Gaming Horizons Final event – videos online

Videos from the final project gathering in Breda last month are now available on You Tube. The event was recorded and the various sessions are below. Each session covers a topic, ranging from an introductory talk describing the objectives and the general context in which the project exists, to more specific presentations about our key outputs, such as the scenarios and the manifesto. The videos are a great opportunity to get to know Gaming Horizons and familiarise with the work that we have done over the past 14 months.

Don’t forget to click on the Playlist icon to browse the videos






Gaming Horizons’ data released as Open Access

Gaming Horizons participated in the Open Research Data pilot, which is an important aspect of Horizon 2020. Anonymised data from our interviews and our discourse analysis has been deposited on the Zenodo Repository. Discovery metadata in the form of keywords has been incorporated. The datasets have been assigned unique digital object identifiers (DOI) which will act as persistent and unique identifiers.

Links and DOIa are as follows:

Interview transcripts

Corpus dataset


Gaming Horizons scenarios

The scenarios are a key deliverable of the Gaming Horizons project. They are the culmination of a programme of work that started in December 2016. Over a period of 14 months, the Gaming Horizons team reviewed the current state of the art in game studies, game-based learning and gamification research, carried out primary research through interviews with 73 informants, and engaged with stakeholders from five stakeholder groups, i.e. categories representing specific interests and goals associated with the development, the study and the use of video games. The stakeholder groups are: educators, researchers, policy makers, young people/players, and developers.

The scenarios are the result of an explicit objective: to present policy recommendations and practical guidelines based on evidence and an intense consultation process, which nonetheless are accessible and articulated in an engaging, non-specialist language. The use of story vignettes ad comics is informed by a clear communicative principle: visual, narrative and artistic methods open up possibilities for thinking about and representing complex topics. The scenarios should therefore be considered as ‘hybrid texts’ consisting of written language and other graphic content as a means of exploring theory, evidence and representing recommendations and advice not in abstract, but as a form of ‘lived experience’. Moreover, the scenarios should be considered as ‘live outputs’ which will be updated and expanded over the coming months with additional resources, links and through the continuation of Gaming Horizons’ dissemination and stakeholder engagement through social media.

The scenarios were developed through an iterative process involved the entire Gaming Horizons team, striking a careful balance between primary evidence, research literature and a degree of creativity. During the design phase, the team found that the use of narratives and comics greatly enhanced the scenario’s ability to convey opportunities, risks, recommendations and practical advice. Each scenario follows a similar, rather self-explanatory, template. The online format affords a ‘non-linear’ reading through the use of taxonomies, where keywords and audience types act like tags and categories respectively. These will display lists of scenarios which are relevant to a particular audience, or which have been tagged with a particular keyword.

Gaming Horizons final event

Gaming Horizons is coming to an end! A final event to discuss our outputs and impacts will take place in Breda (Netherlands) on 29th January 2018. This is the official agenda. The agenda can also be downloaded here: Agenda


AGENDA of the GAMING HORIZONS final event

All sessions will be recorded and made available through the Gaming Horizons website at:


Time Presenters Title
11:00- 11:15 Carlo Perrotta, Leeds university, Project coordinator Introduction to the Gaming Horizons project
11:15- 11:35 Marcello Passarelli, Francesca Dagnino, Jeffrey Earp, CNR-ITD Literature review on the role of digital games in society
11:35-12:00 Donatella Persico, CNR-ITD;  Mata Haggis, NHTV; Carlo Perrotta, Univ. of Leeds Interviews with experts and informants
12:00-14:00 Game Jam and lunch
14:00-14:15 Mata Haggis, NHTV Manifesto for European Video Games: Foundational Statements
14:15-14:30 Mata Haggis, NHTV Manifesto for European Video Games: Manifesto: Actions
14-30-14:45 Chris Bailey, univ. of Leeds. Scenarios for the cultural expansion of games
14:45- 15:00 Mata Haggis, NHTV, chair;

Thomas Buijtenweg, NHTV; Donatella Persico, CNR-ITD;

Carlo Perrotta, univ. of Leeds;

Rosa Bottino, CNR-ITD

Round table – Project Impacts: policies and outcomes for stakeholder groups
15:00- 15:30 Closing session Discussion



