The Pepperdine Gameful Design Lab has three main mission goals:

  1. Engagement and Learning: To build engagement and learning through gameful design of classroom and academic practice. This means building relevance and meaningful choices into class design, emphasizing feedback and interconnected skills and lesson activities. We concentrate on maximizing student empowerment to take charge of their own learning by encouraging a playful attitude.
  2. Agency and Empathy: To increase personal agency and amplifying voice through learning with games, engaging in gaming practices, and designing games. Gaining this gaming literacy means being able to recognize and manipulate systems, and we want to help people transfer these skills to their everyday non-gaming lived-in systems. We focus on games about moral and ethical reasoning, the arts and humanities, and empathy development. Furthermore, we have a moral and democratic imperative to reach everyone, especially those most in need of help understanding and navigating systems and getting their voices heard.
  3. Research: To research the effectiveness of project initiatives related to the first two goals. Additionally, to research existing gaming practices of non-normative gaming groups, again with the goal of expanding understanding and empathy in gaming culture, writ large.

The Gameful Design Lab focuses on helping players develop a playful attitude towards lifelong learning. This includes instilling an attitude of bravery, a willingness to try and try again, and the wherewithal to be reflective and critical about their own and others’ actions and situations. When we play, we are constantly thinking of how things *should* be and trying things out over and over again for continual improvement. When we play, we aren’t afraid to fail because we know it’s the fastest way to learn. When we play, we are always pushing ourselves to try on new roles and see the world from a different perspective. When we play, we understand.

The Gameful Design Lab is currently funded as a winner of the inaugural Pepperdine University Waves of Innovation Grant.


Games are made up of interconnected systems (rules, mechanics, structures). Players explore and learn how these systems are interrelated through their play–through making decisions that matter, that are meaningful–and, in doing so, they become part of the system.

Players bring with them some sort of imagined future or the hope for some improvement to the current conditions in the system. Through their activity, players exercise agency and steer the game’s outcome, all the while themselves being constrained and controlled by the game. The Gameful Design Lab seeks to encourage resistance towards the inherent control in a game’s rules and structures, to make compelling narratives emerge from this struggle and transgression.

Our lives are made up of interrelated systems, of course. From navigating health care to applying to college, from dealing with bullies (online or otherwise) to being a community activist, success often depends on being savvy to our lived systems and understanding them enough to make meaningful decisions.


These societal systems are the way they are because of complex networks of social life. People have to deal with other people, and they often end up making laws or building systemic structures to regulate and constrain that sometimes result in less-than-ideal systems. Furthermore, social life is dynamic, and our systems need to be interrogated continually and adapt to our collective needs. Collectively we can critique and resist the status quo and speak up when we see injustice. Collectively we can learn and make things better.

To do this, however, we need to be empathetic beings. We need to be able to understand how others live and *be* who they are. The Gameful Design Lab proposes that a highly effective way to promote empathy development is through games. Players can more explicitly place themselves in a character’s shoes and make decisions that affect the outcome of a game. And players can become designers, too, and share their own stories and let others gain insights into their own lives and experiences.

In summary, games are a great way to help people develop a critical eye towards systems understanding *and* they’re a great way to share stories and voices and give us guidelines for how to critique those systems.


3 thoughts on “About

  1. After using this system last semester, and doing the research through a questionnaire at the end of the semester, I found that there was a lot of push back because of the amount of work required. This I expected because of the system of education that we have used where memorization and citing the right answer seems to be one of the sole means of tracing proficiency in a subject. There were a few students who found this to be very advantageous to the real world situation and found it not only engaging but beneficial. Because the other Comm 180 classes were not doing this system, and thus their grades were based on less academic rigor, there was some discussion as to why are we having to do this and others aren’t? The head of the Public speaking department also talked to me about this even though I cleared it with him and the Head of the Department before launching into this technique this semester. I further solidified the idea that this pedagogy needs to be implemented but it will be a slow process. I’ve been told that when I have a upper division class that has no competition that this approach would be welcomed. I’m finishing up my research and beginning to put together an article going over my experience and how the kids reacted. I hope it’s useful.

  2. Hey Barry. Thanks for the comment!
    What system are you talking about? We’d be very interested in hearing what you tried and how you assessed. But, yes, it can be time consuming to transform a course, for sure! 🙂

    Do you know Prof Chris Heard? He’s done some awesome game-informed course design for his religion course.

    Have you joined our mailing list (games@listserv.pepperdine.edu)?

  3. The system I was alluding to was Gamification, and my first attempt of doing it. I’ve talked with Chris and heard what he’s doing but some of the material I wasn’t able to implement with the material that I have. I did use QR codes and retesting on line along with folders within what I called “The House of Rhetoric” labeled A and B. Within these were the items that they needed to accomplish sometime during the semester besides the normal course load. According to gamification the higher the grade the more difficult the task should be. This should be understood but even after explaining it twice to the class the novelty of the idea went over some of their heads. My means of assessment was a questionnaire that I gave them after their final. It was composed of three pages of questions concerning their feelings toward the system of gamification and the items that were used to implement it. One young lady wrote me after the class and said that she felt that she had actually earned an A in my class. With more implementation of this across the board I feel that the students will see a grade as something that they can’t simply test and receive. In my class they had testing, but I also added speech and chapter assessments and a paper but excellence was required even in them to receive the desired grade.

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