Transformative Play

Can games transform us in profound, meaningful, and lasting ways?

Whether played in leisure time or in professional contexts, play can impact us significantly. Games invite us to shift our perspectives, our behavior, our relationships, and our ways of interacting with the world around us. These shifts in perspective can lead us to feel more empowered, empathetic, aware, engaged, and skilled.

At the Games & Society Lab, we investigate the potential of games as a means for personal and social transformation. Whether through design, play, or discussion, games can inspire us to change our perceptions of ourselves, our communities, and our lives.  

Click here to get involved with the Transformative Play Initiative

Click here to learn more about our freestanding courses and certificate track in Transformative Game Design

Click here to learn more about the Transformative Play Initiative Seminar 2022: Role-playing, Culture, & Heritage

Exploring Transformative Play

Research Approaches

At the Games & Society Lab, we research the ways in which games can be vehicles of change and ignite processes of transformation. We are particularly interested in applied play, in which games are employed as a means to assist participants on their journeys of growth. Guiding questions include:

  • What design and implementation practices increase the potential for transformative experiences?

  • What considerations are necessary to foreground when designing culturally responsive and inclusive play experiences?

  • What challenges arise in the design, participation, and research of transformative play?

  • How can we research processes of change over time and assess the effectiveness of playful interventions?

  • How can we cultivate transformational communities that support participants through change processes?

  • How do we design play communities that emphasize safety and encourage bravery when exploring edges for growth?

Conceptual Frameworks

We invite research from a wide variety of conceptual frameworks related to the theory, design, and study of games with regard to transformation including, but not limited to:

  • Design studies

  • Deep game design

  • Applied Theatre

  • Role-playing game studies

  • Developmental psychology

  • Transformational leadership

  • Conflict transformation

  • Ritual studies

  • Psychodynamics

  • Coaching

  • Game design as process

  • Critical making

  • Performance studies

  • Experiential learning

  • Education 

  • Peace studies

  • Group dynamics

  • Depth psychology

  • Counseling

Research Initiatives

Transformative Play Initiative

Research Projects

Games and Learning in Young Children

Existential Transformative Design Framework

Skill Mill

Strengthening Trans Allyship through Game Design

Outcomes

Edited books or periodicals

Bowman, Sarah Lynne, Evan Torner, and William J. White, eds. 2021. International Journal of Role-Playing 11. View publication here

Book chapters

Baird, Josephine. 2021. "The Missing’s Misdirect: Or How I Came to Study Transgender Exploration, Expression and Embodiment in Videogame-based-learning." In A Ludic Society, edited by Natalie Denk, Alexander Pfeiffer, Alesha Serada, Thomas Wernbacher. Krems, Austria: Edition Donau-Universität Krems. View publication here

Bowman, Sarah Lynne, and Kjell Hedgard Hugaas. 2021. “Magic is Real: How Role-playing Can Transform Our Identities, Our Communities, and Our Lives.” In Book of Magic: Vibrant Fragments of Larp Practices, edited by Kari Kvittingen Djukastein, Marcus Irgens, Nadja Lipsyc, and Lars Kristian Løveng Sunde. Oslo, Norway: Knutepunkt, 2021. View article here

Rusch, Doris C., and Andy Phelps. 2021. "Games of the Soul." In A Ludic Society, edited by Denk, et al., 102–126. Donau-Universität Krems, Universitätsbibliothek.

Journal articles

Baird, Josephine. 2021. “Role-playing the Self: Trans Self-Expression, Exploration, and Embodiment in (Live Action) Role-playing Games.” International Journal of Role-Playing 11. View publication here

Rusch, Doris C. 2020. "Existential, Transformative Game Design.” Journal of Games, Self & Society 2, no. 1: 1-39. ETC Press.

Rusch, Doris C., and Andrew M. Phelps. 2020. “Existential Transformational Game Design: Harnessing the ‘Psychomagic’ of Symbolic Enactment.” Frontiers in Psychology (November 4).
View publication here

Keynote presentations

Rusch, Doris C. 2021. “Of Magic, Witches and Neuroscience – Designing Games for Integrity and Personal Power.” Keynote presented at ICDIS, Talinn, Dec. 2021. Video linked here

Westborg, Josefin. 2021. “10 Years of Working Professionally with Edu-larp.” Keynote presented at the Knutepunkt Conference in Oslo, Norway, October 7, 2021. Video linked here

