors, but when it rained one day the games were temporarily moved indoors. As the Lab’s director Troy Innocent noted, though, this turned out to be fortuitous since it allowed for “playtesting under different conditions.”

Symphony With

Symphony With by Gin Ling and Nicholas Leong is a playable music sculpture or “sensory toy” evocative of playground equipment. It invites participants to interact with various buttons and tubes on the sculpture to produce different electronic sounds, encouraging collaboration between both friends and strangers to generate a serendipitous symphony in public. It was designed around the concept of music as a “universal language”, using gestures and movement – rather than words – to connect people. Symphony With attracted over 200 participants in total, including about an equal amount indoors and outdoors, and its creators reported many strangers spontenously connecting with each other through the installation.


Stacker by Khatim Javed Dar tasks players with stacking colourful cardboard boxes on top of one another against a wall. Players have a set time limit and must act under a series of randomly generated rules, such as using only one’s elbows or head to move the boxes. The game incorporates a scoring feature with markings on the wall that are playfully based on RMIT assessment criteria, with “High Distinction” as the highest score. As a cooperative game, people could work together to stack the boxes, and Dar reported this often happening among strangers, with one person even lifting a complete stranger up so they could stack the final box. At one point, two games ran simultaneously with different groups competing with one another to stack the fastest.


Collectors by Lester Dvinagracia Asperga is based on the Filipino street game Patintero. It is a competitive game composed of two teams: defenders, who stand within a demarcated field and must protect stationary tokens; and runners, who try to take the tokens. If a defender touches a runner as they reach for the tokens, that runner is eliminated. The six different tokens each feature an icon representing a different “way of wellbeing”, including “grounded”, “balance”, “active”, connection”, “curiosity”, and “thoughtful”. For Asperga, the fields in the game symbolise the different university semesters during the university experience and the runner has the opportunity to collect these values, either deliberately or unconsciously, through their journey at university. Defenders, meanwhile, must protect those values, and they wear a bib bearing the word, “ikaw” a Tagalog term for “you”, signifying that sometimes what hinders us from attaining these values is ourselves.

Find Me Here

Find Me Here by Elizabeth Amanda is strongly story-driven, based around three stages: “connection”, “reflection” and “gratitude”. It gathers participants into groups and asks them to search their surroundings to locate one of several hidden boxes. In these boxes are various concepts, which participants choose from and assign to another person in the group. Participants are then asked to gather at a table and write down their reflections on a post-it note, which is attached to a “gratitude wall” that documents the “journeys” of each group. Amanda reported many people being drawn to the wall and requesting for it to be kept permanently. The experience was often deeply intimate and tended to work better indoors as post-it-notes were less prone to being blown about by wind.

Yomeci Orchestra

Lastly, Yomeci Orchestra by Uyen Nguyen – based on her previous work with the Future Play Lab as part of the Yomeci Play collective – uses colourful tape markers and musical instruments to create a spontaneous public musical performance. One or more people are tasked with navigating the tape markings by jumping, hopping, stepping or skipping across them, while other participants use various musical instruments to generate an impromptu orchestra based on their movement. Like previous Yomeci iterations, Yomeci Orchestra ingeniously creates the illusion of generative sound through serendipitous collaboration. When the installation moved indoors it attracted fewer people and ended up having to compete with a nearby DJ stationed in front of RMIT’s esports gaming room.

The five installations only ran temporarily over several days during Games Week, but there are plans to make some or all them more permanent features of the RMIT campus. While each of the installations could potentially be developed as “stand-alone” spaces that are left for students and visitors to discover and play with themselves, they also benefit strongly from facilitators – and it is often encounters and conversations with the creators that make them such unique, personal and playful experiences.

Dale Leorke is a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Sydney and a member of the Urban Play Network. All photos supplied by RMIT Creative or the artists.

Clarendon Street Arcade Report Available

Future Play Lab researchers Dale Leorke, Troy Innocent and Carlo Tolentino have published a report documenting the Clarendon Street Arcade project, which launched in South Melbourne in July 2022. Five custom-made arcade cabinets loaded with original games that were created in collaboration with local artists, gamemakers, students and First Nations People formed a “trail” along Clarendon Street, remaining outdoors and on the street 24/7 until the end of October 2022.

This report documents the background, design process, installation and deinstallation of the cabinets. It provides an in-depth account of this unique placemaking project and situates it within a broader recognition by local governments of the potential benefits urban play can bring to public life. The full report is available here.

How to Create a DIY Playful Parklet

Over two days in October 2022, the Future Play Lab collaborated with Danish play activist and academic Mathias Poulsen to convert an existing, empty parklet in St Kilda, Melbourne into a pop-up skrammellegeplads or junk playground.

