Research Area

My lab focuses on “games for impact,” a term I interpret broadly. It means games for health, games for learning, and games for social change – but also games for intimacy, games for creativity, and games for inspiration. It includes the emotional, social, cultural, and aesthetic ways that games change people. It also includes the many ways that players in turn affect games, from how players attribute meaning to their play experiences to how they develop house rules.

I am also deeply committed to helping students find out what their critical work is. I expect that my students will bring their own interests and commitments to our shared intellectual enterprise, whether that means developing their own projects or taking shared projects in new and exciting directions.

That said, there are some core elements of my approach that students should be aware of. If you find these concepts troublesome, you may not be a good fit for this lab.

– Find the right problems. Not every problem is a good fit for games, and not every question about games is worth investigating. We’ll be choosy about the problems we tackle.

– Use all the tools at hand. We won’t just look at game mechanics; we’ll consider player choices, social context, material conditions, and more – even when that makes our work harder.

– Think broadly about technology. Yes, we’ll explore digital games; we’ll also consider questions like how technology is used to support offline play. Digital and analog play exist in a continuum, and we can learn about each from the other!

– Build from existing theories. Games don’t exist in a vacuum, and neither should our work. We’ll pull theories from other disciplines to help us create our own.

– Respect player autonomy. For games to matter, we can’t expect to control player outcomes, only to influence them. While our experimental work might be tightly controlled, our design approach gives players the freedom to play.

– Players are real people. There’s no easy or obvious divide between players “real lives” and “gaming lives.” Our work will recognize and build on this.

– Games can’t save the world. While I expect we will have the chance to work on projects with exciting real-world implications, games also have serious limitations. We’ll respect those.

– Sharing matters. Whether through scholarly publication, through speaking at conferences, or through featuring our games at festivals and shows, we’ll work to see that others have access to what we do.

– Let games be games. We’ll embrace the playful, the joyful, and the unexpected; we’ll reject the didactic, the heavy-handed, and the literal. Or at least we’ll try!

Research Methods

It’s difficult to write generally about the research methods my lab will use, since we’ll be matching the research method to the problem at hand. I’m with C. Wright Mills; methods should serve the question and not vice versa! That said, there are some common things that all students will encounter.

– Observational and exploratory work. It’s easy to get caught up in what players “should” do – so we’ll all work to be sensitive to what players actually do. Even students who go on to do quantitative or code-based dissertations should expect to practice this skill.

– Literature across disciplines. We’ll often be tackling problems that relate to a domain other than games. We’ll develop relevant expertise fast, and build on ideas from the appropriate disciplines. That means learning how to get up to speed fast, and seeking help from domain experts when necessary.

– Core fields. While our work is deeply interdisciplinary, our lab will primarily speak to the fields of game studies, HCI, psychology, and learning. We’ll explicitly work on making our research intelligible and valuable to scholars from these fields.

– Study games, make games. Each student will find their own balance between design and research, but every student will be expected both to conduct original research and to become fluent in the language of games.

While you will have some input into what kind of research you do, you will be expected to work on lab projects as well as your own work. Here are some of the things you may end up doing as part of your research responsibilities:

  • observing play in naturalistic settings
  • playing and cataloging games
  • conducting interviews
  • submitting IRB paperwork
  • developing game prototypes
  • creating game assets
  • administering tests or experimental tasks
  • analyzing game metrics
  • recruiting subjects and/or players
  • testing games in naturalistic environments
  • performing statistical analyses
  • refining research questions
  • designing new research studies
  • inventing metrics, tests, or coding rubrics
  • scheduling and planning tasks
  • collaborating with other students and faculty
  • meeting with project sponsors
  • speaking at academic or industry conferences
  • reviewing papers
  • writing papers for publication
  • finding and applying for grants
  • communicating with a lay audience

You may also be asked to:

  • coordinate lab events such as workshops
  • organize community events such as game jams or hackathons
  • research and evaluate tools for the lab
  • maintain research databases
  • select games for addition to the lab collection
  • develop relationships with other young scholars

How will I be measuring your success as a scholar? Individually. Game research is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor, and we’ll work on many different projects over the course of our time together. Similarly, no two students are alike, either in terms of the skills they have coming in or in terms of where they see themselves at the completion of the doctorate. We’ll develop a set of metrics that are appropriate for your needs and that reflect the lab’s current scholarly priorities – and I’ll evaluate you on how well you achieve them.

Lab Values

I expect ethical and respectful behavior from all lab members. A student who achieves scholarly success at the expense of those around them does not belong in my lab.

Broadly speaking, here are some of the themes and values you’ll encounter as part of our lab’s work.

  • Treat others with respect.
  • Be patient.
  • Iterate fast.
  • Fail gloriously.
  • Make weird things.
  • Find the right question.
  • Know academic culture and expectations.
  • Collaborate.
  • Seek deep understanding.
  • Bring your whole self to the table.
  • Try it.
  • Practice.
  • Value people who are different from you.
  • Use metrics.
  • Improvise.
  • Have fun.