Date: 29/1/2018

Time: 11:00- 15:30

Location: NHTV Breda University of Applied Sciences

Monseigneur Hopmansstraat 1, 4817 JT Breda, The Netherlands


Gaming Horizons Unpacked

This is a cross-post with the Institute of Play Blog

Working for an organization like the Institute of Play, it’s easy to forget that this field is still relatively new. But the fact is that game-based-anything is a young, continually-evolving field. As it grows, it’s important to stay abreast of the organizations and individuals who are asking the questions and conducting the research that pushed this field forward. As such, we’re happy to participate in spreading the word about the work of Gaming Horizons, a research initiative based out of the University of Leeds.

Gaming Horizons is funded by the EU Research and Innovation program, Horizon 2020.Their goal is to drill down into gaming from a critical perspective and gather evidence that will inform decision making during the next wave of Horizon 2020 funding.

Earlier this year, Carlo Perrotta and his team interviewed Institute of Play staff as part of an effort to collect qualitative data from stakeholders across the multi-faceted games industry, including representatives from AAA gaming studios, educators, parents, and organizations that use applied game design for social good, education or innovation. They have since released a research publication summarizing their findings, and in an interest to unpack the research and make it more accessible to our audience, I interviewed Carlo about what he saw as the key takeaways.

What follows is an interview that took place over phone and email. It has been edited for length and clarity.

Carlo and his team plan to present these findings to Horizon 2020 later this year.

Dalton Gray: You mentioned that your research has uncovered that gaming holds a very unique place in our culture and society. Can you share an overview or some examples that illuminate this role? 


Carlo Perrotta: Our research simply documents the richness and complexity of perspectives, hopes, fears and sometimes biases in the contemporary ‘gaming discourse’. Our study represents, to use a game development term, a vertical slice of the current gaming universe: a cross-sectional snapshot which, while not representative of the entire landscape, provides a glimpse into the main concerns shared in various layers of such landscape by key stakeholders (educators, players, researchers, policy makers and, of course, developers). Broadly speaking, we found that games are still trying to overcome some prejudices, but their cultural and economic role is increasingly prominent. It’s not just the much-vaunted magnitude of the gaming industry compared with other entertainment sectors, but the fact that the gaming world has seen important cultural debates (some decidedly unsavoury) unfold over the past years, which have ‘overflowed’ in other areas of culture, academia and business. I am referring to things such as gender and race relations in the media, the use of digital means and data to engineer intense engagement, usually for commercial reasons, the emergence of new forms of labour where corporations rely on users’ passion and commitment to create value – take the long tradition of game modding, or the way a platform like Steam automates and distributes curation responsibilities across its community.

In our research, we also noted signs of a growing ‘ethical sensibility’: an acknowledgement that gaming has great potential for cultural expression and for those seeking to encourage positive, progressive changes in society. In this regard, the notion of ‘narrative-based design’ was often used by our interviewees as synonymous with a more responsible and ethically sensitive approach to the medium. This interest in narrative is mirrored in debates in the mainstream and independent gaming industry, and narrative-oriented games like That  Dragon, Cancer  and Virginia (1.)  are expressions of a design movement that seems to point to an alternative approach to gaming. This approach does not shy away from sensitive, ‘serious’ issues and is often fueled by an ethical worldview.

Our study also highlighted a growing awareness of gaming’s ‘darker’ side, illustrated by recent trends in the mainstream industry in which game design is blurring the boundaries between leisure and gambling, in an effort to create ever more engaging, even addictive, experiences.

DG: Knowing this, what should stakeholders such as designers, developers, funders and educators be doing? 

CP: Our findings suggest that the ‘instrumental’ view of games – as tools used to elicit interest, motivation etc. – is often called out for being blunt, ineffective and, at worst, manipulative. Traditionally, institutional interest in games has revolved around the idea of games ‘for x’: for learning, for motivation, for identity development, for social cohesion etc. This has led to a situation where the sort of games developed under institutional conditions (e.g., those funded by the European Commission through H2020, which is our frame of reference) are overwhelmed by arbitrary constraints and accountability criteria, which undermine the creative process. In many ways this is a self-defeating move. Our main message is that we should probably question whether an excessive emphasis on accountability is compatible with the nature of this medium.

