Summer 2013 Conference Schedule

This summer I will be presenting my game-related work at Games+Learning+Society, Games for Change, Allied Media Conference, and DiGRA. Please let me know if you’ll be at any of these conferences or have any questions!


Games+Learning+Society 9.0 (June 11-14, 2013 at University of Wisconsin-Madison)

Tuesday, June 11 at 10:00am 
Co-leading workshop on “Building a Gameful Classroom” at the Playful Learning Summit

A gameful classroom uses game design principles to create a better learning experience for students.  Some of the most powerful examples of engagement from video games include freedom of failure, leveling up, and self-paced progression. For educators who want to adopt these values in their classroom, the administrative overhead can be daunting. This workshop will focus on transforming existing syllabi into gameful syllabi with help from veteran gameful classroom designers.  Using software developed by the GLS community, participants will redesign their classroom into a gameful experience complete with an online portal allowing students to submit assignments and track their ongoing progress.  The workshop will start with presentations of existing gameful classrooms and then participants will be given a walkthrough of a gameful learning management system.  Participants will also work in small groups to redesign an existing classroom into a gameful classroom, using point and skill-based metrics as a means to reorganize classes into systems that increase student motivation and participation.  Participants should bring their own computer.

Co-presenting with Clay Ewing and Kate Fanelli

Wednesday, June 12 at 5:00pm 
Presenting poster “Safety Nets Simplified: Simulated Decision-Making in Volatile Developing Economies”

Abstract: Tanzania Social Action Fund (TASAF), the largest social protection agency in East Africa, developed a productive social safety net (PSSN) program aimed at enabling farmers to better manage their most pressing concern – rising drought risk. Faced with the challenge of communicating the complexities of this PSSN, TASAF designed and then tested a simulation game with over fifty rural farmers. This gameplay enabled these farmers to learn about TASAF’s systems of conditional cash transfers and how PSSN participation can translate into added benefits for the greater community. In fall 2012 TASAF adopted this game as the sole extension tool for its national rollout targeting 13 million Tanzanians living below the poverty line. This poster outlines how the design of this inhabitable game enables this particular community to engage and understand the PSSN’s complex system in order to make informed decisions that will improve their real-world livelihood.

I will present findings from the game design and testing I conducted with TASAF in Tanzania in July 2012.



Games for Change (June 17-19 in New York City at New World Stages)

Monday, June 17 at 12:00-12:30pm
Magnitude: Developing Strategies for Managing Disaster Threats

There are no such things as natural disasters, only natural hazards. Effectively all disasters are man-made when we are aware of our vulnerabilities, can predict environmental hazards but fail to mitigate their impacts. Magnitude puts players in a position to manage the risk of disasters. Players are racing against the clock to meet all of the Millenium Development Goals within their 10-year timeframe whilst being challenged by the threats of environmental shocks that may wipe out their good work. Magnitude was a collaboration between the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction and the Humanitarian Design Lab at Parsons.

Co-presenting with Mathan Ratinam and Ben Norskov

Tuesday, June 18 at 10:45-11:00am
Win Win: Models for Creating a Social Impact Game on a Budget

Non-profit organizations interested in making a game face a conundrum: they do not have game design expertise and hiring an experienced game designer or studio may not be cost effective. These established institutions may have concerns for hiring freelance or independent game designers who may not have a huge portfolio and yet there are indie game designers who would be happy to collaborate on a serious game. We will present 4 models by which organizations can team up with indie game designers on small or large scale game projects based on our own experience.

Co-presenting with Clay Ewing



Allied Media Conference (June 20-23, 2013 in Detroit, MI)

Cops & Rubbers will be on display at the  AMC Arcade 2013 as part of the Imagining Better Futures Through Play track

Access to condoms is crucial for HIV prevention programs worldwide. However, in countries around the world – including in the U.S. – police carry out legal and illegal searches of sex workers and confiscate or destroy condoms found in their possession. In many cases, prosecutors have then used the possession of condoms as evidence of prostitution. This treatment of condoms as contraband forces sex workers to make a choice between safeguarding their health and staying safe from police harassment or arrest.

