Joshua Tanenbaum

Assistant Professor, Department of Informatics, Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences, University of California, Irvine

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Joshua Tanenbaum is an artist, maker, and assistant professor in the Department of Informatics at the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences at the University of California-Irvine where he is a founding member of the Transformative Play Lab. He is also a member of UCI’s Institute for Virtual Environments and Computer Games, The Laboratory for Ubiquitous Computing and Interaction, and the EVOKE Lab. He is completing his PhD at Simon Fraser University in the School of Interactive Arts + Technology, where he also received his MA.  He is a recipient of the Pacific Century Graduate Scholarship, the first inaugural Graduate Research Award in Interactive Arts + Technology, and SFU Dean’s Convocation Medal. His doctoral research examined identity transformation and empathy in digital narratives and games, drawing on theories and methodologies from the performing arts and human-computer-interaction.  His work has been funded by Canada’s GRAND NCE initiative, and the Canadian Heritage New Media Research Networks Fund.  His first book, edited collaboration with Magy Seif El-Nasr and Michael Nixon, entitled Nonverbal Communication in Virtual Worlds: Understanding and Designing Expressive Characters was released in early 2014 by Carnegie Mellon Universities ETC Press. An experienced game designer, Joshua’s work incorporates physical objects, wearable technology, and interactive tabletops to explore embodied interactions with digital games and stories.  In 2010 he was the lead designer for Futura: the sustainable futures game.  Collaborating with Karen Tanenbaum, he created The Reading Glove: a tangible, wearable, work of electronic literature where a reader explores a collection of evocative physical objects to piece together a historical narrative. The Reading Glove was recently shown at MLA 2014 as part of the Pathfinders exhibit. Joshua is also a “Steampunk” artist, and maker, whose work on DiY culture appears in the book Vintage Tomorrows, Garnet Hertz’s Critical Making ‘zine, and ACM’s interactions magazine.  His award winning steampunk superhero creation, Captain Chronomek was featured at the 2012 Emerge Conference exhibit Powered by Fiction, and is also a founding project of the Critical Making in the Digital Humanities Archive.  His work on Critical Making and Design Fiction is regularly presented at CHI, most recently in the form of a Critical Making Hackathon workshop that gave rise to the extremely successful Quantified Toilets design intervention at CHI in Toronto.

Karen Tanenbaum

Project Scientist, Department of Informatics, UC Irvine

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Karen Tanenbaum is a Project Scientist at UCI, where she directs the EVOKE lab and co-directs the Transformative Play Lab.  Prior to UCI, she was a Project Scientist at the Center for Games and Playable Media at University of California-Santa Cruz where she worked on authoring behavior for NPCs in a social training simulator. She is a founding member of the Transformative Play Lab. She has PhD in Interactive Arts + Technology from Simon Fraser University where she worked on adaptive systems, tangible and ubiquitous interaction, and interactive storytelling. She did a year-long internship at the Interaction and Experience Research group at Intel Labs, where she helped organize and promote Intel’s involvement with Maker Faire and Maker Education. Karen’s academic career has followed a common thread through philosophy, linguistics, and intelligent systems, which is the exploration of the components of human experience. In 2002, she completed her BA in Philosophy & Celtic Studies at the Johnston Center for Integrative Studies at the University of Redlands. In 2004, she earned her MA in Linguistics at the University of California-San Diego, specializing in computational linguistics. Shortly thereafter, she began working at Parity Computing in San Diego as their Senior Linguist, managing their automated reference tagger. In 2006, she entered the PhD program at the School of Interactive Arts & Technology at Simon Fraser University to work in Artificial Intelligence and Ubiquitous Computing. As an undergraduate, she studied the history of philosophy, examining ways in which philosophical thinking changed throughout time. In many cases, the issues that were central to the philosophy of a particular period or culture were determined and constrained by the society that it was embedded in. She explored how the dominant ideas of a culture (religion, art, technology, community, etc) shaped people’s understanding of themselves and the world. For her MA work, she  moved into the realm of linguistics, hoping to gain further insight into these ideas by examining the medium of human thought, language. In her PhD at SIAT, she focused on exploring the way technology shapes and is shaped by human experience.  She is particularly interested in the emergence of embodied interaction paradigms like ubiquitous and tangible computing and the use of intelligent, adaptive techniques to support these novel environments.

