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.

Presenting at DiGRA in Japan

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).

Game Design and the Constitution (at the National Archives)

I will be moderating a conversation at the National Archives on “Game Design and the Constitution” this Thursday, September 6th, at 7pm.

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.

A live stream is available for those beyond DC.

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New report: Cities remix a playful platform

report cover thumbnail: cities remix a playful platformAfter 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.

Details and pictures are at or see more on the major cities covered.

Any advice on continuing the public conversation, including with city innovators? For example, we wrote “5 provocations” to help read the report:

Our full press release with the Knight Foundation and Niantic follows…

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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: