Office of Research Gamification - Office of Research



The Challenge

The rapidly growing academic field of game studies has been grappling with the cultural functions of games and gamification.


Why It Is Important

By some measures, the video game has become the most significant medium of contemporary culture. Today, gaming represents not only the most profitable sector of the global entertainment industry, but also one of the most dynamic and innovative arenas for social expression and critical thought in our increasingly high-tech world. Both corporate and independent game developers are constantly expanding the capacities of the medium, in terms of technical virtuosity as well as aesthetic and philosophical complexity. Games and game technologies are now used in an immense variety of contexts beyond entertainment and artistic expression, including education, public outreach, politics, business, military training, medicine, and even scientific research. A term to describe the expansion of games and game technologies into all these different aspects of modern life has now become common parlance: gamification.

Our Approach

Game studies has emerged over the last few years as a preeminent sector of the digital humanities. It has become increasingly clear that the study of games and gamification in contemporary society needs a two-pronged approach:

  1. On the one hand, analysis of game technologies and gamified media, using tools from the critical humanities and social sciences
  2. On the other hand, production and development of game technologies and gamified media, using tools from computer science, design, and the digital humanities

We aim to create a world-class research center for the digital humanities, focused initially on four overlapping research programs:

  1. Gaming Culture (the cultural aspects of games and the use of game technologies for digital humanities research)
  2. Gaming Art (games as art and the use of game technologies in transmedia artistic practices)
  3. Gaming Health (the risks and promises of games that induce healthy behaviors)
  4. Gaming Science (how games and game technologies impact scientific research)

Impacts & Highlights

Play the Knave—A Video Game for Shakespeare in Performance

A Kinect-enabled game for KnaveWindows that offers users a chance to stage and perform in a Shakespeare play is now fully functional. Users craft their own production of a scene from Shakespeare, choosing set design, music, lighting, costumes, and theater space. They then perform the scene, karaoke-style, using their own bodily gestures and voices to animate their on-screen avatars. The Kinect camera picks up skeletal data from users, mapping it onto the 3D avatar on screen, so that the avatar mirrors each user’s gestures in real time.

This project was exhibited in the lobby of the Stratford Festival Theatre in Stratford, Ontario, at the Davis Arts Center, and at the Utah Shakespeare Festival. BBC news ran a feature story dedicated exclusively to Play the Knave.

GameCamp! by ModLab

GameCampModLabGameCamp! by Modlab is a series of game design workshops tailored to the UC Davis community. It combines creativity drills with technical training and hands-on instruction to enable individuals to begin creating video games on their own.

GameCamp! successfully solicited 7 complete games in its first annual game jam. The project was exhibited at the #SynchDH conference in Santa Barbara, CA, as well as the HASTAC Conference at Michigan State University.



Critical Wearable Computing

WearableWe believe a broader definition of the self is required for designing wearable devices capable of capturing the vast range of human identity and everyday experience. This project utilizes research-based design methodologies to explore the capacity of current technology to explore and express a broader horizon of human subjectivity.

Over the Summer and Fall of 2015, the team developed a study to survey users of self-tracking and wearable technology products to determine what dimensions of personal and social tracking they were interested in. The team co-organized a HASTAC conference with a wearables group at Arizona State University in the Spring of 2016




This is a performance piece that transforms economic data into music in an audience-participatory, mock-concert format. Economusic uses data sonification and physical comedy to illustrate and embody information that often seems too abstract, confusing, or frankly boring for audiences. Over the last year, Professor Bogad has performed different versions of Economusic around the world from Helsinki to Barcelona to Sao Paulo to New York’s Austrian Cultural Forum and Yerba Buena Arts Center and SFMOMA.


This project is a digital conversion of a board game that explores the corruption of the electoral process by campaign donation. Players move on a three-dimensional Opinion Grid, a representation of election policy positions, moving through the field to get physically closer to voters. A full beta-version of Buypartisan is programmed and ready for playtesting.


Establishing Metrics and Visual Aids for a Cultural History of Terrorist Violence

Terrorist ImageTwo undergraduate researchers worked together with Professor Miller on excavating the cultural history of terrorist violence, using text-mining methods. The project focused on developing “frames” for coding English-language mentions of the phrase “terrorist violence” in selected popular and academic text corpuses. Using digital humanities methods to study large digital text corpuses, the project investigated discursive patterns in making distinctions between “terrorism” and “terrorist violence”, and the role of psychological models in facilitating such distinctions.

A paper was accepted at the American Academy of Religion and will be presented as part of a panel on Religion and Violence.


LGBT/Queer Games

This project is a cross-campus collaboration involving scholars at UC Davis, Temple University, and University of the Sunshine Coast. The LGBT/ Queer Games Archive is an online repository of video game content pertaining to LGBTQ representation and homophobia and transphobia in computer, console, and mobile digital games.

Findings from this project will be presented at the International Communication Association in May 2017. This project will also curate an LGBT/gayming exhibit with the GLBT History Museum in San Francisco, CA.

Frack the Game

Frack ImageFrack the Game is a video game project initially conceived by Joseph Dumit in board game format to explore the ethical and socioeconomic landscape of fracking. Players of Frack the Game assume the role of fracking corporations that compete to survey, drill, and extract as much natural gas as possible to become the largest and wealthiest corporation before the world ends. Through the course of the game, players encounter difficult decisions as they must negotiate concerns around profits, environmental health, policies and laws, and public reception of fracking practices.

