Visiting the Minecraft Institvte of Technology

We recently opened our Creating Videogames class for a day on Twitch!

As part of our unit on spectation, streaming, and moderation, research scientist Philip Tan explored the Virtual MIT in Minecraft. Philip was guided by MIT students / Busy Beavers Shayna & Firescar, as they showed him the work they’ve done at MIT’s dorm row, including some great elevator designs! Philip also had time to showcase his own work on the Game Lab offices in E15.

More photos and background about the build can be found here and here.

Posted in Events, News, Study Tagged with: , , , , ,

Colonialism in Board Games

Mikael Jakobsson and I recently had a chance to discuss our research in colonialist themes in board games and making counter-colonialist games this past March, through a presentation at GDC’s Board Game Design Day and on Geoff Engelstein and Gil Hova’s Ludology podcast.

Board Game Design Day: Better Board Games Through Cultural Engagement

Why have hundreds of colonial-themed board games been published during the last two decades? And why are more and more of these games being released every year? In this talk, MIT’s Mikael Jakobsson and Rik Eberhardt will present their findings from a year of board game design workshops in Bogotá, San Juan, and Maine with professional designers, students, and representatives of locals and indigenous peoples of the different areas.The purpose of the workshops was to learn what people who live in places that so often are represented in board games actually care about, and create game prototypes based on these themes. Mikael and Rik wanted to make counterexamples to the plethora of games that focus on the European colonialist time period and often represents the indigenous people in a very passive way, or not at all. In this talk, they’ll focus on what modern board game developers can learn from their study, showing that there are great untapped opportunities connected to the use of contemporary themes and ascribing greater agency and ownership to representations of local cultures.

Ludology Episode 197 – Empires Up In Arms

Posted in Research Tagged with: , , ,

MIT Game Lab X Lewis Music Library: Disco & Games over IAP!

Resident Game Lab DJ/Research Scientist Philip Tan is hosting music listening sessions this IAP at the Lewis Music Library as part of his Discotheque: Music & Technology lecture series.

Today we heard about music media formats from vinyl to digital audio and the practices of crate digging, followed by a 60s Soul playlist.

Drop by for any of the next Thursday sessions, at the Lewis Music Library, lecture is 3-4pm, music is 4-5pm:

  • Jan 10: From vinyl to digital audio / Soul
  • Jan 17: Speakers and sound systems / Disco
  • Jan 24: Turntables and mixers / Hip-Hop
  • Jan 31: Computers and sampling / House & Techno

While you’re hearhere, maybe you want to check out one of the new board games and video games from the MIT Libraries‘ new games collection!

Posted in Events Tagged with: , , ,

Play Labs 2018 accelerator will include blockchain as a playful technology focus

We are excited to be hosting Play Labs again this summer and will be working with them and their startup companies, providing mentorship and advice on product development, user experience, and game design!

This year, Play Labs has expanded its “playful technologies” startups to include blockchain startups coming out of the MIT ecosystem. I am excited to see new innovations in blockchain beyond cryptocurrency. One way Play Labs startups will be able to do so is through access to Theta Labs‘ decentralized streaming media protocol. Riz Virk, Executive Director for Play Labs notes:

“A new decentralized video streaming architecture like Theta’s can be very disruptive to the entertainment and live streaming industries, especially when considering the surge in video content coming with the rise of esports, VR, 8k and more. Both streaming and blockchain are key technology areas for Play Labs this year and we look forward to fostering an ecosystem that delivers real value.”

More information can be found at the Play Labs website.

Posted in News

An Analysis Of Building In Fortnite

The following guest article is by current MIT Game Lab student Sam Van Cise and is crossposted at his site and Gamasutra.

