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The gender gap in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) careers is well documented and though recent initiatives have been encouraging more women to take up technology careers in academia and industry, higher positions in academiia, design and production remain are overwhelmingly populated by men. This research introduces Agonistic Design and Mind the Gap (MtG), a intervention that structures social interaction and dialogues in a role-play game to examine the complex issue of the gender gap. The MtGg game illuminates players’ attitudes and experiences through playful engagement, and reveals diverse perspectives concerning gender privilege and discrimination. The game examines gender not as biological dichotomy but as performance of identity and reiterates the importance of striving for gender equity in STEM curriculum and industry.

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Mind the Gap is a board game that portrays a stereotypical career path in STEM. The board is graphically modeled on the London Underground and Hong Kong Metro Transit Rail maps, with a Career line and a Family line. The Family Line begins at the station Biological Clocktower and takes a player on a circuitous route that eventually returns to the Career Line back at the beginning. Players are randomly allocated a male, female or rainbow Player Character (PC) piece. Male PC’s roll a six-sided die to advance through the game, while female and rainbow PC’s play with a four-sided die. This simple procedural rhetoric describes the suituation of gender inequality that is widespread in STEM industry and academic careers. Upon following the number of place moves, players draw from the stack of ‘privilege cards’ and read aloud the text there, further moving their play piece forward or backwards depending on the privilege score of the card. Gameplay proceeds systematically as players take turns to roll the dice, move their play piece, draw a card and act on its privilege or detriment.

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The cards that drive the game are almost entirely participant authored. During the course of the game play, players are invited to author their own game cards. These can include gender privilege scenarios, decision-making situations, or rule changes. From the original seven seed cards with which we began the game, in March 2017, there are now more than 150 cards that have been added by players. These cards contain micro-stories that are often humorous, sometimes deeply personal, on occasion surprising, and overall quite revealing and share the breadth of gender related challenges that face people in their lives and work. By examining the privilege scoring of the cards, and the context of the scenario, decision or rule changes, the game as a research tool provides a fascinating insight into collective perceptions of players towards gender issues, as well as potential solutions to the problems we face, in a unique, playful and socially engaging manner.

Mind the Gap was created as part of a PhD research process in the development of Agonistic Design, by Max Willis, University of Trento, Italy (SKIL TIME) and Antonella de Angeli, University of Lincoln, UK and University of Trento, Italy. For inquiries or comment, please contact [Max dot Willis at unitn dot it]


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