“Our main message is that we should probably question whether an excessive emphasis on accountability is compatible with the nature of this medium.”

DG: You had mentioned that part of the efficacy of games as tools for social change, or education is related to the quality of the game and the artistry of the piece itself. What data points to that as an imperative for applied gaming studios? 

CP: Following on from the previous question… we talked to people in the gaming industry, in policy, in education and research. We did 87 interviews and collected more than 100 hours of recorded materials, which was coded by a team of eight researchers in three European countries.  Our method was qualitative and based on an in-depth approach in which we asked critical questions, and then probed and reflected on what was being said in the moment to moment flow of the interview. In addition, we looked closely at how funding calls in H2020 are put together, analysing the language used by policy makers and unpacking the biases and the ‘unsaid’ assumptions.

I wouldn’t call our results ‘imperatives’, but surely a number of recurring themes and concerns kept popping up during the fieldwork: people were very sceptical of serious games, i.e. those bluntly and perhaps too explicitly devoted to pro-social or educational outcomes, and instead kept coming back to the notion of games as complex experiences which demand, as you said, artistry and creativity alongside technical ingenuity. We found that when games transition from the entertainment domain to other ‘institutional’ domains (education above all), something gets lost. The anxiety for measurable outcomes and accountability that permeates these institutional domains dampens the actual potential of games to ‘do good’, in what is a rather self-defeating move. While this is something othersnoted in relation to serious gaming, we also found that games’ potential is no longer exclusively associated with ‘fun’. For example, the idea of using games to make learning and instruction ‘more fun’ is something that no longer resonates with many people in education. While fun is a notion inextricably tied with games. Going beyond fun means accepting that games, as experiences, rather than ‘hooks’ to elicit some other socially accepted outcome, can make people uncomfortable, raise their awareness, highlight their own biases, move or upset – and all of these scenarios can have great cultural and educational value, but they rely heavily on things like artistic and creative integrity.

DG: Finally, what’s the message for foundations and funders of applied gaming initiatives?


CP: Gaming is a complex cultural medium, not just a collection of technical tools and design principles that can be mobilized at will to achieve applied outcomes. We should keep pursuing ways in which games can be used for the ‘greater good’, but this noble intent must find a way to engage meaningfully with criteria of cultural and artistic value. Notions of cultural value are never fixed – they are always contested and negotiated. Nonetheless, funders cannot escape them if they are truly committed to unlocking the social potential of this medium.

We should keep pursuing ways in which games can be used for the ‘greater good’, but this noble intent must find a way to engage meaningfully with criteria of cultural and artistic value.

DG: Thank you so much for sharing your perspective on this fascinating work! Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

CP: Here is a taster of what people told us at last year’s GDC:

News Update: Gamergate, Hospital Play, VR Experiences, Neoliberal Narrative, Player Diversity, Funding, Digital Culture and Comics.

Welcome to another post that rounds up some recent new stories and journal articles that deal with issues relevant to Gaming Horizon’s focus on gaming, education, culture and society.

In a recent Guardian article, Anita Sarkessian reflects on her role in the Gamergate episode and the ongoing harassment and abuse faced by those who challenge dominant narratives in video games, and the video game industry as a whole. Whilst Sarkessian notes that change has happened in some aspects relating to gaming, there is still clearly a ‘toxic’ atmosphere around discussions of gender that manifest on social media and, therefore, still much work to be done.

An article by Dylan Yamada Rice considers the value of gameplay in the lives of hospitalised children. The article describes a multi-disciplinary project that brought together hospital play specialists, academics and representatives from the digital games industry to co-produce knowledge that could be used in the future production of a video game designed for children in hospital.

A new virtual reality ‘experience’ has highlighted issues around the use of digital technologies that deal with contentious, sensitive or serious  issues. Here, Alpha ask ‘Does a VR Auschwitz simulator cross an ethical line?’ They report on how a design studio ‘believe virtual reality has untapped potential to immerse and educate the world on the most important parts of human history’. However, they also draw attention to the ‘ethical minefield’ that such a virtual environment presents.

A new article in Games and Culture considers the way in which video games portray narrative, exploring specifically how the game Bioshock Infinite potentially serves to reinforce ‘neoliberal values’. This helps to emphasise one of our project’s dimensions, relating to the cultural impact of videogames. Also in Games and culture, a paper entitled ‘Friends with Benefits’,  challenges the notion of ‘hard core gamers’ being predominantly ‘straight, cis-gendered, White, adolescent men’, seeking to explore the diversity of players who actually engage regularly in video game play.

An article by Patrick Klepek on Waypoint considers issues around game design relating to the financial viability of particular games, taking aim at games that include microtransactions that form part of the game’s mechanics. There is a concern raised here that complex, single player, narrative based games could be at risk in an environment where the development of such titles is dictated by the fact that ‘publishers want to make as much money as possible—at whatever cost.’

Meanwhile, Rob Gallagher suggests in the Guardian that video games would be a good place to start if politicians are seeking to develop their understanding of digital culture.

Finally, a new collaborative comic seeks to represent the complex social effects of videogame play. According to the website: ‘Video Games For Good’ is a multi-artist collaboration that focusses on the positive outcomes of video games be they strengthened family bonds, stress relief and escapism, new friendships or simple nostalgia. The project also aims to tackle negative stereotypes that video games are only enjoyed by certain types of people or that the hobby only has detrimental effects.’



Gaming Horizons workshop at ICEM 2017 Conference in Naples Italy

The first in a round of Gaming Horizons workshops will be taking place at the ICEM 2017 Conference in Naples Italy on Wednesday, September 20. The workshops form part of the second phase of project initiatives dedicated to cultural expansion, namely direct interaction with gaming and gamification stakeholders on the issues that have arisen from project analysis of the gaming landscape.
The workshop will take a participatory, hands-on approach to examine current project findings on games and learning that have been gleaned from various sources. These findings will be examined from diverse perspectives, including pedagogy and education, psychology and health, and ethical concerns. Ultimately, the outcomes from this and the other workshops in the series will inform and shape a set of scenarios sketching out possible future directions for gaming and gamification.

More information available here.

News Update: gamification, government investment, time wasting, hospital play, autism and sexism.

Welcome to another roundup of recent gaming news that is relevant to the Gaming Horizon project’s focus gaming, culture and society.

A new article in The Sociological Review by Woodcock and Johnson takes a critical approach towards the concept of gamification. Suggesting that ‘gamification is not a neutral tool’ they differentiate between ‘gamification-from-above’ and ‘gamification-from-below’, positioning the former approach as ‘a terminological foreclosing of alternate possibilities’, as a ‘reinforcement of work’ rather than the ‘subversion of work’ offered by the latter approach.

A recent article published by Nesta seeks to explain ‘Why governments should invest in video games’. The article itself attempts to debunk a number of ‘myths’ around gaming, and the lives of gamers, by drawing on recent research by Borowiecki and Bakhshi. They suggest that ‘Gamers tend to be more educated and more likely than non-games players to participate in other forms of culture, especially through active participation’, also revealing the average age of a gamer to be 43.2 years.

There is a call for papers from the Game Studies, Culture, Play, and Practice Area of the 39th Annual Southwest Popular / American Culture Association (SWPACA) Conference February to be held 7-10, 2018 at Hyatt Regency Hotel & Conference Center, Albuquerque, New Mexico. The call requests ‘papers, panels, and other proposals on games (digital and otherwise) and their study and development. Unusual formats, technologies, and the like are encouraged’. The submission deadline is October 22, 2017.

In the light of ‘economic research in the US [that] suggests that young men are dropping out of work to play games more’ a recent show on BBC world service posed the question ‘Are Videogames a waste of time?’ Here they draw on comments from four different ‘expert witnesses’ to offer insight into the issue, ultimately leading to a conclusion that we should not treat work and play as binary opposites but that there is potentially rich insight and experience that can stem from the practice of video game play.

An article explains how the Gamers Outreach foundation provides video games to children’s hospitals to help children who are undergoing long term treatment. The accompanying video demonstrates how the non profit organisation, founded in 2009, aims to use video games as a way of supporting children through treatment by providing them with the opportunity to play but also to socialise with others (adults and children) in response to their interest in games. 

An article reflecting on recent research by Englehart and Mazurek  considers the benefit of video game play for children with autism. Whilst they note that there are fears, often from parents, around addiction, specific games have demonstrated specific benefits, particularly those that support children with issues around socialisation.

Finally, The Guardian describes how Australia’s gaming industry is ‘leading the way in fighting sexism’, thought the use of initiative intended to level the gender imbalance in the gaming industry. Setting out one particular vision for the future, Ally McLean, project lead at Sydney independent game development studio Robot House, suggests that:

“The more women making games, the better representation will be both industry-wise and in the content we’re producing: more games with relatable and complex female protagonists, games that tell women’s stories, that provide role models, and that can excite and inspire them to create their own.”

News Update: cultural significance, eSports, philosophy, games studies, serious play and social awareness

Welcome to another roundup of gaming news, where we draw together some recent stories from the media and elsewhere relevant to the Gaming Horizons project vision.

The Guardian continues to provide insightful and thought provoking writing in relation to gaming, with an article by Keith Stuart that reflects on the cultural significance of video games, considering how this impacts on the ways in which we think about them. Meanwhile, Tauriq Moosa suggests that there should be place in the Olympics for competitive eSports video gaming.  Jordan Erica Webber writes, also for the Guardian, on the ethics and philosophy of gaming in advance of a new book on the subject: ‘Ten Things Video Games Can Teach Us: (about life, philosophy and everything)’

September sees a new edition of the Games and Culture journal, looking specifically at the field of games studies. This includes articles considering the concept of the game, the history and future of the discipline and the possibility of shifting focus towards player experience. They have also issued a call for papers for articles for a future edition on ‘Queerness and Video Games: New Critical Perspectives on LGBTQ Issues, Sexuality, Games, and Play’.

A new book entitled ‘Serious Play, Literacy, Learning and Digital Games’ by Beavis, Dezuanni and O’Mara explores ‘digital games’ capacity to engage and challenge, present complex representations and experiences, foster collaborative and deep learning and enable curricula that connect with young people today’.  

Researchers from Manchester Metropolitan University are looking for participants to help them to explore the complex relationship between player and avatar, particularly focussing on avatars that resemble the player themselves. A call for papers has been issued for a forthcoming McFarland published book relating to ‘women, video games and modding’.

Polygon report on a new game that seeks to combat the sex trafficking trade. Missing: The Complete Saga depicts the life of Champa, an ‘Indian village girl’, who is targeted by sex traffickers, as a means of raising awareness of the issues involved. Meanwhile, Mashable write about a game called Little Red Lie that seeks to tackle the ‘harsh reality of modern day poverty’.

Are games more like artichokes or like cherries?

One of the first outputs of Gaming Horizons is a literature review on games and gamification. As reviews go, this one is a bit unconventional, in that it draws both on academic sources and on gaming community contributions gleaned from authoritative developer expertise. Given the broad scope of the project, we were not surprised to find that a very large body of games-related knowledge has been produced by researchers studying the educational, psychological and ethical dimension of games (the three disciplinary lenses we adopted). We are talking about over 10,000 journal papers listed on two databases alone!

Luckily, this hoard included a number of literature reviews and meta-analysis, which provided us with a comprehensive picture of the state of the art.  This allowed us to concentrate on a reasonably selective sample of representative papers for analysis.

The report we produced (Gaming Horizons D2.1) is pretty large, so I won’t even attempt to summarize it here. If you want to get an idea, take a look at the executive summary and then check the table of contents for themes of interest.

However, there are a few thoughts I’d like to share at this point.

Firstly, terminology about gaming and gamification is still far from being consolidated and agreed upon in research circles. Different and sometimes contradictory definitions can be found for gamification, game mechanics, serious games – even for games themselves! Take a look at appendix 7.1 and you’ll see what I mean. This, of course, did make life rather difficult while analysing the papers, but what’s worse, it hinders communication among researchers.

Secondly, it’s interesting to see what topics and issues attract researchers’ attention. The ones that emerged most prominently in the review were the relationship between games and the psychological development of individuals, including the influence of violent games on aggressive behaviour; the relationship between immersion, motivation and engagement, and the potential of games for learning; the risk of addiction, on one side, and positive impacts on health, on the other; and the way different games lend themselves to learning different disciplines and skills. Finally, a less thoroughly explored area, yet one extremely important for a project investigating the potential of gaming for societal change – is the intertwining of game research and development with ethical issues and values concerning identity (gender, race, inclusion of individuals with special needs, etc.).