In the wake of the meteoric rise of Fortnite, many people ask how it compares to PUBG, the extremely popular predecessor in the battle royale genre. While many will not make a claim as to which is “harder” or “more skillful”, the question is an interesting one and worth exploring. Most people defer to saying “Fortnite has building which makes it completely different” and stop the comparison there. Some will go as far to say that it changes the battle royale genre entirely, adding a completely new skill to master. Recently in his appearance on the H3 Podcast, Ninja (the Twitch super-star) has made the claim that building in Fortnite creates a higher skill gap between players, and ultimately a more “skillful game”.

Read more ›

Posted in Thoughts Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

Call For Startups for the Play Labs Summer 2018 Batch – Apply by March 28

The MIT Game Lab is hosting and running workshops for a startup incubator taking place on MIT campus this summer: Play Labs! Applications are now open through March 28th. The Call for Startups was posted on the site there, but I’ve posted it here as well:

Unlike some incubators, Play Labs has specific areas of focus in each batch.  As such, there are  a number of startup concepts that we’d like to encourage people to apply with.

If you already have a concept that you want to apply to the summer batch for, we encourage you to go ahead with the idea you’re passionate about.

If you’d like to work on a startup at MIT over the summer, but haven’t yet figured out what you want to do – here are some suggestions of areas we are interested in.  If you want to be part of a team but don’t have one – contact us at and we’ll see If we can pair you with team members.

The focus of the summer, 2018 batch includes blockchain/digital currency, esports, and of course we are still open to all areas of playful tech, including VR/AR and AI, which were focal areas for us last year.

Check this list as we may add to it from time to time!

Blockchain for gaming.  One area that we are very interested in is the intersection of blockchain for gaming.  This could mean something like crypto kitties, or could blockchain based management of virtual assets in games, virtual currency, or anything you can think of.
De-centralized entertainment apps.  We are looking for teams that will use de-centralized protocols for video streaming and entertainment.
esports and video game streaming: esports is an area with lots of innovation going on – from the viewing experience to the advertising method to management of tournaments.  This could include Twitch extensions, your own custom viewing experience, or tools for managing esports tournaments.
Analytics for blockchain and virtual currency/goods. This remains an interesting area, particularly if you are able to use AI
AI/Machine Learning. We are open to many different applications of AI, particularly but not limited to, gaming and vision related applications
De-centralized exchanges for digital currency. There is a lot of interest in cross-blockchain de-centralized exchanges which are now becoming available.
Facebook instant games. An area of gaming that is just emerging and has wind in its back.  Just like mobile gaming
Alexa and voice-enabled applications. we’re particularly interested in new voice enabled applications
AR tools and applications. AR is a broad new area, with new headsets, with mobile AR, and the sky is the limit in creating applications on top of this technology, or creating tools to help build AR applications
VR applications. VR remains an area of interest, particularly for corporate applications.
Games. We are always open to different types of games, but we prefer games which are heavily tied to a new platform – like blockchain, Facebook instant gaming, Alexa and voice-enabled applications, or other emerging platforms.

Of course the areas we’ll accept are not limited to these – this is a list of “wishful thinking” for startup we’d like to see in this batch.  Feel free to email us if you want to put together a team in one of these areas and are not sure how to get started.

Posted in News Tagged with: , ,

Roles We Can Fit In – Recasting The Player Workshop in Stockholm

Over the past several years, the Game Lab has hosted a number of workshops with game developers, critics, and academics with the goal of developing games that center more diverse roles and playstyles. This year, we took our workshop on the road and traveled to Stockholm, Sweden for a two-day intensive jam session with our new friends at DICE, King, MAG Interactive, and Stunlock Studios. Our mission: bring together developers interested in designing for diversity and inclusivity, and make some quick paper prototypes to envision what those games might look like.

