Category Archives: updates

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.

Two papers at ICA

Here is where you can catch me at ICA this year.  (ICA is the big communication conference, this year in San Diego, CA in late May.)

  • Placemaking with games — Monday, May 29th at 5pm.  Our paper is: “Creative placemaking for neighborhoods: Positioning a game to circulate stories” (see ResearchGate for preview), with Karl Baumann, Francois Bar, and Ben Caldwell.  In the Hilton San Diego Bayfront, 4, Sapphire 400B.
  • Positioning a physical “diversity storytelling system” within a community — Friday, May 26 from 8-9:15am. With co-researchers Samantha Dols and Kara Andrade. Official title: “Here we listen: Positioning a hybrid ‘listening station’ to circulate marginalized voices across physical and digital channels in a neighborhood.” In Hilton San Diego Bayfront, 2, Indigo Ballroom C.

Hope to see you there!

Talk at DC IdeasFest: “Gaming for the City” (May 6)

Live near DC? Come to my talk at DC IdeasFest on “Gaming for the City/ Pokémon Go and DC.” Hear about a new kind of game that can connect neighbors, support local business, explore our history, and even tackle socioeconomic segregation. The story goes much deeper than Pokémon Go. Saturday, May 6th at 10:30am.

The theme for DC IdeasFest is amazing: “we hold the audacious belief that the growth we are experiencing [in DC] can and must be equitable, that we must be a city that is inclusive of all.” See their full list of talks.

My talk is about using games for community engagement and neighborhood impact…

(Screenshot of DC play of Pokémon Go via DCLeeFilms)

DESCRIPTION: Play can strengthen cities, gather open data, and introduce neighbors. New forms with mobile media are combining urban streets with digital flows of information, from Pokémon Go to mapping neighborhood history. Games can get us out in public space, building social capital and ties to local business.

How can we shape the impact of such games in our city and its communities? How will our approach be different than what is emerging in Copenhagen or Los Angeles? With examples and conversation, we’ll explore the answers.

Time and location: Saturday, May 6th from 10:30am- 11:30am.  In the Carnegie Library (Gallery 3) of Washington D.C., 801 K St NW, 20001 (+ Google Map). If possible, register in advance.

p.s. — This talk builds on our Games+Cities event from January, and my new course American University on “Playful Cities.”

Early images of our “diversity storytelling system”

Here are a few early pictures of our prototype for a “diversity storytelling system” at AU.

The idea is that audio stories in physical space can shift which voices circulate, and who has the burden of speaking in public. I’m proud there are some echoes of participatory design, since it was funded in part by the graduate student government at AU, with the sculpture and audio created by students as well.

Inspiration for the project comes in part from last year’s successful SKIN show at the LA Municipal Art by the Leimert Phone Company with Ben Caldwell, François Bar, and Karl Baumann.

GDC talk: Training Designers to Collaborate with Researchers

How can we empower designers to increase “impact,” especially in collaborating with researchers?

UPDATE (3/15/2017): Video of the talk is now live on the GDC Vault!

Next week I’ll be presenting at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco.  This talk extends research with the Game Impact project and G4C, and amazing conversations with pioneers in training designers for research collaborations, including Heather Desurvire, Mary Flanagan, and Jessica Hammer.

Training Designers to Collaborate with Researchers: Reframing, Scaffolding, and Roles

Feb. 27th, 2:10pm — See details.

Graduates in design are under increasing pressure to collaborate with social scientists, including to measure impact, and to improve the product itself. How should game educators prepare them?

Reports show growing fragmentation between designers and researchers; silos are deepening as language is politicized. This session will analyze several models for training students to collaborate with researchers on “impact.”

Are entirely new courses needed on “game research methods,” beyond usability? How can students be empowered to stand up for good design, even as they share power with outside experts?

Takeaways: Attendees will take away several distinct strategies (for the classroom and beyond) for training designers to work with external researchers. Learn what several universities are doing, including different approaches to usability training, managing up, and reframing creativity for impact. Each strategy builds the capacity of students to collaborate with outsiders.

Accepting for January: Game Design MA at American University

A reminder that we are still accepting students for January 2017 — tell your smart friends about our unusual MA program in Game Design. DC is emerging as a fascinating place to consider how games apply to other domains, from cities to health and learning. Currently I am teaching a course on Playful Cities, and in the spring will teach on Game Research Methods.

Here is a flier on the program:


New course: “Playful City” (game design + neighborhood impact)


Playtesting some quick prototypes using the ARIS engine

This semester I’m piloting a new course called “Playful City: designing media for stronger neighborhoods and community impact.”

We have MA students from the AU Game Lab, as well as some advanced undergrads.

PREMISE: Play on urban streets can introduce neighbors, retell history, and deepen our sense of place. From PR to activism, the battle for neighborhood identity is increasingly waged with media. Some of the most innovative strategies are emerging with game-based activities and pervasive media.

Official description: Students will create original games and activities, with no programming required (just a passion for neighborhoods and media). This course will emphasize games as community strategy, especially by learning from activities we design.
Prototyping will involve simple tools for embedding media in communities, from bus stops and text message clues, to oral history at listening booths.
Playtesting will reflect on social implications from tourism and economic development, to race relations and gentrification, local history and community organizing.

In sum, this course will tap communication strategies for behavioral change, collective storytelling and building group identity. We will reflect on how games are different than other strategies, from allowing transgression to crossing generations and reclaiming space.

Video from our G4C panel on “Increasing Social Impact: Tools to Design Across Sectors”

For two years, the #GameImpact project investigated sources of failure in articulating game impact. Our first results (published last year) showed the fault lines — especially across sub-fields. Now we introduce and debate several “thinking tools” for executive producers, lead designers and funders. Here are strategies to avoid the holes between research and design, between impact and intention.


  • Asi Burak (Board Chairman, Games for Change)
  • Colleen Macklin (Founder and Co-Director, PETLab)
  • Benjamin Stokes (Civic Media Scholar and Designer, American University School of Communication and Game Lab)

Presenting at ISTE Conference: First-person learning and civics

iste-2016If you’re one of the 15,000 educators heading to Denver later this month, join our session!

Our theme is “First-person Learning” with a focus on civic education games.  Co-panelists are USA Today’s Greg Toppo, author of The Game Believes in You, iCivics Executive Director Louise Dube, and teacher/researcher Matt Farber.

Wednesday, June 29, 11:45 am–12:45 pm in CCC 607.  See the official session description.

In more detail:

Continue reading

Launching new chapter: Countering Four Risky Assumptions

Today our Game Impact Project releases a new chapter, with some neat infographics. “Countering Four Risky Assumptions,” (PDF, 1.2mb) describes concrete steps to reduce the fragmentation in our field.
The full report on Impact with Games is also updated, based on feedback gathered over the past year. Today’s announcement comes at the Games for Change and Tribeca Games and Media Summit in NYC.