SWIFT In(ter)vention: an Interactive Workshop on Ethical Game Design

Proposal Title: 
SWIFT In(ter)vention: an Interactive Workshop on Ethical Game Design

Concerns over gamification have lead game scholars and designers to (re)introduce true, ethical game design methods to educational stakeholders. Following these scholars, I invite C&W attendees to participate in three activities aimed at (re)introducing ethical game design through discussion, play, and creation in the writing classroom. First, we will have an active discussion aimed at understanding the problems of current gamification practices and a return to ethical game design practices like goal setting, collaboration, and transparency. Second, participants will experience these practices as players through a simulated writing activity I use in Business Writing classes called SWIFT. Finally, participants will become game designers, and create or revise their own writing assignments using ethical game design principles. This workshop’s overall goal is to create new understandings and practices on creating activity space where players/students can “charge the game with their own ethics through the act of playing” through flexible, clear, and challenging design (Holmevik, 146).


Computers & Writing is one of the few professional conferences where scholars who discuss video games’ influences on culture, education, and industry find an engaging home. During his C&W keynote in 2013, James Paul Gee, video game scholarship’s link to literacy, told us that he “stopped reading the manual and just started playing.”

Writing teachers who have played games most of their lives felt validated by Gee’s words. Some attendants expressed interest and curiosity. Yet, some still expressed anxiety toward video game scholarship in education. At the heart of this anxiety is the trepidation over “gamification” of our classrooms through digital and non-digital means.

Gamification concerns include the flood of e-tools educational corporations sell, the fear of student manipulation under a point based system that minimizes intrinsic values, and the argument that teaching/learning of writing is an organic activity misaligned to game design’s mechanics.

Fair concerns, and, in fact, ones that should be discussed. Yet, game designers and theorists--Robertson, Deterding, Bogost--who are passionate about play point out that gamification has been misapplied and improperly termed. As an alternative, game scholar Jose Zagal introduced ludoliteracy, the practice of game design through learning about game ontology, playing games, and creating games with ethical framework (23).

Following Zagal, I invite C&W attendees to participate in three activities aimed at (re)introducing ethical game design through discussion, play, and creation in the writing classroom.

Activity One: Discussion on Gamification & Ludoliteracy

In order to better understand game design’s role in the classroom, we will first talk about what I, and others, feel is the misleading practice of gamification by edu-corporations and other uninformed stakeholders. The problem with gamification, as Bogost (2011) points out, begins with the term’s rhetorical power derived “from the ‘-ification’ rather than from the ‘game’. -fication involves simple, repeatable, proven techniques or devices...is always easy and repeatable, and it’s usually bullshit.” We will then talk about these “easy and repeatable” devices so as to avoid using or misusing them in our assignment design.

We will then discuss the characteristics of ethical game design put forth by Zagal and other scholars. They (re)inform us that games should be complex activity systems that invite ethical participation opportunities whether through employing good practices such as goal setting, transparency, and collaboration (Paharia) or creating flexibility so, as Holmevik points out, “players, to a large extent, [can] charge the game with their own ethics through the act of playing” (146). These design tenants will also provide a framework for this workshop’s next activity, as well.

Activity Two: SWIFT In(ter)vention

Game players who turn designers (or students who turn teachers) rely on intuition and observation from previous games (classes) to formulate complex activity systems. Drawing on my professional experience in Student Affairs and First Year Composition instruction, I invented SWIFT (Students Who Investigate Fundamental Things), a faux-organization utilized by my Business Writing class. My students spend an entire semester engaged in writing activities that shape what SWIFT is about--through Mission Statements and Press Releases--and what they will accomplish as an organization--for example hiring an intern to research campus safety or designing a leadership scholarship process.

I will provide an overview of the materials, as well as share how different SWIFT chapters (i.e. my previous Business Writing classes) achieved different artifact outcomes under similar writing objectives. I will also share techniques on how to alter assignments and activities based upon students’ ethical in(ter)vention. Since Zagal states that we should also play, conference attendees will get a chance to participate in a SWIFT collaborative activity.

Activity Three: Designing Activities

The lionshare of this workshop culminate in a design session, where participants will employ ethical game design practices to either create new writing activities or revise previous assignments for their classes. Since my own intuition and observation has met game design theory and practice, I will introduce some best practice influences from design scholars like Salen & Zimmerman and game experts like Gygax.

The goal of this final third is to return game design to the player by creating a rule structure in assignments and activities that is flexible, clear, and challenging.

From first hand teaching experience, I learned that practicing ethical game design, when simulating classroom writing activities, enables students to increase participation, think ethically, and collaborate on writing artifacts. I would like to share these practices as both invention and an intervention in the discussion of gamification in order show how contemporary gamification practices miss the educational mark.
Proposal Type: