Interview with the inventors of the Publishing Trap

Chris Morrison and Jane Secker

Chris Morrison and Jane Secker are on a mission to make learning about copyright fun, engaging and empowering.  Chris (@cbowiemorrison) is Copyright Support and Software Licensing Manager at the University of Kent and Jane (@jsecker) is Senior Lecturer in Educational Development at City, University of London.  They are both members of the Universities UK / Guild HE Copyright Working Group.  Prior to developing The Publishing Trap Jane and Chris worked together to produce Copyright the Card Game.


Ahead of Kent celebrating Open Access week (a week before the official #OAweek – we’re very keen!), we caught up with Chris and Jane to find out more about why they developed the game and why staff at Kent should come along to play the game.

Kent researchers have the opportunity to be among the first to try out this innovative ‘game-of-life’-style board game. The new version will welcome its first participants on Monday 16 October at the Drill Hall Library in Medway, with three sessions to be held in the Templeman Library next Tuesday (17th), Thursday (19th), and Friday (20th). For further details of the sessions please see our earlier post.

OSC note:  Having both played the previous (prototype) version, we strongly recommend it as an innovative and fun way to explore the impact Open Access decisions throughout your career can have on the reach of your research – we’re looking forward to trying out the finished version.

Publishing Trap boardgame logo


OSC: So, Chris, Jane –  tell us why you developed the game and what the main aim of it is?

Chris: The idea for the Publishing Trap came when Jane and I went to an information literacy event organised by library games guru Andy Walsh in Leeds in 2015. After we’d played the card game with the delegates and Andy had got us all to make Lego models of 21st century librarians, we were all asked to come up with their ideas for games to teach people something relating to the information profession. I reflected on the copyright and open access sessions I’d been running at Kent and how dull they were when compared with the card game approach I’d been taking with the ‘pure’ copyright training. I wondered whether the game Mousetrap might be used as a basis for teaching people about the flow of knowledge, money and impact in the scholarly communication process. I wanted to allow people to understand how various publishing models (including open access) worked and communicate the importance of copyright and licensing in their work as academics. I was also inspired by MONIAC – a working hydraulic model of the economy designed as a teaching aid.

We decided to develop the game and enter something for the inaugural Lagadathon games-based-learning competition at the LILAC conference in 2016. At that stage the idea of using icons to communicate key concepts and allow players to build publishing models was in place, as was the game’s currency of knowledge, impact and money. But I’ll admit that the game was in very early stage of its development and largely reflected my own obsession with pictograms and Velcro. It was rather over-complicated. We were really lucky to get the runners up prize at the Lagadathon which has gone towards development costs.

Jane: This is where I came in, I was partly inspired by the Game of Life, and felt some of Chris’s ideas were perhaps a little over-elaborate. I also thought it was important to play the game in teams to encourage discussion as we have in the card game. After some refining and play testing we agreed that four fictional characters in each of the major academic disciplines should progress through their academic career, from PhD submission to Professorship, via each round of the game. It was while playing other board games that I came up with the idea of wild cards and skills cards which would add extra elements of excitement to the game. These give players the opportunity to improve their skills to assist in their choices during the rounds and lead to some unexpected academic traumas!

Chris: I think the wild cards are what makes the game, but I won’t say any more. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who wants to play it.

Editors note from @HeadUniKentOSC:  the Wildcards are my favourite bit too.


OSC: It sounds quite impressive! How long does it take to play the game and why would I want to play? 

Chris: The game takes about an hour and a half to play. One of the key things is that you play the game in a small team, taking on the character of one of our academics. We have Mary, an astrophysicist studying dark matter; Misha, a criminologist studying gangs in London; Simon is a Jane Austen scholar; and lastly Brian – a hipster with a big beard – who is a microbiologist. So, the point is that rather than having your own research in mind whilst trying to wrap your head around abstract legal concepts and policy positions (which can be a source of stress – and where it may be a little harder to assess the options objectively), you see the world of scholarly communications through someone else’s eyes.

Jane: During the game you consider how scholarly communication and academic career progression is a balancing act, between the need to get published and make an impact, and to get your research out there into the wider world. You evaluate the choices available to academics at different stages in their career. Through discussions with the other players you can compare open and more restricted publishing routes. There are points awarded along the way; owl tokens for knowledge that makes it into the wider world, coin tokens for money, and impact tokens for how much academic credence your research attracts.


OSC: It sounds like it has been a lot of work, how has testing the game worked?

Chris: Well we’ve been developing this game since early 2016. After LILAC we took it to a special interest group within ALT (the Association of Learning Technology) that focuses on playful learning. We got some great feedback from members of the group. We then played further iterations of the game with as many people as we could, finally demonstrating the game in August this year in Poland at an international Library conference.

Jane: I play-tested the game at LSE (where I worked until April 2017) with librarians and research support staff. It was actually during this session we hit on the idea of the wildcards. We also invited some of our fellow copyright officers based in London and the South East play test it with us over the summer at our Community of Practice meeting. We’ve had excellent feedback from the community throughout the games development and we can’t wait to see what our research colleagues think. We plan to play the game for the first time at City (where I now work) in November, but I will be coming along to the launch at the Drill Hall Library on the 16th October and to Canterbury on the 17th.


OSC: I want to play! What options do I have?

Chris: Our website has further information about the game, and we’ll be running sessions all week from 16th October. We hope to see researchers from all three Universities at Medway (University of Kent, University of Greenwich and Canterbury Christchurch), and University of Kent staff based in Canterbury have three sessions to choose from. Anyone on campus is very welcome to drop in.

Jane: If you can’t make these sessions or you don’t work at Kent, you can leave your details on the contact form on our website. We are making plans to run some showcase events in 2018, but in the meantime if you’re interested please do get in touch through our website – we’d love to hear from you.

Chris: If you are at Kent but unable to make the sessions next week, I’ll also be running the game with my colleague Rosalyn Bass from Research Support on 27 November 2017 and 5 February 2018 as part of the Researcher Development Programme as well as using it in a forthcoming Grants Factory and Early Career Research Network session in March 2018.


OSC What next….? How will the game adapt to a changing scholarly comms world? 

Chris: Well maybe funders, libraries, researchers and publishers will be able to resolve all the tensions and complexities in the current system by the end of next year and the game will no longer be necessary. But in the event that they don’t we’ve got plenty of ideas of how to develop it further. Including building the three dimensional model of the publishing industry which was the original inspiration for the game.

Jane: We’re both committed to finding creative solutions to copyright education. We’re aware that it’s not the most exciting of subjects for many academics, but copyright and licensing really matters and is something that affects how widely read and cited your research is by fellow researchers and the wider world. We want the game to keep evolving as the academic environment changes. We think that new scenarios can be developed using the Wildcards and Impact Cards. We are hoping to add new characters to the game over time as well to ensure all disciplines are represented.

Chris: If you’re particularly keen, we’d love to have you join our network of developers. People who want to submit their ideas or can spare some time or expertise to build a community around the game (you can sign up for this on the copyright literacy website). People have also been asking us about a digital or online version – I’m not really sure if that would work. The point of the game is to stimulate discussion around a table. I think sometimes technology can get in the way.

Jane: I love technology, and my brother is a games programmer, so I am committed to us developing an online version of the game too, rather like the choose your own adventure computer games I played as a kid. However, I guess one thing we’ve learnt along the way, is that playing games can be a lot of fun, but making educational games is hard work!