Dark Play in the Digital Arts

6th-7th July, Middlesex University


‘Dark Play in the Digital Arts’ will explore, with a small group of researchers, cutting-edge and under-theorised issues in the digital arts, play and playfulness, ‘dark play’ and digital arts-based pedagogies.
The symposium is hosted by the Childhood and Society SIG, which is part of the Centre for Education Research & Scholarship at Middlesex University.
The event will be held at: Hendon Hall, Ashley Lane, London, NW4 1HD.

‘Dark Play in the Digital Arts’ explored cutting-edge and under-theorised issues in the digital arts, play and playfulness, ‘dark play’ and digital arts-based pedagogies.

The symposium was hosted by the Childhood and Society SIG, which is part of the Centre for Education Research & Scholarship at Middlesex University.

Following on from the symposium is a special issue in Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, entitled ‘Dark Play in Digital Playscapes’, coming out in the Summer of 2017. Access the call for papers here.

Post-Symposium Publication:

R. Sinker, M. Phillips, V. de Rijke. Playing in the Dark with Online Games for Girls. Volume: 18 issue: 2, page(s): 162-178.Article first published online: July 4, 2017;Issue published: June 1, 2017 https://doi.org/10.1177/1463949117714079


Designing with Data
Professor Chris Speed, Edinburgh University 

I’d like to talk about how artists, designers and software engineers play with data. But in particular how they have an ability to play in the negative spaces of databases. By that I mean that they have a skill in identifying not the common patterns within datasets, but the uncommon that are often unseen by many other… READ MORE… 

Zombies, ghosts and skeletons: exploring young children’s interests in gore, death and dying as everyday and existential matters
Dr Elizabeth Wood, Professor of Education, University of Sheffield

In this presentation I will explore young children’s interests in deep existential matters of life, death and dying, and the ways these are expressed in their role play activities. I will argue that researching play in naturalistic ways enables us to understand how young children strive to make sense of the everyday and the existential, as they frequently co-exist in their play narratives…READ MORE…

Exploring Global Citizenship through the ‘Digital Tambayan’ Networks of Urban Youth
Dr Myrrh Domingo, UCL Institute of Education, University of London

For this symposium, I would like to re-examine data from a three-year ethnography of urban youth and their social language development across digital spaces. I have previously written on this topic with a focus on pedagogy, literacy and/or multimodal methodology. Both drawing from and expanding beyond the framework I’ve previously used, I would like to explore the notion of global citizenship in digital platforms and … READ MORE… 

Cardboard dens and princess dresses; community research, arts practice, embodied meaning making and the cusp of chaos.
Dr Abi Hackett, Sheffield University 

I would like to talk about some of the emerging themes and questions arising from my strand of Community Arts Zone (CAZ), an international research project concerned with the connections between arts practice, literacy and the community. Working with a number of different partners in Rotherham, including the museum service and a Children’s Centre, I collaborated with artist Steve Pool to organize a series of family friendly activities and events, including den building, cookie baking and … READ MORE… 

An exploration into young children’s playful participation in the construction of media content
Jacqueline Harding, Middlesex University 

For this symposium, I am proposing a re-examination of the data that led to my assertion that young children have a right participate in media content building in ‘playfully appropriate’ ways. Furthermore, I intend that discussion should be generated around the need to challenge the prevailing notion that: ‘anything goes’ and ‘it’s easy to produce media content for children’. A key focus of the presentation and discussion would be to debate further creative ways in which young children (and their families) can be involved in digital media construction that directly concerns them …READ MORE…

Digital Dialudics
Dr Victoria de Rijke, Middlesex University
Professor Mike Phillips, Plymouth University
Dr Rebecca Sinker, Tate

Play is under pressure, squeezed out of schooling for all but the youngest children; increasingly limited in later life. Recent neurological research argues play, pleasure and risk-taking (Panksepp, 2012) are essential to animal development and a signal of well-being (Pellegrini, 1995; Gill, 2014) but how far does that stretch into risky play, ‘dark’ play?…READ MORE…

