Playing @ the ITU

This is the teaching page for Miguel Sicart, play scholar

Playful Design

Semester: Autumn

Size in ECTS: 15

Course Language: English

Min. number of participants: 10

Expected number of participants: 30

Max. number of participants: 35

Formal Prerequisites:

Students are expected to have taken either Game Design or Designing Digital Play, both courses offered at the ITU. Otherwise, students are expected to have taken introductory courses on game design or interaction design. Students are expected to be proficient in design research writing and practical design. Students are also expected to have some basic programming knowledge (i.e. students should be able to write a basic interactive piece of software that imports libraries and makes use of object oriented programming techniques). While the course is largely language agnostic, the examples will be given in Python and Processing. Students are free to program their projects in any language they wish to.

Intended learning outcome:

This course is designed to expand the intellectual and professional scope of interactive entertainment design students. Students who successfully finish the course should be able to: - Analyse and discuss the cultural importance of play as a form of expression. - Describe the possible uses of play as an instrument or effect of the design of interactive services. - Explore the creative and expressive potential of play outside the scope of game design. - Design and implement play experiences on digital environments.


Prospective students should notice that this is not a game design course. The purpose of this course is to explore play as an expressive form and creative framework outside of the domain of games. As such, the learning goals and activities are not oriented towards game design. The purpose of this course is to explore the use of play as a source of inspiration and creativity in the design of interactive experiences. Throughout the course, students will get familiarized with different theories on play, and how they can be used to enhance services, products, and locations. This is a course about making people play, without games. Prospective students should notice that this is a demanding course. Students are not only expected to produce 4 projects, but also to read and use a selection of texts on play. The projects are expected to be handed in in functional form (as working digital prototypes), and students are also expected to be able to reflect on the contents of their reading and how they inspire their practice as designers. Playful design is a portfolio-based course, intended to expand the scope of the students’ design practice within the (playful) framework of interaction design. The course will give a hands-on approach to play theory, and an academic understanding of the practice of playful design.

Learning activities:

The course is divided in four conceptual blocks. Each block consist of four lectures and one exercise. Each exercise will have clear constraints and must be handed at the end of the block. A block typically spawns two weeks. It is expected that students work in self-arranged groups of no more than 5 people. Each of the first four hand-ins consists of the prototype result from the exercise, plus a written assignment. Each written assignment should be of a minimum of 5000 words, excluding references. The final hand-in should include all the previous material, that is, the 4 prototypes and the essays, to be evaluated by the course manager and the external examiner. Prospective students should notice that this course does not expect more than rough but interesting and innovative prototypes. However, the written essays should address what elements of the theory each prototype focuses on, how the design process took place, and how the prototype can contribute to better understanding the theories presented in class.

Mandatory activities:

4 hand-ins, the last one containing all the previous one.

Assessment form & description

Written exam, group evaluation. Each hand-in accounts for 50% of the grade.

Research articles:

2-3 articles/book chapters per lecture, to amount to a total of 30+ academic articles.

The course has three textbooks: DeKoven, Bernie. The Well-Played Game. Cambridge: The MIT Press (2014) Caillois, Roger. Man, Play and Games. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press (2001) Sicart, Miguel. Play Matters. Cambridge: The MIT Press (2014)

Literature not including research article:

Extra references: two/three articles/book chapters provided per lecture.

##Playful Design Schedule

Lecture 1

Why Play


  • De Koven, B. The Well Played Game, chapters 1 to 6
  • Caillois, R. Man, Play and Games, chapters 1, 2, 5 and 6

Lecture 2

Understanding Play


  • Sicart, Miguel. Play Matters. Chapter 1
  • Henricks, Thomas. “The Nature of Play: An Overview.” American Journal of Play 1, no. 2 (2008): 157-180.
  • Burke, Richard J. “Taking Play Seriously”. In Philosophic Inquiry in Sport. Edited by William J. Morgan and Meier, Klaus V.. Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinectics, 1988. Pages 159-157.

Lecture 3

The Meaning of Games


  • De Koven, B. The Well Played Game, chapters 6 to 11
  • Caillois, R. Man, Play and Games, chapters 3, 4, 7, 8 and 9

Lecture 4

Play and Playfulness


  • Sicart, Miguel. Play Matters Chapter 2
  • Goffman, Erving. “Fun in Games”. In Encounters. Two Studies in the Sociology of Interaction. New York: Penguin, 1972. Pages 15-81.
  • Sutton-Smith, Brian. “Conclusions”. In The Ambiguity of Play . Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1997. Pages 214-233.

Lecture 5

Play and Toys


  • Sicart, Miguel. Play Matters Chapter 3
  • Benjamin, Walter. “Old Toys”. In Selected Writings. Volume 2, Part 1 (1927 – 1930). New York: Belknap Press, 2005. Pages 98-102.
  • Benjamin, Walter. “The Cultural History of Toys”. In Selected Writings. Volume 2, Part 1 (1927 – 1930). New York: Belknap Press, 2005. Pages 113-116.
  • Benjamin, Walter. “Toys and Play. Marginal Notes on a Monumental Work”. In Selected Writings. Volume 2, Part 1 (1927 – 1930). New York: Belknap Press, 2005. Pages 117-121.
  • Best, Joel. “Too Much Fun: Toys as Social Problems and the Interpretation of Culture”. Symbolic Interaction Vol. 21 No. 2 (1998). Pages 197-212
  • Fleming, D. (1996) Powerplay. Toys as Popular Culture, Manchester University Press. Chapter: “The history and narrativisation of toys”, pp. 81‒123

