I was proud to moderate an excellent discussion, “LAYERS OF PLACE: Bringing Communities Together by Augmenting Places with Stories, Voices, and Technologies,” on June 22nd, 2021 with the MIT Open Doc Lab. Featuring an interdisciplinary group of artists, scholars, and civic leaders including filmmaker Carla Bishop, urban planner Lafayette Cruise, artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer and interdisciplinary artist Shey Rivera Ríos will discuss the potentials and challenges of augmenting places within communities and with stories to build bridges and bring people together. What policies, strategies, and environments are needed to make them work? Moderated by civic media scholar Benjamin Stokes.
We are excited to announce our next Talk & Play, co-sponsored with MIT Press, for the book launch of “LOCALLY PLAYED: Real-World Games for Stronger Places and Communities.” Join us on Tuesday, June 30th from 6:00 to 7:00pm EDT as we discuss the future of urban play, games of resilience, and how games can strengthen cities and neighborhoods.
Join author Dr. Benjamin Stokes in conversation with Katie Salen Tekinbaş as they explore tools to make your own game for community cohesion, history and empowerment.
The world has changed with COVID-19 — but place matters more than ever. As social distancing enters the next phase, we begin to imagine social interaction in parks and on streets. And we need more than economic strategy — we also need social resilience. Are games an answer?
In 2016, city officials were surprised when Pokémon GO brought millions of players out into the public space, blending digital participation with the physical. Yet for local control and empowerment, a new framework is needed to guide the power of mixed reality and pervasive play.
This new book is the first to show cities how they can be strategic with games in a hybrid world. In Locally Played, Benjamin Stokes describes the rise of games that can connect strangers across zip codes, support the “buy local” economy, and build cohesion in the fight for equity. With a mix of high- and low-tech games, Stokes shows, cities can tap into the power of play for the good of the group, including healthier neighborhoods and stronger communities.
The discussant is noted game designer and academic, Katie Salen Tekinbaş. Katie’s own pioneering games for cities — including the Big Urban Game for the Twin Cities in the U.S. — established some of the foundation for modern research on games. This event will be introduced by Games for Changes President, Susanna Pollack.
Benjamin Stokes is a media scholar, professor, and civic designer. He teaches in the American University Game Lab and School of Communication. Previously, Stokes worked at the MacArthur Foundation in their portfolio on Digital Media and Learning. Stokes’s designs have been featured in the Smithsonian Institution and the Guggenheim Museum, including re-purposed payphones for storytelling and neighborhood mapping by bicycle. His also directs the Playful City Lab at American University.
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Posted onJanuary 10, 2020|Comments Off on “Playful Making with Urban Furniture” (a talk with the Dept. of Ed)
I will be giving a talk for policy makers in education, economic development, and civic games on January 10, 2020. Hosted by the US Department of Education, this convening is part of the larger ED Games Expo at Building Momentum in Alexandria, VA.
This talk brings together some of our research in the Playful City Lab on cities using games with urban furniture (like interactive benches, re-purposed payphones, and interactive fountains), and redirecting the momentum of large commercial games like Pokemon GO (e.g., our research on San Jose) to advance local culture and economic development.
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Creativity from Activism: From Black Cyberfeminism to Localism and Protest
New kinds of creativity are possible with activism, even for non-activist designers. This panel takes an unusual approach, and asks how ALL game designers might benefit from a peek into activism around games — including to invent new kinds of games. For this session, we will avoid the usual silos of activist games for their own sake, or pure activism around current games. Instead, we will ask how activism reveals new forms of gameplay, audience engagement, and genre bending. To do this, we will consider how each example game reveals an opportunity for new kinds of creativity.
Posted onSeptember 1, 2019|Comments Off on Presenting at Connected Learning Summit (UC Irvine, CA)
Our showcase talk will be on: “Neighborhood Circulation of Civic Stories: A Trans-Local Platform” (co-authors: Benjamin Stokes, Olivia Williams, and Hazel Arroyo). This is a design talk, scheduled for 2 pm on Oct. 4, 2019, as part a panel on “Locative Media and Community Engagement.”
The Connected Learning Summit alternates between MIT and UC Irvine, and represents a merger between three community events with this shared vision and values: the Digital Media and Learning Conference, the Games+Learning+Society Conference, and Sandbox Summit.
