S P A R T I E - C A S T


Welcome to SPARTIE-CAST, a series of conversations related to the SPARTIE Lab's topical areas, such as avatar effects and game studies, with guest experts from academic/research and industry/application perspectives. 

E41 The meta-burst! How experiential learning in VR can lead to an explosion of opportunities.

Robby joins Bill Heinrich as a guest speaker on the podcast Mindset in Motion to discuss “what (the heck) the metaverse is,” and how it may modify the learning experience through a range of new virtual experiences, avatar identities, and accessibility in post-secondary education. 

E40 The Metaverse has Arrived, Hello Classes in VR, Goodbye Zoom Fatigue …April Fools!

This is a recording of a talk Robby gave at Carnegie Mellon University this month. Can you guess one truth against the two lies in this talk title? 

E39 Lessons from Games Studies for the Metaverse (ft. Dr. Dmitri Williams & Dr. Aaron Trammell)

Dr. Trammell, Dr. Williams, and I discuss a range of topics related to this question of connections between video games and the metaverse, from issues of equity and inclusion to the epistemological nature of technology development and adoption. We imagine a future metaverse—facilitated by augmented reality technologies—that layers on top of our meatspace world, enriching but also stratifying social interactions. 

E38 Super Boss of the International Communication Association, Laura Sawyer.

Laura Sawyer, ICA’s Executive Director, describes her path to leading the organization, offers some useful tips for students and junior scholars interested in ICA, provides behind-the-scenes insights into the multifaceted foundations of a successful Conference, explains how the organization is structured, compares ICA to NCA, discusses ICA’s approach to promoting inclusion both at the local and international levels, and hints at the location for the ICA 2026.

E37 The Answer is Gray: Is Gaming Good or Bad for Us? (feat., Dr. Vasileios Stavropoulos)

Dr. Vasileios Stavropoulos describes his fascinating research about using cyber-phenotypes to predict health markers of depression. He eloquently explains how the effects of gaming are not uniform, but depend on individual differences. We discuss the potential for regulations to promote healthy uses of games. We also explore a few virtual worlds together in ENGAGE, a virtual reality meeting platform, while the live studio audience spawned farm animals in the background. 

E36 Space Yogi Extraordinaire, Master of Meta-tation, Carrie Heeter

For over 30 years, Dr. Carrie Heeter has been studying virtual reality and waiting for it to be the next big thing. And now it actually seems to be! However, these days she focuses more on internal than external simulations — meditation. During this episode, she talks about her research on meditation with virtual reality, such as a scenario she built for meditating on a virtual beach. Join us for this edifying episode, or even better, join Carrie in her meditation community here: yogamindtools.com

E35 The History of Distance Learning (feat. Dr. Steve Yelon)

Our guest this episode is Dr. Steve Yelon, who has been teaching people how to teach since the 1960s. He speaks about the history of distance learning (all the way back to the 1920s!), his work with Sesame Street and the Secret Service, some early distance learning technologies that he utilized, the importance of pedagogy regardless of the medium, and 10 principles of teaching that every current instructor should know. 

E34 Kids & VR: Why VR makes Simon Says harder and Education better (feat. Dr. Jakki Bailey)

Dr. Jakki Bailey, assistant professor and director of the Immersive Human Development Lab at the University of Texas at Austin, shares her expertise on childrens' uses of virtual reality technology. She shares some humorous moments from her research, describes some potential concerns about safety for kids in VR and succinctly explains the fundamental psychology behind why kids use and respond to VR differently than adults.

E33 Media selection as Strategy to Optimize Well-being (ft. Dr. Allison Eden)

Dr. Allison Eden, associate professor at Michigan State University, and Robby delve into her recently published research on media habits and well-being during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. They discuss how media use changed between the Spring and Fall of 2020, why some social media platforms were better suited as a hedonic distraction to help people cope with stress and anxiety and how people selected content to regulate their moods and reframe the pandemic.

E32 Meaningful Play, the GEL Lab, Will Winn Games, and Plunder Panic (ft. Prof. Brian Winn)

This episode, Robby speaks with Professor Brian Winn, his colleague in the Department of Media and Information here at Michigan State University, about his unique path into academia and directing the Games for Entertainment and Learning (GEL) Lab. The lab is ranked top ten in Princeton Review. They discuss how the Meaningful Play conference came to be as a marriage of academic games research and industry/creative game design and what to expect for the Meaningful Play 2022 conference! And Brian talks about his new game studio, Will Winn Games, producer of Plunder Panic, a game of up to 12 players which supports mixed local/online and human/AI teams!

E31 History & Future of Remote Work, Business Metaverse & Nano Tech (feat. Dr. Ramesh Lakshmi-Ratan)

Dr. Dad is back again for an encore episode with Robby! They discuss the early days of supporting remote work at Bell Labs, the potential for virtual reality technologies (and the metaverse writ large) to influence the dynamics of remote work in the near-term future, Robby’s recently funded NSF on topics of equity and inclusion within virtual meeting platforms, and the ~30-year future potential of nano-engineered smart materials to dramatically change the way we work remotely (and everything else we do).

E30 Dr. Robby gets Interviewed About the Metaverse by Prof. Roxana Girju

During this interview, Robby’s explains his understanding of what the Metaverse and Web 3.0 are, how they relate to virtual/augmented reality technologies, how the technological infrastructure is and will be governed, what societal benefits and concerns are on the horizon, how Facebook, Epic (Fortnite), and other major companies will operate in this space and how the SPARTIE-Lab’s research relates to this impending brave new world. 

