Play, Failure, and Challenging Systemic Bias

Noted psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott famously stated, “It is in playing and only in playing that the individual child or adult is able to be creative and to use the whole personality, and it is only in being creative that the individual discovers the self”(Playing and Reality, 1971).

As students and educators, many of us have experienced the power of play in the classroom. Even a 10-minute game of jeopardy to revise concepts before an exam instantly lifts the vibe in the room. Participation increases manifold, as do processes of peer-to-peer learning.

In this week’s blog post I wish to discuss the following:

1.Why play based pedagogies? How is it connected to learning?

2. Critical considerations when using play/game based pedagogies

(Picture Credit: Asap Science,

The use of play in an educational context and for purposes of learning and development is often referred to as play or game-based pedagogy. A related concept, though not entirely synonymous, is experiential learning. What these approaches share in common is a shared belief that games offer scenarios within which users make meaningful choices and explore how these choices have
consequences within a game world (Hanghøj, 2013).

As Salter (2015) has described, there could be various places to start our journey of incorporating games into the classroom, ranging from using preexisting games as a case study for analysis to developing a game together in the classroom. Her examples illustrate innovative ways in which instructors in creative writing, history, and communication have incorporated games in the classroom. This blogpost on the CUNY Games network is another resource that gives us an overview of types of games used in the classroom, and their relative pros and cons.

Playing is closely related to creativity (as is self-evident in the gorgeous NetArt project and Michael Barnson Smith’s GIF).  It fosters imagination and ideation, which in turn can lead to innovative thinking and improved problems solving (Bateson, 2014). Beyond the output, gaming can help foster the creative process itself. Smale’s Game On for Information Literacy is a great example of the same.  

In the previous post, Ming examines the power of games to foster social connections and promote engagement in the classroom. Adding to this list, I wish to describe how games can also teach us how to fail, yes FAIL! Dealing with disappointment, learn from mistakes, and to persevere is a crucial life skill. Games are designed such that for the player failure is always a possibility, although its consequences are not as severe as in real life. Failure in gaming thus creates a constructive learning condition. The player must accept its inevitability and persist till they master the set of tasks necessary to achieve their next goal (Whitton, 2018)

Faculty often discount playing as “childish, frivolous or inauthentic”. As the above discussion and our readings demonstrate, these assumptions are misled. They ignore the ways in which game-based pedagogy promote embodied, social, and creative ways of deep engagement with knowledge. My colleagues in organizing and corporate training spaces are much more appreciative of the value of play in learning. I would love to hear your thoughts on where you think this resistance towards play in higher ed comes from? What does it says about our epistemological assumptions of knowledge? What are existing assumptions of how effective knowledge transmission happens- for whom, under what conditions?

Play based pedagogy: critical considerations.

Previously, we read Bejamin’s (2019) work on systemic bias coded into algorithms and technology. The same can be said of gaming as well. Whether it is motivation driven by extrinsic reward such as collecting money, weapons; survival -of- the- fittest type war games where you must kill your opponent using violent and gory means; or buying your way into extra privileges (and you thought candy crush was innocent, huh?). These are only a few examples of how consciously or unconsciously, gaming replicates neoliberal, patriarchal, White supremacist logics. The upholding of heteronormative assumptions and the sexist representation of female characteristics with extra large breasts or damsels in distress has been quite disturbing for me personally.

The gaming industry itself is fraught with problems. Lack of representation of women, unequal pay, sexual harassment, and toxic work conditions characterized by labor exploitation, layoffs, and poor benefits, are some of the problems facing the industry, according to the Guardian. (Suggested watch – Episode on problems in the gaming industry on The Patriot Act by Hasan Minhaj on Netflix) I would be curious to hear your thoughts on how do we factor in these realities when designing a lesson using games?

Additional Prompts for discussion:

1. In what ways have you encountered “play” in the classroom- both as a student and instructor?

2. Would you like to share any “learning moments” while facilitating play? Moments you felt challenged, awkward, confused, or simple wished you had taken a non-play based route?

3. What are mindful, critical practices of introducing play in the classroom?


Benjamin, R. (2019). Race after technology: Abolitionist tools for the new Jim code. Cambridge: Polity.

Hanghøj, T. (2013). Game-based teaching: Practices, roles, and pedagogies. In New pedagogical approaches in game enhanced learning: Curriculum integration (pp. 81-101). IGI global.

Salter A. (2015). Lessons from Teaching with Games. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Accessed online via

Whitton, N. (2018). Playful learning: tools, techniques, and tactics. Research in Learning Technology26.

Winnicott, D. W. (1971). Playing and reality. London: Tavistock Publications

Two paths diverged in the woods…

There are two projects that I am potentially exploring to develop into my ITP project. Sharing a brief overview of both below:

Project I: A crowd sourced guide to Mental Health and Well Being in India

Young people in India, like their counterparts across the world, face many stressors in their everyday lives. While some are able to navigate them with relative ease, supported by crucial internal and external resources, others are not so lucky. According to WHO estimates, as many 40 % young people could be dealing with depression and anxiety in India. Another worrisome statistic is the increasing rates of death by suicide among those between 16-29 years in India. Unfortunately, even as young people face varying degrees of emotional distress, conversations around mental health remain a taboo in India. Traditionally people have sought recourse through religious collectives during such times of distress, however these may not be adequate or sufficient to address the complex challenges young people face. In my own life, I have found it difficult to find a therapist for myself relying on informal referral networks to guide my decision. Given this lacuna, I would like to work on a website that can be a “go-to” for young people experiencing emotional distress. The website will collate existing resources that are available, usually in a fragmented manner on different Instagram handles/ social media accounts, informal peer networks, nonprofit organizations.  The website will draw from an intersectional approach to healing that is humanistic, underscoring the ways in which mental health is impacted by social and political structures. The design of the website will be interactive, offering users multiple pathways through which to direct their healing journey. Possible architecture of the website



OPTION II: An archive of Feminist Carceral resistance

New York has a rich legacy of feminist organizing and prison abolition and reform. One such event was the hearings on Domestic Violence and Criminal Justice that had been held for an audience of legislators and policy makers at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in 1985. This crucial moment in feminist history, birthed out of the collective carceral wisdom of criminalized survivors at Bedford, working in coalition with feminist activists in the Governor’s office, had been swept out of history.  The hearings held 35 years earlier, and the subsequent organizing by women inside and outside the prison, have been crucial for the passage of the Domestic Violence Survivor’s Justice Act (2019).

As part of the Survivor Justice Voice Project, a group of scholars/ activists have been working to chronicle, through oral histories, the 1985 hearings to unpack the courage, complex solidarities and political commitments galvanized then, resonating today.  To date we have conducted interviews with four formerly incarcerated women who testified at the hearings, four high level administrators/lawyers in the Governor’s Office and at the prison, and three advocates/activists who worked with the women to craft narratives for the Hearings. As part of the ITP project, I would probably help in developing some sections of this online Archive. At present, I am developing a timeline that documents events prior to the 1985 hearings and subsequent initiatives that were mobilized as a consequence of it, leading upto the 2019 passage of the DVSJA act.

(Apologies for the delay in posting this!)