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UNC and Duke collaborate to host first Critical Games Symposium

Gaming scholars and artists gather for the first UNC-Duke Critical Games Symposium on Friday, Feb. 24, 2023, in UNC's Media Art Space. The symposium focuses on the critical study and practice of video games.
 Photo Courtesy of Emily Chambliss.

Loud laughter echoed from the room and enthusiastic conversations drifted through the halls of UNC’s Media Art Space last Friday. Despite a rivalry, dozens of like-minded individuals from UNC and Duke came to discuss their shared passion for gaming.

The gaming scholars and artists gathered for the first-ever UNC-Duke Critical Games Symposium.  

Graduate students at both universities presented their work and research regarding the critical study and practice of video games at the UNC Department of Communication's event.

Victoria Szabo, symposium co-organizer and a visual and media studies professor at Duke University, and her collaborator Joyce Rudinsky, a professor of media production at UNC, said they have been planning to host this event for a long time. 

They said they believe COVID-19 has disconnected people interested in the field from each other, and aspire to create a place where those interested in game development and analysis can participate in meaningful industry conversations.

“We wanted people to just come together and talk about what they're doing in order to get to know each other and to get to know the possibilities,” Szabo said. “Because there's so much overlap and interest in our campuses in this topic.”

The presentations covered topics ranging from racist stereotypes in video games to the use of games and virtual reality to train soldiers and help them recover from trauma. 

Josh Youakim, a doctoral student in the communications department at UNC, delivered a presentation about the modification and customization of gaming consoles and how that might affect the gaming industry.

He said video games are something that really captures people’s attention and events like the symposium are an opportunity to demonstrate the unique value of the video game industry.  

“I have different interests personally, and whenever I get to put on a game studies hat, I'm like, 'This is fun,'” Youakim said. “I think it is important, but it is also fun."

Several presenters had game demonstrations available for viewing and stuck around after the event to answer questions from attendees. 

UNC students across departments attended the symposium, and Szabo said a primary goal of the event was to introduce different facets of gaming to a wide variety of people and areas of study. 

Luke Diasio, president of UNC’s Game Development Club, said the symposium allowed him to explore the academic side of gaming and get an idea of what it’s like to work in the industry. 

“I mainly do game development stuff, but it’s interesting to see how people break down and analyze games as a rhetorical and literary tool,” he said. “That’s an aspect that I don’t get to explore in the club.”

Youakim said he appreciated UNC and Duke’s partnership to produce a well-organized event for community members to discuss relevant industry issues and be able to connect through gaming.

“There's no one place that people are doing this kind of work,” Szabo said. “As a result, if you're just staying in your bubble of your own department or program, you might not even know that there's all these other people that are thinking very similar thoughts, yet have their own specialties that go deeper.”

The symposium organizers said they aim to repeat the event every semester, with plans to host it at Duke in the fall.


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Emily Chambliss

Emily Chambliss is a 2023-24 assistant copy editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as a staffer on the copy and university desks. Emily is a sophomore pursuing a major in journalism with a minor in philosophy, politics and economics.