Uncovering Play Through Collaboration and Computation In Tabletop Gaming

Sean Duncan and Matthew Berland


Games scholarship has moved beyond principled description of experiences of gameplay to uncovering the ways that players make meaning in gaming spaces, be they in digital forms, tabletop forms, or physical games. Uncovering the structures of play within games implies better addressing the ways in which rule sets, the social milieu of a particular game, and even the motivating potential of a game narrative can all interact in the shaping of a game experience. In the present study, we address several of these concerns by teasing out the interaction of two valued practices found within game play: computational thinking and collaboration.

In this work, we investigate how players exhibit computational thinking and collaboration in delimited play space -- the strategic board game Pandemic (Leacock, 2007). Pandemic is an award-winning, collaborative tabletop game in which up to four players work together to rid the planet of four diseases concurrently spreading across the globe. Involving negotiation, the development (and iteration) of collaborative strategies, as well as a potentially motivating "save the world" framing, the game provides researchers with a rich space in which to study the interaction of computational thinking and collaboration. As studies of collaborative tabletop games (e.g., Zagal, Rick, & Hsi, 2006) have revealed their interesting complexity as play spaces, we see Pandemic as a useful testbed in which to study how game rule sets, social configurations, and a motivating theme can combine to provide meaning to their players.