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Investigate.Games Research Group

This research group is led by Dr Matthew Spokes and Dr Jack Denham.

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This research group investigates interactive games - including video games, board games and other types of play - in the context of their history, production and socio-cultural value towards a greater understanding of their impact and importance to society.

'Play' has been a cornerstone of social science research for as long as the discipline has existed, and 'interactive games' can be considered in purposively broad terms to encompass cultural artefacts that facilitate play, either as part of a group or on one’s own.

The group's research into interactive games covers a wide spectrum of disciplinary areas, drawing on a variety of sometimes disparate fields including game studies, political economy, spatial theory, human-computer interaction and ethnomethodology.

Investigate.Games provides a friendly space for academics, postgraduate researchers and those interested in games to discuss and investigate the significance of play in our everyday lives, with a commitment to understanding the circumstances in which games are produced and consumed. Whilst predominantly clustered in Social Science, the group's aims are to expand to include disciplines from across the University and beyond, towards supporting funding bids, knowledge exchange and public engagement events. Also, we're always up for some gaming.

Get in touch

Investigate.Games would welcome prospective PhD enquires. Current research areas are listed below, but we are always open to discussion of other areas:

  • Interactive games and sociality
  • Video games, death and dying
  • Games as therapeutic artefacts

Research activity

Current funded projects

Gaming and Loss

Working with colleagues at the University of Huddersfield and Hull, this project (with funding support from SIGN/XR Stories) explores the interconnections between video games and loss, with the latter including a spectrum of issues from employment and opportunities to reflections on mortality.

Initially conceived as a post-COVID investigation into how video games may be used as a coping device for bereavement, the data collected across over 400 surveys and over 20 follow-up interviews have suggested both the therapeutic value of video games in the context of mental health and self-care, and the potential for educational applications, with video games functioning as a pedagogic device for 'learning-through-play'.

Selected publications


Coward-Gibbs, M., 2021. Why don’t we play pandemic? Analog gaming communities in lockdown. Leisure Sciences, 43(1-2), pp.78-84

Denham, J and Spokes, M. (2021) The Right to the Virtual City: Rural Retreatism in Open World Gaming. In new media and society, Vol 23 No. 6

Denham, J. and Spokes, M. (2018). Thinking Outside the Murderbox: Subjective Violence in Open World Gaming. In the British Journal of Criminology Volume 59 Issue 3.

Denham, J., Hirschler, S., and Spokes M., (2021). The Reification of Structural Violence in Videogames. In Crime, Media, Culture, Vol 17 No. 1

Spokes, M. and Denham, J. (2019). Developing Interactive Elicitation: Social Desirability and Capturing Play. in The Qualitative Report Volume 24 Issue 4.

Spokes, M. (2019). The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, procedural rhetoric and the military-entertainment complex: two case studies from the War on Terror. In Vol 32 Issue 2 of Media, War and Conflict

Spokes, M. (2018). 'War…War Never Changes…': Explicit and implicit death narratives in a post-apocalyptic gameworld. In Mortality, Volume 23, No. 2.


Coward-Gibbs, M. ed., 2020. Death, Culture & Leisure: Playing Dead. Emerald Publishing.

Spokes, M. (2020). Gaming and The Virtual Sublime: Rhetoric, Awe, Fear and Death in Contemporary Video Games. Bingley: Emerald.


Video game violence is not the problem – the real world that inspires it is. Denham, J., Spokes, M., and Hirschler, S. in The Conversation (15 November 2019)


Hirschler, S., Timothy, R., Denham, J., and M. Spokes (2022). Gendered Normativity and Violence in Video Game Design and Interaction.

Group members

Matthew Spokes

Dr Matthew Spokes

Group co-director, Associate Professor and Dean: Social Sciences

Jack Denham

Dr Jack Denham

Group co-director, School Research and Knowledge Transfer Lead

Steven Hirschler

Dr Steven Hirschler


Dr Tyson Mitman

Senior Lecturer

Staff profile image of Matt Coward-Gibbs

Matt Coward-Gibbs


Caitlin Veal

Research Assistant - Gaming and Loss

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