Category Archives: events and conferences

Video released on “Layers of Place” (panel with Open Doc Lab)

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.

Watch it here:

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Book talk with Katie Salen @ G4C — June 30

From the event description:

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 PlayedBenjamin 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.

Heading to IndieCade 2019

I’m presenting with the amazing Kishonna Gray on Thursday, Oct. 10 for IndieCade (1:30pm, see full schedule). Our session:

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.

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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.

Visual for our talk:

Abstract for our talk:

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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.

Original description (June 18, 2019):
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.

Video on my talk: Games to Empower Neighborhoods

The video is now up from my talk at American University on Games to Empower Neighborhoods: How a new kind of game is building local networks and promoting sustainable business. The talk features the games Macon Money, NYC Commons, and contrasts with 311-style apps like See-Click-Fix.

games-neighborhoods-poster-thumb-copAbstract: A new class of civic games is affecting the real world. Real-world games can go beyond education and training by attempting to get something done, like raising funds or building trust across race and class divides. Different models are needed to understand the impact of such games, especially for local empowerment. Results will be discussed from a particularly bold experiment by the Knight Foundation, where a new game was created to structure economic activity, and fight socio-economic segregation. This talk offers a new way to understand how game-based activities can drive economic development alongside community empowerment, and how to evaluate some of the unusual risks of algorithmic policy.

Afterward, a nice summary of the talk was posted by Pat Aufderheide of the Center for Media and Social Impact (CMSi); and the Commons Lab wrote about the talk with more quotes, which was reblogged by the Governance Lab at NYU.

See also: my prior article on Learning within Real-World Action (2012), published by IJLM from MIT Press (see full cite, with Jeff Watson and Susana Ruiz).

partners1This research was only possibly thanks to the generosity and prior work of Madeleine Taylor of Network Impact in partnership with Anne Whatley of Cause Communications (see also their excellent report for the Knight Foundation).

Co-sponsors of the talk included the Serious Games initiative at the Wilson Center, the AU Game Lab and AU Center for Media and Social Impact, and the AU Library.

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Presenting on Reimagining Payphones as Urban Planning (at USC)

usc-annenberg-symposiumThis Thursday March 27th, I will be giving an update on our research with the Leimert Phone Company at the USC Annenberg Symposium. Details are below. I will be co-presenting with collaborating researchers Karl Baumann and Andrew Schrock.

Reimagining Payphones: Urban Planning via the Leimert Phone Company

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LACMA panel and downtown mapping with FoodPrint

LA Walking Tour + Party (December 8th). I’ll be leading a collective mapping activity as part of the tour, using everyday cellphones. From their website:

…an afternoon foodscape-mapping walk that will give us an inside look at downtown LA’s cold storage infrastructure, caffeine artisans, and future food market, followed by a happy hour food map presentation and party. The walking tour will take place from 1pm to 5pm on Saturday, December 8, and the party will follow on immediately afterward, from 5 to 7pm.

Culinary Cartography panel at LACMA (Sunday December 9th, 1:30pm). This is the 4th international conversation in a series called Foodprint. The LA version is at LACMA, where “panelists will explore the forces that have shaped the Angeleno foodscape and speculate on how to feed LA in the future.”

Culinary Cartography: What can we learn when we map Los Angeles using food as the metric?

Jonathan Gold (@thejgold) is a food critic who currently writes for the Los Angeles Times and used to write for LA Weekly and Gourmet. In 2007, he became the first food critic to win the Pulitzer Prize. He is also a regular contributor to KCRW’s Good Food radio program.

Mary Lee is Deputy Director of the Center for Health Equity and Place at PolicyLink, providing research, technical assistance and training to public and private agencies collaborating to build healthy communities. She is a practicing attorney with more than 25 years of experience in civil rights, land use, economic and neighborhood development strategies and civic democracy. Her areas of expertise include the impact of the built environment on health, health disparities in low-income communities, and food deserts.

Benjamin Stokes (@bgstokes) investigates real-world games and participatory mapping, most recently in South Los Angeles. Benjamin is a co-founder of Games for Change, the nonprofit movement to use games for social impact. Previously, he was a MacArthur Foundation program officer in the portfolio on Digital Media and Learning. Benjamin is currently completing his PhD at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.

Teague Weybright is the current Board President of the Los Angeles Community Garden Council, which serves dozens of Community Gardens throughout Los Angeles County. His time is also spent at various school gardens, teaching urban agriculture to students, as well as developing urban farms with Farmworks LA.