Conference proceedings

Baird, Josephine and Sabine Harrer. 2021. "Challenging Systems of Play: Toward Game Design Ethics for Transgender Allyship." In The 16th International Conference on the Foundations of Digital Games (FDG) 2021 (FDG’21), August 03–06, 2021, Montreal, QC, Canada. ACM, New York, NY, USA, 6 pages. View publication here

Phelps, Andy, and Doris C. Rusch. 2020. “Navigating Existential, Transformative Game Design.” In Proceedings from DiGRA ’20 – Proceedings of the 2020 DiGRA International Conference: Play Everywhere: 1-4.
View publication here

Keynote presentations

Rusch, Doris C. 2021. “Of Magic, Witches and Neuroscience – Designing Games for Integrity and Personal Power.” Keynote presented at ICDIS, Talinn, Dec. 2021. Video linked here

Westborg, Josefin. 2021. “10 Years of Working Professionally with Edu-larp.” Keynote presented at the Knutepunkt Conference in Oslo, Norway, October 7, 2021. Video linked here

Conference presentations

Baird, Josephine. 2022. “Role-playing as Your Self: Designing a Live Action Role-playing Game for Trans Self-Expression, Exploration and Embodiment.” Paper presented at Popular Culture Association, April 13. Video linked here

Baird, Josephine. 2021. "Being Trans in Video Games." Paper presented at Humlab Share, Umeå University, September 8 2021. 

Baird, Josephine. 2021. “The Mislead of The Missing: A Queer Videogame Narrative through Misdirection of Gameplay, Player Presumption and Storytelling.” Paper presented at International Conference on Games and Narrative, University of Waterloo, U.K., June 11 - 16, 2021.

Baird, Josephine. 2021. "The Missing’s Reverse Revelation: A Videogame Attempt at Trans Empathy by Playing Counter Chrononormativity." Paper presented at Queer Temporalities in Literature, Cinema, and Video Games International Conference, December 2 2021, Murcia, Spain. 

Baird, Josephine. 2021. “The Missing Trans(gender) Subject: Trans Exploration, Expression and Embodiment in Video game-based-learning.” Paper presented at NordMedia 2021 Conference, Reykjavik, Iceland, August 18–20th 2021.

Baird, Josephine 2021. "Role-playing the Real: Designing for Trans and Nonbinary Experiences and Explorations in Larps." Paper presented at Knutepunkt 2021, Oslo, Norway, October 6 2021. Video linked here.

Baird, Josephine. 2020. “The Mechanics and Misdirection of The Missing: Trans Exploration, Expression and Embodiment in Videogame-Based-Learning.” Paper presented at FROG: Future and Reality of Gaming 2020, Vienna, Austria.

Baird, Josephine and Sabine Harrer. 2021. "Challenging Systems of Play: Towards Game Design Ethics for Transgender Allyship." Paper presented at FDG21: Foundations of Digital Games 2021, Montreal, QC, Canada, August 3-6 2021.

Bowman, Sarah Lynne. 2022. “Introduction to Identity and Role-Playing Games.” Paper presented at La Red de Investigadores de Juegos de Rol (RIJR) y la Universidad Autónoma de Baja California (UABC), Feb. 26. Video linked here

Bowman, Sarah Lynne. 2022. “Finding the Self in Role-playing Games: Weaving Myth, Narrative, and Identity.” Paper presented at Evolution of Story II: Unravelling the Hero's Journey, June 23, 2022. (Forthcoming).

Bowman, Sarah Lynne. 2022. “‘Let's Play a Love Game: Role-playing Intimacy and Relationships in Games.” Paper presented at Popular Culture Association, April 13. Video linked here

Bowman, Sarah Lynne. 2021. “Games of Personal Horror: Shadow Work and Role-playing Experiences.” Paper presented at Monstrosity Seminar at Tampere University, Finland, April 22, 2021.

Bowman, Sarah Lynne, Kjell Hedgard Hugaas, and Áron Birtalan. 2021. “Role-playing for Transformation.” Knutepunkt Magic Book Program, March 13, 2021.

Bowman, Sarah Lynne, Josephine Baird, Kjell Hedgard Hugaas. 2021. “Liminal Intimacy: Role-playing Games as Catalysts for Interpersonal Growth and Relating.” Paper presented at Future and Reality of Gaming 2021, 15th Vienna Games Conference,  Vienna Austria, November, 26th & 27th 2021. Video linked here

Bowman, Sarah Lynne, Josefin Westborg, Kjell Hedgard Hugaas, Josephine Baird. 2021. “Agents of Empowerment: A Role-playing Game in Service of Cultivating a Soulful and Sustainable Academia.” Presented at the Gamification for Sustainable Development at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, Scotland, December 15, 2021. Video linked here

Diakolambrianou, Elektra, Josephine Baird, Josephine Westborg, and Sarah Lynne Bowman. 2021. “The Therapeutic Potential of Larp: Cognitive Considerations.” Poster/video presented at MET Conference: Neuroscience and Theater Therapy, Bucharest, Romania, May 28, 2021. Video linked here

Hugaas, Kjell Hedgard. 2021. “The Final Chapter: Practicing Dying Through Play.” Presented at the Knutepunkt Conference in Oslo, Norway, October 7, 2021.