E29 (Social) Architects of the Metaverse (feat. Founders Sonya Seddarasan and Dr. Pierre Gerard)

The Founders of Upworlds and Metaxu, Sonya Seddarasan and Dr. Pierre Gerard, respectively, describe their endeavors to support the community of Metaverse developers and users to host Robby Ratan. Upworlds provides a platform for virtual builders to gain useful skills and monetize their work through a peer-to-peer marketplace, special events, rentals and custom commissions. Metaxu is a design studio that hosts regular events, such as design office hours, to help developers learn about designing virtual architecture. Metaxu also hosts exhibits and live performances where virtual artists display and even sell their virtual work as NFTs. 

E28 Student Spotlight: How to get a PhD in Game Studies (feat. Yiming Skylar Lei)

In this episode, host Robby Ratan speaks with Yiming Skylar Lei, a Ph.D. student in the Information and Media program at Michigan State University, and a very productive member of the SPARTIE Lab. They discuss her childhood curiosity about gaming and how it led to her pursuit of a Ph.D. in game students. She shares some advice for potential students who want to follow her path, her interests in the prosocial benefits of cooperative video games, why she thinks Guild Wars 2 is one of the best collaborative games out there, and the psychology behind her cringey reaction to Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

E27 Dr. Kelly Tran: Game Designer, Researcher, Streamer, Player

In this episode, host Robby Ratan speaks with Dr. Kelly Tran, a professional game designer and researcher working on a game to improve players’ social and emotional learning. She discusses her transition from academia to industry, the importance of aligning game mechanics with the impactful (or “serious”) intent of the game, the value of games as tools for stealth assessment, her eudaimonic experiences playing Chicory and Mass Effect and the fun she’s having Twitch streaming Final Fantasy XIV. And, of course, Robby nudged her to comment on avatars and self-presentation a bit too.

E26 Sarah Hays on Geek Therapeutics, Clinical Therapy With Video Games and Avatars for Well-being

This week host Robby Ratan had a truly enlightening conversation with Dr. Sarah Hays, a practicing clinician who uses video games and avatars in the therapy she provides to her clients. She also works at Take This and Queer Women of Esports. The two discuss the Geek Therapeutics movement (super cool idea Robby had never heard of), the exciting potential to provide therapy using and/or inside of video games and virtual reality, and the important role that avatars (and the Proteus effect) play in such therapy. Robby is truly inspired to help his research field build stronger bridges with practicing clinicians after this conversation! And remember, if anyone is skeptical about using a game for therapy, tell them it’s just a playable book! 

E25 Dr. Jorge Peña on VR Milgram shock experiment, Westworld, Black Mirror and the Metaverse

In this episode, host Robby Ratan speaks with Dr. Jorge Peña, associate professor at the University of California, Davis. They cover themes in "Westworld," "Black Mirror" and countless video games. And relate the themes to his research on a virtual recreation of the Milgram shock experiments, a study on how avatar identification affects acceptance of out-group members, and the theoretical underpinnings of the Proteus effect. The duo also brainstorm study ideas that build on these concepts and connect to notions of the Metaverse and cross-platform avatars. Peña's fascinating research is pushing the boundaries of the field and is highly relevant to the future of work, play and everything between.

E24 Wired Games Journalist on Identity Exploration, Empowerment and Metaverse Skepticism

In this episode host Robby Ratan speaks with Cecilia D'Anastasio, the games journalist at WIRED. They talk about her writing on identity exploration through avatars, the potential for video games to foster empowerment of marginalized communities and skepticism about the vision of the Metaverse being touted by CEOs. To wrap up, they geek out about their professions and in particular and the complementarity of academic research and journalism in their contributions to the public record.

E23 Learning in VR, Ready Player One and the Origins of “Avatar” (feat. Dr. Edward Downs)

In this episode, Dr. Edward Downs describes his research applying the MAIN (Modality, Agency, Interactivity, & Navigation) Model to learning in virtual reality, connects these concepts to themes from "Ready Player One," discusses some concerns about using “moral panic” too loosely, asks host Robby Ratan a question about the origins of digital avatars (and then shares an interesting anecdote that predates Robby’s example) and then grapples with the idea of merging NFTS, avatars and the Metaverse. This episode contains spoilers of the books "Ready Player One" and "Ready Player Two."

E22 On the Metaverse, Virtual Pets and Memories of Alhambra (feat. Dr. Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn)

In this episode, host Robby Ratan and Dr. Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn discuss the concept of the Metaverse, the Korean Netflix original “Memories of Alhambra,” and how both relate to her 10+ years of research on virtual/mixed reality (VR/XR.) Ahn describes her amazing research lab where she can run experiments with 10 simultaneous participants in VR, her NIH-funded research on virtual pets for well-being, why she thinks VR gaming has not taken off but VR for business and other contexts will and how social relationships between people and artificial agents are totally fine ...no need for moral panic!

E21 The Avatar Psychology of Pacific Rim (feat. Dr. Andrea Stevenson Won)

In this episode, Dr. Andrea Stephenson Won and host, Robby Ratan, analyze the film Pacific Rim (SPOILERS!) as it relates to her research in the Virtual Embodiment Lab at Cornell. We discuss the idea of many-to-one avatars (e.g., two-pilot Jaegers,) the psychological effect of proximity perceptions (e.g., does it matter if the pilot is in a mech or not) and the very definition of avatars in consideration of these concepts. She also shares some interesting findings from her research and recommendations for science fiction that help broaden our understanding of these exciting future media technologies. 

E20 Translating Game Studies, VR and the Metaverse for Journalists and the Public

In this episode, Dr. Maxwell Foxman discusses the connections between his interest in history, journalism and game studies. We dive into his early research, Foursquare (OMG he still uses it!) and his approach to helping journalists understand how to present stories on media (e.g., virtual world use during the pandemic). He explains why virtual reality didn’t take off during the pandemic (e.g., cost, supply chain) and why there is a rift between public perception and scholarly understanding of technologies like virtual reality and avatars.