Originally, the plan was to bring RMIT’s playful parklet, which has travelled across Melbourne’s inner suburbs over the past year, to St Kilda. But when a nearby café expressed concern about the impact on its business, the Lab instead hired an existing parklet in front of Pause Bar that was not being used for the weekend. We then invited Poulsen to transform the parklet into a space for play, leisure and public consultation about the playful potential of parklets. This fused our interest in temporary and tactical urbanism with Poulsen’s method of designing and studying junk playgrounds as part of his PhD research at Denmark’s Design School Kolding

For Poulsen the junk playground, or “skrammellegeplads” as it was conceived by the Danish architect C. Th. Sørensen in 1931, can be understood as an agora, a public space for playfully engaging with democratic questions. What if participation in the ongoing democratic conversations are not merely verbal, he asks, but also unfolds through playful encounters, where we build things out of discarded materials to tell stories and share our hopes and dreams with each other?

The morning began with the arrival of a truckload of junk and discarded items that Poulsen and Future Play Lab Director Troy Innocent had gathered leading up to the event: plastic and wooden crates, furniture, cloth, street signs and construction markers, wooden panels, broken sculptures, household items and a miscellany of other unidentifiable objects. Innocent also brought drills, a jigsaw and other power tools that had previously come in handy when assembling the Lab’s Clarendon Street Arcade cabinets.

Members of the Future Play Lab and Monash’s Emerging Technologies Lab construct the skrammellegeplads.

Working with researchers and students from the Lab, as well as other visitors and members of the public, the team gradually constructed spaces for sitting, drawing and playing games. One table became a designated gaming area, while several wooden crates were stacked and nailed together to create a dance platform. Innocent and Poulsen also created a “reception desk” to greet passers-by, inviting them to fill out a piece of paper with a sketch of a parklet design on it to create their ideal public, playful parklet.

The “consultation table”, where passers-by could design their own ideal playful parklet.

One challenge was that the amount of junk was too large for the parklet space, which was smaller and more confined than the Lab’s existing playful parklet. Poulsen also typically works with larger, more open spaces when running skrammellegepladsen workshops, so the parklet’s size – equivalent to a car parking space – meant there was not much room to move initially. As the day progressed, though, the team rearranged the junk into usable spaces, demonstrating that a skrammellegeplads was still possible even in such a small sliver of space.

The project also aimed to illustrate how street spaces currently dedicated for cars can quickly and easily become public spaces for community gathering, experimentation and play. The project had approval by the local council, City of Port Phillip, but the team were free to use the space for any (legal) purpose. Day 1 was dedicated to engaging with residents and preparing the parklet to become a party space for the evening.

Engagement from the public was minimal, however. The parklet was situated in front of a bar, pharmacy and organic food store close to Balaclava train station. Being in this commercial and transport hub, with only a narrow footpath between the storefronts and the parklet, most passers-by were busily on their way to shops or cafes and largely incurious about this new pop-up space in their neighborhood.

Nonetheless a few passers-by stopped to discuss the parklet and build things for it, including one man in his 50s who described himself as a professional woodworker and helped craft a racket and hoop for a makeshift ballgame; and several people who filled out the playful parklet design sheets. Workers in the nearby Little Hen food store were also friendly and accommodating.

A passer-by uses the Lab’s jigsaw to craft some playable objects from wood. Poulsen was assured he was an experienced hobbyist craftsman.

On Day 2 playful parklet regulars Yomeciband and Communitas came to perform in and around the skrammellegepladsen. Yomeciband invites passers-by to step, jump, skip, dance or walk on chalk drawings of colourful Yomeci creatures on the footpath, generating musical sounds that are improvised on a keyboard synth and played through bluetooth speakers. Like the day before, most passers-by were on a mission and simply walked through without playing, but children in particular often stopped to dance and skip along the drawings. Two skeptical teenage boys were also unconvinced by Innocent’s explanation that the sounds were created by nanobot sensors embedded in the chalk drawings, preferring the more obvious explanation that Yomeciband sound designer Fynn Michlin created them on the fly.

Communitas allows passers-by to influence and conduct a musical performance using word cards and hand gestures that instruct singer Tanya George, singer/bassist Dan Witton and drummer Paul Guseli to slow down, speed up, freestyle, or stop altogether. It also attracted only a few dedicated participants, including several people (Michlin among them) who used interpretive dance moves that the band responded to and incorporated into the tempo and style of their performance.

Yomeciband sound designer Fynn Michlin gives an impromptu performance in collaboration with Communitas, causing some welcome disruption to people’s busy Sunday afternoon.

