‘Do not only focus on impact on outside, but also on inside’

For Sybille Lammes, professor of New Media and Digital Culture, corona offers a whole new perspective on her research into play. Digital media may have never been more important now that we’re working remotely, but we have also started to game more because we are spending more time indoors. Lammes can use this to critically educate her students as well as to hold up a mirror to the humanities. ‘Impact is more than a measurable fact.’

Upon her appointment as director of the Leiden University Centre for the Arts in Society (LUCAS) in 2019, Lammes expressed the desire to stimulate interconnections between the research clusters of the institute; classics, medieval and early modern, and modern and contemporary. According to Lammes, fellow researcher Casper de Jonge has succeeded at doing this with his research into migration stories. ‘We still have migration stories today, literally: namely people who come to the Netherlands. You’re still working within your field, but you also create a connection with something that is currently still important.’

Old games vs. contemporary games and connections with the present

That is something Lammes herself also tries to do. Together with Dr. Angus Mol and Aris Politopoulos she researches, in the Past-at-Play Lab, how games from antiquity were played, by having students replay the games and registering board movements. For the course Big Media, on the meaning of media in daily life, she talks about memes, funny internet pictures that are used to give meaning to events. The students don’t expect this, she says. ‘Yet it’s super important how we currently communicate through text and images.’

Academic gaming with students

She even developed a special course, ‘Play in Covid-19′, about students’ experiences with games during the covid crisis. ‘How do you play during these times? What did they start doing?’ Lammes spent a lecture talking about Animal Crossing, a collecting game that also includes lessons in economics. It offers tools for her mission of making students critical citizens. ‘What does a game like this do: how do you collect and build capital?’ More literally: ‘Outside, for example, there is less and less space to play, but in such a game there exists an enormous cultural playground. Everyone is going to play something like this, because you’re looking for space somewhere.’

‘Impact is more than a measurable fact’

Lammes worked in the UK for five years as an academic, where impact is high on the academic agenda, but where it is often translated into numbers. That can be done differently, she thinks. ‘Of course it’s important as an academic to appear in the news, but it’s about the goal behind this, such as how diversity in society should also be represented inside of the academic world. If that diversity exists, hopefully research will also be different. If some groups are not heard, there will be consequences in terms of content.’

‘Humanities could adopt a more humble stance’

Lammes thinks that the university, for example, can do even more to use citizens not only as an object of research, but to also involve them in the academic debate. Such as in the Citizen Science lab, in which Leiden academics work with citizens on projects such as plastic, biodiversity and black holes. In Lammes’ opinion, the humanities could adopt a more humble stance. Making people stakeholders in research helps the academic world, she thinks: ‘They can all contribute different knowledge.’

For Lammes, the impact of academic research is also about the awareness of our cultural expressions. ‘We don’t analyse these often enough, because we see them as everyday life and as the popular culture of young people. That’s where things go wrong, because it is no longer considered academic. By changing this, you create a greater connection with society.’

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