Game Innovation Lab
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Playthink

Game salon

Playthink is a USC-based salon dedicated to the discussion of games, interactive art, and interdisciplinary media. We are dedicated to introducing and drawing out provocative ideas, conversations, and interactives from both within and external to the USC community through a regular series of discussions. This year, in 2018, we will be adding a podcast component to our salon. More info on how to access the Playthink podcast coming soon!
 

Organizers Emeritus

  • Steve Anderson
  • Raghav Bashyal
  • Lucas Peterson
  • Bonnie Ruberg
  • Elizabeth Swensen
  • Akira Thompson
  • Simon Wiscombe
  • Kevin Wong

Upcoming and past salons

Brian Upton at Playthink: 10/16/18

Brian Upton is an internationally-known game designer and game theorist with over 20 years of professional experience in the game industry.  For 14 years he worked as a senior game designer at Sony’s Santa Monica Studio where he collaborated with external teams on titles such as Fat Princess,WarhawkSorceryEverybody Has Gone to the Rapture, Bound andHere They Lie.  Prior to joining Sony, he was the creative director at Red Storm Entertainment where he pioneered the tactical shooter genre as the lead designer on Rainbow Sixand Ghost Recon.  He is the author of two books on game design:The Aesthetic of Play and Situational Game Design.Currently he is working as a senior designer at Tangent Games.

Join us at Playthink for a conversation between Brian Upton and Tracy Fullerton, Professor of Cinematic Arts in Interactive Media & Games on October 16, 2018 fro 5:30-6:30PM in the SCI 201 Think Tank. This conversation will be recorded as part of our Playthink podcast. This year, our salons will also be shorter, focused conversations. Beat the traffic home and join us for this fascinating conversation!

Tracy Fullerton
Adam Badawy at Playthink: 9/18/18

Adam Badawy is a computational social scientist and a PhD candidate in the Political Science Department and Information Sciences Institute (ISI) at the University of Southern California (USC). Working at the Machine Intelligence and Data Science Lab, Adam uses machine learning, network analysis, and natural language processing to study and measure malicious activities and political behavior on online social networks. His latest research on the political misinformation campaign during the 2016 US presidential elections has been covered widely by various news outlets, including the MIT Technology Review, VOX , infobae, and PBS NewsHour.

Here is his latest article on "Analyzing the Digital Traces of Political Manipulation: The 2016 Russian Interference Twitter Campaign".

Join us at Playthink for a conversation between Adam Badawy and Jeff Watson, Assistant Professor of Cinematic Arts in Interactive Media & Games on September 18, 2018 fro 5:30-6:30PM in the SCI 201 Think Tank. This conversation will be recorded as part of our inaugural Playthink podcast re-design. This year, our salons will also be shorter, focused conversations. Beat the traffic home and join us for this fascinating conversation!

Tracy Fullerton
February 2018 Playthink - Play for Justice

Join us at 6:00pm on Tuesday, February 6th, in SCI 201 at the USC School of Cinematic Arts for a discussion about games and play as art and culture. The theme for this Playthink salon is “Play for Justice.” We’ll be thinking of ways that play can intervene and intersect with themes of resistance, social justice, and equality!

UPDATE: Please note Speaker Emma Bobell is no longer able to present, so we will extend the discussion time!

CALL FOR PRESENTATIONS:

Playthink is asking for presentations, talks, demos, panels, etc. around the theme of PLAY FOR JUSTICE! Works in progress for which you want feedback are especially welcome. We also invite projects that can be demoed and will organize exhibition space if we have enough submissions of that nature.

The session will take place Tuesday, January 23rd, from 6-9PM in SCI 201, USC School of Cinematic Arts, 3470 McClintock Ave Los Angeles, CA 90089. Refreshments will be served!

Examples of submissions could be:

A demo of a game with justice themes you’re working on.

Your research on how play subverts power structures.

A history or review of ways play has challenged oppression.

A panel discussion on protest games.

An investigation into trolling behaviors on social media as a form of harmful play.