Posted onAugust 13, 2019|Comments Off on Video: Embedding Games for Physical Space (G4C talk)
Earlier this year I gave a talk at Games for Change on “Embedding for maker games.” The idea was to reveal the creativity that comes from looking beyond our obsession with apps and tiny mobile screens. Instead, we should be dreaming with the right infrastructure for play, from bus stops to public screens… and we can democratize design by aligning game creation with the maker movement.
In cities and neighborhoods, a new kind of game design is emerging. The digital and physical are coming together, from hybrid playgrounds to embedded screens at bus stops. Games were not the original goal. But as millions of youth learn to program Raspberry Pis ($50 each), and escape rooms can be created with DIY (Do-It-Yourself) kits, the movement is growing – and without headsets. In this provocation, you’ll hear how the future of mixed reality does NOT use consumer devices – but rather is embedded in public space and physical objects, strengthening neighborhoods from Mexico City to Los Angeles.
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I will be giving two talks in Kyoto for DiGRA 2019 (the Digital Games Research Association):
(1) “Localism with Games: Horizontal Channels and Models” (9am, Aug. 8)
Should all cultures play the same games? Should all cities? This paper establishes a distinct conceptual basis for games in cities by aligning with localism as a social movement rather than location-based technology. For details, see my upcoming book: Locally Played: Real-world Games for Stronger Places and Communities(MIT Press, January 2020).
(2) “Cities appropriate Pokémon GO:remix models for local needs.” (2:20pm, Aug. 8)
A new role for local government is emerging to appropriate and remix games for city streets. This study investigates how several major cities in the United States created entirely new activities for players to embed the game in city-specific events, beginning in 2017. This study identifies early trade-offs in city tactics, especially in terms of sharing power to negotiate the content layer with the game company and with local residents, borrowing from models of the appropriation of technology. For details, see our public report, “Cities Remix a Playful Platform: Prominent Experiments to Embed Pokémon GO, from Open Streets to Neighborhood Libraries” (Stokes, Dols, and Hill, 2018).
The event will feature game designer Luke Peterschmidt and historian Denver Brunsman, as we explore how the science of game design might be applied to analyze the Constitution and our political system. Welcoming remarks will come from The Honorable David S. Ferriero, Archivist of the United States.
Posted onJuly 13, 2018|Comments Off on New report: Cities remix a playful platform
After a year of work, I am thrilled to release our report on cities and games. The focus is on five major cities, and how we can build a sense of place by remixing large Augmented Reality platforms like Pokémon GO. One finding: cities often need to remix the game to align it, including with paper and embedded treasure hunts, and within EXISTING campaigns — like open streets and library walking tours.
Posted onJune 9, 2017|Comments Off on Two papers for European conferences
Here are two papers we are presenting this month:
(1) June 22nd in Madeira, Portugal at the “Playable Cities” workshop in the INTETAIN conference, we will be presenting a paper on “Placemaking across Platforms: Playing to Circulate Stories in the Smart City” by Benjamin Stokes, Karl Baumann, and François Bar.
ABSTRACT: Urban placemaking can deepen the sense of place, including with novel technologies. Placemaking seeks to revitalize public spaces, attract investment, and rally stakeholders. How can play help to position residents as storytellers and circulators of key images tied to local history? This study shows how play can leverage smart city technologies, including urban furniture and rebuilt payphones. Game mechanics were selected to gather crowds at local monuments, generate pictures of the group tied to local mythology, and automatically circulate images online. In contrast to “app” based approaches, the design facilitated cross-platform “spread” for local storytelling. The study shows how placemaking can benefit from physical objects and hybrid interfaces to facilitate the circulation of local placemaking narratives.
(2) June 30th in Troyes, France at the biennial Communities and Technologies (C&T) conference, our paper is: “Infrastructures of the Imagination: Community Design for Speculative Urban Technologies” by Karl Baumann, Benjamin Stokes, François Bar and Ben Caldwell.
ABSTRACT: Recent speculative and critical design practices may critique the dominant socio-cultural assumptions of technologies, but often lack diversity and participatory input outside the privileged realm of academic and professional designers. This paper investigates the process and potential of designing speculative futures with local communities, in order to collectively imagine technology that serves a common good and reinforces local identity. This study reflects on the “Sankofa City” project, a three-month community-university collaboration based in a historically black neighborhood in South Los Angeles. The project utilized design fiction scenario videos and collages to present provocative design concepts to local stakeholder meetings and the general public. This paper analyzes the methodology and outcomes of co-designing emerging technologies (such as augmented reality and self-driving cars) in order to establish “infrastructures of the imagination” for long-term strategies and alternative cultural models of innovation.
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