AAPT Game Night: Reflections and Future Directions

posted by Joel Corbo, University of Colorado- Boulder and J.T. Laverty, Kansas State University on

(All photos in the post by AAPT photographer, Ashauni Lennox)

Ever since the 2017 Winter Meeting in Atlanta, AAPT conferences have included a “Game Night” on the official meeting agenda. These events are a great way to bring together people from across the AAPT community in a low-stakes environment to meet each other, eat snacks, play games, and have fun.

Photo of game night attendees for first AAPT Game Night at the 2017 Atlanta Meeting

So what does an AAPT Game Night look like? Lots of people will be sitting at tables playing (frequently, modern) board games. There may be other kinds of games to play, such as ping pong, air hockey, or jumbo-sized Connect Four.  There will also be snacks such as popcorn, ice cream, or the like. At the Cincinnati meeting, one group played a one-shot D&D campaign, and sometimes people bring their personal video game consoles, like the Nintendo Switch, for others to play.

Game Night is attended by people from across the AAPT community and is a good place to network with physics teachers both inside and outside PER.  If you’re interested in relaxing with other physics teachers, engaging with fantastical worlds, or just counting cards, then you should consider going to Game Night at your next AAPT Summer or Winter Meeting.

Happy Game Night participants at the 2019 Summer Meeting in Provo

Given the title and theme of this blog, we want to explore how Game Night came to be, how it has changed over time, and what might be in store for it in the future. Our focus is on the Game Night that has become part of the AAPT conferences.  That said, board games have been a part of the PER community on and off for many years—informal game nights have existed at other conferences and as part of several groups within the community. Feel free to jump to the comments to tell your own stories of games in the PER community!


The First AAPT Game Night

The first AAPT Game Night was an unofficial event run by us (Joel Corbo and J.T. Laverty) and Dimitri Dounas-Frazer during the 2016 AAPT Summer Meeting in Sacramento. We were motivated to create it as an alternative social event to the long standing PER karaoke night. We were interested in creating a space that did not focus on alcohol, and we personally really enjoy playing games and teaching them to others.

Even though it wasn’t an official event, AAPT was very supportive of this impromptu game night. Joel had been on PERLOC for about half a year at that point as the PERC Liaison, which meant that he had been in communication with AAPT about various logistical conference matters. He asked Tiffany Hayes and Cerena Cantrell, the AAPT staffers who organize the conferences, if there was a room available where we could hold a Game Night, and they provided one on very short notice (like a day or two in advance).

People playing corn hole at the Summer 2018 Meeting in Washington, DC

The games were all from our personal collections, and we advertised primarily through Facebook posts, word of mouth, and the RiPE Meeting. Despite the last-minute nature of the event, a good number of people (30? 40? We’re not sure anymore) showed up to play games, and some other folks who had their instruments with them organized a “sing along/jam session” in the hallway outside the room where we were holding Game Night.


The Evolution of Game Night

After the success of the first unofficial Game Night, AAPT made it an official part of their conferences starting at the 2017 Winter Meeting in Atlanta.  To be clear, Tiffany and Cerena took the initiative to make this happen—they added it to the program and registration process; reserved space; ordered snacks and drinks; and rented several table-based games (e.g., ping pong and air hockey). They did all of that on their own and we are grateful for it.  They also asked us for game recommendations; AAPT now has its own collection of six games specifically for Game Night, to supplement the games that attendees bring from home. Since 2017, Game Night has been a regular part of all AAPT Summer and Winter Meetings.

People playing a card game at the 2019 Winter Meeting in Houston

One of the outcomes of Game Night’s institutionalization is that it now is advertised to everyone, not just the PER community, and lots of different people from across AAPT attend it. This makes it a great opportunity for PER and non-PER people to network with each other. An additional outcome is that Game Night falls under the jurisdiction of the AAPT Code of Conduct, which is important to us since we want it to be a space that is as open, inclusive, and as safe as possible.


While not officially part of AAPT and not technically connected to Game Night, the “sing along/jam session” that started outside the first Game Night has also continued, though often at different times and locations from Game Night.


Looking Forward

Given how well institutionalized Game Night has become, we expect that it’s here to stay as a fixture of AAPT conferences. We hope that it helps to foster interactions between people who might not otherwise have met, in a low-stakes environment where people can relax and be themselves. So, if you haven’t gone to a Game Night in the past, consider going this summer. If you have gone before, please go again!

People hanging out at Game Night at the 2019 Winter Meeting in Houston

We also hope that telling the story of Game Night’s origin will inspire other folks to start their own social events at AAPT Meetings that are fun, open, and inclusive—perhaps a knitting circle, trivia night, or crafting event. The more that these activities emerge from the shared interests of the AAPT community, the better they will be at bringing people together and making for an enjoyable conference experience.


Finally, we’d like to thank Tiffany and Cerena, not just for supporting Game Night, but also for all of the work they do to make Summer and Winter Meetings happen. There wouldn’t be an AAPT without them!

Tags: History  conference  social event  

Re: AAPT Game Night: Reflections and Future Directions -
Michael Wittmann
14 Posts

I love reading this. It's one of the many examples of a small group of people seeing a need of some sort, and then simply doing something about it. Sometimes I feel like small-scale leadership of this sort is what makes this community (really, any community) actually function. 

Two other moments come to mind when I think about that kind of leadership and activity. The first is that the karaoke night itself was organized (though never officially, in the way that Game Night is) for just the same reasons. There was a small group that saw a thing, then others that wanted to join in, and boom, there you go, karaoke night. I think everyone involved was surprised when it turned into a larger thing, but these things happen, right? The second is that the official game night feels (to me, who has been going to AAPT meetings since 1996) like the continuation of a longstanding PER tradition of.... game nights. The games were smaller (decks of cards are easier to travel with than larger games), but there was a long history of people getting together for gaming, back in the day. It's nice to see how things come back around, as needs arise. 

— Michael Wittmann, UMaine PER and RiSE Center

Re: AAPT Game Night: Reflections and Future Directions -
Alexis Knaub
19 Posts

If you have anything you'd like to specifically share about similar events from the 1990s (especially if there are photos), please do so in an entry! 

I've enjoyed the Game Night space, even though card and board games aren't my thing. We've played video games (mostly Mario Kart), made signage to cheer on a colleague who was winning an award. One of my friends last year even did a fortune telling card reading for me.

Re: AAPT Game Night: Reflections and Future Directions -
Michael Wittmann
14 Posts

Ha! In the age before digital cameras, people didn't take pictures that often, and if they did, I don't have them. Perhaps Leon, Kathy, Dave, or the other core members of that group would have them, but I certainly don't. The one night that I hosted a game night (Boise 2002 summer meeting), I had an apartment because my wife and daugther came along to the conference. We didn't take photos, since I didn't have a digital camera at the time, and cell phones with usable cameras were still a few years off at this point. It's amazing how technology changes our memory spaces. We have far more to share right now, but how many of our digital memories will be around in 1000 years?

— Michael Wittmann, UMaine PER and RiSE Center

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