Broadly speaking, my work focuses on:
- studying the psychological/social impact of fictional narratives, games, and computer-mediated interactions
- uncovering and empirically verifying user-specific, design-specific, and situational variables that increase that impact
- extrapolating techniques and best practices for the creation of stories, games, and new technologies as “interventions” for social change
In the realm of fiction, my work has primarily investigated the psychological process of simulating the subjective reality of a character – and adopting that character’s persona, goals, emotions, beliefs, and actions. This is a phenomenon that I have come to refer to as experience-taking. My cross-disciplinary work (utilizing approaches from social psychology, communication, and media studies) has uncovered several key antecedents of experience-taking (such as the level of psychological distance between individuals and characters) and revealed the impact of experience-taking on real-life behaviors (such as volunteering and voting). My work has also shown how deep connections with characters in fictional worlds can be an effective means of increasing empathy and reducing prejudice.
In collaboration with my colleagues at Dartmouth College's Tiltfactor Lab, I am also deeply involved in the development and research of games for social impact. This work has guided the formulation of a model of "embedded design": strategies of interweaving or obscuring the persuasive content or intentions of a game to increase its impact without sacrificing player immersion or enjoyment. Ongoing work is testing the application of these strategies to games aiming to reduce social biases, model effective bystander intervention techniques, and encourage pro-environmental habits and behaviors.