With inclusion, Emerson Engagement Lab entertains

At issue: Emerson’s Engagement Lab rolls out new media

Our take: It’s time to bring attention to a valuable college resource 

The Emerson Engagement Lab is once again providing the college with a unique program through an unconventional platform: videogames. For those unaware, the lab is, according to their website, “an applied research lab at Emerson College focusing on the development and study of games, technology, and new media to enhance civic life.”  They produced the Community PlanIt game last year, which allowed the Emerson community to voice their opinions about the direction of the college. Now they’re working to get women involved in the traditionally male-dominated game design industry. Despite these innovations, chances are a lot of students are unfamiliar with this. 

Located above the antique store next to Piano Row, the Engagement Lab’s physical space is unlike anything else at Emerson. It’s filled with arcade games, there’s a massive interactive television, and sometimes the occasional pet runs around. In a high-stress environment like our college, where most spaces are for studying, working, or class, the lab offers a different place for students to visit. Its faculty often invites students from their classes for a tour or a lecture, and it’s a needed change of pace from the sometimes windowless classrooms of Walker.

This campus enigma has already received recognition for its work and provided community members with the necessary tools to spearhead their own civic engagement projects. In April of 2013, a student who won a gold medal at the National Game Developers’ Conference in San Francisco credited the beginning of his interest in video game education to the Engagement Lab. The following year, the lab collaborated with the European Union and the National Youth Council of Moldova to create a digital platform for young adults to collaborate on a solution for the country’s high youth unemployment rate—that’s an impressive global reach. In July, the associate director of the Engagement Lab, Paul Mihailidis, received the National Media Literacy Education Research Award for his commitment to research in media and education. Over the years, this relatively unknown aspect of Emerson has racked up accomplishments—let’s recognize it. 

Sarah Zaidan, a visual and media arts professor, is a fellow at The Engagement Lab and creator of Ms. Meta. This character is a female superhero and focus of a video game that emphasizes the breaking down of stereotypes throughout various decades of American history. This type of work is pioneering a more realistic and wholesome depiction of women in video games, a buzzword topic after the likes of Gamergate, a controversy in 2014 regarding sexism and progressivism in video game culture.

The number of women working in the game industry has doubled since 2009 to 22 percent of its workforce, according to a recent survey conducted by the International Game Developers Association. However, it’s still a man’s world—76 percent of game developers are men. The Engagement Lab recognizes the power of games to create social change, and recently it’s been working to dismantle the gender divide by spotlighting the importance of women as designers. From its corner of Emerson’s campus, the lab is amplifying female involvement in the gaming world, and showing how lady game creators inherently craft narratives and characters through a feminist lens, equalizing an industry that’s still under the patriarchy’s thumb. On Nov. 14, the Lab is hosting an event called Girls Make Games, a partnership with Women in Games Boston, for interested gamers to meet mentors in the field and learn about design. 

For something so unique, the Engagement Lab’s accomplishments deserve far more student attention and support. All too often, this major asset is overlooked outside the context of a class assignment or an email blast.