Current Students

Dan Gardner


PhD Student, Informatics:  Dan recently received his Masters in Medicine, Science and Technologies Studies through the Anthropology Department at University of California, Irvine (UCI) where he is now continuing as a PhD student of Informatics. He is currently working on a project about the politics of avatar creation systems within online and offline games. Dan’s research interests are primarily in the realm of digital ethnography, including virtual world and game studies, social network sites, and more specifically how these are utilized in identity curation through the lens of governance, and cultural ownership and fluency. He is interested in how scholars leverage the affordances of digital technologies in order to develop new methods of knowledge collection, creation, and narration, particularly through collaborative means. Secondary interests include transnational networks, Third Culture Individuals, intersectionality, satire, evolutionary medicine, and food narratives (and basically whatever has caught the attention of his academic ADHD most recently). Dan brings experience from his professional history of digital animation, video game retail, and Information Technology (IT) security analysis to bear in his work with digital technologies.

Quote: “You have no chance to survive, make your time.”

Other Lab Affiliations: LUCI, TechDeC

Supervisory Committee: Joshua Tanenbaum and Bonnie Nardi (co-chairs), others TBD

Ke Jing

PhD Student, InformaticsI am interested in turning video games from people’s screens into the physical world, creating Augmented/Mixed Reality game experiences. This vision motivated me to join the Transformative Play Lab and to pursue a PhD in Informatics at UC Irvine. I graduated as a top student majored in Automation from the College of Mechatronics and Control Engineering at Shenzhen University in Shenzhen, China, and worked on projects like developing playful systems and video games with gesture and brain-computer interfaces, building and piloting robot warriors to play in a multi-robot shooting battle arena tournament called RoboMasters. I studied advanced Machine Learning, Robotics, and Computer Vision courses in my fourth year in undergrad visiting UC Riverside. However, I realize and believe that designing hybrid physical-digital playful experiences requires new literacies and new ways of thinking about play, as we discussed in the paper “Magia Transformo: Designing Mixed Reality Transformative Play“, rather than simply transposing digital game design practices into mixed platforms, or augmenting embodied and analog game design patterns with technology. In my graduate study I am inspired by my advisor Josh Tanenbaum’s work on Transformative Play and Interactive Theater, Costumes as Controllers, and Augmenting Reality for Augmented Reality, as well as other scholar work such as Tangible Media, Embodied Interaction, and Affordance Theory, etc. I am currently exploring “physical affordances for computational systems” and its applications in designing AR/MR games, while I keep working as the development lead for Magia Transformo, which we will use as a test bed for research ideas in the future.

A.M. Tsaasan


PhD Student, Informatics: I am a second year graduate student. My Informatics BS included an emphasis in Human Computer Human Interaction and a minor in Civic and Community Engagement. I’ve had the honor to be awarded a Nation Science Foundation GRFP Honorable Mention in 2016; UCI Competitive Edge Fellowship in 2015; ACM’s Women in Computing Scholarship in 2014; SURF-IT Fellowship in 2014; and the Kenneth Simms Endowed Memorial Scholarship in 2013. Using ethnographic and participatory action research methods I am interested in examining playful learning contexts to better understand how they support pro-STEM identity development, critical thinking practices and radically-inclusive interaction design. My passions include collaborative game play, frequency and scale, civic responsibility and creative re-use of objects, practices and story lines.  As a life-long community artist I love working with local collectives to manifest cognitively-impacting temporary public art.

