February Slugs & Steins

The games we can't make (yet)
Dr. Noah Wardrip-Fruin
Monday, February 8, 2021
6:30-8:00 p.m. 

It might seem that games can address almost any topic. There are versions of Monopoly and Tetris that, alone, seem to address subjects ranging from pop music, bass fishing, and sex to mass murder, slavery, and predatory real estate development. Yet for all but the last of these, the actual play of these games is at odds with the intended theme. So what topics can games meaningfully address? One powerful way that games can address topics is by having playable models that resonate with their intended themes. Monopoly is actually an example of such a game, with a playable model of real estate development ripped off from a game intended as a critique of capitalism’s approach to resources. The foundation of any playable model is a set of operational logics, which combine communication and computation with opportunities for play. Video games depend on a relatively small vocabulary of such logics. This restricts the playable models available, which is a challenge faced by those seeking to meaningfully address personal, cultural, and political topics through games. In this talk, Noah Wardrip-Fruin describes work at UC Santa Cruz that is taking on this challenge directly, expanding the games it is possible to make, everywhere from the introductory undergraduate classroom to the research results in his new book, How Pac-Man Eats.


Noah Wardrip-Fruin is a Professor of Computational Media at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He co-directs the Expressive Intelligence Studio, a technical and cultural research group, with Michael Mateas. Noah's research areas include new models of storytelling in games, how games express ideas through play, the literary possibilities of computational media, and how cultural software can be preserved, discovered, and cited. Noah has authored or co-edited five books on games and digital media for the MIT Press, including The New Media Reader (2003), a book influential in the development of interdisciplinary digital media curricula. His most recent book, How Pac-Man Eats, was published by MIT in 2020. Noah's collaborative playable media projects, including Screen and Talking Cure, have been presented by the Guggenheim Museum, Whitney Museum of American Art, New Museum of Contemporary Art, Krannert Art Museum, Hammer Museum, and a wide variety of festivals and conferences. Noah holds both a PhD (2006) and an MFA (2003) from Brown University, an MA (2000) from the Gallatin School at New York University, and a BA (1994) from the Johnston Center at the University of Redlands.