The end of Day 2 saw the skrammellegepladsen dismantled and Pause Bar’s parklet revert back to an empty space. The following weekend, the Lab appropriated another space across the road – a dedicated community parklet implemented and managed by City of Port Phillip – for two more interactive and informative activations.

The second weekend saw a dedicated community parklet repurposed for a seaweed library and a semi-autonomous musical robot performance.

On Sunday 9th October the Seaweed Appreciation Society International (SASi) brought their portable seaweed library to one end of the parklet – a collection of seaweed-related books and artefacts aimed at raising environmental and artistic awareness of seaweed and marine ecologies. The collection was free to browse and attracted the interest of several passers-by, including a fisherman who described how his fishing has shifted to become increasingly sustainable and who swapped contact details with SASi for potential future collaboration.

At the other end of the parklet artist Dylan Martorell set up his Robotics Ensemble, an assembly of semi-autonomous robots powered by a solar generator that generate music and sound. Passers-by could move the various robotic instruments through a laptop and keyboard interface, or simply use instruments and objects to make sound from the installation and surrounding environment. One man in particular was particularly enthusiastic, experimenting with various instruments in and outside the parklet, and at one stage was joined by two other members of the public in a completely impromptu, collaborative performance.

Three members of the public – two men and a boy – collaborate in an impromptu musical performance as Martorell (front and centre) observes.

The Robotics Ensemble was not without controversy, though. Its noise seemed to spark the ire of a few locals, including store owners who gave disapproving glances and a resident who the team suspected might be on her phone making a complaint. In the end no “public order” officials arrived to break up the performance, however.

These two activations represent a new phase of the “playful parklet” project. It is the first time the team have built a DIY “junk” parklet from scratch and it’s also the first time we have used existing parklet spaces rather than our travelling, customised playful parklet. This is perhaps the most “tactical” of our projects so far – repurposing existing parklets for play, responding to regulations on the fly and landing in the middle of a busy commercial district where multiple, sometimes conflicting, actors, attitudes and interests are at stake.

In the coming weeks, Communitas and Robotics Ensemble will return for encore performances at the community parklet, which is stationed in front of the pharmacy at 163 Carlisle Street, Balaclava. The full program is here.

This post was co-authored by Dale Leorke, embedded ethnographer at the Future Play Lab, and Mathias Poulsen.

Playful Parklet Report Available

A passer-by plays Communitas, an interactive busking performance, at the playful parklet in Malvern

RMIT researchers and the Future Play Lab have co-authored a report about the “playful parklet”, a customised parklet for both free public use and programmed activations that has been travelling around Melbourne’s suburbs since November 2021.

This report focuses on the Malvern iteration of the public, which was supported by the City of Stonnington. The report documents the background behind the project, the parklet’s design and on-site installation, the process of working with Stonnington Council and choosing a site in Malvern, and the parklet’s impact on the local community. The researchers present their findings and outline future directions, which will be of interest to researchers and other organisations undertaking similar public space activations.

To date, the parklet has visited Melbourne’s CBD twice, Malvern, Footscray and Brunswick. It is currently stationed at RMIT where it is undergoing further testing and ideation for future projects, and it will be back out on Melbourne’s streets again by October 2022 for Melbourne International Games Week. Check this site closer to then for further details.

Clarendon Street Arcade Update

Children interrupt their walk to play 10-in-1 Arcade on Clarendon Street.

Clarendon Street Arcade was always a bold project: designing and fabricating five custom arcade cabinets intended to stand out and attract attention on the street, and that would remain on-site, 24/7, for two-and-a-half months.

The cabinets have now been in place, forming a trail along Clarendon Street in South Melbourne, for seven weeks. Staff from the Future Play Lab have been maintaining the cabinets, checking them regularly for damage and technical problems. But one of the biggest unknowns of the project was how the cabinets would hold up to the everyday challenges of the urban environment: rain, sun, birds (particularly their droppings), graffiti, vandalism and general wear and tear from public use.

RMIT students play Jukebot in front of Dessertopia at night.

Two weeks ago, the first instances of intentional damage to the cabinets occurred. Someone smashed Musimoji‘s screen, and the acrylic protector covering it, destryoing them and rendering it inoperable. Jukebot was also punched or kicked, causing its acrylic exterior to collapse. The damage to both cabinets was discovered on August 27th after the Dessertopia store, outside of which Jukebot resides, reported Jukebot‘s damaged acrylic cover. Musimoji required extensive repairs and replacement, while Jukebot mostly only needed its paneling re-attached and several buttons replaced, which were handily stored inside the cabinet for incidents like this. Both cabinets are operational again at the time of writing.

