A Game Designer At The White House?

Filed in: Games, Policy

Filed by Sarah Jackson


2.6.12 | Games scholar Constance Steinkuehler has joined the White House as a senior policy analyst in the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Steinkuehler is charged with helping the administration design games to “improve health, education, civic engagement and the environment, among other areas,” according to USA Today.

Steinkuehler is on leave from her job as an assistant professor in educational communications and technology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she’s known for her work studying how games—especially massive multiplayer online games—can promote interest-driven learning. Steinkuehler’s work has shown that players in games like World of Warcraft use advanced mathematical reasoning to succeed, and that kids actually do quite a bit of reading (think technical instructions and resources) in conjunction with their online game play.


Read more about social impact gaming in our Q&A with Games for Change co-presidents Asi Burak and Michelle Byrd.

Now, Steinkuehler will help the White House design “big, save-the-world games” to be used across the government.  Steinkuehler tells USA Today that the job represents “an incredible opportunity to make good on the claim that games have real promise.”

“I want them to be top-notch, super-high-quality games. I want great educational content and beautiful design,” she added. Here’s more from USA Today’s Greg Toppo:

She’s also researching how well existing games work and simply figuring out which agencies already use games. Shortly after arriving in Washington, she began querying colleagues about who was using games, even experimentally. Steinkuehler expected to hear from perhaps 20 people across the federal government. Her list ran to 130 names. She convened a summit and within 48 hours had offers from “a really mobilized group” to coordinate the government’s gaming portfolio.

The article touches on advanced science games that are using the wisdom of game players all over the country to help scientists work towards developing cures for Alzheimer’s disease, AIDS and cancer.

For more on that topic, see my earlier post on games being developed to help educate medical professionals and improve patient care. Developers in at the Morgridge Institute in Wisconsin hope to create a space for a professional–amateur community to work together around cancer treatment. The White House announcement also brings to mind game designer Jane McGonigal, whose recent book, “Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World,” argues that video games can help improve our lives and solve real world problems. Now that there’s top-level government support, it’s exciting to consider how games might become the go-to place for innovation.

We have no doubt Steinkuehler will come up with more than a few game changers. We’ll keep you updated.

For more of Steinkuehler’s views on interest-driven learning, watch her video interview below:


Picture of Dr. Thomas Brush
Dr. Thomas Brush (Indiana University)


I’m sorry, but this just emphasizes my view that our education policy is being directed by “fads” as opposed to good research. We have virtually no research that demonstrates games as the “go to place for innovation” - particularly when it comes to meaningful learning. “save the world” GAMES? Maybe we should focus on a more authentic context…


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