Professor portrait: “My weird and playful approach is what drives my research”
On May 26, Miguel Sicart, Head of Center for Digital Play, presented his inaugural lecture as professor. He has spent the past twenty years working in games research at IT University of Copenhagen, and today he is considered a pioneer in the field of game studies.
The history of ITU, the birth of games research and Miguel Sicart’s career journey are closely connected. Miguel Sicart started his PhD at ITU in 2002, when ITU was located next to a small hair dressing school salon at Glentevej in the Northwest quarter of Copenhagen.
“Back in the early 2000s, the only place in Europe where you could study videogames from a humanist perspective was at ITU. The field of game research was bubbling, and now any technical university must have digital games in their curriculum, and ITU started that,” says Miguel Sicart.
Miguel Sicart took part in the development of a whole new field of study: games research. Throughout his 20-year-long career at ITU, he has investigated games and the activity of playing. The core values of his research are the same now as they were 20 years ago: “Being weird and playful are two core values that drove me in the beginning of my career, and they are still the two core values that drive me today. My weird and playful approach is the reason that my research has been successful,” says Miguel Sicart.
A career turning point: From games research to researching the activity of play
Miguel Sicart started off his research career by investigating ethics in videogames. He developed principles of game design and explored videogames as cultural forums. He then went on to create a language with a full vocabulary for game mechanics. “I realized that nobody knew how to talk about game mechanics. Nobody had the words to explain the technology,” says Miguel Sicart.
In 2011, he hit a turning point that redirected his career. “I realized that I did not want to play videogames anymore, because I thought videogames were boring. This was quite ironic since I was an Assistant Professor in games research,” says Miguel Sicart. Consequently, he chose to expand his horizon, and he went from researching games to researching the activity of play.
Miguel Sicart has written four books about playing during his career, where he investigates different phenomena from the perspective of play. His latest book, called Playing Software, was published in February 2023, and in this book, he tries to answer one question: Why do we play with computers?
Head of Center for Digital Play
When Miguel Sicart was appointed Head of the Center for Computer Games Research in 2020, his stated goal was to understand and study technology and society through the lens of play.
“The day they gave me the keys to the center I said, ‘we need to change some things, because research centers are not eternal. They last as long as they are relevant’. I saw a need to align the center with how the field of game research was evolving,” says Miguel Sicart.
In 2022, Miguel Sicart led the opening of the Center for Digital Play – a new and redefined center for research on play and games with strong transdisciplinary research groups. “Our shared hypothesis is that play is the very core of digital culture and life. This is not only the case in gaming culture, but it is also true for many other aspects of how we tackle and interact with technology,” says Miguel Sicart.
“Being a teacher is my identity”
Throughout his career, Miguel Sicart has spent many hours inside the classrooms and auditoriums of ITU. He finds teaching to be the most important part of his job.
“I know that the inaugural lecture is all about me becoming a professor. But by the end of the day, I am a teacher. It is such a privilege to meet students from different backgrounds every year and find common ground with them, where they learn from me as much as I learn from them. That is the best thing I know about my job,” says Miguel Sicart.
Being a teacher is Miguel Sicart’s identity. It is his goal to make sure that whatever knowledge – whether it is his own or from other scholars – goes forward in time.
Out of Depth
Miguel Sicart has given his inaugural lecture the title ‘Out of Depth’. He believes that this title encompasses his career, because he has spent most of his time as a scholar feeling out of depth.
“Being appointed a professor has been like soul searching for me, because on one hand I am truly honored and on the other hand, it is not something that I actively aspired for. What drives me and my research is my curiosity and my urge to ask weird questions that no one else dares to ask,” says Miguel Sicart. “I have this principle that I study play, so I cannot be too serious. If you want to understand play, you must play,” says Miguel Sicart.
Ditte Ørsted Johansen, Press Officer, phone +45 25 55 04 47, email firstname.lastname@example.org