Meaningful Play Program is Up!

In 34 days, Michigan State University is hosting the biannual conference, Meaningful Play, a three day extravaganza of presentations, panels, workshops, discussions, and game exhibitions from frontrunners in academia and the game industry centered around meaningful play, or meaningful interactions, or playful interactions.

Dr. Casey O’Donnell, Meaningful Play chair, is excited for the event, stating that the limitless potential of games makes them an important field of study. “What makes games beautiful is that they play well,” he says. “Life doesn’t play very well.” He continues, “what makes games really scary is that they feel good.  It feels good to be able to win, because you don’t all that often. It’s this quality that makes games so strong a force.” O’Donnell worries about the ethical implications behind creating games, creating compelling, perhaps even addictive experiences.  Part of this conference is exploring more about how we make sense of the systems we create.

“Why am I worried about slot machines? Because it’s the collapse of meaning. Games plug in to something that we need as a species. And the slot machine thrives on that need. At the same moment, we have this very powerful, meaningful, cultural form, and then we have the power, perhaps the temptation, to collapse meaningfulness back to addiction. Setting up the person who loses all their money to the slot machine. But the conversation is important—games are part of how we make sense of the world around us. And maybe some people do find sense in the slot machine.”

O’Donnell will be discussing these thoughts from his paper, Crafting Meaningful Play: Care and Meaning Making in/as/of/through Games, Thursday, October 16 during the conference, just one of many exciting and interesting talks, including 6 invited keynotes by researchers and game designers, 45 peer-reviewed papers, presentations on the latest game research, 13 exciting panel and roundtable discussions, 5 hands-on workshops, a poster session featuring 20 late-breaking advances and work-in-progress reports , and an exhibition of 41 innovative games.

Topics include game history, race, E-sports, gender, MMORPGs, as well as several fun, stirring new games—1000 Days of Syria, We’ve Got Issues, and Zombie Yoga, to name a few.

It will be easy to find things you want to see when you take a look at the full program, and between now and Monday, 9/15, early-bird pricing is available.

Still curious? Check out what others are saying about Meaningful Play below, and join the conversation with #MPmeans.

Meaningful Play 2014 Early Registration Ends Monday, Sept. 15

Meaningful Play 2014 is an interdisciplinary academic conference that explores the potential of games to entertain, inform, educate, and persuade in meaningful ways.

The conference takes place October 16 – October 18 in East Lansing, Michigan USA and is hosted by Michigan State University.

The conference is for game designers, researchers, and students. The conference includes:

*** Six thought-provoking keynotes from leaders in academia and industry, including:

Jesse Schell, CEO of Schell Games and Distinguished Professor of Entertainment Technology, Carnegie Mellon University
Mia Consalvo, Professor and Canada Research Chair in Game Studies and Design at Concordia University in Montreal
Colleen Macklin, Director of PETLab (Prototyping Education and Technology Lab) and Associate Professor at Parsons The New School for Design
Deirdra Kiai, game designer, writer, programmer, musician, and visual artist
Jan Sircus, Principal of Studio Sircus, former Senior VP, Creative Development for Walt Disney Imagineering
Erin Hoffman, Game Design Lead at the Institute of Play’s GlassLab Continue reading

Serious Game Alumni Interview #7: Joy Hopkins


Another recent graduate of the serious games certificate, Joy Hopkins, works in the corporate world. Currently working at Intel, Hopkins is a financial mastermind, but like many of us, she isn’t tied down to just one field.

So how did Hopkins go from finance to education?

Well, as it turns out, Hopkins has always been interested in education. After graduating with a masters in business, she sought one in educational technology from Michigan State. Intel, like many other corporations, helped fund her new degree, and a conversation with her advisor led her towards serious games, which interested her immediately. “I was telling her about this idea,” she said, “to help Chinese youth with their social skills.” She was instantly sold on the idea of a graduate certificate in serious games.


Her journey began in Foundations of Serious Games, a class about the serious game industry and game design with a serious twist. In that class, Hopkins developed, prototyped, and created a board game about driving titled Test Drive USA. The game aimed to open a discussion among family and friends about the dangers of texting while driving. Hopkins admitted to having hundreds of ideas, but this one was the first to ever be made tangible.

“What I realized during that class is how hard it is to create a usable game. I had all these big ideas, and then whoops, the game kind of plays like Candyland but I’m trying to reach teenagers!”