Lecture 6

Play in the Age of Computing Machinery


  • Sicart, Miguel. Play Matters Chapter 8
  • Verbeek, Peter-Paul. “Artifacts in Design”. In What Things Do. Philosophical Reflections on Technology, Agency, and Design. Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania University Press (2005). Pages 203-236.
  • Schüll, Natasha Dow. “Engineering Experience: The Productive Economy of Player-Centric Design”. In Addiction by Design. Machine Gambling in Las Vegas. Princeton: Princeton University Press (2012). Pages 52-75.
  • Schüll, Natasha Dow. “Programming Chance: The Calculation of Enchantment”. In Addiction by Design. Machine Gambling in Las Vegas. Princeton: Princeton University Press (2012). Pages 76-107.

Lecture 7

Social Play


  • Dourish, Paul. “What We Talk About When We Talk About Context.” Personal and Ubiquitous Computing 8, no. 1 (2004): doi:10.1007/s00779-003-0253-8
  • Lindtner, Silvia, and Paul Dourish. “The Promise of Play: A New Approach to Productive Play.” Games and Culture 6, no. 5 (2011): 453-478.
  • Consalvo, Mia. “Gaining Advantage: How Videogame Players Define and Negotiate Cheating”
  • Myers, David M. “Social Play”. In Play Redux available online

**Lecture 8 **



  • Sicart, Miguel. Play Matters Chapter 4
  • Kozlovsky, Roy. “Adventure Playgrounds and Postwar Reconstruction”. In Marta Gutman and Ning de Coninck-Smith (Eds.), Designing Modern Childhoods: History, Space, and the Material Culture of Children; An International Reader. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2007. Pages 171-192.
  • Dattner, Richard. “The Social Function of Play”. In Design for Play. Cambridge: The MIT Press (1974). Pages 17-22
  • Dattner, Richard. “Criteria for Design”. In Design for Play. Cambridge: The MIT Press (1974). Pages 33-52
  • Dattner, Richard. “Children as Designers”. In Design for Play. Cambridge: The MIT Press (1974). Pages 53-64

Lecture 9

Design and Play


  • Sicart, Play Matters Chapter 7
  • Löwgren, Jonas and Erik Stolterman. Thoughtful Interaction Design. A Design Perspective on Information Technology. Cambridge: Mass. The MIT Press (2004), pp. 50 – 100

Lecture 10

Material Play


  • Ingold, Tim. Toward an Ecology of Materials. Annual Review of Anthropology. 41, (2012) 427-442.
  • Piaget, Jean. The Rules of the Game. In The moral judgment of the child. New York, NY, US: Free Press. 1948
  • Simon, Bart. Geek Chic: Machine Aesthetics, Digital Gaming, and the Cultural Politics of the Case Mod. Games and Culture. Vol. 2 Nr. 3 (2007) 175-193

Lecture 11



  • Waterman, Alan S, Seth J Schwartz, and Regina Conti. “The Implications of Two Conceptions of Happiness (Hedonic Enjoyment and Eudaimonia) for the Understanding of Intrinsic Motivation.” Journal of Happiness Studies 9, no. 1 (2008): doi:10.1007/s10902-006-9020-7.
  • Deterding, Sebastian. “The Game Frame: Systemizing a Goffmanian Approach to Video Game Theory.” Breaking New Ground: Innovation in Games, Play, Practice and Theory. Proceedings of DiGRA (2009).
  • Deterding, Sebastian, Rilla Khaled, Leonard Nacke, and Dan Dixon. “Gamification: Toward a Definition.” CHI 2011 Workshop paper (2011)

Lecture 12

Persuasive Play


  • Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Chapters 3 and 4
  • Boal, Augusto. Theatre of the Oppressed. Chapter 4
  • Bogost, Ian. Persuasive Games. Chapter 1

Lecture 13

The Ethics of Play


  • Sicart, Play Matters Chapter 5
  • Consalvo, Mia. “Rule Sets, Cheating, and Magic Circles: Studying Games and Ethics”
  • Burke, Richard. ““Work” and “Play”.” Ethics 82, no. 1 (1971): 33-47.
  • Bynum, Terrell Ward. “Flourishing Ethics.” Ethics and Information Technology 8, no. 4 (2006): doi:10.1007/s10676-006-9107-1.

Lecture 14

Systems of Play


  • Latour, Bruno. Give me a Laboratory and I will Move the World. In K. Knorr et M. Mulkay (editors) Science Observed, Sage, 1983, pp.141-170
  • Taylor, TL. “The Assemblage of Play,” Games and Culture, 4 (4): 331-339
  • Gall, John. Systemantics New York: Quadrangle (1975)

Lecture 15

The Politics of Play


  • Sicart, Play Matters Chapter 6
  • DiSalvo, Carl Adversarial Design Chapter 1
  • Brey, P. “The Politics of Computer Systems and the Ethics of Design.” In The Politics of Computer Systems and the Ethics of Design. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Rotterdam Univ. Press, 1998.

Lecture 16

The Aesthetics of Play


  • Becker, H.S. Art as Collective Action. American Sociological Review. Vol. 39. No. 6 (1974) 767-776
  • Bishop, Claire. “Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics.” October (2004): 51-79.
  • Hickey, Dave. “The Heresy of Zone Defense”. In Air Guitar: Essays on Art & Democracy. Los Angeles: Art issues Press, 1997. Available online