Design for play, fun, excite­ment: Call for Papers

22. April 2024

In the 50th anniver­sary year of the slide car “Bob­by Car” and the ten­nis sim­u­la­tion “Pong” by Atari, the world’s first pop­u­lar video game, the annu­al con­fer­ence of the Ger­man Gesellschaft für Designgeschichte (GfDG) will focus on games and toys from the 20th cen­tu­ry — from board games to doll hous­es or sys­tem toys to the con­sole games of the 1990s.

Call for Papers

For its annu­al con­fer­ence in sum­mer 2022, the GfDG is now call­ing for con­fer­ence papers ded­i­cat­ed to the design of games, game forms and toys of indus­tri­al cul­ture. Addi­tion­al­ly, a spe­cial focus should be on dig­i­tal games up to the year 2000.

Please send your abstract of up to 3,500 char­ac­ters, a short biog­ra­phy of no more than 800 char­ac­ters, and your con­tact infor­ma­tion to cfp [at] by March 30, 2022. The con­fer­ence lan­guage will be German.

Annu­al con­fer­ence in the city of the Inter­na­tion­al Toy Fair

The con­fer­ence “Design for Play, Fun, Excite­ment — Design­ing Arti­facts for Play­ful Action” will take place on July 1 and 2, 2022 in the “Haus der Wirtschaft” of the Nurem­berg Cham­ber of Indus­try and Com­merce. The con­fer­ence venue is Nurem­berg, famous for the largest toy fair in the world. Hosts are the Cham­ber of Indus­try and Com­merce Nurem­berg for Mid­dle Fran­co­nia (IHK) and bay­ern design, the com­pe­tence cen­ter for design of the Free State of Bavaria.

The his­toric merchant’s pro­ces­sion on the facade of the Cham­ber of Indus­try and Com­merce with the mot­to “Nürn­berg­er Tand geht durch alle Land” refers to the long tra­di­tion as a games metrop­o­lis, which is still alive today. The region is home to renowned game man­u­fac­tur­ers, but Nurem­berg is also an impor­tant cen­ter for design with its design col­lec­tions in the Ger­man­is­ches National­mu­se­um and Neues Muse­um, the design fac­ul­ty at the Nurem­berg Uni­ver­si­ty of Tech­nol­o­gy, and the head­quar­ters of bay­ern design. Last but not least, the Ger­man Games Archive and the Toy Muse­um have col­lec­tions of objects that are extreme­ly rel­e­vant for his­tor­i­cal design research.

Play­ing is part of human nature

Man as Homo ludens is by no means a phe­nom­e­non of mod­ern times. The term was first coined in 1938 by Johan Huizin­ga. But the Dutch cul­tur­al his­to­ri­an describes play as a basic ele­ment of human cul­ture, as a form of action through which cul­tur­al sys­tems have always devel­oped and been con­sol­i­dat­ed. Play is part of human nature, a con­stant in human his­to­ry. But how we play, and with what, reveals much about our par­tic­u­lar cul­ture and the tem­porar­i­ly pre­vail­ing ideas.

With the begin­ning of the indus­tri­al age, devel­op­ments in the field of play expe­ri­ence sig­nif­i­cant changes and con­stant expan­sions — in short, a new lev­el of emer­gence. The divi­sion of labor, new mate­ri­als, large-scale man­u­fac­tur­ing meth­ods, mod­ern dis­tri­b­u­tion chan­nels and the use of elec­tric dri­ves cre­ate pre­vi­ous­ly undreamed-of pos­si­bil­i­ties. They go far beyond a nov­el design of famil­iar game con­texts. The inven­tions of engi­neers enter the play­rooms in the form of mod­el trains, tech­ni­cal con­struc­tion kits or opti­cal enter­tain­ment devices. New mate­ri­als from the chem­i­cal indus­try, for exam­ple ABS (acry­loni­trile-buta­di­ene-styrene copoly­mers), first used in the 1950s, form the basis for mass-pro­duced toys from glob­al brands such as Lego or Playmobil.

Enhanced expe­ri­ence on the computer

Com­put­er tech­nol­o­gy final­ly pro­vides the field of play with hith­er­to hard­ly imag­in­able expan­sions — also in the area of play­er life. Both the sim­u­la­tion of fel­low play­ers and the cal­cu­la­tion of fic­ti­tious envi­ron­ments with their own phys­i­cal laws cre­ate new kinds of per­cep­tu­al expe­ri­ences and lead to an unprece­dent­ed degree of immer­sion. Since “Ten­nis for Two” by William Hig­gin­both­am in 1958 and Stephen Russel’s “Space­war!” in 1961, the field of dig­i­tal games has shown a remark­able dri­ve for inno­va­tion, com­bined with great mar­ket potential.

Struc­tur­ing pro­pos­als attempt to coun­ter­act the unman­age­abil­i­ty of the over­all offer. In 1967, the French soci­ol­o­gist Roger Cail­lois pre­sent­ed a cat­e­go­riza­tion with the basic types of com­pe­ti­tion (agon), chance/randomness (alea), dis­guise (mimikry) and phys­i­cal expe­ri­ence of noise (ilnix). They serve as a foil to make us aware of cen­tral expres­sions of the play expe­ri­ence. The types men­tioned rank respec­tive­ly between the poles of plea­sure (pai­da) and skill or over­com­ing obsta­cles (ludus).

Games have received lit­tle atten­tion in the his­to­ry of design

Design — under­stood as con­cep­tion, shape and col­or, choice of mate­ri­als as well as image and move­ment design — rep­re­sents a sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor in the devel­op­ment of games and toys. One thinks, for exam­ple, of the so-called Bauhaus chess, Renate Müller’s designs for the Volk­seigen­er Betrieb Ther­a­peutis­ches Spielzeug in Son­neberg, the ply­wood ele­phant by Charles and Ray Eames, Nintendo’s Super Mario or Bar­bie. Against this back­ground, it is sur­pris­ing that the his­to­ry of design has so far only selec­tive­ly dealt with games, their con­texts and objects. After all, design has in many cas­es achieved ground­break­ing inno­va­tions in the games mar­ket: in the con­cep­tion, the reflec­tion of social and tech­ni­cal con­texts, the adap­ta­tion to dif­fer­ent cog­ni­tive and phys­i­cal abil­i­ties, the for­mal nature, with regard to the designed nar­ra­tives and the use of technology.