I have a boilerplate bio!

mark on trike

New new bio (Oct 2018):

Mark Chen (PhD Education, University of Washington; BA Fine Art, Reed College) is an independent games scholar and part-time professor of interaction design, qualitative research, and games studies at the University of Washington Bothell. They oversee http://esotericgaming.com, an alternative publication outlet that celebrates gaming diversity through detailed accounts of arcane and marginal gaming practices. Mark also wrote Leet Noobs: The Life and Death of an Expert Player Group in World of Warcraft, an ethnographic account of how a new team learned to excel through the use of game mods and then died in a fiery meltdown catalyzed by the same mods. In a previous life, Mark was a webmaster and game designer for the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. Mark wants a die-cast 1st generation Soundwave for Christmas. You can read more about Mark on their blog at http://markdangerchen.net and reach them @mcdanger

New bio (July 3, 2014):

Mark Chen is Director of Pepperdine University’s Gameful Design Lab where he is promoting social agency through the development of expertise in gaming practice and game design. He is also helping faculty incorporate playfulness and game mechanics into course work, designing experimental and artistic games that explore moral dilemmas and human nature, and researching esoteric gaming practices. Mark is the author of Leet Noobs: The Life and Death of an Expert Player Group in World of Warcraft, which details how a new team learned to excel in WoW and how the team died in a fiery meltdown as expert practice moved towards tech-supported efficiency and away from other forms of play. He earned a PhD in Learning Sciences/Educational Technology from the University of Washington and a BA in Studio Art from Reed College. You can read more about Mark on his blog at http://markdangerchen.net

Old bio:

Mark Chen is an independent researcher of gaming culture and spare-time game designer. He also holds appointments at Pepperdine University, UW Bothell, and University of Ontario Institute of Technology, teaching a variety of online and offline courses on game studies and games for learning. Recently, Mark was a post-doctoral scholar at UW Seattle in the College of Education, working with Computer Science & Engineering’s Center for Game Science on evaluating science and math games such as Foldit and Refraction. He was also helping the Educurious project by integrating games and gameplay into the redesign of high school biology, English, and algebra. He has a new(ish) book out based on his dissertation work on learning in online games titled Leet Noobs: The Life and Death of an Expert Player Group in World of Warcraft. Currently, Mark is looking into experimental and artistic games to promote exploration of moral dilemmas and human nature, researching the communication practices of BoardGameGeek.com users, and writing reviews of free game-making tools. Prior to doctoral work, Mark was the webmaster and a web game developer for the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. He holds a PhD in Learning Sciences/Educational Technology from the University of Washington and a B.A. in Studio Art from Reed College and grew up in the Bay Area as a child of the 80s. You can read more about Mark on his blog athttp://markdangerchen.net

That’s kind of impersonal, so read further for personal commentary that I’ve written on this About page over the years:

[Edit (March 27, 2013):

Three years on the job market for a faculty position, so far. I’m either not teacher ed or science ed enough (for education schools) or not computer science enough (for game design programs). I’m now reorienting my life and offering consulting services.

This website will reflect the change. Hell, I probably shouldn’t be so frank in my About page and put something like “Mark Chen is blah blah blah” on here…]

[Edit (February 20, 2011):

Well, I’ve graduated and am now a postdoc at UW! Do I still love and hate academia? Yes.

But it also seems I’m pretty good at it. Pretty good list of publications for someone who’s essentially been working alone, I think. Pretty sweet job even though it isn’t a professorship.

Also, various people have emailed me over the years saying they’ve read some of my papers. Others have left comments here or emailed telling me how much they appreciate the candid nature of my ambivalence towards academia. I value these much more than lines on my CV, so: you’re welcome and thank you.]

[Edit (November 1, 2007):

This is the personal statement I used for the Spencer dissertation fellowship application.

The use of games for learning resonates with me personally.  I have a lengthy history with games of all types including both table-top and digital games.  My life as a gamer affects the lens through which I see games and through which I interpret learning theories applied to games.  I also feel a strong sense of duty and desire to help society, to educate others about social problems and enact social change.  These two once disparate interests have become one.

After working for several years for the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, designing educational mini-games, I realized that my history as a gamer allowed me to make instructional activities more engaging and effective because I was able to apply many design principles from games to my projects.  Yet, once I arrived at the University of Washington to study instructional design, I became more knowledgeable about social issues and concepts about social structures.  In an Educators for Social Justice (a student organization in the College of Education) meeting, I realized that online gaming life is a mirror world to offline life and that the same kinds of social issues could be found in this supposed equalizing, democratic space.  My ensuing depression and anger—emotions borne of my background as a gamer who cares—is what qualifies me for the work I want to pursue.  This is my world.  I want to fight for it.

