Colleen Macklin has a lot going on: She’s a partner in the game design company Local No. 12, a member of the White House–organized Academic Consortium on Games for Impact, and the director of PETLab, the public interest game design and research lab for interactive media at Parsons The New School for Design. But when asked to describe herself, her answer is simple: “First and foremost, I’m a professor at Parsons.”
Macklin came to Parsons in 1994, teaching a first-year course that introduced students to everything from Word to Photoshop. Within a year she was teaching courses in virtual reality and game design, and helping students re-create arcade classics like Pac Man. Outside of Parsons, Macklin worked in advertising by day and by night designed interactive visuals and installations for the “intellectual rave scene” with interlocutors like DJ Spooky and SoundLab. “That was school for me,” Macklin says. “I was learning from other technologists how to develop new applications – and from the crowd what was interesting.
As Macklin’s work evolved, she became more interested in using digital technology to facilitate social interaction between people, an interest that lead her back to game design. Convinced that “imagination and play is the way we learn,” Macklin designs games that users develop themselves. “I just love that the game doesn’t exist until it is played; users create something new and learn along the way.” At PETLab, Macklin and her colleagues work with organizations interested in using games as a way to engage the public in social and environmental causes. Initially funded by a grant from the MacArthur Foundation and now supported by The Knight Foundation, NEA and others, PETLab collaborates with organizations such as the Red Cross, Public Radio International, primary schools in China, and a variety of companies and government agencies.
Still, it’s being at Parsons, and The New School more broadly, that keeps Macklin energized. “The New School is socially engaged, has a great origin story, and a fabulous conglomeration of eclectic programs and schools. Teaching traditional subjects and engaging in entrepreneurial and experimental research is integral to PETLab and the university, which makes The New School an exciting place to be.”