Musimoji out of order as it awaits repairs.
Left: damage to Jukebot up-close; Right: Future Play Lab’s Creative Producer Carlo Tolentino tends to Jukebot.

Apart from these instances of vandalism, the cabinets have suffered minimal external damage to date. The main issue for some cabinets has been water damage, with heavy rains particularly in August getting into the cabinets’ wiring, despite them being waterproofed and under covering. This has left them unplayable for short periods while they are fixed. Yawa‘s screen has also been overheating, likely due to direct sunlight shining on the cabinet, and the Future Play Lab team are considering installing fans to cool it down.

Jukebot has proven the most technically challenging cabinet. It has no screen, instead consisting of 24 buttons that are wired to an Arduino microcontroller. This executes the programs that cause the various lights to light up and the music to play, but it has proven inadequate and often crashes or fails to execute properly. It is in the process of being upgraded to new technology, like a Raspberry Pi, with the hope this will solve the problem.

Yomeci Hole creators Uyen Nguyen and Matthew Riley.

Other cabinets, like Yomeci Hole, have held up well to the weather and have not been intentionally damaged to date. One of its creators, Uyen Nguyen, says that residents nearby have even been “tending the hole”, picking up cigarette butts and other litter left on it. She and her co-designers often have to clean the screen, which gets dirty from rain splashes and people stepping on it. It has also had modem, screen and power issues that required it to be dismantled – no small task – and repaired, meaning it has had several days’ resting period.

RMIT students play Yawa, a game about the Boon Wurrung language.

The cabinets are still on-site until at least October 9th, which is the end of Melbourne International Games Week. After then, they are likely to be relocated to RMIT campus which will allow Future Play Lab researchers and students to tinker with them more, and closer to home.

Dale Leorke is an embedded ethnographer in the Future Play Lab.
Update Sep 8th: this post was updated to add images from a recent photoshoot and include further details about the vandalism.

Clarendon Street Arcade Launched

On July 26th the Clarendon Street Arcade project officially arrived on the streets of South Melbourne. Five bespoke arcade cabinets designed by artists, gamemakers, academics, students and First Nations People are now playable until October. Created by RMIT’s Future Play Lab and funded by the City of Port Phillip’s COVIDSafe Outdoor Activation Fund, the cabinets form a “trail” along Clarendon Street for residents, visitors and those familiar with the project to discover.

Google Maps overview listing the arcade cabinet locations.


Heading south along Clarendon, Yawa is the first arcade cabinet players will encounter. Yawa is a game about the Boon Wurrung language for up to four players, created by N’arweet Carolyn Briggs, Jarra Karalinar Steel and Narayana Johnson. Resembling more of a tabletop game than a typical arcade cabinet, players sit on stools around a table and look down on a flat screen. When players move one of four joysticks, an avatar appears in the form of a possum spirit – created by Steel and featuring in her other public artworks and installations. Players then move across an intricately layered, abstract map of Country, collecting words in the Boon Wurrung language and learning their English counterparts. The words are spoken by Briggs, who is a Boon Wurrung senior elder and founder and chairperson of the Boon Wurrung Foundation.

MAGI 10-in-1

MAGI 10-in-1 is a more traditional arcade cabinet, with three games created by current and recently graduated MAGI (Master of Animation, Games and Interactivity) students at RMIT. The games include Tram Chaser, a side-scrolling platformer by Eamonn Harte; GlugGlug Game by Justin Jattke, a fast-paced rush to water dying houseplants; and Sticky City by Khatim Javed Dar and Monique Kemboi, where objects in the city stick to players as they move, increasing or decreasing their score. Although up to ten games had originally been planned, only these three were completed in time for launch – although more games may be uploaded to the compilation over the coming months. The games take about 90 seconds each to play and in classic arcade style proved challenging for many players on the launch night.

Yomeci Hole

Yomeci Hole, also known as Yomeci Arcade, is the latest project from the YomeciPlay collective. It resembles a mound of grass on the sidewalk, with a virtual hole at its centre surrounded by six buttons. As players peer down into the hole, the game instructs them to stomp on the buttons to clear the screen and progress through a realm of Yomeci creatures. Yomeci Hole is perhaps the most abstract Clarendon Street Arcade “cabinet”, but like all the other cabinets it invites fast-paced play and is extremely replayable. Players can play solo or with friends or other passers-by to hit the correct buttons and progress through each layer of the game world. On launch night, the game was popular with four school children who enthusiastically jumped on, slapped and rapidly pounded the buttons in multiple consecutive games.


In Musimoji, up to three players compete to create music by firing emojis corresponding to their colour. Musimoji is created by Troy Innocent and Allison Walker. Its cabinet resembles a monolith rising from the ground and is decorated with symbols that would be familiar to those who have experienced Innocent’s work before. Its music, meanwhile, is created by Walker, a Melbourne-based composer known for her ambient music.


