Subversive Game Design and Meaningful Conflict

2012-2013: Konstantin Mitgutsch & Steven Schirra

Movers & Shakers is a unique two-player serious game that evokes meaningful conflict between its players beyond their tablet screens. This serious game, designed by students at the MIT Game Lab during the 2012 summer session of the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab, combines recent research insights into recursive and transformative learning with subversive game design elements and serious game design.

Research Questions

Movers & Shakers is used as a research tool to explore how a social component influences experiences in serious games. Subversive game design elements are used to foster the players’ thinking process and to get them out of unquestioned routines.
Players are challenged to give up their prior egoistic goals to reach their common goal, to save the world. The game shifts from a competitive to a collaborational gameplay – but only once the players start communicating!

The MIT Game Lab is using this tool to explore the following cutting-edge research topics:

  • How does the conversation about conflicting perspectives influence the game experience and outcome?
  • How does the setup of the players influence their experience of the conflict with their opponent?
  • What potentials and limits do subversive game design components provide to multi-player serious games?


Serious Games:
Serious Games are playful environments that are intentionally designed to have a puposeful impact on the players’ lives beyond the self-contained aim of the game itself.

Subversive Game Design:
The subversion of common game design elements through conflicting uncommon design patterns that challenge the players’ expectations.

Transformative Learning:
Learning on a transformative level implies the development of new perspectives on the world, others, and ourselves through the adjustment and revision of old experience patterns and the development of new ones on their basis.

Recursive Learning:
A circular process of restructuring and adjusting prior experience patterns through experiences of constructive disappointments and confrontations.


Mitgutsch K. / Schirra S. / Verrilli S. (2013): Movers and Shakers: Can a tablet-based serious games create meaningful conflict between players? ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems 2013 Work-in-Progress.

Konstantin Mitgutsch, Steven Schirra, Sara Verrilli, and Richard Eberhardt, (2013): Movers and Shakers: Conversation and conflict in a serious game for tablets FDG 2013, FDG ‘13 Proceedings of the International Conference on the Foundations of Digital Games. ACM New York, NY, USA p. 403-405.

Mitghtsch, Konstantin (2012): Keynote: “Purposeful by design? Designing a purposeful game.” I SIMPÓSIO DE PESQUISAS EM GAMES DA UFSC, Florianópolis, Brazil. November 2012.

Mitgutsch, Konstantin & Alvarado, Narda (2012): Purposeful by Design. A Serious Game Design Assessment Model. FDG 2012, FDG ‘12 Proceedings of the International Conference on the Foundations of Digital Games. ACM New York, NY, USA p. 121-128

Mitgutsch, Konstantin & Weise, Matthew (2012): Transformative by Design. Subversive Game Design and Player Research. CHI’12, May 5–10, 2012, Austin, Texas, USA

Mitgutsch, Konstantin & Matthew, Weise (2011): Subversive Game Design for Recursive Learning. DIGRA 2011 Proceedings: Think Design Play