Critical Game Literacies and Critical Speculative Imagination: A Theoretical and Conceptual Review




Critical Pedagogies, Game Design, Video Games, Critical Digital Literacies, Critical Game Literacies, Afrofuturism, Critical Speculative Imagination, Abolitionism, Games and Learning, gamevironments


Digital gaming has expanded during the pandemic, adding urgency to educators’ efforts to implement research on game literacy learning. However, researchers have also documented racism, sexism, heterosexism, and other forms of oppression in gaming. Educators need to prepare young people to resist these, and game developers need to challenge them in their designs. To contribute to these efforts, this article reviews and synthesizes theories, conceptual frameworks, and research on critical game literacies, defined as the literacy skills needed to play, analyze, modify, and design games in ways that challenge systemic oppression. Synthesizing sociocultural learning theory, abolitionist critical theories, and Afrofuturist Development theory, I argue that critical game literacies can nurture critical speculative imagination, “the capacity to conjure, enact, and rehearse future worlds free from oppression” (Tynes et al. forthc., 23). I demonstrate this by focusing on movements for abolition of police and prisons, part of the international struggle for Black liberation. The theory could also be developed further in related movements around the world, supporting young people in using games as equipment to prototype liberated futures.

Author Biography

  • Matthew Coopilton, University of Southern California Rossier School of Education

    Matthew Coopilton (formerly Hamilton) is a game designer, researcher, and teacher. They are currently a PhD candidate in Educational Psychology at the University of Southern California, studying critical digital literacies and how people learn through play and game design. They taught Language Arts, Social Studies, and spoken-word poetry for 10 years at a program re-engaging students who had been pushed out of high school. Now they are working with Dr. Brendesha Tynes on a large-scale survey of adolescent critical digital literacies. They are also working on a new curriculum around Tracy Fullerton’s award-winning game Walden ( Matthew and their friends have been designing several abolitionist games, including, a game about young people falling in love in the ruins of a youth jail. Their design portfolio is available at







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