Would you do corporate work for free?

Below is my recent response to an email from a game company that was looking for review of their curriculum material. The company apparently sent the email to game faculty to solicit input on the material without considering paying for faculty expertise in this area. Once the company confirmed that there was no honorarium or pay of any form involved, I was asked to pass along the request to other faculty members.

Dear _________________,

It’s important to understand faculty workloads are very heavy and faculty pay is typically very low. To receive the quality review that you seek, honorariums or other methods of honoring the work faculty perform for projects/materials such as this is completely in-line with acceptable etiquette/protocols. You/your materials will benefit much more from a quality review and thereby potentially be more effective in teaching students and, thus, be more widely used.

I only seek to raise awareness about the use of faculty volunteering/donating their time for private, for-profit enterprises. Hope these thoughts help, even in some small measure.

Respectfully,
Monica

P.S. I am the only faculty member in my department who teaches production courses where a curriculum like this may be beneficial. But, in principle, I could not see myself forwarding a request like this. Personally, when it comes to volunteering, I much prefer doing work in local, urban schools among underprivileged populations.

At some point, these requests just become insulting.

On stuffed animals and figurines

It has been good of Google to finally release their numbers on diversity. As they do so, I reflect once again about what the culture is like at an institution, any institution, that does not have a balanced group of diverse individuals.

Culture does matter, and it’s particularly important for those who are in the minority. I have been reflecting what that means in my own life lately, and this is one year that subtle slights, those subtle signals that say “you don’t belong”, have really become acutely apparent to me.

In one small instance, I have attempted to add some more artifacts to our game lab, focusing on those that are more gender-neutral or specifically of interest to women and even some men. I had several very small figurines and stuffed animals that I had brought into the lab. The figurines were from my daughter’s Littlest Pet Shop toys, which she outgrew years ago. We used the figurines for concepting avatars for my research game, Dapper. I left the toys and the 5 (very small) stuffed animals (including an Angry Birds one and a Tux the Penguin one) in the lab.

Thinking nothing of the fact that it could be seen as “unprofessional” by a couple of my colleagues, I was caught off guard when they stated that they were not happy with the stuffed animals being in the lab.

I moved Tux and Bird back into my office a few weeks later–not because of the unprofessional comment, but because I like to rotate what’s in the area a bit. It is, after all, a game lab, and inspiration can come from many places.

If these had been Star Wars figurines, or any other type of “hard core gamer” toy or figurine, I can only imagine that these wouldn’t have raised any concern. I’ve seen plenty of those types of figurines at colleagues desks over the years–a side effect of my techie world. And there is research that shows that primarily male-oriented artifacts in labs are seen as creating an unwelcoming environment for women.

No, I didn’t think that making such a minor change would be a problem or, even worse, seen as unprofessional in a creative space. Why would I? It’s only a minor thing, though, and quite frankly, I could easily get past it and laugh it off IF it wasn’t consistent with other comments and activities.

But, I am extremely thankful for my experiences in industry where I never was made to feel that I wasn’t part of the culture. Of course, most of my industry experience was on the east coast. Being back in the Midwest sometimes reminds me why I left in the first place. It just motivates me now to push past this and come up with more ways to create a welcoming lab space for both women and men.

Improving mental health and empathy through games

Continuing on my previous post about games to help patients with cancer, another recent article on games created to combat depression, alcoholism, and cancer appears here.

The article starts with

Among the many videogames at a recent arts and games festival in Baltimore, none was more difficult to navigate than “That Dragon, Cancer.” The challenge: Getting through it without crying.

Obviously, these games are more about creating empathy as well as awareness of these diseases. These games were designed by profound, life-changing experiences that the game designers experienced. They are thought-provoking and contribute to feelings of connectedness.

I recently came across two other articles on emotional health from the BBC that highlighted research about human expression. The first, published August 16, 2013, affirms the positive effects of writing about your personal health problems.

…blogging about health problems has been shown to improve feelings of social support, especially when that support is lacking from family and friends.

The second, published in March 2013, highlights research that shows a connection between kindness and mental health.

It might sound a bit like new-age nonsense to some people, but new research suggests being kind might actually be good for your mental health.

A study published in the journal Emotion reports that performing acts of kindness may help people with social anxiety to feel more positive.

We know games can affect players. It would be rewarding and fun to see if acts of kindness in-game also has positive effects on the emotional states of players.