The Federal Fun Czar


In a recent issue of Isthmus, the alt-weekly newspaper of Madison, Wisconsin, contributor Aaron R. Conklin penned a piece about the woman Barack Obama has tabbed to shape the White House’s video-game policy. Constance Steinkuehler is positioned to build bridges between the government, academia and the games industry–and change the ways games are used to promote learning and civic engagement.

Here’s a snippet to pique your interest:

It’s a Tuesday afternoon in March, and the woman the White House has tabbed to craft its national videogames policy is just a little stressed out. Her weekly flight from Madison to Washington, D.C., has been canceled, leaving only pricey last-minute alternatives flickering on her Macbook screen. And in less than an hour, she has to introduce her boss, Carl Wieman, associate director for science of President Obama’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, to a crowded room of dignitaries at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery.

So it’s not surprising that she begins the interview with her right hand unconsciously pressed to her forehead, sinking back onto a couch in Aldo’s CafĂ© like it’s a life raft. “His research deals with lasers and atoms,” she says of Wieman. “I can start there, right?”

Since last September, life’s been crazy like this for Constance Steinkuehler, an assistant professor in the UW-Madison’s school of education. Her focus is digital media, and she began 2011 as one of the country’s leading researchers in the burgeoning field of games for learning. Then came the call from the Obama administration. She took a leave of absence from the university, and now, every Tuesday, she shuttles to our nation’s capital, there to serve as a senior policy advisor with OSTP. Every Thursday night, she shuttles back to Madison. (Her travel’s covered by a MacArthur Foundation grant.)

Part of her gig is bureaucratic. She’s charged with coordinating the federal dollars that are now being invested in what’s known as “games for impact.” These are targeted at increasing learning or civic engagement, or changing behavior on topics like health and resource management. She makes sure the money’s spurring innovation, not duplication.

The bigger, more long-lasting piece of her job has to do with building new partnerships between the private sector and the public sector, both government and academic researchers. These collaborations are about creating and supporting games that have the potential to spur serious learning. Think of her as a grand connector, plugging in constituencies who aren’t used to working together.

Read the full story at The Daily Page.

Image credit: Isthmus – The Daily Page

About the Author

Aaron R. Conklin has been writing about games and games culture for more than 15 years. A former contributor to Computer Games Magazine and Massive Magazine, his writing has appeared on and in newspapers and alt-weeklies across the country. Conklin's an unapologetic Minnesota sports fan living in Madison, Wisconsin, home of the Midwest's most underrated gaming vibe.