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Awareness Toys

Awareness Toys are a collection of 6 wooden toys designed to allow adult people to benefit from the game in a Wellness-by-play perspective. They have been presented lately at Games For Health Europe conference in Eindhoven and featured on the ADI Design Index 2019. The belief that playing can be good for your health, or your well-being, has become an educational bet that offers the player, in this case the prisoner, a path of personal growth through a physical object. A toy therefore that becomes a mediator through which to explore oneself and the relationship with the other, to weigh, to focus on aspects of one’s emotional life, one’s own balances and one’s own mental processes. Physical mediators that make concrete such concepts like instability, loss and void.

The project was born in 2015 from the will of TOY design and its founder Fabio Guaricci, to try to give a follow-up to the educational processes to which he had the opportunity to assist, that is to say the ones around rehabilitation educational processes on addictions (play, drugs, alcool, etc…). The meeting of design with the educational practice has been the bearer of a lot of energy that gave rise to the first collection of toys for adults on this theme.

Addictions are often seen as phenomenon relegated to certain clusters of population but, in fact, in all its variables it affects almost the totality of people. Let’s think at love addiction, gambling addiction, smoke and alcool addiction. On the other hand play is still seen from the majority of people as something exclusively for kids, so the play for the adult becomes “the exception” and becomes not only something personal but also “intimate”. In this sense we have tried to support the adult’s personal research but also the possibility to show it, represent it, make it tangible and shareable.

The reasons why Fabio has decided to focus on the design of toys for adults are more than one. The first is that his design approach has always been Humanistic, meaning by that an attention and closeness to the human as a living condition. The adult, differently from the child, has few occasions to play and, maybe for this reason, along the years, strive for being less and less open to the discovery, to welcome it, to live life creatively no matter the context. A life in which he/she could “keep on moving”, listening him/herself, searching for balancing. The other reason is that, after a teaching experience of a few years in the secondary school to observe the dynamics of pre-teens, Fabio has found that a lot, if not all, depends on what kids learn from their parents. Here comes the belief that making the adult play can have its importance, its dignity.

The Story

The interdisciplinary approach typical of TOY, the desire to use design as a discipline that connects worlds, as a connective tissue, allowed the toy project to address an unusual user, the adult, focusing on specific themes related to his age, that is on the subject of personal care and health protection. So in mid 2015 we have involved Dario Gianoli, a professional educator trained in generative psychopedagogy. This meeting enriched and perfected the toy concepts with a more precise focus on educational dynamics, improving the educational potential.

We realized that the first concepts that were born immediately became common language first of all between designer and educator, even before that between educator and prisoner. Thanks to this “educational format”, above all material, it has been possible to validate, enrich and structure the mode of use of these objects that is still evolving.

The Collection

Awareness Toys look like simple wooden toys with elementary shapes, plain and reassuring colors, that soon put the player at ease.The playful identity thus constitutes a first level of fruition, while a second level is their metaphorical meaning. Game mechanisms represent mental processes visible only with the “awareness” of an adult. The metaphor has always been used in the art world for its universal evocative power and together for its harmlessness: anyone is able to have access to it but also to stay at a certain distance from it. The simple mechanics of the game thus becomes a metaphor for the complex mechanics of the mind.  Each can identify himself in the avatar of the game, which is always a Smile, and it is from this identification that can occur the educational dynamics, mediated by the professional educator.

The Emotional Necklace is a 2 players game that makes each one learn how to get acquainted with emotions, understanding the relationship among them and between his/her emotions and other’s. The 8 main emotions (happiness, sorrow, anger, fear, acceptance, boredom, astonishment and disgust) are shown as emoticon on wooden spheres. Thanks to a hole each of them can be tuck in a thread following a deliberate sequence. The first player starts with a present or past emotion/memory and the other player is asked to react to that emotion/memory with another one. The sequence and the fact that players have to choose among still-available emotions is the metaphor of the motus of emotions. The player might realize that minor emotions have dignity and can be felt as major ones. They are all interlinked and move continuously.

Smile in Pieces is a game about one of the most difficult yet crucial emotional topics, often reason of suffering as much as a forerunner of self-destructive behaviors. Absence is perceived as a constant status, as something strictly ingrained in human condition; therefore it is perceived as something to learn to live with, in peace. The loving dynamic has been chosen as the main absence object thanks to its universal nature. Love is the only thing able to make us feel complete and to fil that sense of emptiness. As a downside, we develop an addiction to it. Love blocks the Smile from rolling free on the plane but nevertheless feels good. When there is any kind of breakup, in fact, that emptiness shows up again and again, stronger than before. So we might feel in need to fill it, even with an artificial, unauthentic or illusionary thing, that, just like love, make us addicted and harmless. But in case of artificial addictions the consolatory effect is not something that lasts, it ends very quickly and nevertheless it blocks the Smile from rolling.

