Carrie Heeter


Carrie Heeter is a professor of Digital Media Design in the Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Media at Michigan State University where she also directs the Communication Technology Laboratory and is Creative Director for Virtual University Design and Technology. Heeter has been creating and studying interactive media experiences since 1989. In 1995 she won Discover Magazine’s software innovation of the year award for the Personal Communicator software. The associated web site continues to attract more than 9,000,000 visitors per year. Her recent design projects focus on games for learning. She currently has two NSF-funded studies pertaining to the workshop: (1) design of a science learning game with several variations for use in experimental research on the relationship between gender, play style, and learning outcomes and (2) extending conceptualization and understanding of play patterns, gender, and learning in educational games through interviews with 25 game designers about their observations throughout years of playtesting learning game products. Heeter was PI of the NSF-funded Girls As Designers study comparing process and products of girl and boy-designed games.


Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat: New Perspectives on Games and Girls

On May 8, 2006, 25 researchers and industry professionals from around the world who have been studying gender and games will come together for a workshop titled “Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat: New Perspectives on Games, Gender and Computing”. The theme of our workshop alludes to the seminal and widely popular book “From Barbie to Mortal Kombat” edited by Justine Cassell and Henry Jenkins in 1998, which followed a conference organized in 1996 at MIT. Until that time, both industry and research endorsed myths about females and gaming. On the one hand, software companies did not believe that there was a commercial market for girls. On the other hand, researchers did not fully recognize the study of game design and play as a resource for understanding how learners, and women in particular, engage in technology.  The book challenged the myth that research on games is not useful, as the chapters provided insight into learning, technology, design, and gender studies.

The last decade has brought more computers into homes, more internet access, new game genres, new game features, new platforms, and new generations of players. Gender-related topics have been a frequent focus of academic research on games. The May 2006 workshop will mark a decade after the first conference and a critical time to revisit and review the field to see what has changed and what has stayed the same. This workshop is structured to continue the conversation, integrate new findings, and outline a new research agenda for the field in the following three focal areas:

The New Girls’ Games (Yasmin B. Kafai)
The success of Barbie’s Fashion Designer has left many looking for a follow-up. The prominence and increased participation of women in of MMORPGs at least suggest that some aspects of these environments appeal to players of both gender. We will review what research has identified to be of interest to different players in online role-playing games. Currently, there is a tendency to pitch women’s interests as diametrically opposed to those of men. We hope to break open these stereotypes and examine where there are overlaps and where men and women do not follow assumed preferences.

Girls as Game Creators (Jill Denner)
To promote a change in women’s participation in IT and games, many have argued that we need to involve women and children in order to develop alternative types of games that offer a range of game playing styles. We also need different approaches to teaching computer science that involve collaboration and game design and production. We will summarize research projects that use these approaches, including examples from academia and industry, and discuss the implications of the findings for transforming the game industry.

Girls and Casual Games (Carrie Heeter)
Serious games, mobile games, casual games, and games for learning extend the discussion beyond entertainment and commercial concerns. More women than men play online casual games. Several studies found that older girls were more likely to prefer learning games.  Gender differences in play patterns are an emerging area of study, including the relationship between gender, play patterns, and learning. We will summarize and discuss the implications of research on play and new technologies.

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