American Studies department to host symposium on the concept of play

Paige Atkinson

In the midst of exams and final projects, the UT Department of American Studies invites students, faculty and members of the Austin community to take a break and play this Friday. 

The “Practices of Play” is a day-long symposium organized by Harrington Faculty Fellowship recipient, Patrick Jagoda.

Jagoda, assistant professor of English at the University of Chicago, concentrates on new media in video games and television. He runs a gaming lab in Chicago, where he conducts research on the topic of play. During his time at UT, he researches experimental games. 

“There is some massive cultural fascination in games that is taking place right now,” Jagoda said. “I am interested in how the kinds of games we play in 2014 often times preclude play.”

According to Jagoda, American culture is captivated by sensations such as The Hunger Games, Game of Thrones, World of Warcraft and reality shows. Despite these gaming outlets, Jagoda said playfulness may be diminishing in society. 

“I’m exploring what practices and spaces still encourage experimental play in our culture,” Jagoda said. “My hope is to use the symposium to think together about how play gets used as a method, a practice and an object of study across various disciplines.”

Jagoda has invited experts in various disciplines from UT, but also academics from Pratt, UCLA, Carnegie Mellon and the University of Chicago to speak Friday. 

The symposium is split into three parts, beginning at 10 a.m. with a section on the playful humanities. Tanya Clement, assistant professor in the School of Information, will speak about her work curating humanities data and evaluating changing resources and technologies.

“I understand play as a situated and social, world-making and world-weary, rule-aware and rule-breaking, real-time act of performing critical interpretation,” Clement wrote on the symposium blog. 

The second section of the symposium is interactive and focuses on education and play. Symposium participants will be prompted to design a game on a board that speaks to different social and political issues in Austin. The third panel is about art and games. 

“The final session will feature two amazing art game creators — Eddo Stern from UCLA and Paolo Pedercini from Carnegie Mellon,” Jagoda said. “Paolo creates anti-capitalist and critical video games. Eddo makes short films and mixed media digital games that involve theatrical and game components.”

Graduate student and doctoral candidate Carrie Anderson is working on a dissertation in American Studies about the cultural impact of drones, including the representation of drone technology in video games. Anderson is most excited for the group discussion at the end of the symposium. 

“I think whenever you get a lot of people in a room who do different things in different fields, the kinds of conversations that can emerge from that interdisciplinary mix are always really, really exciting,” Anderson said. “I’m really excited about that cross-pollination and seeing what emerges from
the conversation.”

Both Anderson and Jagoda encourage attendees from various and diverse academic and cultural backgrounds.  

“There aren’t a whole lot of events that bring together that kind of weird mix of people,” Anderson said. “My experience is going to be so different from someone who is just a real fan of Halo, for example.”