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Engineering in Videogames: A Case Study of Iconoclasts Narrative and Interactive Portrayal of Engineers

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

TELPhE Division Technical Session 2: The Broadening Face of Engineering Education

Tagged Division

Technological and Engineering Literacy/Philosophy of Engineering

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Corey T. Schimpf University at Buffalo, The State University of New York (CoE) Orcid 16x16

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Corey Schimpf is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering Education at the University at Buffalo with interest in engineering design, advancing research methods, and technology innovations to support learning in complex domains. One major strand of his work focuses on analyzing how expertise develops in engineering design across the continuum from novice pre-college students to practicing engineers. Another focuses on advancing how engineering design research by integrating new theoretical or analytical frameworks (e.g., from data science or complexity science). Another strand focuses on conducting design-based research to develop scaffolding tools for supporting the learning of complex skills like design and advanced research methods like agent-based modeling. He is the incoming Program Chair for the Design in Engineering Education Division within ASEE.

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Outside of pursuing degrees and employment in professional fields, most of the public’s experience with the ideas, ethos, and practices of a professional field may come from either direct interaction with professionals or through popular media depictions. The influence of popular media depictions likewise affects public understanding and perceptions of engineering and engineers [1], [2]. While there are many forms of popular media that may affect public understanding or perceptions, videogames stand out for several reasons. First, videogames affect or engage those members of the general public who play them through multiple avenues. Two predominant modes of engagement games provide are gameplay, how a player interacts with a game, and narrative, the story or storytelling the game delivers. These two modes of engagement may both affect players understanding of engineering, engineers, and technology or more concretely a players technological and engineering literacy [3]. A second reason for studying videogames is that have overtaken other media formats (e.g., movies, music) in terms of market share, particularly for younger audiences [4]. Third, while some researchers have studied depictions of engineers or engineering in other media types [1], [2], [5], [6], there appears to be limited research into how videogames portray engineering to the public. Fourth and finally, engineering education research has identified game-based learning as a potent area for research for supporting engineering learning [7], [8]. Additionally, many game-based learning researchers have convincingly argued that videogames are powerful learning environments [9], [10]. Therefore, studying publicly available commercial videogames that focus on engineering or technology may grant new insights for creating engineering games for learning.

Game Studies is a newly emerging field [11], [12] dedicated to studying videogames as objects of inquiry, delving into how they are structured [13], [14], how people engage with them [14], [15] and what impacts they have on people or groups[11], [16]. While methods and lenses within the field are still developing, Game Studies provide tools for analyzing videogames and how they might impact the public’s technological and engineering literacy and may also offer insights for game-based learning research and development in engineering education. In particular, the present work draws on two lenses from Game Studies, analyzing games as formal and cultural systems. Here a formal system is composed of in-game elements and rules that guide player action [14] and a cultural system is composed of themes and discourses that connect game content to real world topics [16]. These two lenses enable analysis of videogames gameplay as well as their narratives, respectively.

This work seeks to take the first step in bringing these tools into engineering education through a case study of the game Iconoclasts. Iconoclasts allows players to assume the role of Robin, a young mechanic who must use her knowledge and abilities with technology to escape the pursuit of enemy forces and save her friends and herself from the dire circumstances that are unwittingly thrust upon them. Iconoclasts represents a promising case for analysis as its story and gameplay elements relate to ideas and practices in engineering and technology.

Schimpf, C. T. (2021, July), Engineering in Videogames: A Case Study of Iconoclasts Narrative and Interactive Portrayal of Engineers Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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