The game has been presented at the University of Copenhagen, the University of Oslo, and Aarhus University. It has also been presented as part of the keynote for the Society for New and Emerging Technologies in Bergen, Norway.

On “Poetry Performance and Pitch-Tracking: Tools for Sound Studies” and “Vocal Profiles and Personality Types for Virtual Agent Design”

Pitch PictureIn 2015-16, Professor Neff and visiting scholar Marit MacArthur oversaw the development of two user-friendly, open-source tools for analyzing speech patterns in vocal recordings for humanistic research, with support from an ACLS Digital Innovations Fellowship as well as the ModLab IFHA group. In a related research project in Spring 2016, Neff and MacArthur together with two undergraduate research assistants, researched vocal profiles and personality types for virtual agent design. The next step in the project, to be conducted in 2016-2017, is to develop vocal profiles of charismatic voices in popular video/computer games.


Colin Milburn Professor of English
Nina Amenta Professor and Chair of Computer Science
Lawrence Bogad Associate Professor of Theater & Dance
Gina Bloom Associate Professor of English
Cynthia Carter Ching Associate Professor of Education
Carolyn Thomas Professor of American Studies
Joseph Dumit Professor and Director of Science & Technology Studies
J. Bruce German Professor of Food Science & Technology
Caren Kaplan Professor of American Studies
Louise Kellogg Professor of Earth & Planetary Sciences
Ian Korf Professor of Molecular & Cellular Biology
Oliver Kreylos Associate Researcher of Earth & Planetary Sciences
John Marx Associate Researcher of English
Michael Neff Associate Professor of Computer Science
Kriss Ravetto Associate Professor of Cinema & Digital Media
Eric Smoodin Professor of American Studies
Gerardo Con Diaz Assistant Professor of Science & Technology Studies
Emily Merchant Assistant Professor of Science & Technology Studies
Stephanie Boluk Assistant Professor of English and Cinema & Digital Media
Patrick LeMieux Assistant Professor of Cinema & Digital Media
Flagg Miller Associate Professor of Religious Studies
Amanda Philips Postdoc of English
Jordan Carroll Postdoc of English
Marit MacArthur Visiting Scholar of English
Treena Balds Graduate Student of English
Katherine Buse Graduate Student of English
Evan Buswell Graduate Student of Cultural Studies
Ranjodh Singh Dhaliwal Graduate Student of English
Ksenia Fedorova Graduate Student of Performance Studies
Evan Lauteria Graduate Student of Sociology
Emelie Mahdavian Graduate Student of Performance Studies
Andrea Miller Graduate Student of Cultural Studies
Jesse Smith Graduate Student of Computer Science
Nick Toothman Graduate Student of Computer Science
Emma Leigh Waldron Graduate Student of Performance Studies
Melissa Wills Graduate Student of English
John Zibell Graduate Student of Performance Studies
Megan Johnston Graduate Student of Design
Nicholas Hosein Graduate Student of Electrical Engineering
Toby Smith Graduate Student of Cultural Studies
Colin Johnson Graduate Student of Performance Studies
Evanay McNeal Undergraduate Student of Cinema and Digital Media
Dylan Woods Undergraduate Student of Cinema and Digital Media
Sarah Asnaashari Undergraduate Student of English
Alida Araica Undergraduate Student of English
Amanda Ong Undergraduate Student of English
Allie Sousa Undergraduate Student of English
Joe Akanesuvan Undergraduate Student of English
Wesley Sweger Undergraduate Student of English
Gienel Agacaoili Undergraduate Student of English
Raeanne Baird Undergraduate Student of English
Alison Blecman Undergraduate Student of English
Ofir Cahalan Undergraduate Student of English
Sam Chiang Undergraduate Student of English
Rebecca Fong Undergraduate Student of English
Alicia Nguyen Undergraduate Student of English
Alison Tam Undergraduate Student of English
Danielle Taylor Undergraduate Student of English
Isabelle Williams Undergraduate Student of English
Karen Xu Undergraduate Student of English, Economics, and Chinese
Alex Jungroth Undergraduate Student of Computer Science
Ivan Hebrio Undergraduate Student of Electrical & Computer Engineering
Leah Daugherty Undergraduate Student of English and Theater
Michelle Lang Undergraduate Student of English
Annaliese Sanders Undergraduate Student of English
Christopher Summers Undergraduate Student of English
Melissa Valk Undergraduate Student of English
Rebekah Zachariou Undergraduate Student of History
Daniel Schooling Undergraduate Student of Cinema & Digital Media
Samantha Moody Undergraduate Student of English
Tobi Foley Undergraduate Student of Philosophy
Cheryl Choo Undergraduate Student of English
Prakfruti Nadendla Undergraduate Student of Communications
Rick Elwood Undergraduate Student of Computer Science
Jason Zhang Undergraduate Student of Computer Science
Mark Emmanuel Diaz Undergraduate Student of Design
Kaly Stormer Undergraduate Student of Design
Phillip Tran Undergraduate Student of Statistics
Salma Abdelfattah Undergraduate Student of International Relations
Ali Zarrabi Undergraduate Student of Economics
Darin Reyes Undergraduate Student of Design
Daniel Schlesinger Undergraduate Student of Computer Science & Engineering
Pavel Kuzkin Undergraduate Student of Computer Science
Daphne Liu Undergraduate Student of Clinical & Translational Science

For more information on this program, please contact Christine Parks at [email protected].