GHC 18 Featured Speaker: Constance Steinkuehler

GHC 18 Featured Speaker: Constance Steinkuehler

When Constance Steinkuehler started graduate school, she never imagined her career would center around video games. She had originally planned to focus on the cognitive aspects of online social interaction, and was conducting studies on groups in chat rooms who were assigned various problems to solve. Unfortunately, the project was less than successful. The group members put very little effort into completing their tasks, and their online conversations with one another were very awkward since they were all strangers.

Luckily, Constance happened to be in a reading group ran by researcher James Paul Gee. After hearing Constance’s frustrations with her project, James encouraged her to study massively multiplayer online games, where the participants would be much more engaged. « I was utterly blown away by the sophistication of the cognitive and social activity happening, » Constance said. She quickly changed departments, and James became her advisor.

Constance then joined a team of nine doctoral students, led by James. « It was a fierce crew of women examining all aspects and contexts for discourse using a variety of mixed methods, » Constance said. « None of us were originally gamers, but soon, all of us picked up the controllers and never gave them back. It was thrilling to be part of something unknown and slightly risky! »

Taking a Chance

Not everyone was confident in Constance’s decision to study video games. « My colleagues from my original department told me I was ruining my career, » Constance revealed. « They thought video games were trivial, dangerous, and vaguely anti-intellectual. »

But Constance knew that there was much more to video games and interactive media than her colleagues believed.

« The combination of computation, creative arts, and culture drew me to games, » she explained. « Games are special because they give players first-person experiences, making them rich sources for understanding cognition and interaction. Games are evocative, intellectually challenging, and culturally influential. I love meeting a perfect stranger and finding a game we have in common — it brings us together. »

Despite the warning of her colleagues, Constance knew this was the right path for her, and decided to pursue it anyways. « I took a chance, » she stated. « I knew I would rather fail being true to myself than succeed being someone else. »

Finding a Support System

Constance’s risk-taking certainly paid off, as she eventually became the Senior Policy Analyst under the Obama administration, advising on games and digital media. She later decided to teach informatics at the University of California, Irvine, and to conduct further research on the intellectual and social aspects of multiplayer online video games.

« Stepping down from policy work as White House staff to return to academics was the biggest challenge in my career, » Constance admitted. « After having to do work that required immediate impact on a national audience, I found it hard to go back and do work that would have a long-term impact on a classroom. »

Fortunately, Constance found encouragement from her husband and colleague Kurt Squire, whom she credits as her biggest supporter. « We are really good at thinking through issues and phenomena together, » she said. « Plus, he’s very funny, » she added. « We laugh a lot. »

Having a support network is key when forging career path, which is why Constance believes events like the Grace Hopper Celebration are so beneficial for women in tech.

« The Grace Hopper Celebration builds our social networks, allowing us to support one another in ways that balance out the inequities that exist in technology disciplines, » she explained. « I want to share not just strategies and solutions but opportunities as well. »


@Constances will discuss women and games at #GHC18. Her session is Wednesday, September 26 at 1 p.m. Register for this session now

Learn more about our featured and keynote speakers.


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Roe v. Wade Has Been Overturned. You Have Every Right to Be Upset. Here’s how to take action

We at, are disheartened and dismayed by the United States Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, a landmark ruling that enabled the right of an abortion to people around the nation. brings together allies and champions across every sector to advance intersectional gender equity in technology. The technologists we support are also people impacted by targeted oppressive and unjust laws including laws that restrict reproductive rights. Not only do we empower technologists through our year-long programming but, we also advocate for better systemic solutions for the workforce and for their humanity. 

In response to the Supreme Court ruling, we are joining to elevate the calls to action of our social justice colleagues and community partners. 

If you feel called to do something today or in the next coming days, here are some action steps:  

  • Support and donate to Repro Legal Defense Fund, which is a national organization that covers bail and funds strong defense for people who are investigated, arrested, or prosecuted for abortion. Because no one should be behind bars for ending their pregnancy or helping someone else do so.
  • Support and donate to Plan C, an educational resource for learning about how people in the US access abortion pills.
  • Support and donate to your local Planned Parenthood, independent abortion clinics, and abortion funds.
  • Go to the streets and join a protest near you. Most protests are happening today at 5 PM at the federal courthouses or state capitols. is also launching a political advocacy series, Power to the People, with our first event on July 20th. The first event of this series, Power to People: Abortion Rights and Digital Privacy, will elevate the voices of abortion advocates and the risks emerging with digital rights and privacy. This event will empower you to take additional action regarding abortion rights and data privacy. Stay tuned for more information about this upcoming event. 

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