A Sunderland gamer, who launched an innovative new gaming network after being inspired by digital play’s power to educate, is about to hold her very first conference, connecting researchers from across the globe.

Steph Farnsworth is the brains behind Multiplay, a platform for education researchers, sociologists and media and gaming scholars to collaborate and share their ideas and expertise – with the ultimate aim of establishing gaming as an area of study in the North East and beyond.

Since its launch in July last year, Multiplay has gone from strength to strength, attracting the attention of experts worldwide; experts who will be speaking at the network’s first conference, which is being held online on Wednesday, January 19th.

Steph, 31, who is studying a gaming PhD at the University of Sunderland, examining mutants in science fiction and video games, said: “It’s going to be a full day of people experienced in games studies sharing their expertise.

“We’ve got amazing academics on board, who have been researching games for years, as well as some newcomers entering the field, who are really going to shake up the games studies field in the years to come. We’ve got people working in the games industry, including the head of Dream of Darkness, talking about how games can connect with a sense of identity.

“There will be speakers from around the world – the UK, Mexico, Ghana, and America. Different voices giving different ideas about the power of gaming and how video games can challenge or confront the different power dynamics in society.

“It will be brilliantly fun for anyone interested in games studies, but we’re also hoping to provide a new and refreshing take on what games studies can be.”

Steph added: “We want to show that games studies are invaluable, that they can reinvigorate universities. We also really want to showcase new ideas, which is why we’ve got early career researchers presenting alongside more established names.

“Our aim is always to create new opportunities for anyone interested in researching video games.”

Also speaking at the event is Sunderland Media and Cultural Studies MA graduate, Lisa Meek.

The 27-year-old, from County Durham, will talk about a specific theme in her research for her MA Dissertation, looking at theories surrounding dwelling in Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

Lisa, who is hoping to start her gaming PhD at the University this year, said: “Video games are a key form of media and central to daily life.

“Most people game and it doesn’t have to be on a top of the range PC or a new series of console – it can just be playing Candy Crush on your phone while you’re on the bus.

“Video games both influence and are influenced by culture and deserve to get the same kind of attention in academia as other forms of media like film, radio and TV.”

So, what does 2022 hold for Multiplay?

In the beginning, it was just Steph and University of Sunderland Criminology and Sociology lecturer, Dr Thomas Rodgers, driving the project. Now, they’ve put a committee in place, so the network is democratically run, and they can promote a myriad of different ideas.

Steph said: “We’ll be launching a podcast this year and some of our members are putting together a reading group.

“We are already working on a special conference for Valentine’s week, and, going forward, we’ll be holding workshops, panel discussions and conferences regularly.”

Lee Hall, Head of the School of Media and Communications at the University of Sunderland, said: “Games are not just a popular leisure activity, but a dominant medium in the lives of many people and a space where they see themselves and their world represented, reflected and challenged.

“There is a growing strand of research in this space at the University. This conference provides a focal point for discussion and is an important waypoint as Steph and her colleagues build the Multiplay network.”

Games, Culture and Identity: The MultiPlay Conference 2022 is supported by the University’s Centre for Research in Media and Cultural Studies and the Participations Interdisciplinary Research Network.

Register for the free event here.