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Center for Games and Impact unveils certificate, courses

March 29, 2013

Undergraduate students of any major at Arizona State University with a vision for affecting change in their field now have a powerful tool at their disposal: The new Certificate in Games and Impact launching in fall 2013 offers courses in theory, design and use of games as a means of bringing about change in education, health, social justice and other professional areas.

“Our goal with this certificate is to help undergraduates start to think, ‘Wow, if I care about impact and that’s part of why I came to ASU, now I have this whole other tool that I never realized was available to me,’" said Sasha Barab, director of ASU’s Center for Games and Impact and Pinnacle West Presidential Chair in Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.

“We want to share our innovation lab experiences with schools across campus, in addition to Teachers College, so that many of our students can begin to understand the power of games,” he explained. “We believe that games are one medium that allow us to impact the world in powerful ways, and we want to bring that vision to kids all over campus.”

The Games and Impact Certificate program includes four courses and a customized capstone project totaling 15-18 credit hours. The program builds from an introductory core course through a sequence designed to equip students with the skills, research, ambition and entrepreneurial base needed to cultivate and curate these ideas beyond the university setting into the public domain.

Information about the program is available at or by calling 480-965-5555.

Students can tailor project work to issues and topics relevant to their fields of study, as well as work directly with activists, entrepreneurs and change agents on real-world projects, not just classroom exercises. Certificate students also will have regular access to the center’s game archives, innovation lab, game library and development resources.

Adam Ingram-Goble, the center’s director of innovations, said that students pursuing the certificate program and course offerings will gain a perspective on the evolving role of games in our society. By understanding how games are perceived by different audiences, students will be able to achieve greater impact through game use in a real-world setting.

“How do we make sense of games as a cultural practice and an art form?” he asked. “Games are incredibly social. But the kind of socialization that people typically associate with gaming, like the ‘Call of Duty’ and first-person shooter games, perhaps becomes the most visible because it gets the most hype. But that only appeals to a certain population of gamers.

“If you look at a game like ‘Minecraft,’ people are getting together and spending hundreds of hours building whole virtual worlds that are in their vision of what the world could be. They’re very aspirational, forward-looking fantasy spaces. But it’s not crazy, out-there fantasy, it’s more pragmatic than that.”

Among well-known faculty members at the center is Elisabeth Hayes, Delbert & Jewell Lewis Chair in Reading & Literacy and professor in ASU’s Teachers College and an affiliate faculty member in the Department of English. Hayes was a founding member of the Games, Learning & Society research collective while at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, together with the center’s James Gee, Presidential Professor of Literacy Studies in Teachers College.

Under the new program, Hayes is teaching Understanding Games for Impact, a course designed to equip students with skills and theories behind game play that get them thinking more like a game designer. Co-teaching with Hayes is Jeff Holmes, a doctoral candidate studying Rhetoric and Composition in the Department of English who also is working on the course content with Ingram-Goble.

“We want students to begin looking at games through three lenses,” Hayes explained. “First, we’ll explore how games encourage learning through problem solving. Next, we’ll observe how people organize around games, in small groups and teams, as a source of learning.

“Finally, we’ll ask what are the hidden messages that games can reveal about our broader culture? How can games shed light on values involving race, gender or the ‘lone hero,’ for example? And what can be learned through games if you assume an identity different from your own, such as an American playing an Iraqi or a guy playing a woman?”

The plan of study for the Certificate in Games and Impact includes the following:

Games, Technology & Society (EDT 210, 3 credits) Play games, analyze them and consider their impact on society.
Games for Impact: The Full Life Cycle (EDT 310, 3 credits) Discover game development from conception to sustainable impact.
Understanding Games for Impact (EDT 461, 3 credits) Investigate games as learning and social systems.
Designing Games for Impact (EDT 462, 3 credits) Play, explore and design game mechanics for impact.
Capstone Project (EDT 494, 3-6 credits) Innovate change on your relevant issue.