Our team is led by Dr. Benjamin Stokes and based at American University in Washington, DC.  

APPROACH: The future of cities depends on  participation and engagement. Our lab in Washington, DC, investigates the power of playful tactics to advance equity, strengthen the sense of place, and build strong communities.

Recent Research

New book:Locally Played: Real-World Games for Stronger Places and Communities” (MIT Press, April 2020)

Our DC Storytelling System launched in collaboration with the Smithsonian and DC Public Libraries (2019) as a new approach to circulating stories of local history and activism tied to neighborhoods and civic institutions.

Report: Cities Remix Pokémon GO (2018) — the first large-scale investigation into how cities can appropriate and remix commercial games to advance local goals, including within “open street” festivals and with neighborhood libraries. The report provides a few hints at the future of cities as participatory spaces, showing how playful engagement can connect disparate groups and organizations.

Report: “Impact” with Games — rethinking “impact” with games, and how the right language is crucial to overcome fragmentation. In partnership with Games for Change, with funding from the Packard Foundation.

Funding and collaborators (recent):

  • The Henry Luce Foundation and Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, in support of our work with the Humanities Truck
  • The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with Niantic, Inc., in support of our research on cities appropriating Pokemon GO (see the report “Cities Remix a Playful Platform“)
  • The Packard Foundation and Games for Change, in support of our work on the Game Impact Project
  • Smithsonian Women’s Committee for their support of our DC storytelling system for the “Right to the City” exhibit at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum
  • The Leimert Phone Company and our experimental game Sankofa Says (featured at IndieCade, and profiled in forthcoming book)

New work:

Authoring tool: Hive Mechanic is a new way to create your own city game, smart city activity, or participatory neighborhood story. Tap into city data, send text messages, or use RFID to bring physical objects to life. No programming required — just use our card system. Our goal is to help democratize design, from library maker spaces to community museums. Currently in early beta, contact us if you would like to help!

Locally Played Stickers: a logo and campaign for anyone to use, inspired by the success of locally made goods. By calling a game “locally played,” we recognize and elevate a particular spirit of play—including hopes of greater connection to place, our neighbors, and our local history.

More writings on…

Meet our full team and alumni at The Playful City Lab!

To stay in touch, reach us on Twitter (@bgstokes) or email bstokes@american.edu.