Esports Lab Spotlight: Craig G. Anderson


by | May 1, 2019, 11:00AM PDT

This is part 2 of a mini-series on the UCI Esports Lab and their research topics.

This article features Craig G. Anderson, a doctoral candidate at the Esports Lab. His research topics focus on the cognitive influences of games, including the roles of failure and persistence in gaming. More information, including contact information, can be found at https://www.uciesportslab.org/.

What led you to become involved in esports research? What is your educational background?

I’ve been working with Profs. Constance Steinkuehler and Kurt Squire for about five years;  we started in Madison, Wisconsin where we were initially researching educational games. It wasn’t until we moved to Irvine when our research started to change gears toward esports. I still study single player commercial games, but I can now start looking at the area of multiplayer competitive environments as well.

What questions are you looking to answer through your research?

My masters work was on “what makes video games engaging.” To that end, I made a low-fidelity version of Peggle and had people play it to find out if they still enjoyed playing and if they learned the core skills about the game (they only played half as much, and reported less engagement). There’s something about having success just out of reach that keeps players coming.  I then started to think about how failure is so common in games, and how games construct failure as something expected. I’m interested in looking at games like Dark Souls and Cuphead, notoriously difficult games that have a huge fanbase. Do playing these types change the way we think about failure, both in and outside of the game as well?

Today, my research focuses on how players react to failure in games. I come from a psychology background, so I’m interested in how video games make people think, and especially how they frame failure in comparison to other environments. One reason why esports is so interesting is because there are teammates that are relying on you to succeed with them as well — any failure can affect the whole team. Another interesting aspect as well is the spectators; do players react to failure differently when people are watching? If so, how?  

I am currently looking to watch testers play Cuphead and try to map the places where players are most likely to fail. I’m particularly interested in seeing if they persist, and also the reorientation strategies they use. What’s difficult about this is that the methodology hasn’t been done before. Researchers usually just survey their testers about their experiences, but I plan to actually observe the testers play the game. How long do players persist through failure? How many times do they fail, and how do they react to those failures? How many times do they try before they give up?

Who do you work with on a regular basis at the lab?

The lab was designed on purpose to encourage open, constant collaboration. Everyone talks across the table and gets the chance to collaborate with others on topics they find interesting. There are all kinds of people that work in the lab, from professors to graduate students, and even undergraduate and high school interns.

Outside the lab, our biggest project is NASEF, the high school esports league that also facilitates academic research. We work with the high school players to get gameplay footage that we might be able to refer to in our research, such as League of Legends mid lane players.

What is one of the most important things you’ve done in your time researching esports?

I am the co-chair for UCI’s Esports Conference (ESC). It was a huge amount of work, especially since ESC 2018 was the first-ever instance of it. The team spent a whole year planning the whole event, but it paid off! I’m happy that many people enjoyed it and want to go again next year, so even now we’re working on ESC 2019.

Where do you see esports (and/or research in the area) in five years?

As esports becomes more mainstream, I see it growing in popularity until it is on par with regular, traditional sports. Similarly, esports research will continue to grow, especially at UCI where the Informatics department and games studies is growing. I want to see UCI become the premier game studies university. Before Profs. Steinkuehler and Squire came, there were only three or four professors in the department studying anything games-related. Now that there are a lot of big names doing research here, the school is now attracting more and more games scholars.

Why Gamers Should Read Black Authors


by | Sep 24, 2020, 7:30AM PDT

Years from now when people ask “where were you in 2020?” I will respond, “online, and I hated every second of it.”

2020 was a year filled with strife and changes, as many of the country’s issues were placed under the microscope of the COVID-19 pandemic. We were made privy to the fragility of our healthcare system, made to grapple with the mistreatment of our workers, and we saw just how little our government was ready to deal with the unseen threat of a virus. As buildings and campuses became unsafe for congregations, schools and businesses quickly transitioned from physical interaction to remote operations, trading desks for couches, and cubicles for bedrooms. As an academic I soon saw myself writing grants, hosting calls, and meeting with colleagues all through the screen of my computer. Just like that my and many other lives became mediated through digital platforms.

But then came May and the US caught fire as major cities around America erupted in protest after Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin placed his knee on the neck of George Perry Floyd Jr. for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, killing him on camera. The act was such a clear show of police misconduct and brutality that not only did protest emerge in Minneapolis but in cities like Los Angeles and New York. People across America took to the streets to protest what was a vile and malicious act of policing and unfortunately (and ironically) were subsequently met with the very force they went out there to speak against. Agitations flared, peaceful protest turned into physical confrontation, and long-ignored anger and sorrow became the fuel for the flames which burned signs, buildings, and coincidentally an NYPD van.

