What do we even mean when we say something is intergenerational? Is it people from different ages hanging out? Is it incorporating references from different time periods into one space? Is it intergenerational is someone 30 hangs out with someone 38? What about a five year old and a 12 year old hanging out? What makes any of the experiences intergenerational? It is really tricky to define, and I promise you that I cannot provide you with a single effective answer. What I am trying to do is figure out how we can make something intergenerational.

It’s fascinating, because you will hear intergenerationality heralded as the solution to generational divide. That ageism can be solved through intergenerationality. And while research does show many positives to intergenerational experiences (one of which is addressing ageist stereotypes), if poorly implemented, intergenerational experiences can do that opposite, increasing ageist views, furthering existing stereotypes (North & Fiske, 2012).

Part of the issue with defining intergenerationality is its simultaneous homogeneity and ambiguity. Building from generations, it presupposes individuals behave or act a certain way because they are from the same temporal group. It connects to development psychology, where our developmental stages play into the creation of a cohort.

However, this perspective is too binary. It assumes that just because you and I were born at the same time, we will share the same experiences, ideas and perspectives. But is that really the case? Cultural, social, economic, political, and emotional factors all play into our development, understanding of experience, and perspective on events. Every generation is full of individuals, each with a personal understanding of their surroundings. Sure some individuals share similar thoughts but that doesn’t make the whole generation contain the same knowledge/experience. 

The recent “OK Boomer” discourse is a strong example of this dichotomy. Popping up on social media, many youth are using the term, “ok boomer” as a way a response to comments that disregard the challenges that youth face in the current socio-political climate or address non-progressive ideology. While the phrase uses the term boomer, which refers to the baby boomer generation, conversation will ‘exclude’ some people of the boomer age based on their behaviour or knowledge. This indicates that perhaps age is not the best determinant of a generational ideology, or that people from a generation have varied ideas, and that perceiving them as a whole fails to properly represent them. Perhaps it just boils down to, not everyone is the same, which I think we have been hearing since we were kids (or I hope you have).

As I try to conceptualize this for game design, I looked at 3 different theories: Intergenerativity, Ambivalence, and intra-actions.

Intergenerativity comes from the work of Peter Whitehouse, where alongside his wife they ran an intergenerational school. Defining it in comparison to generativity, Whitehouse states, “generativity involves conversations between two or more people about an idea with long-term implications, whereas intergenerativity implies a cultural conversation between generations distributed through time (and potentially space)” (Whitehouse, 2010). In other words, intergenerativity looks at how ideas and knowledge are shared between groups taking into consideration the impact of people’s culture and time based experiences (i.e. born during watergate). In this framework, designing a space that is intergenerative, requires one to consider the different cultural backgrounds of the participants, and connecting it to the time frames that each group comes from. 

The concern with intergenerativity was its development alongside an explicitly educational environment. Whitehouse outlines ways to measure intergenerativity, which immediately repackages it into categories, subsequently excluding other factors. To help combat this, I turned the concept of ambivalence. 

Simply described, ambivalence recognizes contradictions that exist within the individual and relationships. For example, intergenerational ambivalence would recognize that there are contradictory family experiences for members of a cohort. More specifically, some individuals grew up in a home with siblings and others alone. Or perhaps some individuals had two parents and others had none. These experiences somewhat contradict each other, however they still exist together within the cohort relationship. In this manner, ambivalence recognizes that intergenerational experiences are not neatly packaged.

Ambivalence helps us start to explore how intergenerational experiences cannot be simply constructed or defined, pushing us to further explore what contradictions and ideas need to be understood and played out. After some discussion and research I found some ideas from feminist theory to be helpful. Karen Barad discusses the idea of entanglements and intra-actions. Individuals are created through a series of experiences, each of which defines who they are overall. These factors (social, political, economic, cultural etc.) influence each other and subsequently define us. Taking this a bit farther, intergenerationality (or perhaps ‘intra’-generationality) would need to consider that there are an existing multitude of factors that makes up the experience, many of these factors being specific to the individuals that are meeting. 

“The usual notion of interaction assumes that there are individual independently existing entities or agents that preexist their acting upon one another. By contrast, the notion of “intra-action” queers the familiar sense of causality (where one or more causal agents precede and produce an effect), and more generally unsettles the metaphysics of individualism (the belief that there are individually constituted agents or entities, as well as times and places).”

Karan Barad in interview with Adam Kleinmann

So what I really conclude when thinking about intergenerationality is that it is a broad, interwoven and complex concept and defining it requires the consideration of individual factors that construct the whole. As a designer, I cannot assume that my players are aware of something or hold knowledge about something based on age. Designing an intergenerational space is a utopic idea, a myth. Rather, we need to think about accessible collaborative design. Designing not to bring generations together, but to bring people and ideas together. Design would consider the needs of any user, not using age as a basis for certain design categories. Intergenerationality, in a sense, becomes an appreciation of an individuals differences. An intergenerational team game, really means a game designed to appreciate the individualism of each player by having them share those skills with others. Perhaps, intergenerational spaces can be understood as spaces that provide opportunities for collaboration or connection.

References:

Kleinmann, A. (2012). “Intra-actions” (Interview of Karen Barad by Adam Kleinmann). Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/1857617/_Intra-actions_Interview_of_Karen_Barad_by_Adam_Kleinmann_

North, M. S., & Fiske, S. T. (2012). An Inconvenienced Youth? Ageism and its Potential Intergenerational Roots. Psychological Bulletin, 138(5). https://doi.org/10.1037/a0027843

Whitehouse, P. J. (2010). Intergenerativity: Imaging Between To Imagine Beyond. 10.

Further Reading:

Ok Boomer:

Lorenz, T. (2019, October 29). ‘OK Boomer’ Marks the End of Friendly Generational Relations. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/29/style/ok-boomer.html

Intergenerativity:

George, D. R., Whitehouse, C., & Whitehouse, P. J. (2011). A Model of Intergenerativity: How the Intergenerational School is Bringing the Generations Together to Foster Collective Wisdom and Community Health. https://doi.org/10.1080/15350770.2011.619922

Ambivalence:

Luescher, K., & Pillemer, K. (1998). Intergenerational Ambivalence: A New Approach to the Study of Parent-Child Relations in Later Life. Journal of Marriage and Family, 60(2), 413–425. https://doi.org/10.2307/353858

Intra-actions:

Kleinmann, A. (2012). “Intra-actions” (Interview of Karen Barad by Adam Kleinmann). Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/1857617/_Intra-actions_Interview_of_Karen_Barad_by_Adam_Kleinmann_

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