Seminar Talk 2015-01-09

“Voluntary Behavior Change and Transformative Play”

Josh Tanenbaum
Assistant Professor
University of California, Irvine

Friday, January 09, 2015 – 3:00pm
Donald Bren Hall, Room 6011 (Bldg. 314)

Abstract: Over the last 20 years digital games have moved away from the margins
and into the mainstream and scholarly interest in them has increased
accordingly.  It is now common to see games employed in studies of
health, education, psychology, cognition, sustainability, gender, and
politics.  Games and simulations are useful microcosms for controlled
experiments, ethnographic observations, and action research.  As
research tools games afford unique new contexts for understanding
people, and as our understanding of people playing games has advanced we
have learned to develop better games in an ongoing virtuous cycle.
In order for games to have value for learning, persuasion, therapy, and
politics we need to engage with their ability to meaningfully impact the
behavior and cognition of their players.  While there is no intrinsic
value attached to the capacity for games to alter the behavior of their
players, significant blood has been shed over questions of games and
violence, especially among young players. This puts researchers invested
in the medium in a Catch-22: we want to employ games toward positive
ends, but we also want to defend them against their detractors (even
though doing so undermines our own claims of positive benefits of play).

How then do we reconcile the “media effects” theories that claim
negative outcomes connected with violent videogames with theories of
learning and persuasion in games?

In this talk I will discuss a series of interconnected concepts intended
to complicate this landscape and expose the ways in which the Catch-22
presented above is an oversimplification of the landscape of games,
learning, cognition, behavior, and transformation.  I will explore how
concepts from game studies like the “lusory attitude”, and the “magic
circle” can be understood alongside theories from the dramatic arts,
social psychology, and nonverbal communication to frame a theory of
Transformative Play that supports opportunities for meaningful player
learning, while rejecting simplistic assumptions about the impact of
media on “impressionable youths”.