These are just examples! If you have a question about whether something you’re working on is a fit, just ask!

Submission Guidelines:

The deadline to submit is December 15th. Email your submission to Jane Pinckard [pinckard@usc.edu].

Please submit an abstract or an explanation of what you will present. This should be between 250 and 1000 words long. Make sure you explain how your content fits the theme. If you already have slides or a paper, you may submit them along with the abstract.

The format is flexible! Please specify what format your presentation is in. You can aim for 10-20 minutes, or a microtalk/Pecha Kucha style of 5 minutes.

Please include a brief Bio of yourself (and any co-presenters, if you are presenting as a group). (Bios do not count towards the word count.)

All are welcome to submit!

Any questions? Please contact Jane Pinckard: pinckard@ usc.edu. Thank you!

Tracy Fullerton
November 2017 Playthink - Childhood

Please join us at 6:00pm on Tuesday, November 7th in SCI 201 at the USC School of Cinematic Arts for a discussion about games and play as art and culture. The theme for this Playthink salon is “Childhood.”

Featured speakers include:

Yuting Su is a passionate inventor with background in digital/physical game design, medical device design, and bioinformatics. She is the product creator and entrepreneur behind Thinker-Tinker, the company behind OCTOBO, a smart toy learning platform with a built in game controller and programmable content that enables real-time emotions and gameplay. Yuting has great interest in creating games and toys that combine physical and digital gameplay. Her works have been selected for the Experimental Gameplay Workshop in Game Developers Conference, alt.ctrl.GDC, IndieCade@E3, IndieCade, IndiePrize, and more. She is also one of the awardees of the Forbes 30 Under 30 in Games, 2017.

Margaret Moser is an educator and independent game designer in Los Angeles. Her work has been shown at Come Out & Play, Games4Change, and the Babycastles guerrilla game gallery in Brooklyn. She has spoken at GDC, AlterConf, and IndieCade East and served as a curator for IndieCade. She holds an MFA in Design and Technology from Parsons.

Jake de Grazia is a software product manager, research project manager, editor, and writer. Part of him wants to be more of a writer and less of those other things. Past and present clients include the Norman Lear Center, the Annenberg Innovation Lab, the National Football League, and RUST LTD. His proudest creative works include Life Advice Radio, Future Hit Musical Sweatpants Wedding, and Mrs. Claus. He’s also a parent, which is his biggest and most important job.

The following IMGD MFA students will be also presenting work in progress:

Stephanie J. Henderson is an MFA student at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts where she experiments with interactive narratives focusing on psychology, comedy, and trope subversion. She received an Interdisciplinary Bachelor of Arts in media production, psychology, and art history from the University of Arizona, and has spent a good decade in the Hollywood trenches where she has been a producer for nationally broadcast documentary television and film. Her current thesis project is centered around creating a transmedia world which can support a productive form of collaborative play with its audience. 

Tracy Fullerton
April 2016 Playthink - Bringing Games to Life

Please join us 6:00pm on Monday, April 25th in SCI 201 at the USC School of Cinematic Arts for a discussion about games and play as art and culture. The theme for this Playthink salon is “Bringing Games to Life.”

Featured speakers include:

Alenda Chang is an Assistant Professor in Film and Media Studies at UC Santa Barbara. She specializes in the environmentally informed analysis of contemporary media. Her writing has recently appeared in electronic book review, Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment, and the new collection Sustainable Media, and her current book project develops ecological frameworks for understanding and designing digital games. She also maintains the site Growing Games as a resource for researchers in game studies and the environmental humanities: http://growinggames.net.

Harrison Gish is a doctoral candidate in UCLA’s Cinema and Media Studies department, an adjunct professor of film history at Chapman University’s Dodge College of Media Arts, and an editor at Sony Pictures. He is also a co-chair of the SCMS Video Game Studies Scholarly Interest Group. His work has appeared in CineAction, eLudamos, Mediascape, The Video Game Encyclopedia, and the UCLA Game Lab blog.

