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Steph's new gaming network takes games culture to the next level

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Published on 20 July 2021

Steph Farnsworth
Steph Farnsworth

Video games can provide the perfect escape from reality – and we’ve all needed a bit of that over the last year.

But for one Sunderland gamer, it’s digital play’s power to educate that has inspired her to launch an innovate new gaming network, connecting researchers from around the globe.

Steph Farnsworth is the brains behind Multiplay, a platform for education researchers, sociologists and media and gaming scholars to collaborate and share their ideas and expertise – with the ultimate aim of establishing gaming as an area of study in the North East and beyond.

Steph, 30, who is studying a gaming PhD at the University of Sunderland, explained: “Games studies is a brilliant area of research and there are some researchers doing incredible work, but in England, there aren't many ways to connect researchers, to network and to promote conferences that are related to games.

“A lot of the academic networks focus more broadly on media, but we think games warrant specific focus. So, our aim is to promote the people doing these much-needed areas of research and grow to be a home for games studies. We want to make it so games can't really be ignored by any field of academia, or by universities, and we've been lucky enough to have great support behind us from the University of Sunderland.”

For Steph, video games are not only a big part of her studies, but they have also helped her cope with life’s troubles.

Casting her mind back to her earliest gaming memories, she told us: “I can't really remember a time when I didn't love games. I was obsessed with my Gameboy and my Nintendo 64 when I was a child.

“My mother is a big gamer and always played with me during weekends and school holidays. This really helped my love of gaming grow. It was a good way for us to bond. I wasn't really comfortable with talking about my life or things going on with school and bullying, but I felt safe when we played games together, and it helped build up my confidence.

“Gaming is commonly thought of as an escape - and it is, to an extent - but games often have extremely dark and gritty plots. They can be a way to experience intense and even negative scenarios and process them, but from the safety of your own home. They are a great tool for learning and processing.”

Criminology and Sociology lecturer at the University of Sunderland, Dr Thomas Rodgers, is working alongside Steph on Multiplay.

He said: “We have many staff and students alike here at Sunderland who are doing research in the broader areas of digital media, gaming, and user-created content – Steph’s research is of course the showcase example of this.

“So, on a local level, this research network couldn’t be coming at a better time as we have so many possibilities for multidisciplinary approaches to the study of media, technology and society from a whole range of faculties.

“I am also very excited about the broader potential of the network to connect media and gaming scholars, researchers, and working professionals across the UK at a time when interest in this area is really booming. “Steph’s dedication and expertise have really been the guiding force for the development of the network over the last few months, making all of this possible.”

The pair are now hoping to host regular gaming conferences through Multiplay, with the first one taking place in January next year.

The official Multiplay website launched this week: https://multiplaynetwork.org/

Lee Hall, Head of the School of Media and Communications at the University of Sunderland, said: “Video games have been part of our culture for decades but understanding audiences and the cultural impact of what we play seems more relevant now that ever.

“Through successive lockdowns, the power of games to connect people has been blindingly obvious. From Roblox to Call of Duty, people have turned to games for social interaction. Research that seeks to understand how we play – and how we see ourselves reflected or challenged by the games we play – is important if we are to learn more about ourselves in a period of major societal and technological change.

“This network is an exciting forum for academic discussion lead by talented young researchers exploring games as leisure, sport, work and play.”