Department of Informatics
Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences
University of California, Irvine
I am a mixture of researcher, scholar, teacher, designer, artist, tinker, maker, and activist. I see these practices as fundamentally interconnected. My work uses a diverse range of technologies and media to better understand the emerging possibilities for digital storytelling as a tool for expanding people’s experiential and phenomenological horizons. I am interested in the poetics of these experiences: how do we create participatory narrative experiences to produce a compelling sense of immersion, agency, and transformation? What aspects of a mediated experience change how their players/viewers see the world and their own place in it? How do we develop and evaluate new poetics for what I call Transformative Play?
I am generally fascinated by systems that give people a chance to experience a sense of identity transformation, perspective taking, and role play. My lab is multidisciplinary, combining design research methods, close readings of games, and artistic practice and production. My design work often bridges digital and physical systems: I use interactive tangible user interfaces, computationally augmented costumes, and responsive physical environments to create prototype interactive narrative experiences that explore my theoretical ideas. I have a background in theater and music, and so I draw on techniques from method actor training and the performing arts in addition to current theory and practice in human computer interaction (HCI) and digital interactive narrative (DIN) studies. Lately I have been describing my work as the design and study of playful XR1 experiences at the intersection of theater, games, storytelling, and design. The purpose of my research is to understand how experiences of identity transformation and role-play within mediated experiences can empower people to envision and realize better futures for themselves and the world.
By designing and studying digital storytelling systems that produce experiences of role-taking and identity shift, my work aspires to create possibilities for social and individual change. I know all too well how the identities that we inhabit in the world are contingent and negotiated. Transformative play uses techniques from games, theater, and human computer interaction to carve out moments for personal transformation, empowerment, and change. These experiences of transformative theatrical play have a profound power to create possibility models that are emancipatory. When we inhabit new identities, we create possibilities where there were none before. We restory our lives into new configurations that allow us to reclaim lost power.
My aspiration for transformative play is as a mechanism for the radical empowerment of marginalized and oppressed peoples. It has taken years of exploration, tinkering, reflection, collaboration, and creation to move transformative play from a purely theoretical idea to a robust research and design practice, capable of being brought to bear on the hard problems of inequity, discrimination, and oppression that our society is struggling with. Transformative play is a “big idea” that I will spend a lifetime trying to pin down, but it is also a simple idea: that people need to be able to imagine themselves into better futures before they are able to create those futures. That participating in digital storytelling experiences can help people to transform their perspective and create new narratives that have the power to bring about positive change in the world.