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The Games Institute officially came into being in June 2011. Those of us who collaborated to put it together, of whom Doctors Karen Collins (Drama & Speech Communications), Stacey Scott (Systems Design Engineering), and I (English) were the first members, decided we needed a formal research centre if we wanted to push the study of games to the forefront, and to make sure that we were engaging all the departments and faculties that we needed to get involved. Games, by their very nature, are multidisciplinary creations, and whenever we discussed what games could become we knew that we needed research and creativity from essentially all disciplines. The future of games will rely on new technologies and new ways of interacting with those technologies, but it will also rely heavily on psychological and sociological understandings of what we do when we play, on stories and narratives that reach far beyond what today’s games offer, and on extensive work in a wide range of fields, from health to education, into how games can guide us, change us, and help us.
In fact, this last point – how games can help – is a major component of current and planned Games Institute research, analysis, and development. While many of us play games for entertainment, and while some faculty and students base their research on how to analyze entertainment games as cultural, historical, and even literary artifacts (I study games based on The Lord of the Rings, for example), increasingly our research has turned to what we call purposeful games. These are games designed to help people with disabilities, diseases, or issues of mental health. Games designed for problems surrounding ageing. Games that help organizations decide how to change the way they do business. Games that help educators teach and students learn. We know that games draw, fascinate, and compel, and we are determining ways to use their capabilities to enhance the processes by which we live our lives.
Walk around the Games Institute space on any given day and you’ll find professors and grad students engaged in discussions about games, game technologies, game interactions, game narratives, game studies, purposeful games, and gamification. Here you’ll find PhD and Masters students, and some undergrads, in English, Computer Science, History, Engineering, and Kinesiology, and a post-doctoral fellow in Psychology. From its inception, the Games Institute was designed to be a truly interdisciplinary setting, and we’re starting to see the cross-pollination of ideas with much more of this on the horizon.
I’m fully aware that there are many UWaterloo alumni who, like me, are fascinated by games. As the Games Institute’s first Director, I invite you to go to our website – www.uwaterloo.ca/games - and find out more about what we do.