We held the workshop on January 11th and 12th at Smådalarö Gård in the Stockholm archipelago – the perfect site for a murder mystery, we joked as we stepped off the bus. We began the day by posing a challenge to our participants: how might we design games around roles and mechanics that create space for underrepresented groups? How can we create games not only diverse in terms of representation, but also in terms of the mechanics and playstyles they accommodate? To help kickstart some ideas, our two graduate research assistants, Kaelan Doyle Myerscough and Andrew Martinez, presented their own work on diversity in video games. We then split off into groups to play two co-operative card games – Hanabi and The Grizzled – that use co-op mechanics to create interesting play experience qualities. Finally, we organized participants into the design teams they would work with for the remainder of the workshop.

To get the teams started, we invited each participant to (anonymously) write down two pieces of info on separate cards:

  • A skill they’ve learned (like writing, drawing, or knitting); and
  • A trait about themselves (like sensitivity to sunlight).

We mixed the cards, handed two skills and two traits to each team, and challenged them to design a game around as many of the cards as they could. Some of the trait cards included “perfectionist” and “nail-biting as an anxious habit,” while the skill cards included “drawing,” “cooking” and “packing items efficiently.” Teams got down to business prototyping their games for a couple of hours before dinner at the hotel restaurant. After dinner we regrouped to play more games before bed.

The next day, we woke up bright and early to prototype our games, and finally reconvened around lunchtime for playtesting. All four games we produced involved some sort of co-op mechanic, though most of them also involved an element of competition. One common theme was communication: several of the games required players to co-operate to win, but limited their ability to communicate information. Other games involved playing with difficult handicaps, like having to draw a picture with your non-dominant hand or to communicate an idea in less than ten words. Participants particularly noted the challenge of developing games according to the trait cards. Sometimes, it was tempting to ignore the cards and focus on designing a fun game. But the groups focused on their design challenge, and the results were games that felt interesting and different to play.

In the game “Not the Iron Chef,” players compete to create the best dish for a judge, constrained by the cost of each ingredient. In the process of selecting ingredients, players engage in cooperation, competition and bluffing.




In “Virtuoso,” a team of three players is given three words – one each of a subject, location and verb. Without communicating verbally, the players take turns contributing to a drawing of the three words in a limited time. When they are finished they give the drawing to a fourth player, who must guess what the words were. As the game progresses, the artists are given constraint cards that limit their ability to draw effectively – for example, one card required the artist to draw with their eyes closed, while another forced them to draw without lifting their pen from the page.

Perhaps the best outcome from the workshop was the network that grew out of the design groups. Participants exchanged contact info, organized follow-up meetings, and talked late into the night and throughout the next day about current issues in games and games culture. It can be difficult in the games industry to find like-minded people who are passionate about making more diverse games, and there is always strength in numbers. We hope that participants brought back not only their design insights, but new friendships and professional contacts as well.

This post was written by workshop facilitator Kaelan Doyle Myerscough, with some input and additions by the project leader Mikael Jakobsson. Photos by Rik Eberhardt & Mikael Jakobsson. This workshop was a collaboration between the Swedish Games Industry and MIT Game Lab. Thank you to SGI and all our participants!

Posted in Events, Research

Applications open for Play Labs 2018 – summer accelerator for startups using playful technologies

We are again hosting and mentoring startups as part of PlayLabs, a summer accelerator for startups using playful technologies. Applications are open until March 15!

Play Labs is a private venture run by Bayview Labs, and its executive director is Riz Virk, MIT ‘92, a successful entrepreneur in both video games and enterprise software, and angel investor in many playful companies. Play Labs is hosted by the MIT Game Lab, whose faculty and researchers will be involved hands on with startups, and will take place on the MIT Campus.

From the press release:

Startups that are accepted into Play Labs will each receive an initial investment of $20,000 in either cash or Bitcoin in return for common stock. Startups that graduate from the program and meet certain criteria will be eligible for up to $80,000 in additional funding from the Play Labs Fund and its investment partners.

Deadlines for applications are due March 15, 2018, after which time, finalists will be selected, and a subset of those finalists will be given offers to participate in the program. Applications are open to both MIT-affiliated startups, and startups with no MIT affiliation that wish to come to MIT for the summer to participate.

