Digital Arts and New Media: MFA: Collaboration, Innovation, Social Impact

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Elizabeth Swensen

Assistant Professor
Art and Design: Games and Playable Media
Digital Art and New Media

Selected Projects:

  • Mission: Admission (Department of Education, Gilbert Foundation, TG) 2011-2017

Mission: Admission is a mobile and web game designed to increase college going self-efficacy and college knowledge among high school students in historically underserved districts. Mission: Admission is a strategic, resource-management game with roleplaying elements played over a real-time week. Players build up a character’s skills and level-up curricular and extracurricular activities while aiming to meet in-game college application and scholarship deadlines over seven days. This game was released on Facebook in 2012 for a pilot study, then funded for a longitudinal study in 50 California schools through the Department of Education’s First in the World program that completed in 2017.

  • Life Underground (National Astrobiology Institute) 2014-2017 

Life Underground is a digital research game made as an outreach project and funded by the National Astrobiology Institute. It is designed to teach middle school students about STEM careers in field science and as well as reinforce their learning of the scientific method. Players take on a role as a young science student exploring an underground environment in search of extreme forms of microbial life. As an investigator, the players experience the tools of the research team, conduct experiments on collected samples, and are mentored by senior scientist characters in a number of related fields.

  • The Witch 2010-present

The Witch is a digital game about the role language plays in shaping identity. In the game, the player chooses words to label their character in order to move through the social space of the narrative, but they can only choose from the words other characters say. Depending on the words the player chooses, their character is treated differently by the narrator and other characters within the story. While the main character of The Witch is grounded in fairytale tropes, the project explores themes of identity as a potential source of danger, security, play, and survival.

  • Chrono Cards (Microsoft Research, National Endowment for the Humanities) 2013-2017

Chrono Cards is a set of digital and physical card games that guides middle school students in their demonstration of historical knowledge and practice of historical thinking skills. The historical content of the games covers the causes and early events of the first World War (Edition 1) and the American Revolution (edition 2). The games utilize active (and interactive) student interpretation to motivate content analysis through play, providingan opportunity for students to examine the historical context of specific important events from multiple perspectives and to make connections between motivations, actions, causes, and effects. 

Research Interests: 

Metacognitive development outcomes and strategy-based learning in games.
Game design exploring the role language plays in enforcing identity.

Education and Training: 
M.F.A., University of Southern California, May 2011. Interactive Media.
B.A., Willamette University, May 2008. Classics.
Selected Presentations: 
  • "Game Design Workshop." Workshop Facilitator. Game Developer's Conference, San Francisco, CA, 2017.
  • “Mission: Admission and Chrono Cards: Participatory Research at the Game Innovation Lab.” Speaker. Playful Learning, Los Angeles, CA, 2015.
  • “Board Game Design and Prototyping.” Speaker. IndieCade Festival, Culver City, CA 2015.
  • “Expanding Access to College through Play: A Tale of Four Games.” Panelist. Digital Media and Learning Conference, Los Angeles, CA, 2015.
  • “Educational Games for College Readiness, Access & Success.” Panelist. The CATS Conference, Redondo Beach, CA, 2014.
  • “Critical Conversations.” Speaker. Serious Play Conference, Los Angeles, CA, 2014.
  • “FutureBound.” Speaker. Games for Change, New York, NY, 2013.
  • “Advanced Participatory Design: Conducting an Audience Design Camp.” Speaker. Digital Games Research Association Conference (DIGRA), Atlanta, GA, 2013.
  • “Collegeology Games.” Speaker. Games for Change, New York, NY, 2012.
  • “Choosing Worthy Systems: Strategically Adapting Learning Content for Play.” Workshop Facilitator. Games, Learning and Society Education Summit, Madison, WI, 2012.
  • “Gaming in Education,” Speaker/Panalist. The Southern California Technology in Education Conference, Carson, CA, 2012.
  • “Divide and Conquer: Examining and Confronting the Digital Divide.” Speaker and Panelist. Digital Media and Learning Conference, San Francisco, CA, 2012.
  • “College Knowledge as a Collective Endeavor.” Workshop Facilitator. Games, Assessment and Learning Workshop, Los Angeles, CA, 2011.
Office: 831-459-3417
Office Location: 
DARC 337