Monday, May 31, 2021

Karen Schrier's "We the Gamers"

Kat Schrier is an Associate Professor, Director of the Play Innovation Lab, and Director of the Games and Emerging Media program at Marist College. She is the author of We the Gamers: How Games Teach Ethics & Civics (2021), and Knowledge Games (2016). She has previously edited two book series, Ethics and Game Design and Learning, Education, & Games. She was a Belfer Fellow with the ADL's Center for Technology & Society, and she is co-PI for a Templeton Grant on designing VR games for empathy. Prior to joining the Marist College faculty, Schrier worked as a media producer at Scholastic, Nickelodeon, BrainPOP, and ESI Design. She has a doctorate from Columbia University, a master’s from MIT, and a bachelor’s from Amherst College.

Schrier applied the “Page 99 Test” to We the Gamers and reported the following:
On page 99 of We the Gamers: How Games Teach Ethics and Civics, I introduce chapter 7, which focuses on identity, and how people see themselves and express themselves as part of a civic community. Here is the page:
Chapter 7: How Do We Understand Ourselves and Our Emotions?

In Fortnite, players can do different dances, such as the Electro Shuffle, the Flapper Dance, or the Robot.1 They can watch performers like Travis Scott and Marshmello at virtual live concerts in the game, they can mount Black Lives Matter protests, and they can engage in conversations on race and politics.2 Yet the goal of Fortnite is not to dance, watch music performers, protest, or discuss, but to be the last character standing in a 100-person Battle Royale standoff. Players parachute down to an island and need to craft fortresses and weapons, avoid bad weather, and remain the last player (or group of players) to survive.

On the surface, it may seem like dancing and protesting in Fortnite is tangential or trivial to its gameplay. Yet players learn the dances in the game, and then perform these moves at school the next day. They post their videos of the dances on TikTok and YouTube, and share them with thousands of others. They meet friends, hang out, watch movies, and participate in events inside Fortnite. The personal and communal nature of the game, and ability to share remnants of the game with others outside of the game, helps to further engage players, establish its cultural norms, and enable personal expression. Fortnite becomes a sphere through which people can express themselves publicly. It also helps players leave their mark on a game that evaporates after each play session.

Game worlds function as their own public spaces, communities, and cultures, which intersect and interact with broader culture, as well as the identities and previous experiences of the player. Players bring in their own preconceived notions of what a game is; what their friends, an esports celebrity or a Twitch streamer, think of the game; and what they expect from a particular genre, game company, or famous designer. They also bring in their own identities and emotional responses to the game, which furthers how it is personally experienced and socially shared. For instance, when I was a kid playing the Super Mario Brothers series, I had names for characters that related to what I was experiencing at that time: the Boo Diddleys became Boo Radleys because I was reading To Kill a Mockingbird; the Lakitu’s Cloud became the name of a sixth-grade teacher, which sounded just like Lakitu. I continue to use these names today. Now, whenever I play newer versions of Mario games with my kids, they call the characters these names, too. My kids have also created their own personal connections with the game, with my daughter always choosing the purple…
This is a fantastic page to start on! Page 99 shares useful anecdotes about how games serve as civic communities where players can express their ideas, opinions, and identities. I relay the specific example of Fortnite, and describe how playing this game can become a form of civics—through protest, conversation, and debate in the game. I also show how even dancing in Fortnite can become a type of civics, where we are able to share, respond to, and communicate parts of ourselves through digital dance moves. And, I even talk about my own personal interactions with games—such as when I called the Boo Diddleys “Boo Radleys” in a classic Super Mario Game because I was inspired by a character in To Kill a Mockingbird—the book I was reading in school at the time. I also share some of my kids’ unique interactions with their favorite games, and how that helps me to learn more about their interests, identities, and needs.

The page 99 test reveals what games (and my book) do best—help to connect us more personally with civics and ethics. Often we feel like civics is done outside of our everyday. It feels very inaccessible, onerous, or off-limits. In our minds, it’s voting, going to town hall meetings, or maybe something that politicians do. But this page reminds us that we can all practice civics everyday, and even with something (and especially with something!) that “kids do”--games!! It also further shows us how both the “me” and the “we” part of civics matters. We all individually need to be able to express our true and whole selves to be able to participate fully in civics. We also need to encourage equity in civics, and enable people with all different types of identities to participate in our civic communities—whether it's our local communities, or in the games that we play. Sharing our unique identities helps us to better design a world where we all belong.
Visit Karen Schrier's website.

--Marshal Zeringue