Weston Game Lab provides large-scale collaborative space in new Media Arts, Data, and Design Center

February 25, 2019

The Weston Game Lab, named in honor of a gift from Dr. Shellwyn Weston and Bradford Weston, JD’77, will create a vibrant new space on the University of Chicago campus for the research and design of the world’s fastest-growing cultural and aesthetic form: games. Directed by Patrick Jagoda, Associate Professor of English and Cinema & Media Studies, the Lab will open on February 25, 2019 as an integral part of the new Media Arts, Data, and Design (MADD) Center on the first floor of the John Crerar Library.

The 3,800-square-foot space will feature classrooms and studio spaces, open work areas for collaborative design and development, and access to the Library’s collection of video games. It will be co-located with additional MADD Center groups focused on teaching and research in digital fabrication, virtual reality, GIS, data visualization, and other cutting-edge technologies. The Lab was established upon the recommendation of a faculty committee composed of scholars from a range of disciplines, led by Bill Brown, Michael Franklin, Jagoda, and Jason Salavon.

“Video games in recent years have become an immensely popular medium and multi-billion dollar industry,” Jagoda said. “For cultural, psychological, and sociopolitical reasons, we need rigorous academic study, across both humanistic and social scientific disciplines. I’m interested in growing a culture of thoughtful, ethical, and experimental game design for ends other than entertainment that includes interdisciplinary teams of faculty, staff, and students. I think the University of Chicago can really shine in this space.”

The Weston Game Lab expands upon Jagoda’s work with the Game Changer Game Design Lab (GCC), a collaboration with Melissa Gilliam, professor of obstetrics/gynecology and pediatrics and vice provost. GCC designs games and transmedia storytelling projects with and for Chicago-area youth around topics of sexual health and social justice, including Alternate Reality Games (ARGs).

Through the Weston Game Lab, students, faculty, and staff will collaborate on the research and development of games—whether digital, board, card, or alternate reality—that produce social impact or experiment with form on a broader scope and scale. For example, the parasite, a 2017 ARG for incoming UChicago students, encouraged collaboration and inclusion through narrative based around playful challenges on social media, team-based puzzle solving, and live installations and events.

Weston Game Lab participants will also be able to research the history of games from technical and theoretical perspectives, attend workshops that afford new development skills, and organize collaborative groups for game-based experiments. Classrooms in the Weston Game Lab will support The College’s new Cinema and Media Studies minor in Media Arts and Design, hosting courses such as Jagoda’s “Critical Videogame Studies” and “Digital Storytelling.”

Impact at the Intersection of Art and Science
After graduating from the University of Chicago Law School and practicing law, Brad Weston obtained an MBA from Wharton and is now a private wealth advisor at Morgan Stanley. Shellwyn Weston began her career in financial management at Goldman Sachs eventually managing a technology-focused hedge fund. After receiving a Ph.D. from NYU Stern, she now works in the fields of neuroeconomics and behavioral finance at the NYU Institute for the Study of Decision Making. 

“Video gaming is a unique and pervasive 21st century cultural form at the intersection of science, technology, media, and the arts,” said Bradford Weston. “We want the game lab to be a collaborative space for students, an interdisciplinary hub, and a place that creates projects with meaningful and lasting community impact.”

Regarding the cultural and scholarly significance of games, Dr. Shellwyn Weston said, “Gaming increasingly provides demonstrable improvements in individuals’ ability to acquire knowledge and make decisions. Moreover, I believe that augmented reality will soon emerge as a strategic imperative for corporations and an effective tool for NGOs. For example, an augmented reality game displaying information like the future value of possible expenditures at retirement age could be developed to help behavioral economists study consumption and savings patterns and increase financial literacy in real-time.”

At the Weston Game Lab, game design projects will create interactive and engaging experiences that address financial literacy, political engagement, and climate change. The open nature of the space will enable designers to rapidly prototype and develop projects with one another while experiencing ongoing communal feedback.

“I hope this space will create a culture where you'll have people studying music or poetry or the arts working with people from biology or economics or sociology,” said Ashlyn Sparrow, who will serve as assistant director of the new Weston Game Lab. “You’re here to collaborate, to talk, tinker, and do research in a completely different mode.”

The Weston Game Lab will also expand upon the community outreach objectives of the Game Changer Game Design Lab, with “game jams” that rapidly prototype games around political and cultural issues, educational opportunities that introduce students, faculty, and community members to the fundamentals of creating games, and inter-generational collaborations that create “gamified” platforms for multidisciplinary research and large-scale social intervention.

“The Westons have been both generous and visionary in their imagination of a transdisciplinary game lab at the university,” Jagoda said. “They understand how the space can create an unprecedented bridge between The College and professional schools as well as new opportunities for interaction between the University and the communities of the South Side of Chicago.”

“Our family is thrilled to be able to give back to the university and create what we and Professor Jagoda believe will be an impactful new resource for students and faculty,” Bradford said. “Ultimately, the hope is that the Weston Game Lab will be a place to imagine futures, be creative, and build something together…and maybe someone creates the next Halo.