I plan to continue to play to my strengths and focus on new media and learning.  I will attempt to write for a general audience as well as for the academy.  I want to be sure to reach the gamers I write for and be grounded in authentic public experience.  I also want to help the growing games research movement stay critical and relevant as the online world rapidly changes.

My journey from gamer to gamer-researcher has been a process of transformation, and I am now set to participate, continually learn, and lead.  I think a life as an academic will allow me to serve as best I can.]

[Edit (October 22, 2007):

I’m further along in my PhD program now. A lot has happened in the last year or two in terms of interests and finding myself. I’ve become more socially aware and am part of Educators for Social Justice, a grad student group in the College of Ed here at UW. There’s too much shit going on in the world to sit idly by and not do anything about. That goes for in-game worlds, too.

I’ve also found a renewed sense of purpose, making the PhD program more transparent for other new scholars. I’ve made the revision process for one of my major papers completely transparent so others can get a sense of what revising for submission looks like, at least for me. Also, I am working on making all of the ethnographic data I collected publicly available. That is a huge, daunting task, but it seems to me, at least in education, people are too protective of their data. Aren’t we supposed to be opening it up in the name of service?? As I start work on my dissertation, I plan on uploading drafts and initial analysis, too. If you think I’m doing shit work, let me know. Fuck Screw my fear.]

There is a disconnect between my life… my REAL life… and my academic life. You see, I am a gamer. I’ve been playing games with gusto, a feverish passion, sometimes guilt, and almost always with a critical eye for a long, long time.

I am part of Generation X. I am a slacker. I grew up among Yuppies. I was a child of the 80s. I was raised in Palo Alto. I don’t know what I’m doing with my life. I FEEL very strongly that I have a duty to help society and the Earth, yet I have no ambition. I’ve never worked for the commercial industry. I am tolerant, optimistic, idealistic. Cynical, pessimistic, misanthropic. I love everyone and hate everyone.

I love games. I love thinking about them and talking about them. I hate reading about them and writing about them. I hate academia’s constant pressure to publish. I love academia’s constant pressure to do research. I like analyzing. I hate the speed at which I am expected to analyze. This year I’ve discovered I love teaching. I hate this unsettling feeling in my stomach. I feel envy seeing others publish and I feel I have a lot to contribute, to add to the conversation, but no drive (and no money). What is going on? Why do I feel like if I don’t publish, I will lose my chance? This question is especially important since I keep telling myself that I won’t even be going into academia after I graduate. Why do I feel the need to be competitive then?

This blog will hopefully help me get things straight and discover who I am, why I am where I am, why I sometimes feel crazy, and why sometimes I feel I am the only sane one in an insane world. At the same time, I hope to chronicle my life, the games I play, and interesting tidbits from colleagues, news sources, or other blogs about games and games research.

11 thoughts on “About”

  1. I can’t believe there aren’t any comments yet. This is EXACTLY what’s been bothering me since I started college and thought about furthering my education through the academic system.

    OK, so academia’s great because it creates a circle for intellect to output into. But why isn’t academia output-ing into a place where it matters, like into UN-educated circles. Why is Intelligent Design a problem for Evolution? Because it’s not taught through papers, but through a 150 year old theory. I’m apathetic about joining PHD research teams in Bio because I know it will only be important to people that are fighting against me for grants…

    my intellectual output is suddenly about money for research. Why? When did man stop wanting to learn for the sake of learning?

    This system is ridiculous…

  2. Thanks for commenting!

    I’m not sure I follow the ID thing… it is a problem for evolution because ID is taught through a 150 year old theory? Or that evolution is taught through a 150 year old theory which has let it be challenged by ID? I assume the latter since that sounds about right in terms of Darwin…

    Anyway, yeah… one of the hugest problems with academia, as far as I can tell, is the tenure system where profs gain prestige through publishing in elite journals inaccessible to the general public. This is why I want to write parallel papers on my research… one for the journals and one for this blog. Also, I think it is a shame that not enough profs (well… at an R1 institution, anyway) care more than superficially about their students.

  3. The ID thing is basically about the need for parallel paper release. I like to think that if the public had more access to the papers written documenting trait mutation and selection, they wouldn’t fall prey to the “but you’re saying we’re all really chimps” idea. In the current educational system, people are being taught the theory straight from the 150 year old theory (not that it’s wrong, just “primitive”), without many of the refinements that hone the argument, mostly found in papers stored inside the dusty libraries of the academic system.

    Without widespread public access to academic journals the non-academic world is forced into a knowledge gap years behind the actual research.

    I wholeheartedly applaud your intentions, I just wish I had the heart to beat the system from within like you. I intend instead to perhaps do research in the private sector, or with an international program. Good luck in academia.