Ingmar Riedel-Kruse is an Assistant Professor of Bioengineering at Stanford University. His lab focuses on Multi-cell Biophysics and Interactive Biotechnology. The advancements of “interactive and playful” electronics provide a major inspiration for the lab as current biotechnology has many parallels with electronics 5 decades ago, suggesting novel means for putting microbiology into the hands of experts and lay people alike. Ingmar received his Diploma in Theoretical Physics at the Technical University Dresden, did his PhD in experimental biophysics at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, followed by a postdoc at Caltech.

The following IMGD MFA students will be also presenting work in progress:

Kylie Moses is an Interactive Media and Game Design MFA candidate at USC. She also graduated from Reed College in 2014. When she isn’t making games, she’s making fancy cakes. Grab a slice.

Bethany Martin is a New York native with an undergraduate in Fine Art from SUNY Albany. After graduating she spent two years working as a game artist in casino and social games. She is now pursuing her MFA in Interactive Media and Game Design at USC.

Tracy Fullerton
March 2016 Playthink - Dress Rehearsal

Please join us 6:00pm on Monday, March 7th in SCI 201 at the USC School of Cinematic Arts for a discussion about games and play as art and culture. The theme for this Playthink salon is “Dress Rehearsal.”

Featured guests include:

Katie Salen is an active game designer, one of the founders of the Institute of Play, and a pioneer in applying game design principles to challenges outside the field of commercial game development. Katie is a Professor in the School of Computing and Digital Media at DePaul University. She lectures widely and writes extensively on game design, design education and gamer culture. She has co-authored or edited several books, including Rules of Play, a textbook on game design, The Game Design Reader and The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning.

Miguel Sicart is a play and games scholar based at the IT University in Copenhagen. He has conducted research on the ethical role of videogames in culture, publishing two books on the topic: The Ethics of Computer Games (The MIT Press, 2009) and Beyond Choices: The Design of Ethical Gameplay (The MIT Press, 2013). His most recent work situates play at the core of contemporary aesthetics and design practices, a program he presented in Play Matters (The MIT Press, 2014), a manifesto for studying play beyond games.

Margaret Moser is an experienced technical director and game designer with a background in mobile as well as experimental designs, including projects with the New York based development studios Playmatics and Leisure Collective.

Jane Pinckard: Formerly Associate Director at the UC Santa Cruz Center for Games and Playable Media, Jane Pinckard has a long history in the games industry, including Business Development Analyst at Foundation 9 Entertainment and Founder of GameGirlAdvance.

Bonnie Ruberg is a postdoctoral scholar in the Interactive Media and Games Division at USC, where her research and teaching address gender, sexuality, and identity in video games. She is the co-editor of the forthcoming volume Queer Game Studies, the lead organizer of the annual Queerness and Games Conference, the author of a number of publications on gender and sexuality in digital media, and a former technology journalist. Bonnie received her PhD from the University of California at Berkeley.

Tracy Fullerton
January 2016 Playthink - Something New

Please join us 6:00pm on Monday, January 25th in SCI 201 at the USC School of Cinematic Arts for a discussion about games and play as art and culture. Inspired by the start of the new year, the theme for this Playthink salon is “Something New.” Speakers will be presenting new ideas and new work.

Featured guests include:

Joshua Tanenbaum is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Informatics at UC Irvine. He is a member of the UCI Institute for Virtual Environments and Computer Games, the Laboratory for Ubiquitous Computing and Interaction, the EVOKE Lab, and a founding member of the Transformative Play Lab. His research includes studies of agency and identity transformation in games and digital narratives, maker and DIY subcultures, design fictions and future oriented human computer interaction, and tangible, wearable, and ubiquitous computing. In his (theoretical) spare time he creates steampunk artwork and costumes, makes games and occasionally writes music.

