Play and real-world social change


This discussion section situates games and play within a conversation about non-fiction storytelling, civic motivations, ethics, and anti-oppression principles. Drawing on the interviews of several creators of the projects in this report, the focus is on location-sensitive and hybrid games and platforms that merge virtual and real-world play with engagement structures and the potential for direct civic action.

As Benjamin Stokes suggests in his Reframing Learning and Mobile discussions, learning is inherent in games because, if for no other reason, the rules need to be learned and the play system effectively navigated by the player in a way that hopefully provides some degree of pleasurable challenge. It follows that when games are contextual to real-world spaces, their learning ties directly with how we move through, relate with, and affect these spaces. In other words, as individual players, we are required to reflect upon our own place in the world and its systems, our own movement, behavior and assumptions, as well as society’s norms. It is with such a reflective anti-oppressive ethical and metacognitive framework that games can be a powerful asset in the struggle towards closing the “power gap” between those who experience oppression and those who hold greater social privileges.

Equally relevant is the remaining leg of this “tripod”: Jeff Watson’s discussions on Play and Performance in Civic Space and the historical connections he forges between games, art, and interventions in urban space. This historical trajectory includes threading the ways in which several participatory traditions of art practice such as Surrealism, Dada, Fluxus, and Situationism, inform a particular zeitgest in game design very much alive today. These games often include physical enactment that takes place in the streets and argue for the potential of this playful performativity constituting reflection – if not direct intervention – on everyday culture. Some of the projects in this report serve as literal exemplars of social change interventions, while others are less obvious and directed; all offer unique perspectives and solutions.


This ends the overview page on Social Change. For the other two dimensions in the civic tripod of mobile and pervasive games, see the discussions on civic performance/art and learning.