  4. Hi, Mark!
    I was doing a web search on writing literature reviews, somehow ended up at the GaSWorks site, and navigated to your blog. I’m glad that I took a momentary detour from lit reviews. I feel ya, man…about academia..particularly on two points: 1) “I don’t know what I’m doing with my life. I FEEL very strongly that I have a duty to help society and the Earth, yet I have no ambition” and 2) “I hate academia’s constant pressure to publish. I love academia’s constant pressure to do research.”

    So…is the blog working for you? Perhaps I should fire up one to help me through my series of existential questions. 🙂

    Oh, and I love reading your blog!

    Joan (aka Null Generation slacker)

  5. I don’t write to the blog as much as I probably should. But what the hell does that mean? Should for what? I mean, partly it’s a feeling that I should be updating it at least once a day so that I get more hits… but why do I want hits? I dunno.

    Paradoxically, there are too many academics that one has to be competitive to get their voice out, and yet there are too few academics who just want to sit down and talk about shit. But the weird thing is that when you sit down and talk about stuff with almost any academic, the conversation is lively and full of ideas. But we’ve constrained ourselves in the career track sense to be counter to those types of conversations… wtf?

    Anyway, to answer your question… yes! Start a blog or a personal journal or something. The blog is a way for me to force myself to chronicle my life. Like I said, I don’t use it as much as I probably should, but ideally it would be a place to reflect on the events that are happening. Look at them with a different lens and realize how crazy they are…

  6. I came across your About page after entering “hate academia” in Google. I’m pretty much at the same point; I’m a gamer as well, and, aside from that, I just miss the things about my life that I was able to enjoy before I started working on my PhD. During the last year, I’ve just started drifting away from my studies for whatever reason. I’m sick of it. Gaming for me was not so much something that I necessarily preferred over academics, but an escape into which I lost myself.

    I am, by the way, a member of what I was considered one of the top few guilds in the world during the race for Kel’Thuzad. Somehow I managed to balance that with my studies at the University of Chicago, but now I’m seriously starting to question my reasons for being here. I may give up my WoW account, though. I’m also engaged, and this and many other things have made me even more sick of academia.

    Anyway, it was good to see that I’m not the only person feeling these sort of things. Reading your About page, I almost felt as though I was reading my own.

  7. I’m a gamer (in the pencil and paper sense) and I like what you said about academia. I’ve had awards and more money for research than I could ask for but at the end of the day I just hate it.

    I hate the constant pressure to publish and the hypocrisy we use to bridge the gap between the actual work of learning, thinking, talking, writing, and teaching and the largely arteficial business of publishing on the right stuff in the right places.

    Bleh. I’m glad to be done with it.

  8. Hey Mark,
    Reading over some State of Play 09 emails and stumbled onto your blog and this page. I feel ya as well about academia. The publishing stuff…hrm. The PhD is daunting, but worth sticking out regardless of where you want to go. I had 2 failed PhD attempts (adding about 2yrs to my program) but finally completed the degree on the third try this spring. I’m in a strange space because I absolutely love teaching at the collegiate level, but certainly do not want to go into the tenure grind at an R1 institution!

  9. Hey Mark Chan,
    What a great intro to your blog. It is so honest and helps me associate with you. Anyway, my boss here at OMSI mentioned you and said we should get in touch. I am in the process of applying to grad schools and hope to do something socially relevant with gaming. I wanted to talk to you about my ideas if you have the time. Basically, my big idea, and what will probably end up being my thesis is to use the internal economies of mmog’s as a test place for alternative economic systems. Let me know if you have time to chat and maybe point me towards some good content.


    Darren McCormick

  10. Hey Darren,

    I’d be more than happy to talk about your plans. Actually, do you know Brian Halbert? He, Scott Ewing (at OMSI), and I were all in the same guild together in WoW. Brian is an econ PhD student here at UW, and one of his main interests is the same as yours: use MMOs and other virtual worlds to model economics.

    The biggest academic name who’s doing this type of work is Edward Castronova at Indiana. He’s sort of taken on the mantle of running the Terra Nova blog.

    I’ll email you now in case you never read these comments. 🙂


  11. Hi Mark, I red your article ‘Communication, Cooperation and Camaraderie in WoW’ and you really gave me a beautiful insights in the game (as being an outsider). I’m currently finalizing my bachelors degree of Industrial Design Engineering at the TU Delft and therefor I’m working on an interesting project in which I would like to design a product to enrich the social gaming experience for RPG. I’m taking WoW as a starting point for that. I would like to get in touch with you, so I can ask you a couple of questions. Hope to hear from you, thanks.


    Jeroen ter Haar Romenij (Dutch student – 21 yrs old)

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sporadic ramblings of a gamer in academia