Designing Playful Systems

Investigate the nature of play in a practice-based manner by designing and developing playful systems in mixed reality.

Play is a fascinating, cross-disciplinary topic of research. It has been studied from various academic perspectives like psychology, sociology and ethology and is gaining interest through the emerging field of game studies. Game design, on the other hand, is a praxis that is concerned with the creation of systems and artifacts that invite people to play.

In this project I aim to develop and explore the concept of “playful systems” through the practice of mixed reality game design. A playful system is understood as a complex ensemble that displays and elicits playful behavior; the system can be a composite of interacting animate and inanimate elements. Mixed reality is a mode of perception and interaction where virtual and physical aspects blend, for example the movement of a player in physical space that is translated into a virtual environment.  

My explorations follow a practice-based approach in which playful systems are iteratively designed, developed, introduced, play-tested and discussed within a community of practitioners.


Kin Design, UK (Design and develop a mixed reality app)

Research Ethics:

Link to Research Ethics documentation.


Research Fellow
Michael Straeubig

John Matthias, Jane Grant, Mike Phillips (i-DAT), James Brocklehurst, Matt Wade.

Further Reading
  • Burghardt, G. M. (2005) The Genesis of Animal Play: Testing the Limits. MIT Press.
  • Luhmann, N. (1987) Soziale Systeme: Grundriss einer allgemeinen Theorie. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.
  • Mnih, V., Kavukcuoglu, K., Silver, D., Graves, A., Antonoglou, I., Wierstra, D. and Riedmiller, M. (2013) ‘Playing Atari with deep reinforcement learning’, arXiv preprint arXiv:1312.5602.
  • Sicart, M. (2014) Play matters. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press (Playful thinking).
  • Stenros, J. (2015) Playfulness, Play, and Games - A Constructionist Ludology Approach. Tampere University.
  • Zook, A., Magerko, B. and Riedl, M. (2011) ‘Formally modeling pretend object play’, in Proceedings of the 8th ACM conference on Creativity and cognition. ACM, pp. 147–156.