Video games have made tremendous strides by becoming a serious medium for storytelling and artistic expression in recent years. But striking up a conversation about how Undertale or The Last of Us is a masterpiece of storytelling with your literature professor might still make for an awkward situation. Luckily, if you’re a local student who is passionate about games or gaming culture, a campus group called UO Think.Play might be just what you’re looking for.
UO Think.Play is an ASUO-recognized student group under University of Oregon’s English department that is devoted to the academic discussion and analysis of games and modern gaming culture. Meetings and events are organized by a steering committee of six students who lead discussions and schedule keynote speakers for the group’s activities.
Each session is usually led by one of the steering committee members or by faculty members like Tara Fickle, a member of the UO English department. The group also occasionally has guest speakers, such as Dr. Todd Harper, a professor from the University of Baltimore who gave a presentation on body representation in video games via Skype.
Discussion topics vary from elements of the games themselves to how games reflect and affect modern culture. From a cultural perspective, a discussion might explore the depiction of romance, women or the LGBT community within games.
“We’re not just here to play Smash Bros.,” said Nate Boyd, a computer science major and member of the Think.Play steering committee. “We’re here to have a thoughtful deep conversation about this medium.”
The format of the meetings generally starts with a focused presentation of the week’s topic, which is then followed by a more casual group-wide discussion. Even though the members of UO Think.Play strive to take an academic look at games, they try to not be too serious about a medium that is based primarily around having fun.
UO Think.Play hopes to one day evolve into a legitimate game studies program on the UO campus, similar to the comic studies program that has already been established. For now, the members of the steering committee are working to create a sturdy infrastructure and make connections with professional authorities on gaming culture.
“A lot of this last year has been building infrastructure,” said Dante Douglas, another member of the UO Think.Play steering committee. “Now we have a charter, rules and people that are part of the faculty that we can talk to.”
UO Think.Play originally started meeting in 2009, though the group only became recognized by the ASUO last year. Although Think.Play primarily focuses its discussions on video games, gamers of all kinds are encouraged to come and participate in the weekly discussions. The group also puts together gaming events like the Think.Play Gaming Triathalon, where attendees compete in several duck-themed games for prizes.
The group currently meets every Wednesday from 7-9 p.m. in Education 176. Meetings are open to the public.