Hopkins took that valuable experience to her next most memorable course, Understanding Users, in which students created solutions to a design challenge based on the needs and characteristics of a target audience rather than an already formed idea. The design challenge Hopkins chose was how to improve cafeteria recycling behavior at her division in Intel. She called the program she came up with Tarzan, a familiar name often associated with the environment. “I was able to do direct observation in the cafeteria,” she says. “It ended up being really fun, thinking about using 3D signage that people can see. I was so surprised at how much more often they got it right with Tarzan.”

Joy and Prototype - June 2014

“I never thought I was creative enough. I’m into numbers, but the serious game program helped me realize I have a lot of good ideas, and part of my strength is to put things together and make them a reality.”

After completing the certificate, Hopkins feels differently about creativity. “It’s given me the confidence to bring my ideas to life.” Every day, Hopkins applies what she’s learned to better manage projects and understand her users. But her ultimate goal is to apply this knowledge to her current job and also her up and coming company, the Delphius Institute, with the goal of creating online educational solutions to help Chinese youth who struggle with social skills due to academic pressure.

As far as advice to future students and those contemplating entering the program, Hopkins says “You can do it! Oftentimes, you have an idea and you just want to realize that idea and make it happen, but I would say the projects in these classes were very valuable and grounding. Believe in that process; it works.”

Miss Media Summer Camp @ Night

This past month I had the pleasure of serving as an overnight counselor for the Miss Media summer camp, here at MSU. Miss Media caters only to young girls, ages 12 to 17, with some interest, large or small, in technology, specifically game design, TV production, web development, graphic design, and mobile development.  Each day, the girls explored a different field of technology and created projects that were featured in a media showcase at the end of the week.

But that wasn’t really my job. I got to interact with the girls after class. It was my job to keep them safe, happy, and entertained. However, the director, Amanda Krueger, along with the counselors, took it a step further to introduce fun, STEM-related activities in the evening. On Wednesday, we did 3D modeling. On Thursday, we made blinkies, bristlebots, and throwies, which are LED gadgets that the girls decorate with pipe cleaners. And nearly every night, we played video games.


One of our overnight counselors, third from the left, joins in the fun.

It was during this time that the girls bonded. While quite a few of them frequently played video games, for some, this was their first time. They were getting to know themselves as gamers and continuing to develop their love for technology. Over Nintendoland and Mariokart, they honed their skills for button mashing but also strategy. Over Just Dance, they threw everything they ever knew about controllers out the window. Not a single night went by that they didn’t ask to play.


There was teamwork. Frustration. Elation. Devastation. But ultimately, joy, at the ups and downs, ins and outs, that make cooperative video gameplay fun. And it is in my experience that I feel these few short hours helped instill in these girls the feeling of joyful determination, a feeling they took to class every morning, and despite how easy or difficult the projects would be that day, they could take comfort still in their growing technological powers.

It’s difficult to measure exactly what these girls made out with at the end of the week, besides projects and papers, but if I could take a guess, I’d say curiosity. And that alone makes the week worthwhile.



Professor Lisa Nakamura to deliver pre-conference Quello Lecture

Professor Lisa NamakuraMeaningful Play is pleased to announce that Professor Lisa Nakamura will deliver the pre-conference Quello Lecture on Wednesday evening, 7pm, October 15, 2014.

Professor Nakamura is an acclaimed cultural critic of visual representations and mechanics of race, gender, and sexuality in gaming culture, digital media, and transmedia. She is the Gwendolyn Calvert Baker Collegiate Professor in the American Cultures Department and Screen Arts Department at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

The author of four books, numerous academic journal and popular press pieces, her work includes game-related titles such as:

  • Pregnant Sims: Avatars and the Visual Culture of Motherhood on the Web
  • Flag as Inappropriate: Neglected Discourses of Racism, Sexism, and Homophobia in Online Games
  • Queer Female of Color: The Highest Difficulty Setting There Is? Gaming Rhetoric as Gender Capital.
  • Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game: The Racialization of Labor in World of Warcraft
  • Griefing Culture and Incivility on the Internet
  • All the Work without the Worker: Racial Microaggression and the New Orientalism in World of Warcraft
  • Digital Gaming, Racial and Ethnic Identity, and Social Justice

Her insightful analyses help make the invisible visible.

We hope you will join us for a lively discussion. Her talk is open to conference attendees and the general public.