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Posted on Wed 5 Jul 2017

IGLAB & IGFEST the early years

Free Ice Cream have re-launched IGLAB and now that IGLAB is back on the map it’s a great time to tell the story for those of you that missed it the first time around.

Thumb Wars

Thumb Wars

Posted by

Simon Johnson

I’m a game designer specialised in enabling people to play in real, social spaces. I design to amaze, activate and promote understanding. I am a co-director at Free Ice Cream, where we make complex subjects playable.

Free Ice Cream have re-launched IGLAB in order to give designers and audiences a place to test, play and develop new real-world games. They’ll be producing a series of six at the Pervasive Media Studio with the inaugural lab taking place on 25th July. If you want to know more about the current call for games, or buy a ticket to come and play, click here.

Now that IGLAB is back on the map it’s a great time to tell the story of IGLAB for those of you that missed it the first time around. 

In the early days of the Pervasive Media Studio, Simon Johnson had just come from working for Blast Theory. As the Studio gathered its first residents, Simon was talking a lot about the need for a testing ground for new types of real-world games. Since this was the Studio, he was met with widespread enthusiasm, so the idea rapidly became a reality and the world’s first ‘pervasive games testing lab was born. The idea was to popularise this form of games and to encourage experimentation in other artists and designers. 

At IGLAB, a lot was made of the use of new technologies to create novel experiences, but a lot was also made from card and gaffer tape. Rapid prototyping and fast iteration was the order of the day. The monthly games event offered the community of designers a chance to hone their skills, and the space to figure out what works - and what doesn’t. 

The lab events were chaotic, hands on, dynamic and participatory. Strong encouragement was given to anyone who turned up to turn their hand to designing a game, alongside workshops especially targeted at artists to help them extend their practice. 

"We really wanted to get involved in making street games but we didn’t know where to start. igfest gave us the platform and the support to start making our own work
." Ali John - Yellobrick 

The project quickly scaled, adding IGFEST, the annual festival and one of Bristol’s signature events, to the IGLAB lab format. The enthusiasm of the community of people that gathered around the project was the cause of this rapid growth- and at the centre of it all, the Studio’s support. Play and games are very much a part of the Studio’s DNA now, and seen in the ongoing success of the studio’s Playable City platform . 

"When Simon Johnson created iglab he became one of a handful of founders of a movement that combined games, theatre and other art forms to create new kinds of engaging and transformative experiences that I never before experienced. This movement not only changed how the the cultural sector (and myself) regard play, it’s infectious energy was a key success in bringing together the Pervasive Media Studio community, and in inspiring what is now the global Playable City movement. From how to invite an audience to play, to how to design a compelling experience – The games that Simon makes and curates continue to deliver huge learning about cities, site specific work, collaboration and perhaps importantly how to have fun as a grown up." 
Clare Reddington - Creative Director at Watershed

In the 5 years the festival ran, IGFEST featured more than 100 games made by around 60 different artists, supported by Arts Council England, Bristol City Council, Watershed and Creative England. 

Come along to play, design or both in any of the six upcoming IGLABs.