In fall of 2021, the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS) launched the new Game Design and Interactive Media (GDIM) undergraduate degree program, a reboot of its decade-old Computer Game Science (CGS) major. Designed to keep UCI on the cutting edge of game development, GDIM — already an award-winning program — ensures students are industry-ready prior to graduation by supplementing faculty expertise with industry professionals. One example of this partnership is the inaugural speaker series piloting with the course “GDIM 53: Roleplaying and Improvisational Play.”
Role-playing and Improvisational Play
Taught by Informatics Professor Aaron Trammell, the course explores how practices of performance, role-playing and improvisation overlap with contemporary practices of game design.
“Role-playing games are in the middle of a really creative boom, and I wanted to make sure that our students had access to the best talent in the industry and academia so that they could see the different kinds of creative work available in this field,” says Trammell, explaining his motivation for creating the series. “A speaker series like this is an essential part of the professionalization process as it offers opportunities to network with people in the field you otherwise might never meet.”
The wide-ranging speaker line-up includes legendary game designer and businessman Peter Adkinson, celebrity livestreamer Satine Phoenix, and award-winning author and accessibility toolkit creator Elsa Sjunneson. It’s an eclectic group of academics, game designers, authors and business leaders who lead today’s conversation about role-playing games.
In an industry routinely criticized for its lack of diversity, Trammell also aimed to expose his students to a variety of perspectives. “I wanted to make sure that the series foregrounds the trailblazing conversations that women, LGBTQIA+, BIPOC folks and allies lead within an overwhelmingly white male field,” he says. “All of these speakers exemplify the very best of what the area has to offer.”
Forging Connections Across Academia and Industry
Starting Jan. 20, the virtual seminar talks will occur weekly between 5 -6:20 p.m. in the Tuesday/Thursday course (talk titles are thematic and subject to change):
- RPGs and Brand Capitalism: Texas Tech University Professor Megan Condis (1/20);
- Designing Narrative in Role-Playing Games: Designer of the award-winning game Star Crossed, Alex Roberts (1/25);
- Authoring Role-Playing Worlds: NY Times bestselling author, Matt Forbeck (2/1);
- Designing Games that Resist: Award-winning designer of games such as Fiasco, Jason Morningstar (2/8);
- Rethinking Representation in Role-Playing Games: Ohio University Professor Edmond Chang (2/15);
- Founding Wizards of the Coast: Founder of Wizards of the Coast and owner of Gen Con, Peter Adkinson (2/15);
- Understanding Indie Role-Playing Games: University of Cincinnati Professor Evan Torner (2/24);
- Watching D&D Online: Doctoral student and streaming role-play expert at UC Irvine, Adrianna Burton (3/1);
- Building Inclusive Role-Playing Community: Livestreamer and ex-community manager of Dungeons & Dragons, Satine Phoenix (3/3);
- Navigating Trauma in Role-Playing Narrative: SUNY Delhi Professor Shelly Jones (3/8); and
- Designing Accessible Games: Hugo Award winner and author of the FATE Accessibility Toolkit, Elsa Sjunneson (3/10).
The talks are primarily for the 114 students enrolled in the course, but others majoring in GDIM can contact Trammell (firstname.lastname@example.org) about attending. The videos (of consenting participants) will also be posted on the ICS YouTube channel.
“The class Zoom chat was on fire when I announced the speaker series, with some students dancing,” says Trammell. “I’ve never had this sort of response from my students ever.” The enthusiasm speaks to GDIM’s ability to sit at the cutting-edge of gaming while presenting viable career pathways.
“This new speaker series marks the close connections we are forging between our newly redesigned games program on campus and critical, reflective, scholarly work in interactive media across both academics and industry,” says Informatics Professor Constance Steinkuehler, the GDIM program chair and co-director of the Games+Learning+Society (GLS) Center. “University game programs across the U.S. are the pipeline to the industry and have the opportunity — and duty — to bend the arc of game development toward more inclusive, more thoughtful game representation and interactive media. We’re thrilled to have this slate of luminaries contribute to our program and look forward to learning with and from them.”
— Shani Murray