Transformative Play Initiative

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. The Transformative Play Initiative combines these research interests with education. Our goals include:

  • Developing accessible tools for designing and facilitating transformative play experiences;

  • Building online and on campus graduate programs in Transformative Game Design for practitioners in helping professions;

  • Hosting workshops, lectures, roundtables, and seminars featuring experts in the field in our Transformative Play Initiative Event Series;

  • Collaborating with international partners on research projects;

  • Maintaining an open-access archive of relevant research, documentation, design tools, and best practices;

  • Securing physical spaces for experimental design, play, and research to take place; and

  • Producing academic and popular source materials on theory, practice, and case studies related to transformative play.


Researchers

Related Projects

Related Educational Opportunities

Related Research Opportunities

Funding

Games & Society Lab

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.

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.

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

Journal articles

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

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.

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

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.

Grants and Project Funding

Sustainable Heritage Research Fund (SuHRF) grant for the Role-playing, Culture, and Heritage Seminar. October 6-8, 2022. (Forthcoming). (Doris Rusch and Sarah Lynne Bowman).

  • Amount: 150,000 SEK

Get involved

Are you involved in designing or implementing transformative play experiences? Do you work with these topics in your research or pedagogy? If so, we are interested in collaborating with local, national and international partners. 

To contact us, email transformativeplay-speldesign@uu.se

If you want to stay updated on news and developments, join the Transformative Play Initiative mailing list:

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Last modified: 2022-07-26