Individual studies and significant research results abound, yet it appears that research in this area is still not mature enough to yield conclusive answers to some of the questions addressed, such as “do games have a potential for learning?” or even to some of the more specific ones, such as “does playing violent games increase aggressive behaviour?”. As a matter of fact, it appears that the landscape of gaming and gamification is so broad and dynamic that such questions will probably never be answered by any single research study, simply because they are ill-defined.

So, you might ask, what does this all have to do with the cherries and artichokes mentioned in the title? Well, before I explain the metaphor, let me first say that I love both cherries and artichokes.  Actually, cherries are what gets me through the gastronomical crisis that besets me when the artichoke season finishes.

But let’s start with games as cherries. First, the fruit:

  • cherries are soft, sweet, and juicy;
  • once you start eating them, it can be very hard to stop;
  • they contain vitamins, but they’re not nutritious enough to be a meal in themselves;
  • they have a hard kernel that shouldn’t be swallowed, and certainly not chomped on – that could be hard on the teeth;
  • the kernel that remains can originate a whole new tree;
  • eating cherries in good company is even more pleasant than eating them alone, but you have to be ready to share;
  • too many cherries can, alas, have undesirable effects!

Games can be seen in a similar way:

  • they can be appealing, , challenging, and even moving;
  • games are often engaging – the more you play, the more you want to carry on;
  • they can nurture positive values, behaviours and skills but more is generally needed – especially in education, where teacher support and guidance is crucial;
  • There’s often something ‘hard’ inside that you’d best look out for, like, say, in-game purchases or less-than-ethical content;
  • however, what remains of a game after you have played it is often enough to make you feel like playing another game;
  • playing with friends is often more enjoyable than playing alone, as long as you’re prepared to share the fun;
  • If you overdo it, game play can have some nasty side effects, such as addiction.

Now let’s move on to (not onto!) artichokes:

  • to the uninitiated they can seem like a pretty tough and threatening proposition, with all those aggressive-looking spikes and thorns. But when the layers are peeled back, they usually win you over with their unique savoury flavour;
  • there are many different varieties of artichoke but fresh, locally-grown ones can be the very best of all, and certainly the most nutritious;
  • you can eat them raw or cook them in a variety of ways. However, fresh top-quality artichokes are best eaten raw, simply dressed with a little olive oil and salt;
  • finally, despite my passion for them, I have to admit that I’ve had some really bad ones in my time – practically inedible – so I understand why some people who’ve not managed to try a decent one would turn up their noses.


  • some people, especially adults and educators, are not particularly attracted to games, they are very cautious and hesitate before they make up their mind to use them, fearing that their mechanics and engaging dynamics can distract them from their priorities or even harm their students;
  • there is a whole wide range of video games, all quite different from one another and with special qualities that meet the preferences of different gamers. When it comes to ‘nutritional value’, however, some see game making (home-grown gaming, if you like) as the richest avenue of all;
  • you can play in myriad ways – indoors or out, at home, out and about, in cyberspace, by yourself, together with friends, online with anyone at all. What counts most, in the end, is the quality of the game play itself, not how it’s ‘served up’;
  • finally, while it is true that games are, in general, entertaining, there are some boring ones, and some people do not engage with games just because they never tried a good one.

In conclusion, the literature review of gaming and gamification carried out at the outset of Gaming Horizons has revealed the different veins of research in this area: the psychological dimension, mostly concerned with the effects of games on the development, psychological and physical health of the individuals; the educational dimension, focusing on the potential for learning and how this can best be put to use, and the ethical dimension, concerned with social equity and ethical game development. All of these themes can be seen and are approached by researchers under one of the two lights: games like cherries or games like artichokes. In both cases, there are benefits and downsides of games and the former often outweigh the latter, while the latter can be contained, especially thanks to the awareness that research can promote. And it is precisely for this reason that our literature review devotes special attention to the concrete recommendations that can be distilled from the large body of knowledge available. In its subsequent activities, Gaming Horizons will strive to build on these recommendations in a participatory effort involving and addressing different project stakeholder groups.