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Welcome to the fifth in a series of researcher blog posts on Remi Bec’s mission to share his experience of Designing in Health with Canadian researchers. The first post is here and the last post can be found here.

About the author

After studying model making and space design in France, Remi Bec completed a PhD exploring the use of games to promote physical activity. Following this, Remi was seconded to the Translating Knowledge to Action team (TK2A – part of the CLAHRC YH) where he was the design researcher lead based at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital. He has now returned to Lab4Living where he is leading on the ‘Play‘ theme within the 100-year Life project. 

He is also director, founder of a social enterprise, GoFit4Fun CIC, which delivers services in the community to fight social exclusion and sedentary behaviours through the co-creation and play of games.

In this post:

You are going to hear about what I do for playing and what I saw from others too!

Presenting ideas around ‘Play’

Top news: Presenting and discussing around ‘Play’ opens up ideas for exploring how co-design could be used to research and implement service delivery in the real world.

Play can be used as problem-solving (e.g. serious games) but not only. Play can also be used as an approach to explore and think differently, and to encourage somebody to do something. This is why since 2006, I have been exploring ‘play’ as a method to increase engagement from participants during participatory research projects (e.g. Function 1st) and as outcomes to promote behaviour change (games prototyped and tested – e.g. Gener-G, Boost Up!, GoFit4Fun).

Throughout this playful exploration, I started to become obsessed with dice. Again, dice were used in two ways. First, as part of a game component: in Gener-G the dice, which always end up getting lost, is enclosed in a sphere. At GoFit4Fun, the dice are giant and made in foam. There is another aspect I developed at GoFit4Fun, it is a dice that can be customised by the players who can define the meaning of each face. Second, as a research tool: as presented in my thesis (Bec, 2015), the concept of dice was used in 3 different ways, all in a participatory context: 1) to define a brief and brainstorm ideas of games; 2) to gain insights and inspiration to create a game prototype; and 3) to gain feedback about a game prototype.

Remi Bec Researcher Blog - Dice to get feedback about prototypes created

Dice to get feedback about prototypes created

The knowledge developed throughout conducting all those years of design-led activities within a participatory context led to the (co-)creation of games, to the development of a  research-through-design methodology and to an approach empowering users to create and co-create new design and games. All those knowledge and skills have been folded into the creation of a social enterprise, GoFit4Fun CIC, which aims to promote physical activity and fight social exclusion – check out our website or our social media (Insta, Facebook and Twitter). The essence of the participatory approach of empowering users to create, develop, and refine ideas through prototyping is at the core of GoFit4Fun, along with some of the games created along the way that are now part of a wider service delivery.

Remi Bec Researcher Blog - Presenting my activities conducted with the social enterprise, GoFit4Fun CIC

Presenting my activities conducted with the social enterprise, GoFit4Fun CIC

I have presented in both Vancouver and Montreal all the above to a diverse audience including all sorts of healthcare professionals and patients at the Quality Forum 2020 conference, to other design researchers, to directors / managers of health organisations, patient representative centres, universities. I have also conducted a short activity and engaged the Graphic design students to give me their definition of play (but I will talk in more detail about it later in this blog!). This is to advertise what we do but also to kick off some discussions and insights to continue exploring the meaning of play in the context of the 100-year Life. How can we explore play with concepts of ageing? How to think of a multi-stage life paced with play? Is retirement play? What is most important: to create a meaningful game or going through a meaningful process with a less ‘precious outcome’? Like in GoFit4Fun, it is about exploring play to better re-invent.

Remi Bec Researcher Blog - Presenting my activities under the ‘Play’ theme as part of the 100-year Life project

Presenting my activities under the ‘Play’ theme as part of the 100-year Life project

Hearing and seeing ideas around ‘Play’

Top news: Playing is a spirit, a state of mind, a way to be. The environment also plays a crucial role to promote interactions.