Other Lab Affiliations: LUCI, EVOKE, San Diego CoLab

Current Projects: Making Happily Ever After

Supervisory Committee: Joshua Tanenbaum (chair), Bonnie Nardi, others TBD

Nicole Crenshaw


PhD Candidate, Informatics: Nikki is a fourth-year PhD candidate in UC Irvine’s Informatics Department at the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences. She received her BA in Psychology from UC Santa Cruz, and advanced to PhD candidacy at UC Irvine in December 2014 with her project “What’s in a Name? Naming Practices in Online Video Games”. Working under Dr. Bonnie Nardi, Nikki’s research focuses on identity development and identification practices in online games beyond the use of an avatar or character. Nikki previously worked with Nerd Kingdom as an assistant researcher and Xerox PARC as an assistant researcher for Victoria Bellotti. Nikki is a life-time Druid, professional nerd, and RPG fangirl. Diehard Legend of Zelda, Fire Emblem, and Mario Kart fan. Also enjoys naps, cute cats, goth clothes, and getting in Internet fights.

Other Lab Affiliations: TechDeC

Supervisory Committee: Bonnie Nardi (chair), Joshua Tanenbaum, & Judith Gregory

Thomas Debeauvais


PhD Candidate, Informatics: Using data mining methods, I study player behavior in games, with a particular focus on retention, difficulty, and skill. Games I have worked on: Ragnarok Online, World of Warcraft, Forza Motorsport 4, and Jelly Splash.

Supervisory Committee: Crista Lopes (chair), Gary Olson, & Joshua Tanenbaum

Heather Faucett


PhD Student, Informatics: Heather Faucett is a crafter, maker, gamer, and a whole lot of other “-ers”.  Currently, she is a PhD student at the University of California, Irvine’s Bren School of Information and Computer Science. She is the recipient of the UCI Leading Edge Advancement with Distinction Fellowship, an award given to the top five percent of all PhD applicants. She completed her bachelors in Information and Computer Science with a concentration in Mathematics at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in Spring 2014. There, she worked in the Hawaii Human Computer Interaction Lab examining the role of social media in politics and designing novel political information technologies for various voter populations.Currently, Heather is exploring her interests in video games and making and the roles they play and could play in our lives from facilitating interaction to evoking emotion.

Research Interests: Human Computer Interaction, Critical Making, Creative Technologies, Tangible and Wearable Computing

Other Lab Affiliations: LUCI, STAR

Supervisory Committee: Gillian Hayes (chair), others TBD

Charu Chaudhari


Masters in Information and Computer Science Student

Research Interests: Ubiquitous Computing, Assistive Technologies, Tangible Technology, Educational technology

Other Lab Affiliations: LUCI, STAR, TechDeC

Supervisory Committee: Joshua Tanenbaum (chair), others TBD

 Anmary Leal

professionalPhotoPhD Candidate, Computer Science, Virginia Tech: My name is Anamary Leal, a Human-Computer Interaction doctoral candidate at Virginia Tech’s Computer Science program in the Center of Human-Computer Interaction. I am passionate about crafting, and empowering others to craft and build what they want. I investigate how to design technologies to help people build in the real world, whether it is sewing clothing, dabbling with electronics and beyond.

I am an NSF Graduate award and GEM Ph.D fellowship recipient, a proud Latina in Computing, and an avid advocate for women and underrepresented groups in computing. l also build garments and costumes in my remaining spare time, and have experience as a costume shop assistant and theatrical costumer for community theater, with my specialty in costume crafts.

I am an award-winning costumer who has done costumes from video games and anime, from steampunk crazy box sheaths, swords and motors, to a magical girl outfits, to full business suits for lawyer characters.

Other Lab Affiliations: Third Lab

Supervisory Committee: Steve Harrison (chair) Kurt Luther, Ben Knapp, Jane Stein, & Joshua Tanenbaum (external committee member)