Meaningful Play 2014: Get Ready for Radical Transformation

Posted on: October 14, 2014

MeaningfulPlay-WPGuest Blog by Carrie Heeter, Professor in the Department of Media and Information and Co-Organizer of the International Academic Conference on Meaningful Play

If you're looking for answers to the challenges of racism, sexism and video games, social justice campaigns and the struggle for gamer identity, you'll find those answers embodied in the faculty and game industry presenters and attendees of the International Academic Conference on Meaningful Play.

Meaningful Play 2014 is organized and hosted by faculty in the Department of Media and Information Oct. 16-18. Lisa Nakamura, Gwendolyn Calvert Baker Collegiate Professor of American Cultures and Screen Arts and Cultures at the University of Michigan, begins the dialog with her pre-conference Quello Lecture and discussion Wednesday, Oct. 15, at 7 p.m. in the Big Ten B Room at the Kellogg Hotel & Conference Center.

If you're thinking Nakamura's lecture is the only time such issues will be addressed at the conference, think again. Opening keynote Mia Consalvo, Professor and Canada Research Chair in Game Studies and Design at Concordia University in Montreal, will discuss game industry challenges such as marginalization of game studies and an increasingly loud pushback against greater diversity. She'll talk about moving forward and making play increasingly meaningful to all of us.

Megan Gaiser, one of the first female CEO's in the game industry, will share her vision for contagious creativity and leadership.

Drew Davidson, head of the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon, will celebrate the creative chaos that emerges with a wide diversity of content experts.

MeaningfulPlayMonsterconferenceT-shirtAttendees will be treated to panels, papers and roundtable discussions about affection games, empathy games, other people simulators, representing culture, community and identity, gender, inclusive game design, and gaming culture. There will be sessions on diversity, games for the blind, crowdsourcing games, online game fraud, and race/ethnicity/diaspora. And of course, games for learning, games for K-12, university games, games for older adults, and much more.

Talks about meaningful play range from board games to VR to meditation. Attendees will play or hear about games for health, astronaut exergames, mental health games, mosquitoes, microbes, mathland, and surviving the zombie apocalypse, music games, calculus games, hero games, museum games, safe sex games, games to prevent violence against women, recycling games, Jewish culture games, saving money games, and making games.

  • Keynote Erin Hoffman, lead game designer at Glass Lab, will talk about how we can use gaming to critique and intervene in the systems of the world.
  • Keynote Deirdra Kai, indie game designer, will share her experience with breaking the rules of fun.
  • Keynote Colleen Macklin, Director of PETLab (Prototyping Education and Technology Lab) and Associate Professor at Parsons The New School for Design, entices us to engage in the act of making games as a radical practice.
  • Keynote Jan Sircus, Past-President of the Themed Attraction Association, Canada, and Principal of Studio Sircus, explains that "story helps us make sense of our world. It is an organizing tool and a form of interpretation. It is equally important in imaginary worlds as in the real world."
  • Closing keynote Jesse Schell, head of Schell Games and Professor at the Entertainment Technology Center, shares his experiences with building educational games with multiple paths of transformation.

Faculty and students from Media and Information are very involved in creating and studying meaningful play. You might enjoy reviewing the detailed schedule of 56 sessions.

In addition to chairing the conference, Media and Information Assistant Professor Casey O'Donnell will share his work on crafting meaningful play, the brave new world of play and games in educational contexts, and balancing entertainment and education in serious games.

Conference Co-Chair Brian Winn, Associate Professor of Media and Information and Director of the GEL Lab, will exhibit five of the games he has developed (Brain Powered Games - Africa, Cyclotron Game, Saving Magic, Sparks of Eternity, and Train Like An Astronaut). He will deliver a talk about designing a software-generated workout partner to boost motivation in exergaming and moderate a panel about growing the game industry in Michigan.

Robby Ratan, Assistant Professor of Media and Information, will be presenting at eight different sessions, talking about his research on avatars, gender and racial attitudes as well as social identify, competitive gaming, and so on.

Not wanting to be left out, I will be exhibiting Wise Wizards, a "meditation as meaningful play" app I developed, giving a talk about meditation as entertainment: The inverse of serious games, and appearing on a panel about digital games in later life: challenges and opportunities.

Many other Spartans are among the presenters, including faculty members and current and former Media and Information Studies Ph.D. students.

It's not too late to register. Join us for a meaningful, radical, transformative, playful conference.

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