After years of creating transgressive adventures that transform people’s sense of risk and possibility in urban environments, I was bombarded by requests from onlookers who wanted in. They’d send eager emails asking how they can be added to the list as if pitching themselves to me would gain them admission to some secret society.

Each request broke my heart a little. I would love for more folks to make their own daring rituals of transgression and transformation. Why are they waiting for us to do it for them? This question has sent me on a quest to distill what exactly makes an intimate social experience truly transformative in the hopes of creating tools to inspire others. By mashing up game design and the anthropology of ritual, I think I’ve figured out what some of the key elements are.

Successful experience designers, self-identified or not, tend to employ similar strategies, especially when it comes to opening people up to risk in a caring way. I’ve been going on adventures with avant-garde morticians, sex party purveyors, and seasoned wilderness guides to understand how they bring people into intimate contact with challenging situations.

The Design Research Program at the School of Visual Arts has gotten me started. I’m preparing a public version of the research thanks to a residency at NEW INC.