Game Research Special Interest Group: ‘Thinking Through’ Games and Play

Analyze and strategically utilize games and play as epistemic practice in academic teaching and research

Motivation and Impact

Practice-based media research has a long tradition in domains like performance studies, film studies and creative writing; in contrast, only a few researchers have experimented with practice-based game and play research, and none of these approaches have yielded a coherent teaching or research framework yet. To address this issue, the interdisciplinary and interfacultary special interest group (SIG) integrates (1) theories and practices from the Humanities, e.g. practice-based epistemologies in domains like photography, theater, literature and data as well as auto-ethnography, with (2) game technology and research methods from the field of Interaction Technology. The core methodological question the group addresses is: How can game design and playful/critical making become an integral part of interdisciplinary research and teaching rather than ‘just’ creating a game as ‘outcome’?


To unpack the central research question, we pursue several goals that operate as self-contained sub-projects but also explore the premises of the SIG from different angles.

  • We develop, implement and evaluate a methodological framework based on Discursive Game Design to “make data playable. That is, we create and re-make small, interrelated game prototypes to derive new insights from small/mid-sized datasets beyond the primacy of visual evidence, but also – by defamiliarizing established data analysis practices – to reassess the use and ‘built-in’ assumptions of digital tools in academic and professional contexts.
  • We study how games and play can make academic education more engaging and foster critical thinking beyond the use of ready-made ‘serious’ games or gamification tools like Kahoot that foreground memorizing factual knowledge.
  • By creatively exploring aesthetic hypotheses - e.g. on how music and movement support focalization in digital games or how concepts like friendship or competition are/should be implemented in children’s games – we aim to produce knowledge that will benefit game makers and academics alike.
  • We develop novel prototyping tools and techniques for scholars and students with both technical and non-technical backgrounds that support interdisciplinary research by affording game co-design as part of the research process.
  • By designing game co-creation techniques like eco-modding, we aim to connect academic work with “communities of practice” outside of academia to maximize grassroots public impact. For that purpose, we adapt research into game co-creation from children (Kangas, 2010; Kafai and Burke, 2015), to academia and professional training.

Initiatives and projects

The following thematic initiatives are related to the goals and methodologies of this SIG:

  • Systematizing and improving early attempts at using games in the context of policymaking (e.g. studio Fields of View in Bengaluru) following Norton Long’s Ecology of Games framework
    • Glas, René, Jasper van Vught, and Stefan Werning. 2020. “‘Thinking Through’ Games in the Classroom - Using Discursive Game Design to Play and Engage with Historical Datasets.” ToDiGRA. In production.
    • Verhoeff, Nanna, Maaike Bleeker, and Stefan Werning. 2020. “Sensing Data: Encountering Data Sonifications, Materializations and Interactives as Sites of Knowing.” Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, Special issue “Digital Culture Meets Data”: in print.
  • Game-based in-class exercises
    • Play, Perform, Participate (block 2, RMA)
    • Language and Identity: Researching and Writing Who We Are (block 2, BA3)
    • Speelse Communicatie (block 3, BA3)
    • Urban Interfaces (block 3, RMA)
    • Serious Gaming (Block 3, MA)
    • Muziek, Spel en Uitvoering (block 4, BA3)
  • Individual practice-based tutorial projects, e.g. within the RMA Media, Arts & Performance Studies
    • Nayaka - A series of game poems, Yotam Rozin (Unity)
    • An interactive essay on the classification of authoring tools for interactive digital narrative, Yotam Shibolet (Twine)
    • Game Music Arrangement and Transcription as Practice-Based Research
    • Making Data Playable
  • Dangerous Games (2018-2019), an NWO KIEM project using Discursive Game Design to explore drug-related threats to health and public order through game-making
  • GamesCanon – The Game, developed in collaboration with Beeld en Geluid to communicate the Dutch Games Canon to a broader audience

Team Members

  • Karin van Es, René Glas, Michiel Kamp, Nanna Verhoeff, Jasper van Vught, Stefan Werning (Department of Media & Culture Studies, Faculty of Humanities)
  • Sander Bakkes, Joske Houtkamp (Department of Information and Computing Sciences, Faculty of Science)
  • Deborah Cole (Utrecht Institute of Linguistics OTS & Institute for Cultural Inquiry, Faculty of Humanities)

Affiliate Scholars

  • Irina van Aalst (UU)
  • Annebeth Erdbrink (TU Delft)
  • Ruud Jacobs
  • Wouter Moraal


  • Cologne Game Lab (Prof. Gundolf Freyermuth, Katharina Tillmans)
  • Game Innovation Lab Bayreuth (Prof. Jochen Koubek)
  • Playful Methods initiative (
  • Dutch Institute for Sound and Vision (Beeld & Geluid)
  • Creative Coding Utrecht
  • Center for Computer Games Research, ITU Copenhagen
  • Game Research Lab, Tampere