A Tech Ethicist Who Believes Games Can Do Good: Meet Phaedra Boinodiris
Phaedra Boinodiris grew up in a family of technologists. As a kid, she and her sister tore down and rebuilt computers for fun and even designed their own games. But as they got older, they discovered the gaming world was not an inviting space for women, so they founded womengamers.com to fill that void. It grew quickly to become a well-known platform for women to review and discuss computer games.
Inspired by conversations sparked by that project, Boinodiris went on to another big adventure: to build her own games that have a positive and significant impact on the world. She became IBM’s global lead for serious games and embarked on a mission to teach businesses, organizations and schools how games can be used to solve complex problems and even change behavior.
Today she is a member of IBM’s Academy of Technology. Host Frank Stasio speaks with Boinodiris about her upbringing, her current work in artificial intelligence ethics and how blockchain might be the key to democratizing education.
Phaedra Boinodiris on growing up in a family of strong women in STEM:
My grandmother had five daughters, and each of those five daughters devoted their careers towards the [sciences]. So we have physicists, nuclear engineers, chemists and electrical engineers in our family … We would always have computers in different states lying around the home. And my sister and I were very encouraged to really love them and embrace them and play around with them.
On why she and her sister decided to found womengamers.com:
My sister and I would open up most games magazines, or look at most gaming websites, and they weren't targeting us at all. And we recognized that we really wanted to give women a voice within that market. So we decided to start a company called womengamers.com. And it was a portal that was really dedicated towards this effort. We would review games, [and] we would write articles about how women were depicted in games. We wrote about women who worked within the industry, and when we first started it was really difficult to get game publishers to send us their games for review. Really, really difficult.
On partnering with a high school classroom at a disadvantaged school in Texas to build serious games:
I continue to be inspired by this class. In fact they're working on two projects right now. One is they're creating a disaster response game using blockchain, which I think is totally cool. And then the second one they're doing is they were given the task to come up with a smart toy that uses an old toy to solve a problem ... Well they took [Hungry Hungry Hippos] and they bought a used brain wave monitoring device off of eBay and hooked Arduinos up to the hippos such that without your hands — the way that you win the game and get the hippos to eat the marbles is by going into a semi-meditative state. So you actually have to change your brainwave pattern — lower your heart rate, calm yourself down, and that's how you win they game ... They're playtesting this to kids going through chemotherapy at the Dell Children's Hospital.