Watchworthy Wednesday: How Arts and Humanities Games Celebrate Life

What would happen if games that go beyond simple situational conflict, such as combat and confrontation, instead took on more complex questions about life?

Game designer Tracy Fullerton offered her thoughts during her keynote address at the recent Games for Change Festival.

“Real life is neither either or, it’s not on or off or versus, it’s not black or white, it’s not any kind of duality no matter how we try to simplify it,” she said. “We all know in our experience that life is filled with grays, with nuance, with layers of perspective and problematising factors.… We as humans need lots of continual practice unpacking and understanding the gray areas of our lives together here on earth, and while games that model simplistic questions — such as ‘can I catch you?’ or ‘will you catch me first?’ ‘Am I right or am I wrong?’ ‘Are you stronger than I am, faster than I am, more clever, more strategic?’ ‘Are you better in any way than I am?’ — are fun and engaging, they only allow us to practice a mere fraction of what it means to be human.”

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What Fullerton is interested in nurturing is “games with more complex, open-ended questions about life and how to live it, games without binary answers of right and wrong that leave us wondering or questioning the nature of our own existence,” she said.

The arts and humanities allow people to practice the deeply important act of allowing questions to multiply and “to provoke us to think outside of our own experiences,” Fullerton added.

In her own work designing games that emphasize the varied human experience of players, she created “Walden,” a six-hour game that attempts to get its players to learn just that. The game is a virtual adaptation of Henry David Thoreau’s book by the same name. Fullerton explains the game and how creativity, collaboration and critical thinking play a role in a player’s quest to figure out his or her own answers to Thoreau’s questions about life, nature and society. Watch her entire keynote below.

Other keynote talks from the Games for Change Festival also are available online. Here are a few:

More videos from the festival’s talks are available on YouTube.

Banner image: Scenes from the game “Walden”

Editor’s note: Watchworthy Wednesday posts highlight interesting resources and appear in DML Central on Wednesdays. Any tips for future posts are welcome. Please comment below or send email to mcruz@hri.uci.edu.