Located outside dessert shop Dessertopia, Jukebot is an interactive jukebox for up to three players. The cabinet has no screen, but is wired with 24 green, red or blue buttons. Once players choose a colour they must hit all the buttons of that colour. The first player to do this wins, and Jukebot will play a corresponding track before resetting. In between play sessions, a voice will sometimes invite passers-by to play it. Jukebot has been the most technically challenging cabinet to make because of its many components. Initially the buttons were wired to an Arduino device, but it has been unable to handle the sophisticated sequences required to play the game, rendering it unplayable at times. It will soon be upgraded to a Raspberry Pi, which the Future Play Lab hope will resolve its lingering technical problems.

Updates and more information about Clarendon Street Arcade can be found on the City of Port Phillip’s website and by following Playable City Melbourne on Instagram.

Dale Leorke is an embedded ethnographer in the Future Play Lab.

“The Last Arcade Buttons in Melbourne”

This week, starting July 18th, Clarendon Street Arcade (formerly called Super Street Arcade) will “soft launch” in five sites along Clarendon Street in South Melbourne. During the week, the designers and artists will test the games in situ before officially launching the project on July 26th at the Dessertopia store.

For the past two weeks, the team have been continuing to develop the five games, while finalising the project’s title and marketing, scouting the locations for each of the arcade cabinets, and decorating them as they arrive from the fabricators.

The first cabinet, which will house the MAGI-10-in-1 compilation of Melbourne-inspired games, arrived at the Future Play Lab two weeks ago. Joseph Yap is a product design engineer and Master of Design Innovation and Technology student at RMIT. Along with 3D artist and gamemaker Justin Jattke, he has been painting and weatherproofing the cabinets and assisting with their assembly and installation.

(L) The newly arrived MAGI-10-in-1 cabinet; (R) Yap and Jattke begin painting the cabinet

Although Yap joined the project halfway to work on these material elements, he sees intersections between his own work and this project. His practice explores sustainability and sustainable materials through public art installations and multimedia. He says, “one thing that I find fascinating about games is when people start exploring different ways of input and interaction between hardware and software. I feel like games as a medium are still highly under explored. I don’t think we’re anywhere close to fully exploring its potential.”

Yap says he expects the cabinets’ unique – even bizarre – designs to stand out in their chosen destinations along Clarendon Street. “We’ve chosen lively colours, at least for the MAGI-10-in-1. The structures themselves are all weird. They’re not something you’d expect to see on Clarendon Street.” The cabinets had originally been planned for a different, more trendy area in South Melbourne. But Yap says Clarendon Street works well because a tram route runs right past the cabinets’ locations, offering a “tram experience” where passers-by can observe people playing and perhaps become curious about them.

Although the cabinets will be playable by anyone passing by, spectators’ reaction to them will be just as interesting to observe as the people playing them.

Some of the cabinets will have LED lighting and other electronic components besides the screens, joysticks and buttons. Michelle Woulahan completed a PhD in visual arts and works in industrial design. She is responsible for wiring the cabinets’ buttons and lighting, connecting them to Arduinos, and ensuring they are waterproofed. She expects the material components to hold up well from everyday use and abuse. But she suspects issues might arise when interfacing with Unity, the engine used to create the games.

Woulahan wiring the arcade’s buttons and other electrical components

Even just sourcing the many materials required for the cabinets has proven challenging as the pandemic continues to disrupt global supply chains. Troy Innocent, Director of the Future Play Lab, says he had to scour the websites of every store in Melbourne that sold arcade buttons, purchasing the few remaining stocks from each one. “I think we ended up buying the last arcade buttons left in Melbourne,” he jokes.

Innocent visits the site where the YomeciArcade cabinet (AKA hole) will be situated

On July 13th, Innocent, Creative Producer Carlo Tolentino and Technical Director Nick Margerison visited the sites where each of the five cabinets will be situated. They will be placed in a kind of “trail” along Clarendon Street, between Bank and Coventry Streets. Each cabinet will also be supported by a nearby store, whose employees will be able to informally observe its use and report any damage. The team also hired a qualified electrician to hook the machines up to the electricity grid near these stores according to certification standards.

Meanwhile, the branding for the project has been finalised under the direction of City of Port Phillip, which funds it project through its COVIDsafe Outdoor Activation Fund. The council was proscriptive in its branding and marketing, determining the name Clarendon Street Arcade and even the colours and layout of the logo. But the team was given complete creative control over all other components of the games’ and cabinets’ design.

