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Gaming for Good

Carole McFall
October 22, 2012

Associate Professor of Visual and Media Arts Eric Gordon has been the driving force behind the College's applied research initiative, the Engagement Game Lab (EGL), since it launched in 2010. The lab’s goal is to develop games that engage people in a meaningful way online—whether they are focused on civic engagement, city planning, and/or collaborative storytelling.

Initially, Associate Professor Gordon, with the help of a couple of graduate students, successfully launched projects such as Partipatory Chinatown and CommunityPlanIt. And this September, the EGL moved into a dedicated space of its own, just off campus, in the China Trade Building on the corner of Boylston and Washington streets. Gordon was also able to add three members to the EGL.

At an open house this fall, the EGL team welcomed the Emerson community to visit the new space and learn more about its work. “There are a lot of creative, talented people here; so I want everyone to know where we are, what we’re doing, and to get involved with the EGL if they’re interested,” said Gordon. “We have some amazing projects on tap this year, which involve working with a variety of external partners, locally and nationally.”

One of the lab’s latest ventures is the New Urban Mechanics Collaborative, a partnership with the City of Boston, which seeks to cultivate fresh ideas from local citizens to improve lives within their own communities. It has already become a model for other cities such as Philadelphia that are looking for innovative ways to source, study, share, and sustain new technologies within and between city governments.

Engagement Game Lab team

EGL team members (left to right): Eric Gordon, director; Jessica Baldwin-Philippi, researcher and visiting assistant professor; Stephen Walter, general manager and assistant researcher; Russell Goldenberg, technology coordinator; Sam Liberty, content developer.

Additionally, the EGL team is working with the Smithsonian and the Cities of Los Angeles and Washington D.C., using their Community PlanIt game to encourage feedback and participation in an upcoming exhibition titled Americans All, about the history of immigration and migration in the United States. The idea is to engage citizens to share their stories first-hand. A collaboration with Tufts University on a project called Civic Seed will use EGL gaming to explore college volunteerism and prepare students for civic engagement. It will culminate in a certification for game participants. And, this winter, the EGL will serve as the research and facilitation piece for a class at the Harvard Kennedy School that will study the effectiveness of tech-based projects.

According to Gordon, part of what makes EGL distinct from other research labs and gaming facilities is its focus on two research initiatives: “networked citizenship,” which looks at the changing qualities of citizenship in a digital age; and “youth and civic media,” which looks at how young people are using media to craft their civic lives. With these initiatives in mind, the EGL team members not only develop the games, but they also follow the progress of the projects and evaluate the outcomes. “This is when new information emerges and sheds light on key elements that lead to information sharing and positive change in communities,” explained Gordon.

This is a game in which all “players” can win.

The EGL’s projects have received support from the MacArthur Foundation and the Knight Foundation.  

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