About this course

This is my attempt at a syllabus that sits at the intersection of play studies, game studies, and recent critical work on technology. It has been running since 2017, and this curriculum is from the Fall 2020 iteration.


PlayLab is a studio-based course focused on exploring the design space of emerging technologies from the perspective of play. By combining theory from game design, interaction design, philosophy of technology, and media theory, PlayLab both explores the knowledge required to create new concepts for cutting-edge commercial technologies and proposes new methods and paradigms for developing content for those platforms. This course explores new and emerging technologies from a play design perspective, while engaging with interaction design theory, philosophy of technology, and science and technology studies. Throughout the course students explore the design challenges and opportunities that arise with new digital technology. A central part of the work is the development of that explore future forms of digital play. This is a course about finding the play element in cutting-edge technology.

PlayLab introduces students to the method of Critical Technical Practice (Agre, 1997). The course presents students with relevant theory for the exploration of play design as a method for creating interactive experiences with new and emerging technologies. At the same time, PlayLab is a practical course in which students develop one proof-of-concept and one fully-fledged prototype that explore both the theory and the material properties of the selected technologies. Students can choose which technology to use for each of these requirements.

PlayLab is a course that allows students to think while making, and make while thinking, exclusively focused in the challenges of new and emerging commercial digital technologies.


After the course, the student should be able to:

Analyze the design space of new and emerging technologies, as well as their technological possibilities and limits.

Describe the different perspectives that play provides as a design perspective.

Explore the playful possibilities of new and emerging commercial technologies

Design and develop new play experiences and concepts tailored for new and emerging commercial technologies.


The course is structured around a combination of lectures, workshops, student-driven seminars, and lab sessions.

Lectures are classic, teacher-centric lectures, in which students are presented with the main theoretical concepts of the course. All lectures will be broadcasted live, recorded, and distributed through LearnIT. Students should know however that this is a course that expects, but not requires, group work, and therefore there is an advantage in attending the lectures when possible.

Workshops are sessions scheduled to introduce and explore the technologies selected for the course. The first 2 weeks of the course will be focused on these workshops. Workshops will be broadcasted live, recorded, and distributed through LearnIT. Again, attendance is highly encouraged as group work is expected.

Student-driven seminars are activities in which students, in groups, read and prepare a presentation of a part of the course literature, for class discussion (all students will have to prepare at least one seminar).

Lab sessions are scheduled so students can have time to develop their prototypes and receive feedback from the course manager.


Syllabus BibTex file

Lecture 1


  • Flores, Fernando, and Terry Winograd (1986) Understanding Computers and Cognition. A New Foundation for Design. Boston: Addison-Wesley, pp. 70-82, 83-92.

  • Seaver, Nick (2019). Knowing Algorithms. In Vertesi, J., Ribes, D., DiSalvo, C., Loukissas, Y., Forlano, L., Rosner, D., Shell, H. (Eds.). DigitalSTS: A Field Guide for Science & Technology Studies. Princeton, Oxford: Princeton University Press, pp. 412-422

Lecture 2


  • Introna, L.D. (2014). Towards a post-human intra-actional account of socio-technical agency (and morality). In Kroes, P., and Peter-Paul Verbeek (eds.). The Moral Status of Technical Artefacts. Amsterdam: Springer Netherlands, pp. 31-53

  • Sudnow, David. Pilgrim In the Microworld, New York, Warner Books, 1983. pp. 13-27

Lecture 3


  • Apperley, T., & Jayemane, D. (2012). Game Studies’ Material Turn. Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture, 9(1), 5–25.

Lecture 4


  • Reeves, Byron, and Clifford Nass. The Media Equation. How People Treat Computers, Television, and New Media Like Real People and Places. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. pp. 3-19, 75-111

  • Marenko, B. & Philip van Allen. “Animistic Design: how to reimagine digital interaction between the human and the nonhuman”. Digital Creativity, 27(1), 52-70

Lecture 5


  • Taylor, TL. “The Assemblage of Play,” Games and Culture, 4 (4): 331-339

  • Meadows, Donella H. Thinking in Systems. A Primer, Vermont: Chelseapp. 11-34, 75-111

Lecture 6


Theory Readings:

  • Sudnow, David. Pilgrim In the Microworld, New York, Warner Books, 1983. pp.31-69

  • Haraway, D. “A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s”. Australian Feminist Studies, 2(4), 1987: 1-42

  • Hayles, N. K. (2006). Unfinished Work: From Cyborg to Cognisphere. Theory, Culture & Society, 23(7–8), 159–166.

Lecture 8


  • Ekbia, H. R., & Nardi, B. A. (2017). Heteromation, and Other Stories of Computing and Capitalism. The MIT Press. pp. 1-20

  • Roy, D. (1959) “Banana Time”: Job Satisfaction and Informal Interaction. Human Organization: Winter 1959, Vol. 18, No. 4, pp. 158-168.

  • Srnicek, N. (2017). Platform capitalism. Cambridge, UK ; Malden, MA : Polity. pp. 36-92

  • Graeber, D. (2014). What is the point if we can’t have fun?. The Baffler, January 2014



  • Greenfield, Adam, Radical Technologies, London: Verso, 2016; pp. 63-84


  • Breslin, Samantha. “01010000 01001100 01000001 01011001 Play Elements in Computer Programming”. American Journal of Play, 5:3, 2013

  • Lugones, María. “Playfulness, ‘World’-Travelling, and Loving Perception.” Hypatia, vol. 2, no. 2, 1987, pp. 3–19.


  • Nippert-Eng, Christena. “Boundary Play.” Space and Culture, vol. 8, no. 3, Aug. 2005, pp. 302–324,


  • Khovanskaya, V., Bezaitis, M., & Sengers, P. (2016). The Case of the Strangerationist: Re-Interpreting Critical Technical Practice. Proceedings of the 2016 ACM Conference on Designing Interactive Systems, 134–145.

  • Frauenberger, C. (2019). Entanglement HCI The Next Wave? ACM Trans. Comput.-Hum. Interact., 27(1).

  • Zimmerman, J., Forlizzi, J., & Evenson, S. (2007). Research Through Design As a Method for Interaction Design Research in HCI. Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 493–502.

  • Bardzell, S., Bardzell, J., Forlizzi, J., Zimmerman, J., & Antanitis, J. (2012). Critical Design and Critical Theory: The Challenge of Designing for Provocation. Proceedings of the Designing Interactive Systems Conference, 288–297.

  • Ratto, M. (2011). Critical Making: Conceptual and Material Studies in Technology and Social Life. The Information Society, 27(4), 252–260.

  • Sengers, Phoebe and Bill Gaver. “Staying Open to Interpretation: Engaging Multiple Meanings in Design and Evaluation”. DIS 2006 Proceedings, 2006, pp. 99-108

  • Light, Ann, Irina Shklovski, and Alison Powell. 2017. “Design for Existential Crisis.” In Proceedings of the 2017 CHI Conference Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI EA ‘17). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 722-734.