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Meaningful Play 2016 at Michigan State University

Session Information

TitleFinding Meaning in Emergent Play and What That Means for Design
Presenter(s)Mark Chen, Krista-Lee Malone, Kelly Tran and Liz Owens Boltz
TimeThursday, October 20, 3:00p-4:00p
LocationLake Michigan
DescriptionThis roundtable discussion will focus on play that happens at the margins, which often goes counter to intended designed activities yet results in rich, meaningful experiences for players. Designers and researchers of games often focus on effective design in regards to certain goals, such as: best practices for teaching with games, social action, engagement (“fun”), just to name a few. As with previous research (Carter, Bergstrom, & Woodford, 2016; Chen, 2012; Malaby, 2009; Malone, in prep; Morningstar & Farmer, 1991; Steinkuehler, 2006; Taylor, 2006), when we looked at situated player practice--whether in specific learning environments (i.e. classrooms and afterschool clubs) or in the world of gaming at large--we have found cases that bring nuance to how players engage with games. These emergent practices can inform general design how-tos as well as highlight alternative (i.e. non-normative) uses for games, both educational and commercial.

The cases and experiences we’ll describe include: 1) using live-streaming to broadcast a female-dominated tabletop role-playing group, touching on gender performance and non-normative uses of Twitch; 2) work on a new web/book project that aims to document and share esoteric gaming practices ( as a way to highlight diversity in gaming culture; 3) a look at the design tensions that emerged while developing a game meant to engage people in complex ethical decision making, conflict resolution, and global issues; and 4) an examination of the communities around Pokémon Go, in which players make up for the lack of explicit instruction in the game through spontaneous distributed teaching and learning.

After describing our particular cases, the audience will be asked to share theirs as well. This will be followed by a discussion on how diverse sources of meaning-making in games can happen and what this means for our roles as educators and designers. We will ask how educators and designers can better prepare or allow for emergent meaningful play. When is it something to mitigate vs. something to encourage? How do we assess learning outcomes or study the meaning making in situated contexts when often we have specific external outcomes that we’re designing for?

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