UW Graduate Students at “Serious Play”

Graduate students Theresa Horstman and Edmond Chang

Two UW scholars doing research in video games studies were recently sponsored by the Simpson Center for the Humanities to attend this year’s Serious Play Conference. Edmond Chang and Theresa Horstman, graduate students in English and Education, respectively, took part in the conference, which was held at the DigiPen Institute of Technology in Redmond, Washington. The conference offered an opportunity for Chang and Horstman to interact with authors of recent books on game development and design, analysts covering serious games, project directors exploring gaming for corporate and military training, healthcare and education, as well as developers, designers, educators, and other professionals working in the video game field.

Horstman was curious to learn how industry is grappling with trends that are increasingly using games for learning. “I wanted to see if there has been any progress in understanding how to use games more effectively and if there were any success stories, people who have designed and built games for learning that are playable and fun,” she said. Chang emphasized the “eye-opening” benefits of “being able to hear from people who work on games from very different standpoints and investments,” but desired more critical attention to tensions within the serious game “movement,” tensions between industry’s economic imperatives, for instance, and philanthropic, progressive, and/or education-based game development.

Chang and Horstman participate in Keywords for Video Game Studies, a graduate student interest group sponsored by the Simpson Center. Founded in 2010, this group brings together UW graduate students to exchange and develop video game scholarship, perspectives, and research. Keywords in Video Games Studies is primarily interested in exploring the cultural and social value of video games, as well as their pedagogical and political potential. In 2010-2011, the group, which is led by Chang, assembled a series of workshops to reconsider the vocabulary that is used to talk about video gaming: “what does it mean to ‘play’ video games?” “What does it mean to be a ‘gamer’?”. This year they plan to further their critical engagement by exploring video game design and gaming theory through close readings of games, real-time demonstrations and close playings—what the group refers to as “critical gaming”—and discussion.

In addition to Keywords for Video Games Studies, Chang and Horstman are two of this year’s HASTAC Scholars from UW. HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Sciences, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory) is a network of individuals and institutions inspired by the possibilities that new technologies offer for shaping how people learn, teach, communicate, and organize local and global communities. It was created to look toward the future of higher education in a digital age with a three-pronged focus on new media and technologies, critical thinking, and participatory learning. As HASTAC Scholars, Chang and Horstman represent the UW to the national consortium by participating in online intellectual dialogues and networking with scholars to discuss theoretical, critical, and technical matters related to digital culture. The Simpson Center is a leading member of HASTAC.

Read more about Cheng and Horstman’s reflections on the Serious Play conference.