Research News

Steinkuehler, Squire to speak about video games and public engagement in science

February 12, 2015

UW-Madison’s Constance Steinkuehler and Kurt Squire will be presenting a John von Neumann Public Lecture in Complexity and Computation on campus on Wednesday, Feb. 18. Their talk is titled, "The Science of Play: Video Games as a Sticky Medium for Public Engagement in Science.”

Squire co-directs the Games+Learning+Society Center within the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, and is a professor of digital media with the School of Education’s top-ranked Department of Curriculum and Instruction.

Steinkuehler also co-directs the Games+Learning+Society Center and is an associate professor of digital media with the Department of Curriculum and Instruction.

Kurt Squire and Constance Steinkuehler
Kurt Squire and Constance Steinkuehler will be giving a free public
talk on Wednesday, Feb. 18.
Steinkuehler also is the first executive director of the recently launched Higher Education Video Games Alliance, and spent much of the 2011-12 academic year at the White House serving as a senior policy analyst in the Office of Science and Technology Policy. In that role, Steinkuehler served as the White House’s first video game expert and helped shape policies intended to back the development of games for impact.

The lecture begins at 7 p.m. in the Discovery Building’s H.F. DeLuca Forum. The event is free and open to the public.

The John von Neumann lecture series in complexity and computation is organized by theCenter for Complexity and Collective Computation (C4), a research center in the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery (WID).  Please consider making a gift to help support the continuation of this lecture series.

According to the lecture abstract:

“Popular culture has always been a powerful force for shaping public perceptions of science.  Media is seductive, and depictions of science on television and in film shape how the American public understands and imagines science content, science process, and scientists.  Videogames are no different; in fact, if anything, they are more persuasive.  Games allow players to virtually inhabit worlds where physical laws and physical constraints can be obeyed or judiciously thwarted (Portal and Portal 2), to engage in scientific thinking and reasoning about unpredicted phenomena that emerge at the intersection of game mechanics, virtual physical constraints, and aggregated human behavior (theory crafting in World of Warcraft), or to take on the role of a crowbar-wielding theoretical physicist who has just survived an experiment gone horribly wrong (Gordon Freeman in Half-Life).

“While we scientists are busy writing papers for academic journals, presenting for specialized audiences at obscure (and poorly catered) events, and generally bemoaning America’s lackluster interest in Science (with a capital S), the public is gobbling up seemingly science-related content in the form of games and other popular culture media and willingly paying top dollar for it. It just so happens that it’s not always or exactly the science content, practices, and dispositions we might have produced or sanctioned or hoped.

“The Games+Learning+Society (GLS) lab at WID is committed to connecting games and other pop culture media to actual and accurate science. Our goal is to increate public understanding and interest in science through the seductive, “sticky” media of interactive digital videogames. Working with interdisciplinary team of games designers (through our non-for-profit partner), learning scientists (GLS faculty and doctoral students), and content experts (WID scientists and colleagues at other research institutions such as MIT), we create and investigate games based on actual science but aimed at the general public educational and entertainment market. We study how games are made and played and then leverage this understanding toward the design of interactive games and toys that convey accurate and cutting edge scientific concepts, practices, and dispositions to a broad audience. Our goal is nothing short of making science as sexy as the latest first-person shooter or Candy Crush.

“In this presentation, GLS co-directors Kurt Squire and Constance Steinkuehler review the current landscape of commercial and educational videogames and the R&D model we use to create games for science understanding, highlighting some of the GLS game titles to date and findings on their efficacy for public understanding (particularly, with kids). We then discuss the role of “real science” in the public imagination, both where it is now and where, we argue, we ought to lead it.”