Report from the Summer School - Multidisciplinary Game Research 2018 – Between Theory and Practice

Workshop on Interactive Digital Narrative (photo: Hartmut Koenitz)
Workshop on Interactive Digital Narrative (photo: Hartmut Koenitz)

The summer course Multidisciplinary Game Research, offered by the focus area Game Research at Utrecht University in collaboration with the Utrecht School of the Arts (HKU), was held from 20-24 August 2018. The course schedule consisted of lectures, workshops and hands-on experience sessions demonstrating the thematic scope and methodological variety of game-related research conducted at Utrecht University across three different faculties (Humanities, Science, and Geosciences).

All summer school activities investigated different aspects of Applied Games, i.e. games that fulfill socially relevant purposes beyond ‘mere’ entertainment, which play an increasingly important role in numerous societal domains such as education and professional training, healthcare, public safety, urban planning, policy-making, and the creative industries. Consequently, the group of 25 participants coming to Utrecht for the summer course hailed from a variety of countries (including Italy, Russia, Lebanon and China) and contributed their own experience with a broad range of game-related research projects from BA to PhD level.

Group photo, taken on the last day of the summer school Multidisciplinary Game Research (photo: Krzysztof Szczurowski)

The program of the summer school was organized in two tracks, a) game analysis and b) applications. The first track introduced different game-analytical methodologies. On the first day, René Glas and Jasper van Vught introduced Let´s Play videos as a form of performative game scholarship, and Stefan Werning demonstrated the critical potential of game-making as a research method. Day 4 focused on games as a narrative medium, that can be used to tell stories through rules, interaction design as well as audiovisual elements. In the first workshop, Hartmut Koenitz (HKU) introduced his own authoring tool ASAPS, allowing participants to engage with key principles of interactive digital narratives through their own literary experiments. Afterwards, the group elaborated on their own creations under the supervision of Michiel Kamp, who delved deeper into the still often overlooked narrative functions of music and sound design in games.

The three themes of the applications track reflect the three pillars of the focus area Game Research, i.e. Games for Learning, Games for Change, and Health Games. On day 2, Wouter van Joolingen discussed how to assess the formal and informal educational potential of digital games, while Johan Jeuring introduced the professional training game Communicate! and participants learned about content creation for serious games by developing their own training scenarios. On day 3, Joost Vervoort and Astrid Mangnus from the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development at Utrecht University addressed the use of games and scenario planning to inform policy-making; in the second workshop, Jasper van Vught and Stefan Werning embedded this case into the broader concept of persuasive games, exploring the rhetorical potential of digital games in contemporary society through a combination of theoretical and practical exercises. The final day was dedicated to games for health, particularly those played with the body instead of a game controller. It included a live demonstration of the motion capture lab at the Uithof, led by Chris Christyowidiasmoro, and two workshops by Ronald Poppe and Monique Simons that explored different ways of using movement in games both for individual wellbeing and as a stimulus for collaborative social engagement.