Digital Play in Dark Times
Dr Dylan Yamada-Rice, Sheffield University 

This presentation will consider the role of digital arts and play in potentially ‘dark’ times in children’s lives. It will start by describing some of the findings from an AHRC-funded network project that considered the development of videogames for hospitalised children. The network brought together academics, videogames developers, designers, artists and hospital play specialists…READ MORE…

Children’s destruction of their art: semiotic, affective and relational dimensions
Dr Mona Sakr, Middlesex University

In this presentation, I want to examine destruction as a creative and meaningful act. I want to raise questions about the potential of destruction in the context of children’s art-making to mean different things and to reflect different affective states. I also want to think about the distinct ways in which destruction can manifest, both in digital and non-digital art-making, and to consider children’s choices about how to destroy their artwork as a type of semiotic design. The presentation will share and reflect on observations…READ MORE…


Chair: Professor Jayne Osgood

Dr Jayne Osgood is Professor of Education and has recently joined the Centre for Education Research & Scholarship at Middlesex University. Her present research methodologies and research practices are framed by new material feminism and posthumanism. She is developing transdisciplinary theoretical approaches that maintain a concern with issues of social justice, and which critically engage with policy, curricular frameworks and pedagogical approaches. Through her work she seeks to reconfigure understandings of the workforce, families and ‘the child’ and ‘childhood’ in early years contexts.


