Building Better Games
For Professor Aaron Trammell, serious scholarship yields important real-world results. His work explores the military ideologies at the center of many games (both analog and digital) — and how those games shape identity. “There is a patriarchal logic in games that influences how we see ourselves,” he says. “This has ramifications for women, people of color and other minorities.” By opening up the design process to diverse communities, Trammell hopes to expand opportunities in tech and to build better and more relevant experiences for gamers, who increasingly rely on gaming technology for job training and skills-based learning.
Trammell’s research reveals the inherent — and often subtle — biases in games. Role playing, he notes, has its roots in military strategy, which historically prioritized traits like masculinity and whiteness. The result: Many prospective game designers feel excluded, while potential players confront scenarios that foster misogynist, racist and homophobic thought. “To give people at all levels of gaming the tools and techniques for succeeding, we need to recognize the invisible lines of power embedded in those games,” Trammell says. “My work sheds light on what can make a game a hostile space, paving the way for positive change.”
Key to Trammell’s work is an emphasis on the power of imagination. “Once we learn history, we can take steps to alter its trajectory,” he says. “Then we have the freedom to envision something different: worlds — inside games and outside — that are based on principles of inclusion.” Trammell sees the Department of Informatics as the ideal place for this reimagining. “The department is renowned for its ability to participate in both theoretical and technical discourse around information and computing, on a high level,” he says. “When it comes to blending these things together so seamlessly, no one else even comes close.”