Cultures of Play

How are values and beliefs reflected by games? How do games shape cultures and communities?

While games can create new and imaginary worlds, they also reflect the world in which they are made and the people that make them. Games are affected by the social and cultural realities impacting the people making them, as well as the lens through which these designers view the world. 

At the Games & Society Lab, we consider games as part of the larger cultural and social structures surrounding them. We view games as works of art that not only reflect culture, but also shape how culture unfolds moving forward. We analyze these works of art in order to understand the ways in which social norms impact them, while also observing the ways in which people use games individually and in groups.

Exploring Cultures of Play

Research Approaches

At the Games & Society Lab, we study the contexts within which games are made, played, and discussed. We are particularly interested in issues of inclusion and representation. Guiding questions at the Lab are: 

  • How can we develop methods to make game design and the games industry more equitable, inclusive, and sustainable

  • How can we create games that reflect and foster values of diversity, equity, inclusion, conscious representation, and sustainability

  • How can we encourage these values in play communities?

We also study games as artifacts that are both shaped by culture and contribute to it. Artifacts are objects of artistic significance to particular cultural or subcultural groups. Questions of particular interest include:

  • How is the production and consumption of games impacted by ideological values and economic pressures?

  • How does the content of games reflect broader cultural trends, beliefs, and values?

  • How do players form social networks and subcultural activities around games?

  • Do games reproduce the dominant culture and normative behaviors or challenge them?

  • Can gaming communities become sites of resistance or counterculture?

Conceptual Frameworks

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

  • Design studies

  • Critical making

  • Heritage studies

  • Sociology

  • Ritual Studies

  • Ethnography

  • Cultural studies

  • Critical race theory

  • Sexuality studies

  • Game design as process

  • Art history

  • Cultural psychology

  • Anthropology

  • Political economy

  • Post-colonial studies

  • Gender studies

  • Discourse analysis

  • Queer theory

Research Projects

ERDA (Effective Digital Regional Agenda)

Strengthening Trans Allyship through Game Design

Understanding Prosocial and Antisocial Behavior in Players


Conference presentations

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.

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.

Sihvonen, Tanja, Harrer, Sabine and Khattab, Mona. 2020. "Narrative Transformations and Cultural Appropriation. Placemaking in Assassin’s Creed: Origins Discovery Tour Mode." Paper presented at FROG: Future and Reality of Gaming 2020, Vienna, Austria.

Last modified: 2021-07-29