Karen Tanenbaum is a Project Scientist at UC-Irvine in the Department of Informatics and is co-founder of the Transformative Play Lab  and director of the Evoke Lab.  Her research explores tangible and ubiquitous computing paradigms and the application of artificial intelligence techniques to interactive storytelling and game design. She also studies Maker/DIY and Steampunk cultures, with a particular emphasis on their role in STEM education and the way they function as design fictions for possible alternative relationships to technology.

Braxton Soderman is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Film & Media Studies at UC Irvine. He researches digital media, video games, generative and algorithmic art, the history of technology, and critical theory. Among other places he has published articles in The Journal of Visual Culturedifferences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural StudiesDichtung-Digital: A Journal of Art and Culture in Digital Media, and Transformative Works and Cultures. He is currently working on a manuscript that approaches video games from a variety of critical perspectives.

Brian Upton is a 20-year-veteran of the game industry.  He currently is a senior game designer at Sony’s Santa Monica Studio where he has collaborated with third-party teams on titles such as Fat PrincessWarhawkSorcery, and Everybody Has Gone to the Rapture.  Prior to joining Sony, he was the creative director at Red Storm Entertainment where he pioneered the tactical shooter genre as the lead designer of Rainbow Six andGhost Recon.  He is a member of the advisory boards of the NYU Game Center and the UC Santa Cruz Games and Playable Media program.  He is also the author of The Aesthetic of Play, a book about the epistemology and semiotics of play (MIT Press 2015).  He’ll be talking about how interactivity can interfere with play, and the dangers of interactive essentialism.

Presented by the School of Cinematic Arts’ Game Innovation Lab, Playthink has become a lively nexus of community for USC Games. Under the banner of “games and play as art and culture,” we meet a few times a semester to host wide-ranging, audience-participatory discussions of the history, present and futures of games and interactive media.

Tracy Fullerton
November 2015 Playthink - Identity

Please join us 6:00pm on Monday, November 9th, in SCI 201 at the USC School of Cinematic Arts for a discussion about games and play as art and culture. In this meeting we will explore the complex ways games can construct and inform us about identity.

Features speakers include:

Aaron Trammell is a PhD Candidate at the Rutgers University School of Communication and Information. He is also a blogger, board game designer, and musician. He is the multimedia editor of the Sound Studies blog Sounding Out! For his dissertation he is investigating the ways that fan subcultures in the 1960s created the game Dungeons and Dragons. In particular, the importance of affective bonds to their work, and the influence of Cold War motifs on their writing.

Bonnie Ruberg is a postdoctoral scholar in the Interactive Media and Games Division at the University of Southern California. She received her Ph.D. from UC Berkeley in New Media and Gender & Women’s Studies. Bonnie researches, teaches, and organizes community events around issues of gender and sexuality in video games. She is the co-founder and lead organizer of the annual Queerness and Games Conference, a one-of-a-kind event where industry members and academics meet to explore the intersection of LGBTQ issues and games. Along with Adrienne Shaw, she is also the co-editor of the forthcoming book Queer Game Studies: Gender, Sexuality, and a Queer Approach to Game Studies. From 2005 – 2010, Bonnie worked as a games journalist for publications like The Village VoiceForbesThe EconomistWired, Gamasutra, and Joystiq.

Steve Cha, MFA candidate in USC’s Interactive Media and Games Division, aspires to create compelling interactive narrative experiences. His interests include vignette games, political narratives, and revisionist works. His thesis work centers on a semi-autobiographical series of vignettes, which explore aspects of life regarding coming out, immigration, family, and the pursuit of happiness.

N.B. There will be one last Playthink on Monday, November 30th!

Tracy Fullerton
April 2015 Playthink - Celebration

Please join us at 6:00pm on Tuesday, April 21st, in SCI 201 at the USC School of Cinematic Arts for a discussion about games and play as art and culture. On this, the occasion of the *final* Playthink of the 2014-2015 school year, we will discuss games through the lens of celebration: games as celebration, games for celebration, the celebration of games, and more.

