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Video Game Values

6:51AM, April 26, 2011

SSP Alumna Examines the Role of Video Games in Society

By Caitlin Jennings, Communications Specialist, Society for Science & the Public

“So often people are looking at the violence of games,” Karen Schrier, (Science Talent Search Semifinalist 1995) says, “I want to change the conversation to understanding the potential of games. Yes they can be used to express bad values, but they could also be used to express good values.”

To bring about a new dialogue on the role of games and society, Karen recently published Ethics and Game Design: Teaching Values Through Play, which takes a multidisciplinary approach to examining video game design. Karen, who just finished her doctorate in education and games at Columbia University, says the book discusses the possible use of games for teaching ethics and delves into questions such as, “What is it about games that might support, or not support, ethical thinking? What are the differences in the ways that people might make decisions in games and in virtual environments versus outside in the real world?”

This work may seem very different from her high school research project, where she looked at genes implicated in diabetes and insulin regulation, but she says the experience of going through the scientific process and competing in science competitions has greatly impacted her life and career. “The process of going through that kind of research project was probably one of the number one things I would say that has inspired me through my life, giving me that confidence to persevere and feel that I could make a contribution to society,” she says. “It’s not just about doing the research; it’s about communicating the outcomes.”

“Even if you don’t think a research career is your dream job, it’s nice to have the opportunity to try it out,” Karen says, especially in high school when students can dabble in different areas to discover their passions. In her current interdisciplinary field of video games, which combines technology and design, she also finds her science research background useful. “This idea that thinking about science and art as so separate is kind of damaging because we are losing people who could maybe provide some really great ideas but from different perspectives,” she says. “Thinking through a scientific problem as an artist or thinking through a design problem as a scientist is so important.”

This is why Karen encourages students to get involved with varying interests and develop strengths in areas both in and outside of science. She also advises young scientists to really appreciate their research opportunities: “It all seems scary at the time, but when you do this type of research, you have to realize that it is such a special opportunity, so different and unique and you should embrace that. No matter how it turns out, you can always take that through life with you.”

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