Finding Stories of Minority Groups in Video Games

Rebecca Richards, associate professor in the Department of English, wants women, queer folk and people of color to know that there is a space for them in the video game community.

While Richards acknowledges the misogyny, homophobia, transphobia and racism that exists in game culture, she is interested in studying the rhetoric of video games that are telling a different story. When Richards examines video games as a part of her research, she looks at the ways in which players receive and interact with the text, storylines, visuals and modes of play to create meaning.

Currently working on her new book entitled Not Playing Around: Feminist and Queer Rhetorics in Video Games, Richards studies how video games create rhetorical actions that may lead to empathy, learning, and socialization outside of the virtual space. More so, she sees a strong potential for video games to include writing and stories that involve the experiences of minority groups.

For example, in one of her recent articles that her new book will expand upon, Richards details the act of “stealth” in video games as a means to simulate how women must sneak past or around national gender norms and rules, as true in the physical world. When a character in a video game is stealthing, they are hiding from and eluding authorities and systems that are in opposition to the character.

Richards explains that in République, a video game that takes place in a dystopian setting, the female protagonist, Hope, is trying to navigate out of a detention center, and the game player takes on the role of a hacker of the facility’s technology in order to support her escape.

“Stealthing in gameplay requires patience and interpreting different signs, and it’s feminized. It’s not aggro (engaging in violence). Stealthing means knowing that people don’t want you to exist and figuring out a way to exist in spite of that,” says Richards.

Considering the format of the game and role of the player in supporting the protagonist with unique approaches opposite to the overtly violent behaviors in a multitude of games, Richards argues that the player can develop empathy for women, immigrants and detainees in the context of the real world.

In addition to stealthing, Richards is also exploring “indie games,” independent games that are more often known for their ability to employ creative freedoms, and the reasons why queer and feminist rhetoric have found a home in the space. Overall, she is examining the power of whose stories are being told, how they are being told and the ways in which these stories are perceived by the audience.

As Richards continues to conduct research for her book, she is also looking forward to finally arriving on campus to begin teaching in-person classes at UMass Lowell. Richards started in her new position during the global pandemic in June 2020 after almost ten years as a professor at St. Olaf College in Minnesota. She is especially excited to teach her “Writing About Video Games” course in Spring 2022 where her students will have the opportunity to play and analyze video games.

“People often recoil when I ask them if they play video games, especially those in minority groups. I want to encourage all people to have fun and build community with video games as a part of their regular media diet. I would like to demystify how women, queer folk and people of color are playing games and where they are finding inspiration and joy, and helping others find that joy too,” says Richards.

Center for Program Evaluation Celebrates Five Years of Improving Institutions

Co-directors of the Center for Program Evaluation, Jason Rydberg (left) and Jill Hendrickson Lohmeier (right)

“Educational research and evaluation is applicable to all fields,” says Jill Hendrickson Lohmeier, associate professor of education and co-director of the Center for Program Evaluation (CPE) at UMass Lowell. Reflecting on the last half-decade of progress at CPE’s recent 5-year anniversary celebration, Lohmeier recounted the extensive interdisciplinary work the center has completed with at least 50 faculty members representing all six colleges on campus.

Since becoming an official research seed center in 2013, the Center for Program Evaluation has supported not only the university but also the regional community in improving programs and services. From its project work on 24 grants and contracts representing more than $900,000 in funding to completing 57 evaluation reports, the CPE has evaluated programs for an array of institutions including higher education, K-12 education, and government agencies.

Program evaluation is critical to education and any organization seeking to strengthen the quality of its programs. Evaluation offers a close examination, in a systematic and structured approach, of program effectiveness in practice. With an inquiry-based, data-driven method, structural, programmatic and policy changes are made to improve outcomes, a reality which the CPE has proudly seen and influenced among many of its partners.

Center for Program Evaluation staff, students, and supporters from left to right: Siffat Sharmin, Graduate Research Assistant; Bangsil Oh, Post-Doc Researcher; Shanna Rose Thompson, Center for Program Evaluation Manager; Sarah Elizabeth McDermott, Undergraduate Research Assistant; and Stacy Penna, NVivo Community Director, QSR International (Americas) Inc.

As program evaluation becomes more widely adopted and with increases in demand, the Center for Program Evaluation affords its students hands-on, experiential training with the opportunity to work on real projects. Over the years, the CPE has employed a total of 27 graduate, undergraduate and even high school students. Truly interdisciplinary in nature, these students come from a variety of majors including education, global studies, criminal justice, psychology, history, chemistry and engineering. With real-world experience in hand, 10 of these students have earned a PhD or EdD, many have contributed to the more than 50 conference presentations by CPE, and five students have won an award at the annual Student Research and Community Engagement Symposium.

In addition to training students, the Center for Program Evaluation offers monthly brown bags and interdisciplinary workshops to the public.

“There is a holistic approach to program evaluation at this center. Not only do they practice program evaluation, but they also train student and faculty researchers and they focus heavily on evaluation research. The uniqueness of this center is that all three of those work in coordination, which puts them in a position to take a national leadership role,” says Anne Maglia, associate vice chancellor for research at UMass Lowell.

While encouraged by the center’s accomplishments throughout the years, Jason Rydberg, the newly appointed co-director of the Center for Program Evaluation and assistant professor in the School of Criminology and Justice Studies, is enthusiastic about the next five years. With eyes set on becoming a full research center, creating an advisory board, enhancing future workshops, and continuing to contribute impactful research and theory to the field, the Center for Program Evaluation is rapidly growing and improving alongside the partners it supports.

Welcome to the UMass Lowell Research Blog

UMass Lowell researchers in a laboratory in 1894 vs. 2019

UMass Lowell is a nationally ranked public research university at the forefront of cutting-edge, applied research. With a multidisciplinary, visionary approach, our faculty and students translate discoveries into practical solutions that solve the world’s greatest challenges.

Join us as we share an insider look at the groundbreaking research conducted at the university. As we ring in the new year with a new blog, we wanted to take a moment to celebrate the highlights from 2019, a year that marked the 125th anniversary of our storied history.

Looking back at a full year of accomplishments, we are energized and eager for a bright 2020.

Review the research highlights from 2019