Digital Designer Monique Kemboi created many of these assets, including characters that will appear across the MAGI-10-in-1 games and the backgrounds, objects, and other elements that appear in them. Her characters are based on the Playable City Melbourne icons and reflect South Melbourne’s cultural diversity, while drawing on other tongue-in-cheek inspirations. Examples include an “empowered alien lady”, a woman in a puffer jacket (since Melbourne is in winter), a Southeast Asian man, a non-binary person, a person in a wheelchair, and more cartoonish creations inspired by Mickey Mouse and scary clowns.

Some of the characters created by Kemboi

Even with the incredibly tight deadline and shifting components – like the logo’s design and the cabinets arriving at various intervals – Kemboi is confident. She says, “I’m aware of the pipeline, and just trust that everyone is working towards the same goal […] Me, Eamonn [Harte] and Khatim [Javed Dar] are coworking together actively and being on calls” with the other artists working remotely.

Screen grab of Tram Chaser
Screen grab of Sticky City

Harte created MAGI-10-in-1 game Tram Chaser and Dar is co-creating another game for the compilation, Sticky City, with Kemboi. But both have recently come on board to help with design and programming for other games. Kemboi says, “that’s why I don’t have any worries about finishing this because I know we’re a solid trio.” Jattke is also working in the lab most weeks creating his MAGI-10-in-1 game GlugGlug Game, painting the cabinets and providing technical assistance.

Screen grab of GlugGlug Game

Australia is currently experiencing its biggest surge of Covid cases so far, putting Melbourne’s and other cities’ hospitals under immense strain. Although the game’s funding is explicitly tied to getting people safely back onto South Melbourne’s streets post-COVID, this surge is something the team will need to consider. It’s just one of the many logistical challenges the project faces when it launches next week, alongside weather, vandalism, graffiti, everyday wear-and-tear, and the inevitable technical bugs that will arise once the games are installed.

Margerison, at least, offered one potential, arcade-inspired, solution to help reduce the risk of people contracting COVID by touching the controls. He suggested installing automatic hand sanitizers in each cabinet inside a “prize door”, similar to those where the prizes come out of claw machine games.

Dale Leorke is an embedded ethnographer in the Future Play Lab.

Super Street Arcade: Yawa and Yomeci

Yawa concept art

The RMIT Future Play Lab’s latest project is Super Street Arcade, which will bring five custom-designed, arcade-inspired installations to South Melbourne’s streets. This week’s post profiles two of these in-development installations that involve collaborations between the Future Play Lab and other artist-gamemakers in Melbourne: Yawa and YomeciArcade.


Yawa is being co-created with Indigenous multimedia artist Jarra Karalinar Steel. Steel is working with Boon Wurrung senior elder and Boon Wurrung Foundation founder and chairperson, N’arweet Carolyn Briggs, and RMIT student and game designer Duncan Corrigan. Yawa means “journey” in the Boon Wurrung language. Yawa will take players on a journey across an abstract map of Country, discovering stories and collecting and learning Boon Wurrung words as they explore.

Yawa will be housed in a table-like arcade cabinet. It will be playable by up to four people. Joysticks and speakers will be located on each of the cabinet’s four sides, and as soon as players move the joystick a character will appear on the map. Like all of Super Street Arcade’s projects, Yawa will be waiting on a street in South Melbourne for residents, passers-by, and people who hear about the project in advance to discover and explore.

Concept art of Yawa‘s unique, custom-designed cabinet

As Yawa’s art director, Steel is creating its characters, game map, and other elements. As with her other public artworks and Kulin-influenced design, Steel embraced bold colours, cartoon-esque characters and urban motifs that break down barriers around Indigenous art for Yawa’s design. “Having these characters that are more modern and city dwellers, a bit more than country, is something that’s important to me, because that’s what I grew up in,” she says. “When it comes to talking about my culture and my people and what I grew up in, I want to reflect that and not treat us like museum pieces.”

Walert Murrup (Possum Spirits), 2020, by Jarra Karalinar Steel (still from Augmented Reality work).

Three of the characters are young and distinctly urban First Nations people, with dyed hair and casual clothing, while the fourth character is a possum – one of Melbourne’s most ubiquitous urban animals. The map players explore through the characters is strongly influenced by traditional Indigenous art. But it also resembles a cityscape seen from above, while visually evoking Melbourne’s pre-colonial history as a wetlands.

These design elements bridge Melbourne’s past and present while challenging players’ assumptions about place. Steel says, “I think people think just because it’s a city and an urban area, it’s not Country anymore, it’s not sacred and it doesn’t have the importance that it does. But you’re still on Country. It’s still there.”

