Colleen Macklin: PETLab, Prototyping Play

Filed in: Games

Filed by Colleen Macklin


1.17.08 | At Parsons The New School for Design and Games for Change’s new collaborative environment PETLab, students, academics, experts, activists, kids (“of all ages”) and partners across every sector are all coming together under one equal title: “Designer.”

As a team (of a different kind), this eclectic group will be diving head-first into making games—playful applications and interactions—that encourage connections between learning and social awareness. And, of course, are fun—a key requirement!

PETLab proposes that anyone, given the opportunity, can design—that is, take an active, engaged stance toward shaping aspects of our world. In the words of John Thackara design is more socially responsive—and responsible—when we design with, not for. PETLab’s teams and projects embody the idea of designing with. In particular, PETLab’s teams and projects will put a special emphasis on prototyping, that is, trying out as many different approaches to a problem as early, quickly, and freely as possible—and, above all, embracing and learning from both “successes” and “failures.” (Often, failure is a success in disguise because it leads to new solutions!) This approach puts play—an applied, open learning about one’s own and others’ stances and styles—at the very heart of the design process.

By prototyping ideas and issues with a wide range of collaborators, PETLab develops games and playful systems that encourage creative approaches to, and deeper, dynamic understandings of, the complex issues society faces today, such as climate change, wealth and resource distribution, and media literacy. PETLab prototypes will encourage skills such as design-thinking, civic engagement, collaboration, learning, and communication. Through the spirit of play and the principles of games, players - people - learn more about the possibilities and potentials of themselves and others.

Alex Quinn, co-director of PETLab and I hope you will design with us, by sharing your comments, expertise, and, if you’re interested, by participating. We’ll keep you in the loop on this site as we embark on these exciting new projects.

Editor’s Note:
For more on PETlab read Alex Quinn’s post here. Also check out Colleen’s blog here.


Picture of Tom Hoffman
Tom Hoffman


Well, no, everyone is not equal at PETLab.  Some people and institutions have more rights than others, because PETLab chose to use a proprietary, commercial platform.  From what I gather, I would have to buy Windows and /or and XBox to participate.  No matter how many times you stick the word “open” and “free” in your documentation, you have chosen not to give software freedom to your users.  In 2008, this is not the socially responsible way to write philanthropically funded educational software, no matter how you try to whitewash it.

Picture of Colleen Macklin
Colleen Macklin (PETLab and Parsons The New School for Design)


Tom, thanks for taking the time to comment on my post. PETLab’s prototyping efforts focus not only on XNA/XBOX but on a wide range of gaming and design platforms, some commercial, some open source, some somewhere in-between. We are interested in developing relationships with a diverse set of companies and organizations in an effort to understand how pro-social themed games can enable different forms of learning. The questions you raise about cost and openness are questions that we are actively debating at PETLab,  as a design, research and learning institution. We are committed to sharing our research and discussions on these and other topics. I look forward to continuing the discussion!


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