By: Karina Valdes

A first-year Interactive Media MFA (IMFA) student recently had a unique experience sharing the virtual main stage with her professor during this year’s Games for Change Festival. Katy Huang, IMFA student and graduate assistant at the University of Miami School of Communication, and Lindsay Grace, associate professor, presented their in-depth analysis of social impact games at the festival.

“As a first-year graduate student, I feel my skillset expanded greatly within the first year of being a student. My knowledge on games previously is just on games for entertainment, but the research that I’m doing now is mainly on social impact games,” said Huang.

Social impact games are developed to do more than just entertain. The games are created with the intention of teaching players about a variety of topics while at the same time enacting change and fostering empathy. One such game, as described by Huang, places the game player in the role of a Syrian refugee escaping the war-torn country looking for asylum in Europe.

“This one game is like a choose your own adventure type of game. You choose if you want to go to Turkey or Italy, and then you experience the hardships the Syrian refugee encounters. The game is made up of real life footage, not illustrations. If it wasn’t for the game, if I was just reading news, I wouldn’t know what it feels like,” said Huang.

Last September, Huang and Grace began researching 50 social impact games and then presented their findings during a 20-minute talk titled Newsgame Flyby: State of the Practice 2020 at the Games for Change Festival in July 2020. Their presentation dove into areas including aesthetics, trends in social impact games, and reasons why the games they evaluated were impactful. The two researchers also developed a website detailing their work,

“In our presentation we talked about the findings across all 50 games, and then we talked about 10 different games more in depth,” said Huang. “The 10 games are based between 2015 and 2020, so they’re recent and they’re relevant to today’s world.”

Huang’s interest in interactive media came after finishing her undergraduate degree and a separate advertising program. She earned her B.A. from UM in 2016, majoring in studio art and minoring in advertising. After completing an advertising program at another institution, she realized the professional path she wanted to take.

“After all that experience, I know that I want to be a designer. That’s why I decided to go into the interactive media program to expand my skill set with design because of the rising demand of this job area and also the ability to work remotely. My decision on joining the interactive media program was definitely the right choice,” said Huang.

Aside from presenting at a major industry festival in her first year as a graduate student, Huang had another opportunity to develop her skills and network. Last year, Huang and her mentor, Grace, participated in the 2019 Newsjam where they worked with students and professionals at American University in Washington D.C. to develop a news game within 24 hours. Newsjam, an initiative sponsored in part by the Knight Foundation, hosts game jam locations at American University and at the University of Miami School of Communication. The Knight Foundation generously supports this research and these events to encourage better understanding of the intersection of news and entertainment.

“The graduate assistant (GA) job and working with Lindsay is really great because, even last year, we took a trip to D.C. and I participated in a game jam. I was the only person from UM in D.C. and I thought that experience was totally amazing because, it not only took me out of my comfort zone, but I learned how to teamwork with other designers,” said Huang. “That was something I would not have experienced if it wasn’t for the GA opportunity. Getting the exposure of all of the people, all the presentations, I think it’s absolutely amazing,” she added.

For Huang, her experience in the Interactive Media program at UM has afforded her opportunities that have helped her grow her skills.

“I’m just very grateful for everything. The opportunities that were given to me and being a part of the IMFA program, it’s definitely opening doors. I’m excited for what’s to come,” said Huang.