  • Professor Chris Speed, Edinburgh University
    Chris Speed is Chair of Design Informatics at the University of Edinburgh where his research focuses upon the Network Society, Digital Art and Technology, and The Internet of Things. Chris is co-editor of the journal Ubiquity and leads the Design Informatics Research Centre that is home to a combination of researchers working across the fields of interaction design, temporal design, anthropology, software engineering and digital architecture, as well as the MA/MFA and MSc and Advanced MSc programmes.
  • Professor Elizabeth Wood, Sheffield University
    Elizabeth Wood is Professor of Education at the University of Sheffield, and is Director for Research in the School of Education. Her long-standing interests in young children’s play have produced many books and articles, and she has been a consultant to several organisations regarding play policies and guidelines. She is involved in two current projects, one funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council on ‘Videogames and Play for children in hospital spaces’, and one funded by the Australian Research Council on ‘Early childhood teachers’ understanding of children’s digital play’. Elizabeth’s work also encompasses learning, pedagogy and curriculum in Early Childhood Education, policy analysis and critique, and comparative analysis of ECE systems.
  • Dr Mona Sakr, Middlesex University
    Dr Mona Sakr is a Lecturer in Education and Early Childhood at Middlesex University. Her research focuses on digital technologies in childhood, with a particular focus on how the digital re-shapes creative, playful and art-making experiences for young children. Current and previous research projects include a phenomenological analysis of children’s experiences of digital augmentation during history learning, observation studies of collective digital art-making in early years educational settings, and a case study of parent-child art-making with different technologies in the home.
  • Dr Abi Hackett, Sheffield University
    Abigail Hackett is a research associate at the Centre for the Study of Childhood and Youth, University of Sheffield. Her ethnographic research mainly focusses on the meaning making of very young children, and she is also interested in collaborative approaches to research with artists and community participants. Before completing a doctorate, Abi worked in the cultural sector, specialising in learning and community engagement, for a number of years. Abi’s doctoral research was an ethnographic study of young children’s meaning making in museums. She is currently collaborating with artists Steve Pool and Rachael Hand on separate projects exploring the potential to visualise and materialise movement and the ephemeral in young children’s meaning making. In addition, Abi is currently involved in a coproduced research project with Eureka! The National Children’s Museum on how children learn about their bodies in an interactive gallery.
  • Dr Myrrh Domingo, Institute of Education
    Myrrh Domingo is a Lecturer in Contemporary Literacy in the Culture, Communication and Media Department at the Institute of Education, University of London. Her recent projects and publications are focused on analysis of social media practices, online research and technology mediated teaching and learning. She has been involved in a variety of funded projects focused on multimodality, learning and digital environments from a range of bodies including the ESRC National Centre of Research Node: Multimodal Methodologies for Research Digital and Data Environments, and the National Academy of Education and Carnegie Foundation Fellowship for Adolescent Literacy Research.
  • Dr Dylan Yamada-Rice, Sheffield University
    Dylan Yamada-Rice is Co-Director for the Center for the Study of Childhood and Youth and a lecturer in Early Childhood Education at the University of Sheffield. Her research interests are concerned with visual and digital media in young children’s lives.  Dylan is currently contributing to an ESRC-funded research on ‘Exploring Play and Creativity in Pre-schoolers’ Use of Tablet Apps. This is a collaboration between the Universities of Sheffield and Edinburgh, the BBC children’s television channel CBeebies, children’s television production company Foundling Bird, development studio and consultancy company Dubit and Monteney Primary School, Sheffield. The main aim of the study is to examine the potential that tablet apps have to foster play and creativity in pre-schoolers. Her past work has included developing videogames and play for hospitalised children,  working with Dubit Ltd to produce a blueprint for the co-production of children in digital game design, Digital texts and mapmaking: Intergenerational perspectives on the changing role of the digital in the built environment, and exploring research on ipad story apps.  You can follow her work on Twitter @dylanyamadarice
  • Jacqueline Harding, Middlesex University
    Jacqueline Harding is a Senior Lecturer in Education and Early Childhood at Middlesex University.  Current and previous research projects include an examination of young children’s creative experience and its link to wellbeing; the development of a pilot tool to analyze young children’s media experience and discussions around proposals for a new kind of play: Immersive Digital Play. Jacqueline’s doctoral research examined screen experience in early childhood, with a particular focus on a young child’s right to participation in content building and the ways in which this action is re-shaping the future of children’s media.
  • Dr Victoria de Rijke, Middlesex University
    Dr. Victoria de Rijke is Associate Professor and Deputy Research Director in the Department of Education at Middlesex University, London.  She has over twenty years experience working with Primary school teachers and children, including active engagement with artist residencies, consultancies and research projects in the creative arts, producing teaching and learning resources online.  Victoria also writes and presents on the visual or performing arts and children’s literature, and is Co-Chief Editor of the international research journal Children’s Literature in Education. She is currently working on a book on Play as a theoretical process in contemporary Arts for Tate Publishers, reflecting on dystopian models of play and childhood.
  • Dr Rebecca Sinker, Tate
    Dr Rebecca Sinker is Curator: Digital Learning at Tate developing creative digital learning practice and research with colleagues, artists and external partners. Current projects include Young Digital Makers in Tate Britain’s Taylor Digital Studio and mobile learning with the ArtMaps platform, developed with researchers at Horizon Centre for Digital Economies Research. In 2014 she chaired Gallery Education and the Digital Future at Tate Britain and the Innovation and the Digital Age panel at Disruptive Influences: Engage International Conference. As part of the group 4Play, she co-presented Dis-Play: Ludic Illusions and Disillusions at the Ludic Museum Conference at Tate Liverpool, February 2014, and ran Invitation to Play: a colloquium exploring the ludic in arts practice, teaching and learning (Tate, 2008). Formerly Head of Young People’s Programmes at Tate Britain (2006-10) and prior to that Digital Arts Education Research Fellow at Middlesex University and the Institute of International Visual Arts (1998-2003), Rebecca has been working with participants from early years to post-graduate, in formal and informal art and education settings, since 1990.
  • Professor Mike Phillips, Plymouth University
    Mike Phillips is Professor of Interdisciplinary Arts at Plymouth University and Director of Research at i-DAT, ACE NPO and on the AHRC Internet of Things Advisory Board. i-DAT is a lab for playful experimentation with data, focused around making ‘data’ generated by human, ecological, economic and societal activity tangible and readily available to the public, artists, engineers and scientists for artistic expression with cultural and social impact. Mike manages the FulDome Immersive Vision Theatre (IVT), a transdisciplinary instrument for the manifestation of material, immaterial and imaginary worlds and is co-editor of Ubiquity, The Journal of Pervasive Media.