Yet, still, for many, the most heated moments of the protest were not experienced in person but rather were witnessed second hand through their television or through social media online. As the protest raged on, Twitter threads became battlegrounds, YouTube videos spun narratives, and the internet yet again became the hotbed for information and dialogue around the events many were experiencing. With #BlackLivesMatter trending yet again in response to the death of ANOTHER Black person at the hands of the police, the online blurred yet again with the physical. So much so, that social media became the key place where I, a Black man, kept up with the news, contacted friends and family who were near protest areas, and was made to relive the trauma of watching Floyd lose his life again and again as it was shared on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter both as both a form of awareness and as jokes from those craven enough to mock a man posthumously. And, while I donated to BLM initiatives, honked my horn in-vehicle protest, and showed up physically where I could, I—like so many—experienced the brunt of this protest online.

So, it should not come as a surprise when I say that it was not in person or even on Twitter where I got into my harshest debates, but instead, it was within video games like Overwatch and League of Legends where I found the most abuse. In fact, it was gaming spaces like these that became the hardest to occupy during the time of the protest. In an attempt to find some semblance of peace while the world burned, I decided to turn on Overwatch (a hero first-person shooter from the company Blizzard) to try to take the edge off. After some time, I was eventually placed with 11 other players and dropped into a starting zone to wait. However, instead of the typical banter of roles and positions, I was met with a “hello my fellow African Americans, let’s go burn and loot some stores because BLACK LIVES MATTER!” from one of my teammates. Reminded that video games seldom work as escapism for black people, I contemplated whether to let the comment go or to make a scene. I chose the latter.

I responded with “do you think that’s funny?” which prompted him to say “of course! Because they should not be out there at all, because ALL LIVES MATTER!” and quickly an argument ensued. Shouting in a way I am not all too proud of, I went back and forth with the player, I shouted the names of those killed—George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin—only to have him respond with conspiracies like the FBI started BLM and comments like “slavery didn’t matter.” It didn’t take long for our remaining teammates to mute us with one going as far as to exclaim, “I don’t play this for politics.” In hindsight I think I would have been better off ignoring the troll—I must admit I was perturbed, livid in fact. Livid that a player used the game as his platform for racism and livid at the apathy of the other players viewing the deaths of Black men and women as simple politics. While the game’s very company (Blizzard) was tweeting in support of Black Lives, its players continued to disparage them. With each engagement I grew colder and angrier, each bout of racism striking deeper than the last until eventually, I arrived at simply telling people to shut the… well you can finish the rest.

Unfortunately, what I experienced is nothing new, as scholars such as Kishonna Gray, Andre Brock, Anna Everett, Samantha Blackmon, TreaAndrea Russworm, and many others have written extensively on the experiences of Black players similar to my own. However, as more and more games become spaces for online interaction, I and many others are yet again forced to acknowledge that games and the many who play them are not always aware of the struggles non-white gamers may go through. But, in writing this piece and sharing my experience I do not want this to come off as an accusation of gamers and gaming practices (there are other avenues for such), but instead as an opportunity to engage with perspectives that have been ignored or overlooked.

As many of us face yet another crisis in our communities, where Black life is threatened for simply existing (under the blanket of COVID no less), it is important to remember that games, as peripheral as they may seem, work as powerful sites of cultural creation and expression. I could not escape my pain through games because the same rhetoric, behavior, and trauma that took place in the physical informed and shaped the virtual. That is why this piece is less of an accusation and simply a call to action.

In a time where Black players face constant racial abuse both inside and outside of games, I propose that gamers engage with the history of this country and the writings of Black scholars, activists, and people. In wanting to see a healthier gaming community, I have curated a list of books, short readings, and articles to read in hopes that gamers and the gaming community at large will pick up the call and accept this challenge. While by no means extensive, the list provided will offer introductory reading to familiarize oneself with Black history in the US and the Black experience in areas such as school, healthcare, and most apropos, online spaces. While seemingly unrelated, there is much to be gained by engaging with past and current writers, and only when we have an informed gaming population can we hope to see change.


Akil Fletcher grew up in New York where he received a B.A in Anthropology from the City College of New York. Currently, he is a Ph.D student in the anthropology department at the University of California Irvine, where he researches the navigation of Black video game players online. Funded by the National Science Foundation, Akil researches how Black players form and manage communities in spaces that are often hostile to Black participants.

If you would like to join in on discussing any of the readings from Akil Fletcher’s list, you are welcome to the UCI Esports Discord server‘s #book-club channel.