You Are On Country, a permanent LED installation in Melbourne’s CBD by Jarra Karalinar Steel as part of her Flash Fwd 2021 Wurrung series.

Yawa is still very much in development and its custom cabinet hasn’t been fabricated yet. The main challenge so far has been designing for its unique physical design, where players will be looking down at the screen from four different angles. The characters currently appear in 2D side profiles. But, as Corrigan explains, if the characters all face one direction “it’s going to be upside down to one person, it’s going to be 90 degrees [to the others]. But then if we were to solve that problem by making it completely top down” – seeing the characters’ heads from a bird’s-eye-view – “you would lose a lot of the character sprites” and detail.

In a meeting last week the team discussed different ways to solve this. They included having each character oriented towards their respective players’ joystick, having separate character profiles in each corner of the screen, or even placing stickers of the characters next to each joystick to represent them in analogue fashion. The team are also currently trying to find a sound designer to incorporate the music and sound elements. As with all the Super Street Arcade projects, the pressure is building to pull everything together in time for the games’ debut later this month.

YomeciArcade (tentative title)

YomeciArcade concept art

YomeciArcade is the latest project from the collective YomeciPlay, which consists of Uyen Nguyen, Max Piantoni and Matthew Riley. The Yomeci project began around four years ago as You, Me & the City, when Nguyen began exploring the “playful potential of sounds in animation, games and interactive media.” She “sound walked” around Melbourne’s CBD, recording sounds and reimagining them as “heartfelt animated stories.”

Riley and Piantoni then joined the team, collaborating with Nguyen to create a pervasive mobile game app called Yomeciland. It allows players to record sounds and create their own “digital ecology” of animated creatures on their phone. Yomeci has since evolved into multiple, ongoing projects. It has taken the form of two gallery installations. One was commissioned by Bunjil Place in 2019. Another, You, Me, Things, is travelling across Australia as part of the Experimenta Life Forms exhibition. These installations use participants’ voices and other sounds they make – stomping, finger snapping, laughing, clapping – to create creatures using sound recognition software.

Participants interact with Yomeciland x Bunjil Place in 2019

The team also created You Me Sings, a web application that allowed people to create Yomeci creatures during lockdown, and YomeciBand, their first collaboration with the Future Play Lab for its “playful parklet.” YomeciBand involved chalk drawings of Yomeci creatures on the pavement, which then produced sounds – covertly created by the team hidden nearby using a synth keyboard – as passers-by hopped, stepped, skipped, or danced on them.

YomeciArcade will also be situated on the pavement, but with a higher-tech approach than YomeciBand. Instead of an arcade cabinet, though, it will be housed in a virtual hole in the ground, surrounded by a slightly raised platform with artificial grass. Players interact by looking down and stomping on six buttons that surround the hole, taking them further and further into a subterranean world inhabited by Yomeci creatures. “We wanted to make an arcade that is on the ground and not a conventional set-up that you would expect from an arcade machine,” Nguyen says. “It ticked all of the unconventional boxes in our head.”

Players will interact with the YomeciArcade world with their feet

She describes YomeciArcade – which may be renamed You, Me, Hole – as “a musical toy.” There will be different levels or “layers” of the game inspired by musical instruments, like drums, string instruments, and xylophones. Nguyen explains that the project was inspired by Piantoni’s idea of a hole in the ground where all the layers – grass, dirt, worms, water pipes – are “stacking and sticking together.” They evolved this idea so “through your feet stomping you’d be knocking on [the Yomeci creatures’] door and they would clear their way for you to go down.”

YomeciArcade players will encounter Yomeci creatures as they go further down the hole

Other aspects of the game – including its ending – have yet to be decided. The team’s main challenge has simply been creating “a fun game to play.” They tried out five different iterations before settling on their current approach.

Another major consideration with YomeciArcade – perhaps moreso than the other projects – is accessibility, since players use their feet to play the game. Nguyen says the team are exploring ways to accommodate people with different physical capabilities, injuries, and disabilities. “I don’t want it to require too much energy from the player. This being a musical instrument or toy, you could play it in your own way, it doesn’t have the right way to do it or the better way to do it.”

Dale Leorke is an embedded ethnographer in the Future Play Lab.

Under Construction: Super Street Arcade

RMIT’s Future Play Lab are partnering with the City of Port Phillip in Melbourne for Super Street Arcade, a new Playable City Melbourne project aimed at reactivating Melbourne’s streets post-pandemic. Five arcade cabinets loaded with games and interactive installations co-created with local gamemakers, artists, academics, First Nations peoples and RMIT students will (literally) hit the pavement in South Melbourne in mid-July. These arcade machines will be fully playable outdoors and on the street.

