Theresa Jean Tanenbaum

Gaming as a Game Changer

Professor Theresa Jean Tanenbaum sees storytelling and play as the fundamental tools people use to make sense of the world. “Both are deeply lodged in the human experience,” she says, and technology gives us “new platforms for telling stories and for enabling opportunities to play that extend into adulthood.” Her research into digital games seeks to understand the pleasures that come from engaging in participatory storytelling — and to create powerful and moving stories using cutting-edge digital technologies.

A Transforming Experience

A primary focus of Professor Tanenbaum’s work is studying the sense of identity transformation that takes place in a game or interactive storytelling system. It can be an illuminating experience: Players become so captivated they begin to empathize with the characters they are controlling. “When we transform into a character, we have the opportunity to see the world through someone else’s eyes, challenging our own complacencies and assumptions,” she says. “I believe participatory media’s ability to evoke this type of transformation makes it an invaluable tool for education, persuasion and social justice.”

Unlocking the Door

Professor Tanenbaum designs games and digital storytelling systems that leverage tangible objects and props to give people a gateway into fictional worlds. Her success depends upon critical research into understanding the design process — looking, for instance, at the embodied experience of physically interacting with digital systems through gesture and movement, or studying the way actors and theater practitioners experience character transformation when they perform. A true innovator in the field, Professor Tanenbaum is pioneering the development of physical narrative environments, interactive costume design and hybrid physical/digital storytelling systems capable of literally bringing a player into the game.

“Narrative technologies can let people walk a day in someone else’s shoes — fostering empathy and championing justice.”

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