Eric Gordon

Keynote speech: Tactical Play and Playful Tactics: The Limits of Games for Serious Work

The use of games for serious work is rather common in areas of development, human rights, and advocacy. But why do organizations look to games to address serious issues? And when are those issues too serious for a game? Games create players; they generate a subjectivity that is premised on “having fun” or autotelic activity, where the act of playing is meaningful in and of itself. But it is OK to want to play within genocide, domestic abuse, political repression? Why are organizations using games to communicate complex and serious ideas? And what are the limits of games for serious work? This interactive talk explores how organizations are using games and play tactically, and what these practices suggest for how people engage in political and social life.


gordon-headshotEric Gordon is an associate professor in the department of Visual and Media Arts at Emerson College where he is the founding director of the Engagement Lab. He is also a faculty associate at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. Eric studies civic media and public engagement within the US and the developing world. He is specifically interested in the application of games and play in these contexts. In addition to being a researcher, he is also the designer of award winning “engagementgames,” which are games that facilitate civic participation. He has served as an expert advisor for the UN Development Program, the International Red Cross/Red Crescent, the World Bank, as well as municipal governments throughout the United States. In addition to articles and chapters on games, digital media, urbanism and civic engagement, he is the author of two books: Net Locality: Why Location Matters in a Networked World (Blackwell 2011, with Adriana de Souza e Silva) and The Urban Spectator: American Concept Cities From Kodak to Google (Dartmouth 2010). His edited volume (with Paul Mihailidis) entitled Civic Media: Technology, Design, Practice will be published by MIT Press in 2016. This future publication contains over 100 case studies of civic media throughout the world (for more info see: He received his PhD in 2003 from the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California.