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Saturday, June 10 • 9:30am - 11:00am
Emerging Approaches to Teaching Games and Social Justice

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This roundtable considers how experimental, innovative, and emerging approaches for social justice-oriented teaching with games, gaming, and game design provide pedagogical opportunities for students to engage critically with the complexities of capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy, cisnormativity, heteronormativity, ableism, colonialism, and other interlocking oppressive systems and ideologies of power. Games have been and continue to be important cultural sites for negotiating the politics of representation, inclusion, and equity, including exploitative labor injustices in the industry, issues of misrepresentation and underrepresentation of marginalized groups in gaming content, and online harassment and toxicity, to name a few concerns. Thus, games offer a compelling flashpoint for exploring issues related to social justice, particularly as questions concerning the ethics of various technology industries take center stage. Pragmatically, because games have become one of the most widely consumed and discussed media forms in contemporary culture, they offer advantages for teaching social justice by drawing on student engagement, familiarity, and interest with gaming. Additionally, games–as technologies built to enact interlocking processes–provide a medium for critical engagement with systemic and structural thinking.

The conversations featured here in this roundtable discuss both teaching game studies and game design for social justice in non-games-focused classes as well as social justice for the game studies and game design classroom. Through discussion of their experiences teaching with assignments, activities, and engagements with games–from game playing and game streaming to game studies, game design, and gaming events–the speakers explore how gaming can be used for developing and honing critical thinking, critical making, and critical worldbuilding toward social justice and equity.

The first set of short presentations focuses on approaches to game design and game making in the classroom through rich explorations of platforms and power, collaboration and community, and theory and practice. In “Critical, Queer, and Resistive Design: Teaching Critical Technology Studies through Game Design,” Whit Pow discusses teaching resistive design through a design project in which students create games and interactive experiences using non-game engines including Microsoft PowerPoint, Google Maps, Twitter, and others. In their talk, Pow speaks about the process of teaching about the biases inherent to software design, the exclusionary assumptions and norms built around platforms, as well as the possibility for critical, queer, and resistive uses for teaching critical technology studies through hands-on and entry-level approaches to game design. Following that, Teddy Pozo will present “‘Let’s All be Theorists and Let’s All be Practitioners’: Collaborative Public Events and Inclusive Games Pedagogy,” which reflects on the classroom itself as a designed interactive experience benefitting from a co-design model that culminates in a collaborative exhibition of student work. In enabling students to take ownership of a final showcase event for their work, Pozo suggests that conceptualizing the class itself as an interactive event and the individual assignments as experiments toward such an event, mobilizes event-organizing pedagogy’s focus on community-building and inclusion in order to counter dominant prioritization on developing expertise and professionalism that enables the dismantling of (white-supremacist capitalist patriarchal) gatekeeping practices in both humanities and computer science. Next, in “Critical Game Making: Teaching Design with and from Game Studies,” Michael DeAnda discusses teaching game studies in a design school. Through this course, fae uses critical game making projects for students to engage with scholarship and explore the relationships between theory and design. Emphasizing exploration and curiosity through rapid prototyping, iterative design cycles, and other mechanisms to support student engagement in critical making, DeAnda provides opportunities for students to embrace failure as part of their learning process, one that affords experimentation with design materials and testing hypotheses about design and theorizing.

The latter set of short presentations explore critical engagements with gaming content. Amanda Phillips discusses their experiences performing live online gameplay for social justice classes in “Critical Streaming Pedagogy: Successes, Failures, Insights.” Critical streaming pedagogy requires the instructor to integrate analytical observations, theoretical perspectives, and critical commentary into a mode of live play that students usually expect to be entertaining. In this presentation, Phillips will speak about their experiences while streaming in social justice classrooms, which present unique challenges in terms of game content, student engagement, and preparation. How can instructors successfully balance the expectation of liveness with the need for preparation and rehearsal? How does streaming platform choice impact pedagogy? What is the worst thing that could happen? Lastly, Josef Nguyen shares “On Using Fictional Games for Teaching Social Justice,” which draws on his experiences teaching with fictional games found across narrative media to explore how games writ large operate as technologies for cultures to make sense of themselves, others, and the worlds they inhabit or seek to build. With particular generativity for examining tensions between individual agency and structural conditions, he suggests that representations of fictional games, from Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games to Tomorrow Corporation’s Little Inferno, offer cultural sites for exploring the contested meanings of equity and fairness, meritocracy and privilege, utopia and dystopia, collaboration and competition, and other social relations, practices, and values through what we think games are or expect them to do.

These presentations will prime a discussion with the audience about the use of games and game design for social justice pedagogy. This format will facilitate collective learning about these emerging pedagogical strategies, and ideally audience members will contribute their own best practices as well.


Amanda Phillips

Assistant Professor, Georgetown University
avatar for Whitney (Whit) Pow

Whitney (Whit) Pow

Assistant Professor, New York University

Teddy Pozo

Bennington College

Michael DeAnda

DePaul University

Josef Nguyen

Associate Professor, The University of Texas at Dallas

Saturday June 10, 2023 9:30am - 11:00am EDT
Main 210