40: Grace "Gracie" Wolff

Department

Communication

Program and year of study

PhD, 2nd year

Previous degrees and colleges

BA Communication, Northwestern University

Where did you grow up?

Born in Evanston, IL (AKA Chicago’s older sister) and raised in both Evanston and Chicago, where a lot of my childhood friends lived

Where do you live now?

Davis, CA

What's your favorite spot in Davis?

The Arboretum! When I have time, I visit the horses sequestered off the main pathway, try to identify the herbs and flowers planted throughout, and often make meaningful eye contact with every dog I encounter when strolling about. 

How do you relax?

I like playing the MMO video game Overwatch or any of the 4 RPG video games I’m currently (and slowly) playing through. I’ve also recently started getting back into running and am not-so-rigorously training for a half marathon.

What was the last book you read for pleasure?

The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin and its sequels. Currently working on Ready Player One by Ernest Cline and The Princess Bride by William Goldman. I should probably stop playing multiple games and reading multiple books at the same time. 

What TV show are you currently binge-watching?

I breezed through Dark, a German sci-fi thriller (way better than Stranger Things). Now I’m healthy consuming an episode or three at a time of Stranger, a Korean suspense/murder-mystery. 

Research interests

I’m interested in the inclusion/exclusion of women in gaming communities, group computer-mediated communication, online cooperation vs competition and its influence on group dynamics and behavior, as well as deindividuation and toxicity online and in games.

Dissertation title or topic

TBD. I’m currently running the first of a series of experiments that will build up to my dissertation, so I don’t want to reveal too much.

Please share a surprising or noteworthy fact or finding from your research

Playing video games has benefits that include computer literacy and skill in digital technologies, cognitive and attentional improvement, in addition to increased interest and aptitude for high-tech fields in computer science and possibly other STEM-related fields. If video gameplay was more of a norm for young girls and women, would there be an improvement in female representation in STEM fields? 

Due to the affordances video games provide, some games can promote empathy and pro-social helping behaviors even outside of gameplay. 

Which professor or class inspired you to pursue graduate studies?

At Northwestern I took a class called “Blood, Sex, and Media Effects” taught by Dr. Drew Cingel (current faculty member in the Department of Communication at UC Davis). We spent one week in class on the effects of video games, and I was so stoked about the material, I wrote a 14-page literature review on female representation in games in one sitting for my final. He later recommended I look into the research of Dr. Jorge Peña at UC Davis (who is currently my advisor).

Which scholarly text do you wish you had written? Why?

The Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord. It’s an imperative skill to be media literate and understand how the media we consume influences society and our relationships. Debord reflects on media culture and the degradation of modern society that is mediated by images so that social life that was once directly lived is now a mere representation for consumption. He writes that the Spectacle is “the decline of being into having and having into merely appearing.” Reading Debord was my first philosophical introduction in understanding communication studies.

Which other researchers at UC Davis are doing work that particularly interests you?

Dr. Cindy Shen (Communication) does work on the patterns, effects, and structural dynamics of social networks of players in Massively Mulitplayer Online (MMO) games that utilize digital traces from online behavioral logs in conjunction with other quantitative methods. 

What’s the best thing about being a grad student?

Being in the company of intelligent minds, learning as much as possible from them, and using tools and resources available to pose the right questions and eventually find the right answers

What's the worst?

The toll it takes on your mental health and stamina

If you weren't a grad student, what would you be doing?

I’d probably be teaching or in grad school to be a therapist. That, or training to be a pro-gamer (perhaps another life). 

Finally, please ask yourself a question

You’re trapped in a mall full of zombies. What’s your weapon of choice, who’s your sidekick, and what’s your theme song?

Light saber, Professor Dumbledore, and “Zombie” by The Cranberries. 

 

—February 2018

 

Are you a grad student in the Division of Social Sciences at UC Davis? Do you enjoy answering questions? If so, .