The Altered Labyrinth is a 2 players game related to the concept of logic thinking. Games can happen thanks to 3 main things:  a goal, a chance and rules. But what if players could take turns and establish other player’s rules of the game? The task is simple: bring the Smile out of the maze. But be careful because there is a hidden difficulty: the square in the middle of the maze has hidden magnets that make the Smile loose control and be kind of stuck. It’s very easy to be tempted to reach the exit through the square but this shortcut is actually a trap. The only way to resume playing is to manually take the ball out or through it, as metaphor for a strong will. Now the game can continue accepting the fact that there are no shortcuts but only acceptance of the continuous trial and error.

Mirror with Frame explores the need of change each of us experiences during life. When we face traumatic or extremely delicate events, the pieces composing the mirror where we see our image might brake. In these cases a frame is what gives us the feeling that these parts are still together, that we can still recognize ourself. The frame acts like a glue, giving us the impression that our image is still the one we remember. What the game shows is that once the frame is removed we meet something we didn’t expect: the empty space. Emptiness is free space where those 5 parts of ourself, our Smile and our top 4 important things in life, can be related, move and take other forms. The frame represents the nullification of change, like knotting ourself to something that feels comfortable until we realize it’s putting our identity, changing by nature, in a trap.

The Oscillating Board has been carved with a wavy path on an unsteady board; this toy has the aim to show the relevance of balancing hyper-active and relax behaviors. Those opposites, represented by the red area for hyper-activity and the blue area for the relax, go through all of the route. Indeed, the plane swings along the short side, in a way that, without a direct control applied by the player, it would stay inclined by one side all the time. Only applying his discipline over the rocking plane, the player can make the Smile keep moving through the path, without being stuck in a position. Furthermore, the ball can easily escape the aisle, so the player also has to exercise slackening the run, to prevent it from falling. As only a dynamic situation can lead to a change, in the same way swing is the only way for the Smile to be able to finish the designated path.

The Dynamic Balancing set allows the player to sensory explore the theme of change. It comes in the shape of a construction kit made of spheres of different colors/sizes and arms of different lengths. The Smile is suspended on a sharp brass pin and can remain balanced only if the player inserts at least three sticks together with three spheres. Doing that, he is choosing some colors, arbitrarily corresponding to love or family, friendship, money, work, and so on… The sphere size stands for the importance of that particular issue in that moment. The length of the stick represents the distance he feels from that particular issue. For example, if one decides to represent love with a red big sphere (meaning that it is crucial in this moment), but linking it with a long stick, it is possible that he feels love as something needed but far at the same time (physically or emotionally). Each issue, that is present in his life in its own way, has to come together in its preferred shape to make the Smile find a balance to remain in equilibrium on the brass pin. This research toy is all about finding which is, for each subject, the right compromise to find a balance, and understanding how even small changes in our life lead to a certain amount of time needed to find a new equilibrium. Each issue can change its size, weight and distance from us; it can even suddenly disappear. The balance is always temporary, it is always mutating; that is why it needs a continue research that never comes to an end.

The Communication Project

The photographic campaign follows the idea of making clear and visible the concepts of awareness and incognizance, respectively the wooled threads and the smoke. Smoke, in particular, is that matter each subject emerges and comes from in unconsciousness. Beyond it, there are the threads that interweave creating ovals, surfaces, horizons, the life matters we manage to catch, realize, organize. The toy becomes a mean, a tool and co-player actively taking action, sometimes complementing, sometimes guiding, sometimes surrounding the player.

The photographic campaign has been realized in Spazio 36, a photographic and cinematographic production based in Milan, has enabled the project to bring the educational vision in an artistic visual field and in the photographic representation. The art direction has been led with Daniel Patelli, founder of Spazio36. TOY and Spazio36 share the same vision about the commitment in producing valuable projects, with a social, cultural and artistic background with the strong belief that bringing beauty in each and any field is an act of love for the entire world. And it is in this world that this project wants to have a meaning, contributing to lay the first stones for the construction of a more conscious society and careful for people’s needs.

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