Play Labs provides mentoring, facilities, and funding for early stage startups that utilize “playful technology.” The areas of technology for this second batch of incubated startups include:

Digital Currency/Blockchain: The explosion of digital currencies like Bitcoin and the underlying technology, blockchain, have created a new virtual economy and opportunities for decentralizing many industries.

eSports/Video Game: Video games have moved into the competitive era, and esports is seen as one of the biggest opportunities for expansion.

VR/AR: A big focus for the first batch of incubated startups in Play Labs, now VR and AR are categories that continue to evolve and will revolutionize any industry.

Machine Learning/AI: Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning software and hardware (i.e. robotics) have advanced to the point of many practical applications.

Candidate startups may apply these technology areas into any industry, including video games, esports, finance, healthcare, manufacturing, and more.

More information, including the application, can be found at

Posted in Events, News Tagged with: , , , ,

We’re looking for MIT students experienced in puzzle design or developing for VR this IAP & Spring!

The MIT Game Lab and Education Arcade have 4 UROP positions available, starting in IAP &/or Spring. Application instructions are at the bottom — please specify which Project you are applying for when sending your application!

These are only available for students eligible for the MIT Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (must be currently enrolled at MIT or Wellesley):

Project Title: Designing Interlocking Puzzles Using Social Interaction Mechanics

Project Description:

The MIT Game Lab is designing a co-operative puzzle-hunt style game for 800 co-located participants that will take place over a short period of time during an event. We are looking for 2 UROPs to assist with the design of the game. UROPs would start in IAP or Spring, and could continue to work in Summer 2018.

We currently have ideas about the structure of the game, but are looking for assistance in designing multiple puzzles that would both lead to further puzzles (Mystery Hunt style) as well as require some amount of social interaction between players (similar to Assassin’s Guild games, but with less emphasis on advancing plot or story). As this is largely an non-digital game, We are also working on techniques to store and transmit data between players without requiring use of digital devices (a design constraint based on the event the game will be played within).

UROP Responsibilities:
– Working alongside and reporting to Game Lab designer/project manager
– Designing puzzle prototypes
– Researching puzzle designs

What we’re looking for in our UROP team:
– Experience playing (or designing) puzzle hunts, MIT Mystery Hunt, and/or Assassin’s Guild style games
– Interest and experience in designing puzzles

– 20 hours/week during IAP
– Interest in continuing with the project during the Spring semester for up to 10 hours/week is desirable.

Project Title: CLEVR – Virtual reality and games for STEM learning

Project Description:

The MIT Game Lab and Education Arcade is developing and pilot testing a proof-of-concept VR activity for a high school audience that leverages the affordances of VR (headset and hand controllers) to enable meaningful immersion and presence within the VR world. The learning goals for this project are to help students understand concepts of scale, particularly as it applies to biology.

We currently have a 3D environment of the interior of a human cell, in which one person in VR is exploring, and are working on a tablet-based companion app for non-VR players to interact with the in-VR player.

We are looking for 2 UROPs to join our development team this IAP and Spring, to work on our VR game mechanics. UROPs hired can also continue to work on the project during the Summer of 2018.

UROP Responsibilities:
– Working alongside and reporting to Game Lab/Education Arcade staff developers
– Development of our VR game, in Unity, for the Oculus Rift and Oculus Touch controllers
– Designing, modeling, and animating 3D assets for use in-game, of molecules, proteins, DNA, and cells

Experience we’re looking for in our UROP team:
– Unity and/or C#
– developing for VR headsets and/or Oculus Touch
– 3D modeling and animation

– 20 hours/week during IAP
– Interest in continuing with the project during the Spring semester for up to 10 hours/week is desirable.


To apply to any of these UROPs, please send a resume, link to portfolio, and cover letter (stating which Project Title you are interested in) to Rik Eberhardt . We would like to conduct interviews for students starting in IAP (January 8) ASAP.