In 2012 Open Society Foundations released its report Criminalizing Condoms, which documents these practices in six countries and identifies their consequences on sex workers’ lives, including their vulnerability to HIV. Cops and Rubbers is a tabletop game based on this report’s findings, which also serves to bring awareness of these inhumane practices to a wider audience including critical policymakers. The game is an interactive demonstration of these policing practices and highlights the consequences they have on sex workers’ lives. Players take on the role of sex workers trying to achieve basic health and financial goals but who are challenged with obstacles, including extortion and exploitation by law enforcement as a result of the criminalization of condoms. The game enables players to embody a marginalized sex worker met with adversity and experience the emotional struggle this population endures due to violations of their health and human rights. As a result, Cops and Rubbers serves as an alternative advocacy tool that attracts interested parties with its visual, interactive, and simple design.


DiGRA 2013 (August 26-29, 2013 hosted by Georgia Institute of Technology at the Georgian Terrace Hotel in Atlanta, Georgia)

Presenting Paper on “Cops & Rubbers: A game promoting advocacy and empathy in support of public health and human rights of sex workers”

Cops and Rubbers simulates the systemic consequences the police practice of using condoms as evidence of prostitution has on sex-workers’ lives internationally. By embodying a marginalized sex worker met with unconscionable adversity, players experience the emotional struggle this population endures because of a policy that violates their health and human rights. This serious game serves as a captivating alternative advocacy tool and interactive demonstration of these policing practices that elicits heartfelt reactions and independent conclusions about the policy from average constituents to essential policymakers.

Co-presenting “Mechanics and Outcomes: Factors for communicating humanitarian messages with games”

Not-for-profit organizations, including international humanitarian organizations, are increasingly invested in leveraging game mechanics to improve information dissemination in order to communicate their message. Much of the work that happens in the realm of humanitarian games, games for change, and serious games – however one chooses to call it – can be haphazard and done by enthusiastic humanitarian workers and scientists with limited training in game, experiential, or visual design. Diverse collaborators will have different goals and techniques for approaching the design of a serious game. On one hand this can lead to an interesting innovation; on the other hand, it can be detrimental to the desired outcome of the game. Lack of a common literacy amongst creators can result in a broken game, leading players to discredit the often very important topics presented in the game.

Game literacy is often the toughest obstacle to overcome when creating games for a humanitarian purpose. Many of the players have to play the game as part of a workshop; have not played many, if any, strategy games; and have difficulty understanding usual board game tropes. High barriers to entry can be combated in a variety of ways, and one part of our discussion will focus on the game designer’s role in reducing complexity of in-game mechanics without minimizing the importance of or the core message for the topic at hand.

Cultural literacy is yet another issue. How are dice seen in other countries? Are cards seen as a benign pastime, or a vice to be combated? By discussing these issues in a cultural context, we can identify strategies for minimizing future cultural gaffes that prevent game-based learning experiences from being successful. For example, women often have different roles in certain societies than men, and sometimes these roles are revealed through the act of playing simple games – for better or worse.

Humans vs. Mosquitoes, originally designed as a field game to teach children about the risks of vector-borne disease, is one project where the interests of multiple collaborators became evident with multiple variations within its first year. In the role of serious game designers, we worked in partnership with content developers and non-profits, typically non-government organization (NGOs); in the field with healthcare workers in Africa and Southeast Asia; and with the participation of testers from a wide range of audiences. By examining Humans vs. Mosquitoes and its many iterations and manifestations as a case study, we aim to highlight some of the pitfalls in the development process in order to arrive at a set of best practices for the field of humanitarian serious games.

Presenting with Clay Ewing, Mohini Dutta, Ben Norskov, and Eulani Labay