At a Crossroads between Art and Science, GLITCH Finds a Place to Thrive

At the corner of Riverside and 19th Avenue in Minneapolis, nestled above the recently reopened Viking Bar, sits the center of operations and home of the GLITCH family. Ascending the steps into the newly renovated suite housing the organization, I was instantly greeted by the cozy and open space comprising hardwood floors, brick walls, large windows, comfortable furniture, and scores of games—both digital and hobby—stacked on shelves surrounding a large television and entertainment center. I was then welcomed by friendly faces (particularly operations director Katie Simning at the front desk), an offer of tea, and the gentle curiosity of the friendly pup, Icarus, who lounged among the sofas and chairs, keeping the GLITCH staff company for the evening.  Even though it was a cold November night, I felt warm as I sipped my tea and awaited my meeting with Evva Kraikul, one of the founders of GLITCH.

GLITCH’s headquarters during GLITCHCON 2016. Courtesy of GLITCH

GLITCH is a “community-driven arts and education center for emerging game makers,” Kraikul explained to me as we began our conversation on the couches near the game-stacked bookcases. As we continued, I realized that, while that is indeed true, GLITCH is also so much more. On a given night, one might find several campaigns of newbie-friendly Dungeons & Dragons sprawled out among tables set up throughout the office space, folks trying their hand at virtual-reality experiences during VR Night, the murmur from lively discussions during Co-Op Talks—a kind of book-club-type discussion group for gaming topics—or simply a relaxing evening with staff and community members working on whatever projects they might have. GLITCH is definitely an arts and education center, but it also an event hub and communal connecting space catering to Minnesota’s large, and growing, gaming community.

Kraikul and GLITCH’s co-founder, Nic VanMeerten, came together to create the organization upon realizing there wasn’t quite anything out there that reflected just what they wanted to do with their lives. Before that, however, Kraikul started out on a slightly different path while attaining her degree from the University of Minnesota. “I studied neuroscience and double majored in psychology,” she told me. “I originally started working in a couple of different laboratories—my first laboratory, I was studying synaptic plasticity and addiction. And at my second one after that, I was studying primarily IPRGCs, which [stands for] intrinsically photosensitive [retinal] ganglion cells.

“Halfway through college I realized research wasn’t really the field for me . . . so I was trying to figure out—I really enjoy games; is there actually some way to marry what I’m currently doing with something in games? At that time, nothing like that really existed.”

Thus, GLITCH was born. But while her path shifted, Evva never fully left the hard sciences behind.

Nicolaas VanMeerten, Evva Kraikul, and Alex Chang

Nicolaas VanMeerten (left) and Evva Kraikul (center) with GLITCH producer Alex Chang. Courtesy of GLITCH

“Some of the applications of my degree have been really interesting—specifically the user experience [UX] side of digital games,” says Kraikul. “It’s still a relatively new field that people are talking about, but UX in games is gaining a lot of popularity and also gaining a lot of momentum, meaning scientific methods in terms of understanding player behavior on the user research side and then more influence from research and scientific methodologies on the design side as well. As someone who would identify as being from the STEM fields, this is so satisfying because not only do I get to be data driven but I also get to be creative with the work that I do and feel really confident about doing it.”

In essence, GLITCH, alongside the greater gaming industry, exists at an interesting crossroads: an intersection between STEM and art. While this is a fascinating space to be—incorporating the arts, sciences, and other areas of expertise—Kraikul explained that with innovation comes skepticism, and the field hasn’t quite been fully accepted as either a science or an art.

“On the tech side, even when you start looking at funding, a lot of venture capitalists don’t really invest in game companies because it’s really high risk—it’s creative content,” Kraikul explained. And on the art side, “there are still a lot of individuals who think that art hangs on walls, so we as an organization that also aligns closely with the arts still struggle to talk to grant organizations. We still get challenged from time to time when we say video games are art because there’s still a lot of stigma that comes with that.”

Despite these struggles, GLITCH, like the gaming community at large, continues to thrive. While attempting to find alignment with arts or science communities, perhaps the organization has begun to blaze its own trail, something independent of conventional labels and definitions. Maybe the programing, ideas, and innovation—things that have attracted individuals from countless different fields—make it something unique unto itself.

For those interested in learning more about UX, the things that GLITCH does, or simply the greater gaming community, Kraikul recommends Celia Rodent’s book The Gamer’s Brain, Don Norman’s User Centered System Design: New Perspectives on Human-Computer Interaction, and Brenda Romero’s and Ian Shreiber’s Challenges for Game Designers. She would also suggest exploring the talks and information provided by Ubisoft’s Game UX Summit as well as the Game Developers Conference. To dig a little deeper, one might also connect with other like-minded individuals through the Games UX Slack channel or the Games User Research Discord. On top of all this, of course, one should definitely look at the GLITCH website itself and be sure to check out some of the many events and programs offered not only to experienced gamers and developers but those with a casual interest as well.

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