Keynote Speakers

Jason Della Rocca, Execution Labs

Jason Della Rocca is a game industry entrepreneur, funding advisor, and cluster expert. He specializes in business/partnership development, pitching/funding, and ecosystem/cluster development. As the co-founder of Executions Labs, he was a hands-on early stage investor to over 20 independent game studios from North America and Europe. Between 2000-09 he served as the executive director of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA), and was honored for his industry building efforts with the inaugural Ambassador Award at the Game Developers Conference. In 2009, Jason was named to Game Developer Magazine’s “Power50,” a list which profiles 50 of the most important contributors to the state of the game industry. As a sought after expert on the game industry, Jason has lectured at conferences and universities worldwide.

Investing in Player Research

Jason started in games 25 years ago and was part of the journey to formalize the language of game design from gut feel to proper frameworks and through to the modern “science of play”. When Jason set up Execution Labs back in 2012, it was a first of its kind game startup incubator, with some wild approaches to helping game developers succeed…. like having an embedded ethnographer studying the whole process and hiring on a dedicated director of user research. This keynote session will explore that drive to invest in player research, setting the stage for a dynamic discussion.

Neha Kumar, Georgia Tech

Neha Kumar is an Assistant Professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Her research lies at the intersection of human-centered computing and global development, with a focus on global health and community informatics. Neha’s work contributes feminist perspectives to the design and integration of emerging technologies across marginalized contexts in the Global South. She earned her Ph.D. in Information Management Systems from UC Berkeley, Master’s degrees in Computer Science and Education from Stanford University, and Bachelor’s in Computer Science and Applied Math from UC Berkeley. Neha also serves as the Chair of the ACM Future of Computing Academy, as well as Vice-President at Large for ACM SIGCHI.

Making Play Work 4D

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, like other mechanisms for conceptualizing societal wellbeing,center problems that are of immediate and pervasive importance: gender equality, world hunger, global health, quality education, and more. These are challenges of global relevance to be examined, engaged, alleviated, and we have little time at hand to do so. What most frameworks for global and social change frequently sideline is the role that leisure, or play, might have in supporting these tremendous pursuits towards making the world a better place for all. 

Implicit in these tensions is the assumption that play is not high enough a priority, not low enough in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and therefore not anywhere in the plans that researchers and practitioners of global, sustainable development tend to foreground. What then is play good for? How might it open us up to imagining new and different futures?

In this talk, I will begin with my initial encounters with play and leisure, the path my early explorations took me on as I grappled with these questions that it raised, introducing the audience to the work of others that offered inspiration along the way. I will draw connections with research efforts in the CHI PLAY community, and conclude by raising questions for the audience to engage with around making play work 4d.

Elizabeth LaPensée, Michigan State University

Elizabeth LaPensée, Ph.D. is an award-winning designer, writer, artist, and researcher who creates and studies Indigenous-led media such as games and comics. She is Anishinaabe with family from Bay Mills, Métis, and Irish. She is an Assistant Professor of Media & Information and Writing, Rhetoric & American Cultures at Michigan State University and a 2018 Guggenheim Fellow. Most recently, she designed When Rivers Were Trails (2019), a 2D adventure game following a displaced Anishinaabe during allotment in the 1890’s, which won the Adaptation Award at IndieCade 2019.

From Rivers to Stars: Indigenous Self-Determination in Games and XR

Along the River of Spacetime opens from within 360° footage of a wigwam. You are welcomed to look to the sky to activate stars to form constellations. In doing so, you are teleported across non-linear seasons as you contribute to the restoration of lands and waters in the present. Meanwhile, in When Rivers Were Trails, you are challenged to make a journey because you’ve been displaced from your territory in the 1890’s, with requests to participate in resistances, confrontations with Indian Agents, and crossing rivers by canoe along the way to finding a new sense of home. Whether interfacing through headsets, keyboards, or touchscreens, the myriad of games and XR discussed in this talk are informed by Indigenous self-determination, meaning they are led by Indigenous voices, which in turn informs the possibilities of interactions.

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