Hugaas, Kjell Hedgard. 2022. “Death and Dying in Games: Exploring Age Old Questions of Mortality through Role-playing Games.” Paper presented at Popular Culture Association, April 13. Video linked here

Linnamäki, Jori. 2020. “An Approach to Board Game Design that Centres Allyship and Empowers Trans People.” Paper presented at FROG: Future and Reality of Gaming 2020, Vienna, Austria.

Linnamäki, Jori, and Josephine Baird. 2020. “A Reflection on the Ethical Decision-making Process during Participatory Game Design with and for Vulnerable Populations.” Paper presented at Gender Studies Conference 2020: Reclaiming Futures, Tampere University, Finland.

Rusch, Doris C. 2020. “Symbolic Enactment in Digital Games.” Lecture presented at Gotland Higher Seminar Series, Department of Business Studies, Uppsala University, Campus Gotland, Feb. 13, 2020.

Rusch, Doris C. 2019. “Existential Game Design – Games that Contribute to a Meaningful Life.” Lecture presented at Forskarlunchen at Campus Gotland May 8th, 2019.

Rusch, Doris C. 2019. “Existential, Transformative Game Design.” Lecture presented at the Center of Excellence in Game Culture Studies, University of Tampere, Oct. 2019.

Rusch, Doris C. 2019. “Existential, Transformative Game Design.” Lecture presented at the Department of Public Health and Social Medicine / Social Medicine / CHAP (Child, Health and Parenting), Uppsala University, Dec. 12th, 2019.

Rusch, Doris, and Andy Phelps. 2020. “Games of the Soul.” Paper presented at FROG: Future and Reality of Gaming 2020, Vienna, Austria.

Westborg, Josefin. 2022. “Learning and Transfer through Role-playing and Edu-larp: A Cognitive Perspective.” Paper presented at Popular Culture Association, April 13. Video linked here

Westborg, Josefin, Josephine Baird, Kjell Hedgard Hugaas, Sarah Lynne Bowman. “Higher Education for Edu-Larpers: The Transformative Play Initiative.” Presented at the Edu-Larp Conference in Oslo, Norway, October 4, 2021.

Westborg, Josefin, Josephine Baird, Kjell Hedgard Hugaas, Sarah Lynne Bowman. “The Transformative Play Initiative.” Presented at the Knutepunkt Conference in Oslo, Norway, October 8, 2021. Video linked here

Games

Hugaas, Kjell Hedgard, and Karijn van der Heij. 2021. If I Could See Your Face Again. Stockholm Scenario Festival 2021.

Rusch, Doris C., and Andy Phelps. 2021. The Witch’s Way. Itch.io.
Play The Witch's Way

Game Festival Exhibitions

Rusch, Doris, and Andy Phelps. 2021. "The Witch’s Way: A Transformational Story Adventure: Theorizing a Model for Existential, Transformative Game Design via the Creation and Analysis of an Experimental Sample Work." At Foundations of Digital Games 2021 Conference (FDG21). Games & Demos. Winner of 2nd place for best-of-show award.

Rusch, Doris, and Andy Phelps. 2021. "The Witch's Way: A Transformational Story Adventure." At The International Conference on Interactive Digital Storytelling (ICIDS) 2021 Art Show. Tallinn, Estonia.

Rusch, Doris, and Andy Phelps. 2021. "The Witch's Way." At the International Communication Association (ICA) 2022 Conference Interactive Artifacts Exhibition. Paris, France.

Workshops

Bowman, Sarah Lynne, Josefin Westborg, Josephine Baird, and Kjell Hedgard Hugaas. 2022. "Creating Order from Chaos: The Practice of Synthesizing Disparate Research Agendas into Coherence." Workshop and larp for CIRCUS, Uppsala University, April 29.

Bowman, Sarah Lynne, and Kjell Hedgard Hugaas. 2021. “The Batman Effect: Unlocking Your Inner Superhero.” Workshop at Knutepunkt 2021 Magic Book (online), March 13, 2021.

Last modified: 2022-07-26