>> BOOK: Locally Played: Real-World Games for Stronger Places and Communities (MIT Press, 2020). 

“a must-read for designers, players, activists, citizens, educators, and people who care about the state of our current world” – James Paul Gee

I am an associate professor at American University, where I direct The Playful City Lab. My research investigates civic media, community engagement, and neighborhood empowerment. I am based in the AU Game Center/Lab, and am a fellow at the Center for Media and Social Impact (CMSI) and at the Metropolitan Policy Center (MPC). I supervise PhD students in Communication, and teach classes like playful cities in our Game Design MA and MFA programs.

>> Reach me on Twitter @bgstokes and LinkedIn. For recent projects, see my news updates.

Background: More than a decade ago I co-founded Games for Change in NYC, the leading festival and hub for social issues and games. I then joined the MacArthur Foundation as a program officer in their portfolio on Digital Media and Learning. More recently, I spent a year teaching data science at the UC Berkeley School of Information. My PhD is from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in Los Angeles.

Current research:

  • Stronger neighborhoods with real-world games: I study how communities can use digital media to shape engagement on physical streets and in strong places, including to connect neighbors and preserve local culture. (My new book from MIT Press is Locally Played: Real-World Games for Stronger Places and Communities)
  • Participatory design of civic media: I facilitate and teach community-based design, especially with urban furniture like rebuilt payphones and our humanities truck. Our new game authoring system is called Hive Mechanic, and empowers ordinary people to make their own neighborhood games.
  • Impact with games: Too often, we ask the wrong questions — and fail to learn from other disciplines. Games require multi-disciplinary thinking, simply for good design.  This research, initially funded by the Packard Foundation, identifies how we can avoid some costly pitfalls by using neutral language that can bring designers and scholars together in more productive ways. Our findings are on #GameImpact.

Research history: See my projects page for the latest.  I continue work with the Leimert Phone Company to consider how mobile media and urban furniture can empower local communities (co-founded with François Bar at USC, Ben Caldwell at KAOS, and Karl Baumann); I worked with Tracy Fullerton at the Game Innovation Lab to investigate how real-world games shape learning networks; with the Metamorphosis project led by Sandra Ball-Rokeach I studied neighborhood empowerment by analyzing the local communication ecology; and across all this, in my work with Henry Jenkins in Civic Paths I investigated how civic life is changing for young people in a digital age as part of the MacArthur Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics.

In Another Era… I managed programs at NetAid/Mercy Corps in gaming, online volunteering, and online learning for global citizenship. Working in educational technology, I was a producer at ProQuest/Bigchalk.com, which reached more than 43,000 schools. I developed digital games (e.g., Peter Packet Challenge) and learning communities that engaged more than 150,000 youth in fighting extreme poverty. I studied the single atom wire for my B.A. in physics at Haverford College, and studied West African drumming in Senegal.  

Contact: The best way to reach me is by email, bstokes@american.edu.