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Research

Research in the Transformative Play Lab is broadly interdisciplinary.  We are concerned with questions of identity, justice, playfulness, design, and futurity. We ground our work in a combination of media studies methods (close reading of games and systems), design methods (creating research prototypes and speculative designs), and ethnographic methods (studying communities of practice). On this page we lay out the major threads of research within the group.

Transformative Costumed Play & Narrative Interfaces:

Drawing on practices from theater and the performing arts we are creating games that use costumes to help elicit a sense of character identification and identity transformation from players, and studying the impact that wearing costumes and masks has on socially co-located play and solo play. We look at how the body of the player can be treated as a form of “narrativized interface” through the design of embodied interactions.

Associated Projects

Associated Publications

Playful Fabrication & Augmenting Reality for Augmented Reality:

We’re creating games and other entertainment applications to be played using 3D printers and other small-scale fabrication systems in order to produce new contexts for hardware innovation, and to better understand use-cases that can drive widespread adoption of these technologies.How does the design of fabrication hardware change when used as a communication device, or a device for play, instead of as a tool for prototyping? We’re also creating microscale architectures (dollhouses, physical models, etc.) to envision a future where pervasive augmented reality technology has reshaped our physical environment. What does the world look like when it knows that a computer is looking at it? How can we create richer AR experiences when the designed environment has elements that originated in a digital system?

Associated Projects

  • TerraForm: a 3D printed strategy game
  • Restless: The Haunted Dollhouse

Associated Publications

Subcultures, Design Fictions and HCI Futures:

We’re studying how different marginalized and non-normative subcultural practices (Steampunk Making, DIY and Hacking, Survivalism and Prepping, Cosplay and Fandom, etc.) prototype alternative paths for technology use, defamiliarize existing techno-social practices, and create alternative design spaces that challenge existing rhetorics of technological monoculture. Alongside this, we are studying the role of popular culture, media, and science fiction in conceptualizing and communicating the ethical, ideological, and social implications of new technologies, and for better understanding the ways in which public narratives shape decision making about new technologies.

Associated Publications

Hybrid Physical Digital Storytelling Systems:

We’re creating physical, tangible, installation-based interactive storytelling systems to explore new design spaces for entertainment, intergenerational communication, and learning.

Associated Projects

Associated Publications

Other Research Threads:

Games Research Methods

One of the main areas we’ve worked in over the last decade has been adapting techniques of close-reading to the specific challenges of studying games.

Associated Publications

Agency as “Commitment to Meaning”

Our work on agency seeks to re-imagine the pleasures of agency through the lens of Speech-act-theory.

Associated Publications

Games for Public Engagement and Policy Inquiry:

We’re studying how to use game design as a methodological toolkit for ethnographic inquiry into areas of contested public policy, like sustainable development. Through an iterative design process with different stakeholder groups we will produce simulations that embody the various points-of-view and policy commitments of the stakeholders, and then deploy them in order to produce dialogue and reflection on the impact of these different perspectives.

Associated Publications

Mapping the Performative Landscape of Games:

We’re creating a platform for crowdsourcing large datasets about how players perceive the demographics of playable characters in order to better understand who games allow us to become when we play, and how this has changed over time (and how this varies across player populations).

Associated Projects

  • Video Game Playable Character Census

Associated Publications

Computational Craft:

We’re looking at the history of the intersection of crafting practices and computation to explore productive overlaps between algorithmic practice, handcraft, gender, play, and politics.

Associated Publications

Games and Chronic Health Condition Management:

We’re creating games that simulate the challenges of managing socially stigmatized chronic health conditions, in order to build awareness of the ecological challenges of managing diabetes, obesity, and invisible disabilities within environments and social contexts that are designed to produce these conditions.