Playing games together
: play interventions for community and communal play

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis is concerned with play, particularly the role of social play in a co-located context and its ability to bring people together. Participation in social play can have significant effects on an individual, group, community and culture, and thus, through practice-based research, this thesis documents the exploration of the design of “playful interventions” which may be artefacts or events which seek to bring people together through play. In play, individuals form shared meanings, understanding and values, as determined by the rules of the play situation. In the play experience, they become temporary communities, who, through play, can experiment, explore and redefine their relationships with one another, the play context and potentially the world beyond. The experimental nature of play leads it to be naturally imbued with transformative potential for everyone involved; whether that be small in scale, such as forming a new way of looking at a space through playing within it, or on a larger scale, through forming new concepts around a local area or governmental policy.

Play is, however, very unpredictable, being led by player interaction, and always pushes up against the rules of the play situation. In play, the particular output (if there is one) is never certain, and no two play experiences will be the same. This unpredictability means that its transformational power is always a potential but never guaranteed. Designers, when working with play as a medium must embrace this unpredictability and explore approaches to design playful experiences which are satisfying in themselves for the participants whilst also trying to find methods to unlock the potential for individual (and group) transformation through play.

The thesis is a narrative account of sustained academic research, based upon eight academic publications and practice works, produced between 2013 and 2018. Six of these publications document practical exploration of the creation of playful interventions, in the form of video games, performances and events. Two further publications explore design approaches to enhance participation drawing from expert interview analysis and theoretical engagement with institutional approaches to promotion of participation in the museum and gallery. The body of work thus explores the design of participation from two perspectives: the artist/designer of an artefact and as a “context provider” who designs events and spaces within which play, and participation can take place amongst participants.

Within this thesis, the body of publications are contextualised in relation to theories of play, game design and art practice and also drawing from theories around communities of practice and communities of play. A series of expert practitioner interviews underpin both the academic and practical framing of this research, drawing from key practitioners in the UK and Europe working in play, game design, event curation and community work.

The thesis formalises the design methods used to create playful interventions by the author and expert practitioners in the field of social play as presented both across the academic publications and within interview content. The formalisation of these design techniques is presented as two social play frameworks, one for designing participation around artefacts and one which focusses upon designing participation around events. Each framework aims to aid a designer and/or context provider in helping participants to unlock the unpredictable yet transformative potential of play as individuals and as communities whilst acknowledging the complex interrelations which occur in designed social contexts.

Date of Award3 Apr 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Abertay University
SupervisorGregor White (Supervisor), Joseph De Lappe (Supervisor) & Darshana Jayemanne (Supervisor)


  • Play
  • Communities of play
  • Playful interventions
  • Transformation
  • communities of practice

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