Posted in Research Tagged with: , ,

Tencent visits MIT for an esports cultural exchange

Over the 23rd and 24th of September, the MIT Game Lab was excited to host a visit from Tencent, one of the world’s biggest video game companies. The purpose of this exchange was to learn from each other regarding esports cultures in China and in the United States. On Saturday, there was an exhibition match between four different collegiate teams across two sports, and on Sunday we held a public panel on the positive values of esports.

MIT LOL Club team 2 vs Peking University, with our commentators from Emerson College. Photo taken by Tencent staff

MIT LOL Club team 2 vs Peking University, with our commentators from Emerson College. Photo taken by Tencent staff

Saturday’s exhibition match drew a sizeable crowd to watch some friendly exhibition matches of Riot Games’ League of Legends and Tencent’s mobile multiplayer online battle arena game Honor of Kings (王者荣耀). The event was a great opportunity for players from two Chinese universities — Peking University and Nanjing Institute of Technology — to mix it up with several MIT teams. Rounding it out were students from Boston’s Emerson College to commentate the matches and provide coverage of the event.

MIT LOL Club team 2

From left: John Ma, Lawrence Sun, Aaron Sipser, Osmany Corteguera, Alex Katz. Photo taken by Tencent staff

The first two matches were League of Legends competitions. Kicking off the games with some words of encouragement for all the players was Yu “Misaya” Jingxi, ex-captain of Team WE (the first Chinese world champion of League) and coach for Peking University. In the opening round MIT’s team “Spiciest Memelords” went up against Peking University’s team. Though they played well, the first match was decisively concluded in Peking University’s favor, with 32 hero kills to the Memelords’ 6. In the second round the “MIT Rollsters” managed to win their own matchup against Peking University. Wrapping up the League competitions MVP’s were selected from each of the teams. The players on all teams played hard and the crowd cheered on the action just like you see at bigger tournaments. It was a fun chance to see some great collegiate players in action.

Next up was the Honors of Kings match which was kicked off with a video showcasing the game and then the players were introduced. This competition went a little differently than the last. Instead of an MIT team playing against the Nanjing Institute of Technology team, students from these institutions formed two mixed teams that then played competed against each other, together. Valiantly translating the on-screen action for the rest of us were our commentators from Emerson College, who had also handled the earlier League of Legends games. Despite Honor of Kings’ entirely Chinese interface, they did an excellent job in making sense of the action. Because this game has not yet been released for a Western market, this was a rare opportunity to see Honor of Kings played in an English-speaking environment. It was interesting to see characters from classic Chinese mythology and history re-imagined as aristocratic, cravat-wearing gentlemen casting magical spells at one another.

From left: Misaya, Mars Hou (Tencent), Scot Osterweil (MIT), TL Taylor (MIT), Lu Jingchao (Communication University of China), Sage Huang (Tencent), John Lasker (ESPN). Photo taken by Tencent staff

On Sunday the Tencent visit was rounded out by a public panel on the positive values of esports. The panel was moderated by Scot Osterweil (creative director of the Game Lab) and panelists included Professor T.L. Taylor (CMS/W), Mars Hou (Vice General Manager, Marketing, Tencent Interactive Entertainment), Sage Huang (General Manager, Product Department of League of Legends), John Lasker (Vice President of Digital Media Programming, ESPN), and Lu Jingchao (Dean of Announcing & Hosting Art, Communication University of China). Panel discussions centered around the ability of esports to bring communities together, as well as the ways in which academic institutions might support a growing collegiate esports scene. Representatives from Tencent discussed the possibility of working together with other North American universities, and the panel also discussed the role of government legislature in regulating or shaping the field of esports.

All in all it was a fantastic two days of friendly play, conversations, and cross-cultural exchange. Given the work both MIT and Tencent do on esports, it was a terrific opportunity to think about the future of esports together.

Posted in Events Tagged with: ,