The project is funded by the City of Port Phillip’s COVIDsafe Outdoor Activation Fund. It sought activators to create street arcades for South Melbourne that will “enliven public spaces” and “provide exhibition opportunities for game makers.” RMIT’s successful pitch involves creating bespoke arcade cabinets and arcade-inspired installations with games influenced by Melbourne’s geography, culture, city life, and Indigenous history. The games include:

  • YomeciArcade by the collective YomeciPlay (Uyen Nguyen, Max Piantoni and Matt Riley). Players peer into a virtual hole in the ground and interact with a subterranean world of Yomeci creatures.
  • MAGI 10-in-1, a compilation of up to ten mini-games. The games are created by RMIT MAGI (Masters of Animation, Games and Interactivity) students.
  • Yawa by N’arweet Carolyn Briggs and Jarra Karalinar Steel. Up to four players gather around a screen and explore an abstract map of Country, discovering stories as they go.
  • Musimoji by Troy Innocent, Allison Walker and Nick Margerison. Up to three players compete against each other to create music by firing emojis in a Space Invaders-inspired battle.
  • Jukebot by Innocent and three musicians and producers. A device resembling a jukebox creates light and sound as players press a multitude of buttons, matching the colours to tracks by familiar music artists.

YomeciArcade, Yawa, Musimoji, and Jukebot are based on new and existing collaborations between the Future Play Lab and Melbourne artists, gamemakers, academics and First Nations peoples. Magi 10-in-1, meanwhile, was developed through a two-day game jam where the Street Arcade team and MAGI students gathered to brainstorm ideas. Up to ten mini-games will be playable in one cabinet, each session lasting around 90 seconds. Some of the games include Sticky City, where objects on the street stick to players and boost or reduce their score; The Glug Glug Game, a frantic rush to keep wilting plants alive; and Tram Chaser, a side-scrolling platformer where players dodge obstacles to catch a departing tram. Street Arcade’s Creative Producer, Carlo Tolentino, says the games are designed to be played in short loops: “almost like retro gaming…it harkens back to the old classic Super Nintendo cartridges that had one hundred games in one.”

Over the past two weeks Dale Leorke has been an “embedded ethnographer” in the Future Play Lab, tracking the Street Arcade team’s progress, interviewing gamemakers and artists and documenting their works in progress. On the week starting June 20th, the project team had been working for several weeks translating their concepts into playable versions.

The Street Arcade project team meet to discuss progress.

Several, like Musimoji and MAGI 10-in-1 minigames Sticky City and The Glug Glug Game, were already approaching completion. The previous week, the joystick components ordered for the arcade machines were not interfacing with the Unity game software, creating a setback for Technical Director Nick Margerison and the team. But a newly arrived shipment of different hardware resolved the problem, allowing for initial playtesting to go ahead. As Margerison put it, this “hadn’t stopped the development of the games” but it “took up a lot of time trying to troubleshoot that process, thinking that it was something in Unity or that it was the way that we had the board set up, a driver issue or something.”

Recently graduated MAGI student Justin Jattke working on The Glug Glug Game.

Monique Kemboi is the project’s Digital Designer, creating assets and designs for various games, as well as co-designing Sticky City with Khatim Javed Dar. She is currently a MAGI student, having recently relocated to Melbourne from Kenya to pursue a career in game design and animation. She says the most challenging aspect of the project for her so far has been going “back to basics” for the games’ aesthetics, often using simple elements like 2D animation and pictograms. But she also acknowledges that “it’s a good restriction to have. Because it allows me as a creative to also simplify my brain and understand that not everything has to be this majestic thing. It could be majestic in its most simplest form as well.”

Clockwise from left: Khatim Javed Dar, Monique Kemboi, Carlo Tolentino, Eamonn Harte and Nick Margerison.

The arcade cabinets themselves will be fashioned from wood and other materials, but they’re yet to be fabricated. Currently, they exist only as digital sketches, cardboard prototypes and hardware like joysticks, buttons, wires, circuit boards and television screens that will eventually be integrated into the cabinets. Next week, the project team expect to begin embedding their games into the cabinets and testing them in situ.

As for how people will react to playable, musical arcade cabinets on South Melbourne’s streets – and whether people will actually stop to play them – Kemboi believes they will be a popular drawcard for the area and cause people to pause their daily activities to play. “When it’s just this wonderful, nostalgic thing there, you’re definitely bound to be curious to know what it does, and how to interact with it,” she says. “Sometimes people don’t really know that they need a little playfulness, a little pick-me-up, because we’re going through so much in our lives as adults. I think it being on the street is very bold and something that shouldn’t be seen as a small feat. It’s sending a message.”