Playing with memory

Alastair Somerville
5 min readMay 31, 2018



You can now buy these cards as an instant download on Etsy for $2.50.

I’m doing workshops on design for forgetting this year so I’m making & testing exercises for participants at the moment. This weekend I’m at an art/music camping festival and will run an open workshop on ideas of memory and forgetting.

DIVE cards

I will try out a second game on memory at this event. It’s a simple talking game for two or three people. It’s best that they have known each other for a few years so it’s for families and friends.

The card game is based around an idea I’ve been working with called DIVE.

  • Describe
  • Imagine
  • Viewpoint
  • Experience

It is a guided method of accessing memories that are fragmented over time. It uses:

  • how memories are held contextually
  • how memories are described through sensory aspects of experience
  • how memory is held both socially and communally
  • how repeating and telling stories of memories reconsolidate them

Players talk and listen to memories of events that they may have shared or know about through friends or other connections.

I will use holiday memories from peoples mid-20’s as the anchor for the open workshop.

Why play this game?

I will be talking about remembering and forgetting at the event so that will provide some explanation to participants of what the game is doing.

The explanation is that it is a reaction to both my work in dementia and accessibility and my own ageing (I’m 53 this year).

The game is to recover and resolidify memories from the memory bump period of life for middle aged people.

Some key stages of memory over life

It is helpful to know that how human memory operates changes as you age.

In particular, that nostalgia and anecdote are actual things with clear purposes.

It becomes harder to make memories as you age. Nostalgia is a way in which memories from the most intense period of remembering, the memory bump around your 20’s, are brought forward to maintain a sense of identity.

Rather than highlighting what you cannot remember newly now, find comfort and joy in what you did do and remember well.

It becomes harder later to recall memories in later life. Cells fail. More importantly, connections across the brain begin to fail.

Anecdote is a way of creating packed memory stories that are easy to recall and recite. Rather than waiting for sensory details to be be painted in, embed them in the story.

It is a way of being part of human community and, again, a way of maintaining a sense of self.

It is important that people recognise these natural changes as they get older. Nostalgia and Anecdote are perfectly valid and natural stated of being in memory.

Yet we only talk of ageing and memory in the shadow of fearful things: of dementia in particular.

Being comfortable with change

How can we prepare for getting older if we don’t know what happens?

How can we age positively if only fear of loss of memory is the only narrative we know?

How can we live well if only medical diagnosis is the way of speaking of it?

The open workshop is a way of playing with happy memories in order to help people understand that memory will change and that is natural.

Living and remembering better

The DIVE model is also an exercise in repeated simple practice for long term health.

Memory is held in traces that can dissipate. Reconsolidating memories is a way of maintaining. Connections are maintained thru practice.

Telling stories of memories, thinking of the sensory elements and talking of other viewpoints (with friends and family if possible) are ways of maintaining wellbeing.

Does it matter that the memories aren’t completely true? Not really. Human perception is always a mix of senses, existing memories, imagination and emotions. Being comfortable with that fictional nature is also helpful.

Playing with memory

I will update this post with photos from the festival workshop (I have just laminated A4 sheets as it is forecast to rain) and reflections on it next week.

I have a longer post on Design for Forgetting on Medium you can read too.

Much too much design is concentrated on grabbing attention and demanding memorability. The game discussed here (and another I’m working on) are about respecting what people want to remember and forget.

If you want a chat, please contact me.


I’m on my way back from the Feed My Soul festival now and we did run a 45 minute workshop, in a tent, in a Welsh field with 25 participants, mostly in the 50 – 75 years old range.

I talked for 10 minutes on how memory changes over life and how those changes are natural. Then we spent the rest of the time working through the DIVE model in small groups (of family and friends when present).

We talked about holidays 30 years ago and many other things.

People shared memories that were completed by other people.

Sensory memories were anchored to contextual moments.

DIVE model in action:

  • contextual foundations
  • sensory detailing
  • social connections
  • storytelling

That seems a good result to the workshop.

Letting people understand that ageing and memory changes are naturals. Getting old is not an illness.



Alastair Somerville

Sensory Design Consultant, usability researcher and workshop facilitator. Twitter @acuity_design & @visceralUX