Moderator: Nicola Twilley (@nicolatwilley), Edible Geography

upcoming panels: DML and GDC 2012


Next week I will be presenting at two conferences: DML (March 1-3) and GDC Education (March 5-6, 2012).  Watch for:

TOPIC #1:  “Gameful Layers for the Freshman Experience” explores game systems that are embedded within education.  Two case studies will be discussed in detail, described by the staff behind them.  This panel actually appears at both DML and GDC Education, and is jointly organized by the University of Southern California, the Rochester Institute of Technology, and Microsoft Research.  Fellow panelists include Jeff Watson, Tracy Fullerton, Donald Brinkman, Andy Phelps, and Liz Lawley. From the DML description (see also the official GDC description):

The transition to college is a difficult experience for many young people, marked by rapid change as well as social, emotional and intellectual challenges. Additionally, today’s students may feel disconnected from traditional university classroom materials and structures, spending the majority of their out of class time interacting via text and web.

This session will look at two very different experimental games which attempt to scaffold that freshman experience, allowing digital natives to bring their existing communication and media skills to bear on the building of college-level social groups and 21st century skills such as team-building, problem-solving, creative and critical thinking, brainstorming, experimentation, etc.

The two case studies were both launched in Fall of 2011 and each team has worked to assess and evaluate the outcomes so far. Just Press Play, from the Rochester Institute of Technology, is funded by Microsoft Research, and is an achievement-based system that encourages students to think of the obstacles in their path as part of a narrative of their educational development. Reality Ends Here, from the University of Southern California, is an internally funded project from the School of Cinematic Arts. Structured as an alternate reality game, the experience introduces students to the culture and history of the school, encouraging them to become part of that tradition from day one. Designers and evaluators from each project will discuss learning goals, design strategies, assessment approaches, preliminary outcomes and next steps for these innovative digital learning environments.

TOPIC #2:  Mobile Quests that Remix Public Events for Social Change. Along with Francois Bar, George Villanueva, and Otto Khera — part of the ParTour team.  From the official description, here’s the overview:

In this workshop, small groups will design their own “quests” to hack public urban events.  Mobile phones are at the center of our approach, and we will help participants explore how locative media can intersect with public events like festivals, parades and tours.  The workshop builds on our experience designing quests within a large Los Angeles event called CicLAvia, which regularly transforms 10+ miles of downtown L.A. into a car-free zone for 80,000 people to re-imagine their city.

Our designs will be based around a timely question: As more cities host events like CicLAvia that open the streets, how can we collaborate with community-based organizations to plant mobile “hooks and triggers” for longer-term civic learning and social change?  (This notion of hooks and triggers is borrowed from game design as discussed by Katie Salen.)

Our approach is aggressively democratic on several fronts.  We emphasize mobile designs that work in poorer communities and ideally avoid smartphones entirely.  The workshop will introduce several technologies, including one that allows for basic phones to create and exchange multimedia using basic text and picture messaging.  (This is based on the system designed with day laborers in Los Angeles called Mobile Voices.)  Another technology we will cover is a branching text-message tool akin to choose-your-own adventure books.  

We also seek to democratize innovation by going beyond technology, and looking to design the social fabric.  Social change is sustained and secured with organizations.  This necessitates a kind of design which targets community-based partnerships as much as user experience.  For this workshop, the small groups will be challenged to create designs that support multiple organizations operating quests in parallel, each with its own social change objectives, including research efforts based at universities.  

This workshop will demo and modify the ParTour system we tested in Los Angeles this fall.  On our pilot, we rapidly trained more than 70 individuals and sent them on quests as urban storytellers, mappers and photographers.  

For the workshop, small groups will each tackle a recurring event in a major city, and develop a plan to hack it with a combination of mobile technology and community partnerships.  We will borrow rapid prototyping techniques from the world of game design, using role play and paper designs.  Yet all groups will also be asked to apply some of the mobile technologies we will teach.  After groups demonstrate their designs by city, the full group will debrief on implications of this exercise for both research and mobile practice.

TOPIC #3:  ECDemocratized.  Adam Ingram-Goble from our team is presenting (I’m maxed out on panels!) as part of a larger discussion of research from emerging scholars led by James Paul Gee.  Our portion:

ECDemocratized: ECD (Evidence-Centered Design) is an approach to educational assessment that relies on evidentiary arguments. We will present the design of a tool based on ECD ideas, that supports the learning of assessment as a 21st century skill. The use of this tool is distributed across both teachers and students such that students are participants in the assessment development process as well as the production of work to satisfy the assessment.