Game on: New lab is place to play, research video games

By University Communications
March 7, 2014
Cory Mitchell, a librarian, and Andrew Williams, an assistant professor in the School of Art and Design (from left)

Photo: Cory Mitchell and Andrew Williams (from left)

With classic consoles such as the 1977 Atari 2600 and 1988 Sega Genesis and 250 games, it might be difficult to envision the new Gaming and Digital Innovation Lab as more than a place to hang out.

The first-floor room in the Robert S. Swanson Library and Learning Center at University of Wisconsin-Stout is expected to be a popular place for students to relax. Whenever the library is open, the lab will be open for video game play on one of four retro-style TV sets.

Playing video games, however, will be just Level One. The lab also has an Expert Level because it’s been designed as an applied learning and creative space where students and professors can do research on and teach about all things video-game related.

“This is a space designed to do more than play,” said Andrew Williams, assistant professor in the School of Art and Design, one of three people who created the lab. “We want to encourage students to better understand the medium and its potential for new, innovative applications.”

A grand opening is scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 12. The lab is in room 106 of the library.

Along with TVs, games and game consoles, some dating to the dawn of the video game industry 40 years ago, the lab has four high-end computers with 27-inch LED monitors. The computers have special productivity software that gives students the capability of creating more complex projects than they could on their university-issued laptop computers.

“It’s a high-end immersive digital media space. It’s all interactive,” Williams said. “The possibilities are almost unlimited.”

Students in many UW-Stout majors and courses may find the lab helpful as an academic resource:

  • UW-Stout has a game design and development undergraduate program. Students take a course on the history of digital games.
  • The psychology department offers a Psychology of Video Games course.
  • The English department offers a course called Fiction into Film.
  • The design of early video games would be of interest to students majoring in industrial design.
  • Students in graphic design and interactive media could study game interface design.

“Most of our students were born in 1993 or 1994. They’ve been living in the gaming world. In the lab you can look at it, take it apart and study it in its original context,” Williams said.

Idea grew from course collection

The idea for the lab grew out of a small grant Williams received from the university to collect early video games for the History of Interactive Media class. When Williams’ game collection kept growing, he talked with Cory Mitchell, a collection development librarian, and Matthew Decker-Maurer, a library systems technician.

“We felt there was greater potential for the collection’s use in a specialized lab,” Williams said.

The lab was created in a former library storage room and is furnished with university surplus.

Similar gaming labs exist at other universities in the U.S., including Stanford and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but UW-Stout’s lab has more creative and interactive features, Williams said.

Mitchell is excited about the lab because it meshes with the redefined role of libraries.

“Libraries are moving from warehouses of information to places where people teach, learn and create. The Gaming and Digital Innovation Lab is at its heart a maker space — a place where people come together to learn and create with technology,” Mitchell said. “At their core, libraries are places of community engagement where people are empowered to learn and create.”

Decker-Maurer used to manage a gaming shop so he’s familiar with how playing video games can create a sense of community. Plus, video games can be a learning tool. “They make you use your brain in a whole new way,” he said.

If some students only use the lab to play video games, that’s OK, Williams says.

“We’re fostering a good sense of community. Maybe they’ll be more interested in university life in general. There’s a lot of potential. We’re very excited about it,” he said.

Donations of video games and game consoles are being accepted at the Gaming and Digital Innovation Lab. For more information, email