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Last modified: Monday, March 19, 2007

EGG lays groundwork for online games study, research at IU

March 19, 2007

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- There's a teeming universe that seemingly never ends, whose inhabitants travel in cyberspace through fantasy worlds of dungeons, dragons and demons, and real-world simulations of war and life in ancient and futuristic times.

And though they may be computer games, their global popularity is such that they merit serious consideration in academia. That's what Jeff Bardzell, assistant professor at the Indiana University School of Informatics, and other researchers are probing with their recently formed Enlightening Games Group.

"There's a genuine belief that game studies deserve more attention than they are getting," said EGG director Bardzell, an expert in human-computer interaction design. EGG considers issues ranging from the educational possibilities of interactive game technologies to the legal and social ramifications of in-game virtual economies that rival those of real-world countries.

"Because you can buy and sell virtual currency and assets online, the distinction between 'real' and 'imaginary' has lost its meaning," Bardzell said. "Criminals are now stealing in-game identities and selling their virtual assets for real money."

Game research, Bardzell and his colleagues contend, is an intrinsically interdisciplinary field. At IU it could include informatics, computer science, anthropology, library and information science, cognitive science, instructional systems and technology, fine arts, communications and culture, design, telecommunications and sociology.

EGG is a campus-wide initiative that comprises faculty and graduate students from many of these fields. The group's aim is to explore and develop a game studies curriculum and research agenda. IU Bloomington currently has no formal game research program, though it does have a production-focused graduate degree program in game design.

Bardzell founded EGG with Ted Castronova, associate professor in the Department of Telecommunications. Castronova is an internationally known expert on large-scale, online games and director of the IU-based Synthetic Worlds Initiative, a research effort whose aim is to study immersive digital spaces that can host many users on a persistent basis.

"We're fortunate to have an unusually high concentration of renowned game researchers, especially in the hot area of massively multiplayer, on-line games, such as the World of Warcraft and Second Life," said Bardzell.

MMOGs, as they are called, are Internet-based computer games where hundreds, if not thousands, of players can participate simultaneously. Such games enable an individual or teams of players to cooperate with and compete against others.

EGG's steering committee includes Robert Appelman, clinical associate professor, School of Education; Shaowen Bardzell, visiting assistant professor, School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation; and Margaret Dolinsky, assistant professor, School of Fine Arts. Informatics Executive Associate Dean Marty Siegel also lends support to the group.

The Enlightening Games Group at IU hosts monthly colloquia and is planning an annual conference.