Panel at Harvard: Evolutionary Biology Looks at Videogames (Who Plays Games and Why)

[Update: Added more links based on our discussion. More will follow this weekend.]

For a few years now, I’ve wanted to get a game designer (or two) into a serious discussion with an evolutionary behavioral biologist (or two).  Obviously we find games — specifically videogames —  fun,compelling, and sometimes badly addictive. But just what is it about those activities that is so rewarding?

I’ve finally rounded up the venue, the right scientists (Harvard’s Richard Wrangham and his colleague Joyce Benenson of Emmanuel College), and a couple esteemed colleagues (Kent and Noah). We’re on!

The event is Wednesday night.  It’s at Harvard, and walk-ins are welcome.  Below are the details for the event, from the Harvard page, and links to some supplementary materials.  I fully expect to add more links, based on our discussion.

I can’t resist noting: as I type this, there are no google hits for “evolutionary ludology.”  Here’s the vitals for the event:

Who Plays Games and Why: Evolutionary Biology Looks at Videogames

A discussion with Harvard Human Evolutionary Biology Professor Richard Wrangham, Emmanuel College Psychology Professor Joyce Benenson, and game developers Noah Falstein and Kent Quirk.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010.   5:30 -7:30 p.m. (registration begins at 5:00 p.m.)

Location: Harvard Science Center, One Oxford Street, Cambridge

Electronic games are competing with television for that essential resource: consumer attention.  But exactly who is playing these games? And what is their appeal? Indeed, why do people find games “fun” at all, from simple board games to immersive 3D fantasy worlds? Is there a biological reason that males and females play dramatically different kinds of games?

The many genres and formats of games will be surveyed in a brief multimedia overview, with a look at the different populations that play these different games. Then, human-behavioral scientists will collaborate with game-design professionals to explore the biological roots of our attraction to these experiences.

Please join this discussion, with:

Alumni and friends of the Harvard community: $10.    Undergraduate Students: complimentary

Supplementary materials for this session:

Articles and other online resources, general background:

Items mentioned during the discussion: [more to follow]

Books mentioned during the session: [more to follow when I can review the session’s recording]

  • Bowling Alone, by Harvard’s Robert Putnam, shows the decline in America’s “Social Capital” — by many measures — over recent decades. (I think this decline motivates our hunger for social engagement via online games, social media, etc.)
  • What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy (2007) by James Paul Gee.  His short opinion piece in Wired speaks to educators and to game designers.
  • Rainbow’s End, a novel byVernor Vinge. (Recommended by Noah and Kent as a vision of augmented reality.)
  • Snow Crash, a novel by Neil Stephenson. (Mandatory reading for social-media industry participants. An early vision of virtual reality, with insight into our relationships with our avatars.)

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