It is only when we arrived to Montreal that we realised how different it was from Vancouver, if only the language. In the mind of a European who hasn’t got a sense of scale of the American continent, Montreal and Vancouver are in the same country. But one is on the West coast and the other on the East which means it is only a 5h flight to go from one city to another 😉 Vancouver hides a lot (I mean a lot!) of coffee shops and vegan cafes – it is so popular you could think coffee comes from Canada! Vancouver is a city made of glass towers surrounded by mountains and wild countryside. It has an American influence whereas Montreal has an old French quarter which has similarities with Paris. However, the Quebecois accent that I enjoyed listening to doesn’t make it sound like Paris at all!

I was exploring the streets of Montreal when I came across an exhibition called “A toi de jouer!” which translates by “Your turn to play”, at the McCord Museum. The museum exhibited old games such as the original Trivial Pursuit (created by 2 Canadian journalists), the ‘Operation’ game, ‘Monopoly’, ‘Risk’, ‘Clue’, ‘Who is who’ and many more classics.

Remi Bec Researcher Blog - The “A toi de jouer!” exhibition at the McCord Museum

The “A toi de jouer!” exhibition at the McCord Museum

What was also interesting in this exhibition is that they turned some of the games in a giant format. Hence we were able to play a ‘bean bag’ target practice game in giant dice, a 3D version of ‘Snake and Ladder’, ‘Connect 4’, ‘Noughts and Crosses’, and a giant memory game on a wall. It changes a lot the way to traditionally play these games.

Remi Bec Researcher Blog - Snakes and ladders

Snakes and ladders

For the giant version of Connect 4, I found it seems easier to visualise the lines. For the snakes and ladder giant game, the players were the token and they moved along a board that was on different levels, which makes players more active! And Yes, you got it, since you have checked out the GoFit4Fun website to see what we do, you will have understand it is similar to one aspect of our latest game Boost Up!, our snake and ladder version that is also giant 😊 In Boost Up!, the players are the token and have to move up and down the board game which is printed on a tarp. Yet the much more grounded environment is completely different since it allows anchoring the games and changes the overall experience. It gave me ideas to develop GoFit4Fun!

Remi Bec Researcher Blog - Connect 4

Connect 4

The closing keynote speech at the Quality Forum conference back in Vancouver, BC, was delivered by Sickboy, a trio of 3 long term friends in their 30s: Brian Stever, Jeremie Saunders and Taylor MacGillivary. They explained that when Saunders was young, he developed cystic fibrosis. After diagnosis, the 3 friends met up together to quiz Saunders all the questions they wanted to ask about the disease. The fact that all questions were allowed and there was no taboo or ‘sensitive’ topics made the whole situation relax and the humour and laughing that was feeding the conversation helped to connect the ‘healthy’ (i.e. the friends) and with sick boy (i.e. Saunders) and to allow the latter to have more control over the illness as he could speak more freely about it and define the illness on his own terms. It was interesting to hear those 3 lads speaking about the number of cases of ‘sick’ people (both cool and with illness) they talked to and how many bonds they developed. The honesty and genuineness of the conversations allowed real connections with strangers who were sick which might be an interesting approach to adopt / adapt within the context of primary care and the conversation GP might / should have with patients to develop empathy and empower them.

Remi Bec Researcher Blog - Sickboy


The environment in which one might be is crucial to empower someone to adopt a behaviour, change their way of thinking. The way people engage within their environment is also crucial: play might be a fun vehicle to engage someone to do something (e.g. physical activity) and humour might also allow individuals to tackle serious issues in a more relaxed way. All of this relates to my PhD which explored how the use of games might promote physical activity among young people, and more especially to one of my contribution to knowledge which identified a list of engaging factors to promote behaviour change – one of them being the use of humour.

Next time: You will find out what connections were made with professors in Design in Montreal and hear about the teaching we did to Graphic design students!

About this blog

This trip to Canada (Vancouver BC, and Montreal, Quebec) was made possible thanks to NIHR CLAHRC (TK2A theme) and Lab4Living (Sheffield Hallam University) in the UK. I, Dr Remi Bec, Design Researcher, relate in this summary my Canadian experience and therefore this entire content is my views and opinions only, not the ones of the funders. I also apologise for some of the content I relate since there might be elements of the stories that might not be fully accurate. Some details might have been forgotten or changed slightly but it is not to better fit my story – it is solely I have exchanged so much and interacted with so many people along the way that my little brain cannot retain it fully!