Featured guests include:

  • Eric Gradman – CTO and Mad Inventor at Two Bit Circus, Eric is an inventor and entertainer who makes others see technology as magic. He has a colorful history as a circus performer, professional whistler, roboticist, and inventor.
  • Mike Stein – Mike Stein likes to come up with ideas for mobile applications, and then go and build them. He’s particularly interested in mobile apps and games that help you experience the real world in an interesting way.
  • Funkster Scerbak – Funkster Scerbak is a freshman majoring in Interactive Entertainment. They will try to make you laugh, and sincerely hope they succeed. Funkster enjoys playing games and is getting better at it. Slowly. Most of their energy and passion is drawn from their hair, which has a long history of snapping combs. Should it achieve sentience, it will probably design games as a platform to take over the world.

Presented by the School of Cinematic Arts’ Game Innovation Lab, Playthink has become a lively nexus of community for USC Games. Under the banner of “games and play as art and culture,” we meet a few times a semester to host wide-ranging, audience-participatory discussions of the history, present and futures of games and interactive media.

Tracy Fullerton
March 2015 Playthink - Sports and eSports

Please join us at 6:00pm on Tuesday, March 24th, in SCI 201 at the USC School of Cinematic Arts for a discussion about games and play as art and culture. This installment of the Playthink will discuss some of the oldest and most culturally-significant games we play: sports. The discussion will explore traditional sports, esports, and their attendant cultures from the perspectives of players and critics.

Featured guests include:

  • Sam Brown – USC graduate Sam Brown is an eSports organizer and enthusiast. A well-known voice in the world of eSports, Sam is the eSports Coordinator for AzubuTV, and is a former President of USC eSports and Community Liaison for Collegiate StarLeague.
  • Dan Durbin – USC professor Daniel Durbin teaches courses across a broad variety of subjects, including sports, sports media, the social and cultural impact of sports, social movements, classical and contemporary theories of rhetoric, and fashion and media. Dr. Durbin has published articles in sports, popular culture, and sports media studies.
  • Jeff Watson – Jeff Watson is an award winning artist, designer, and Assistant Professor of Interactive Media and Games at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts. His work investigates how game design, pervasive computing, and social media can enable new forms of storytelling, participation, and learning.

Presented by the School of Cinematic Arts’ Game Innovation Lab, Playthink has become a lively nexus of community for USC Games. Under the banner of “games and play as art and culture,” we meet a few times a semester to host wide-ranging, audience-participatory discussions of the history, present and futures of games and interactive media.

Tracy Fullerton
December 2014 Playthink - Pervasive Games, LARPs, and Street Games

Please join us at 6:30pm this Tuesday, December 2nd at the USC School of Cinematic Arts for a discussion about the intersections of play, narrative, and space. This installment of the Playthink discussion salon will explore the exciting possibility space of multi-context and multi-platform game design, drawing on a range of voices from ARG, LARP, and street game design practice.

Featured guests include:

  • Elan Lee (ARG and transmedia designer – Microsoft/Xbox Entertainment Studios, Fourth Wall Studios, 42 Entertainment)
  • Aaron Vanek (LARP designer – Seekers Unlimited, HP Lovecraft Film Festival)
  • Trey Alsup (LARP and board game designer)
  • The Wise Guys (Street game/Big Game designers – Wise Guys Events)

When: Tuesday, December 2nd from 6:30pm to 9:30pm
Where: SCI 201 on the second floor of the School of Cinematic Arts SCI building (3470 McClintock Ave, Los Angeles CA 90089)

Presented by the School of Cinematic Arts’ Game Innovation Lab, Playthink has become a lively nexus of community for USC Games. With the banner line of “games and play as art and culture”, we meet a few times a semester to host wide-ranging, audience-participatory discussions of the history, present and futures of games and interactive media.

Special thanks to Lucas Peterson for the awesome poster design!

Tracy Fullerton
October 2014 Playthink - Games and the Museum

Hi folks,

We’re continuing this semester’s roll-call of great ‘playthink’ salon events next Tuesday, with a special edition of playthink subtitled ‘Games and the Museum’.

