Minnesota’s Digital Gaming Minds Meld at Games Research Forum

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By Holly Harrison — Last Friday, the Digital Games and Learning Research Collaborative brought together members of Minnesota’s games research community for its first ever Games Research Forum.

“There are many people from a variety of disciplines studying games in Minnesota, but only a handful of us know each other,” said Nic Van Meerten. Nic is one of four University of Minnesota researchers who lead the Digital Games and Learning Research Collaborative, alongside Edward Downs, Keisha Varma, and Lana Yarosh. Together they want to expand interdisciplinary research on digital games and learning.

The motivation for the event was to open up the potential for collaboration, knowledge transfer, and resource sharing in the local games research community.

After introducing themselves and sharing their disciplines (from building better social relationships through technology to how different aspects of game design affect content retention and beyond), attendees fanned out for break-out discussions. The afternoon was spent putting heads together to share knowledge and address problems on a range of topics raised by attendees during the RSVP process.

The group reconvened to review the individual break-out discussions, and afterward, the event closed in the only way that made sense: playing games. I dragged people out of the line to try out Job Simulator to ask them what they thought of the event.

“I found it helpful to see how people in other parts of the university and industry are approaching very similar problems from very different directions,” said Adam Lindberg, a PhD student in English whose research is centered on what it means to cheat and the ethical arguments raised by games. “I’m planning on following up on some of the information that was presented here that I wasn’t familiar with, and I’m going to try to explore some directions for my research that I hadn’t considered yet prior to the event.”

Yu-Chi Wang is a PhD student in educational psychology who’s interested in the social benefits of playing board games. She recently moved to Minnesota from Maryland, where as an undergrad she studied what game genres people enjoyed based on their personality traits. “I feel more confident about reaching out to people in the community and doing cross-sector partnerships,” she said, noting her newcomer status. “Everyone here was really encouraging.”

“I came here not from an academic viewpoint but from a private company standpoint,” explained Adam Gordon. He’s the president at Andamio Games, a Minneapolis company that creates educational games. “I got to learn about challenges from an academic standpoint that hadn’t even occurred to me before.”

That “outsider” sentiment was echoed by Sarah McRoberts, a PhD student in computer science. Her research is focused on youth video creation and sharing on platforms like YouTube, Vine, and Snapchat (though she’ll tell you that many of the videos young people make are games-related). “It was really great to meet a lot of like minds, and it was fun to share tips and experiences about working with interactive media and youth,” she said, adding: “I had always known that people were coming to video games research from a lot of different areas, but I was surprised at the breadth of disciplines that were here.”

Over the coming weeks, the Digital Games and Learning Research Collaborative will distill the knowledge generated from the event to help shape its programs, events, and resources. In the meantime, they announced that they are developing a games and learning track for GlitchConnect, meant to build connections between game makers, game players, academics, educational technologists, teachers, and the general public. Watch for that in 2017.

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