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What is a Research Game?

A number of people asked me to post my introductory slides from the “What is a Research Game” session at the Game Developers Conference yesterday. Here they are with my presenter notes.

Well, what is the current role of games in universities? Here’s the stereotype: Social scientists still talk with people, but now those people are WoW players, Humanists still think deep thoughts, but now they’re about Passage, Computer Scientists still build systems, and still only far enough to publish papers, Educators still do the same type of instruction, but now they add points and badges, Artists still make and exhibit pieces, but now they reference game culture

Even though the university says, “Just publish the paper” and industry says, “Games are just entertainment” and politicians say, “It’s wasteful spending” some of us know that there are important research questions that can only be answered by building complete games We have three people here today who proceed in three quite different research directions, all of which require building complete games Tracy Fullerton is the director of the Game Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California Michael Mateas is the director of the Center for Games and Playable Media at the University of California, Santa Cruz Zoran Popović is the director of the Center for Game Science at the University of Washington

Each panelist will give their own answer, coming out of their own type of research But there is also the general question, and there are reasons to be skeptical: Aren’t games an application area of research from computer science, education, psychology, and so on? Aren’t we already seeing such an amazing diversity of game creation that there’s no need for universities to get involved? Even if my research really should involve making games, how will I possibly fund the work, or convince my dean, chair, or department that we should be hiring and doing work in this area?


About the author:  Noah Wardrip-Fruin is an Associate Professor at UC Santa Cruz and the author of Expressive Processing: Digital Fictions, Computer Games, and Software Studies. Read more from this author


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