When: Tuesday, October 14th from 6pm to 9pm
Where: SCI 201 on the second floor of the School of Cinematic Arts SCI building

Former USC Games professor William Huber (now teaching at Abertay in Scotland) is in town – he and I are part of an effort to organize a huge, first-of-its kind exhibition at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum in 2017, about video game design. The V&A was the world’s first (and is arguably the best) design museum. William and I are very excited to be taking part – and we’d like you to, too!

So please join us at next Tuesday, the 14th of October, from 6pm to 9pm, for lively discussion about how best to represent the history of game design to the public through a museum exhibit. As well as discussing ‘Games and the Museum’ we’ll also have some surprise topics for your delectation!

The salon will take place in USC’s School of Cinematic Arts complex, in SCI 201, on the second floor of the SCI building. Everyone in the USC community is welcome – we hope to see you there!

Very best wishes,

Richard Lemarchand & the playthink team

Presented by the School of Cinematic Arts’ Game Innovation Lab, playthink has become a lively nexus of community for USC Games. With the banner line of “games and play as art and culture”, we meet a few times a semester to host wide-ranging, audience-participatory discussions of the history, present and futures of games and interactive media.

Tracy Fullerton
September 2014 Playthink@USC

The USC School of Cinematic Arts’ Game Innovation Lab would like to invite you to the first Playthink of the Fall semester!

When: Tuesday, September 9th from 6pm to 9pm
Where: SCI 201 on the second floor of the School of Cinematic Arts SCI building

Playthink has become a lively nexus of community for USC Games. With the banner line of “games and play as art and culture”, we meet a few times a semester to host wide-ranging, audience-participatory discussions of the history, present and futures of games and interactive media.

Everyone in the USC community is welcome – we hope to see you there!

Tracy Fullerton
April 2014 Playthink@USC

USC’s Interactive Media and Games Division would like to invite you to playthink@USC: April 2014 on Tuesday, April 15 from 6pm to 9pm in SCI 201. Topics will include…

What playthink@USC April 2014
Where SCI 201
When April 15, 6 – 9pm

Tracy Fullerton
March 2014 Playthink@USC

The Game Innovation Lab is hosting the next playthink salon on Tuesday, March 11 from 6pm-9pm. The meeting will focus on discussion, and topics will include:

  • William Novak, talking about the Power Glove
  • Steve Anderson, discussing televisual depictions of games and gamers
  • Alan Wagner, discussing Flappy Bird

The salon will be held in the SCI 201 thinktank space and is open to all (but seats are limited, so come early!)!

Tracy Fullerton
January 2014 Playthink@USC Salon

Tuesday,
January 28, 2014

SCI 201
(2nd Floor, in the “thinktank”)

3470 McClintock Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90089
Open to everyone in the USC Community

Join us for an evening of discussion and conversation. Featured topics include Brendon Chung speaking about his game, Quadrilateral Cowboy, Richard Lemarchand discussing Eric Zimmerman’s Manifesto for a Ludic Century, Tracy Fullerton covering Myst, and Steve Anderson on David Cronenberg’s Body Mind Change.

If you plan to attend, please read Eric’s Manifesto for a Ludic Century.

See you there!

Tracy Fullerton
Inaugural Playthink Salon

Tuesday, November 12, 2013
SCI 301 (Third Floor, The Game Innovation Lab)
3470 McClintock Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90089
Open to everyone in the USC Community

Join us for an evening of lecture, discussion, and conversation. Featured speakers include Zak S. presenting his tabletop RPG, Vornheim, Richard Lemarchand reflecting on Katamari Damacy, Raghav Bashyal leading a conversation on Tale of Tales’ not-manifesto Beautiful Art Program, and Kurosh ValaNejad discussing the politics of language around games.

There will be someone in the lobby until 6:00pm to assist anyone who does not have access to the third floor. If you are planning on attending, please read Tale of Tales’ BAP beforehand!

See you there!