Hello there. I'm Steven Schirra.

I'm a UX researcher interested in building compelling new media experiences.

I've spent the last five years working at the intersection of research and design to help create engaging experiences in areas such as social media, digital games and urban planning. I've adopted a user-centered approach to my design work, and love the challenge of bringing together qualitative and quantitative insights to produce better products and services.

My projects have been featured in outlets such as the Boston Globe, PC Gamer, and Popular Science, and my short documentary on the game A Slower Speed of Light became a viral hit on YouTube. I've been interviewed by EuroNews on the topic of serious game design, and in 2011, my research team was awarded Best Direct Impact Game by Games for Change.

I recently received my Master of Science (S.M.) in Comparative Media Studies from MIT, where my research focused on social television and serious games. I'm currently a summer research assistant at Mircosoft Research New England, where I work in the Social Media research group. Previously, I've worked at places such as the Engagement Game Lab and the MIT Game Lab. Want to connect? You can find me on LinkedIn or Twitter, or reach me via e-mail at schirra [the at sign] mit.edu.

Specialties: User experience research, qualitative methods, human-computer interaction, mobile UX, experience design, game design, social media strategy

Movers & Shakers

Jun 2012 - PresentMIT Game Lab // Lead Researcher & Lead Author

Movers and Shakers is a co-located, two-player tablet game that explores how subversive game design mechanics can foster meaningful conflict and dialogue. In a lab-based study, we tested the game with 20 users to see how the game facilitates problem-solving and conversation, and how players interpreted and understood the game's serious message about work ethics. In particular, this research addresses the design and evaluation of serious games and presents a novel interaction framework combining tablet computers, face-to-face interaction, and subversive game design.

A Slower Speed of Light

Jun 2013 - PresentMIT Game Lab // Co-Researcher, Public Outreach

A Slower Speed of Light is a first-person game designed to help players develop an intuition about the effects of Einstein's special relativity. Within the game, players collect objects that reduce the speed of light close to the player's own walking pace, simulating (to vertex accuracy) relativistic phenomena such as the doppler effect, searchlight effect and Lorentz transformation. Along with the game, we have released OpenRelativity, an open-source relativistic toolkit for Unity3D to allow other designers to create experiences with these effects.

Community PlanIt

Jul 2010 - Aug 2011 Engagement Game Lab // Project Coordinator & Researcher

Community PlanIt is an online urban planning system that facilitates local participation in development and policy decision-making. A combination of social and game mechanics encourage rich community input that city planners can use and incorporate into future urban plans. I participated in all stages of the user-centered design process, from ideation to prototyping to field testing and deployment.

Participatory Chinatown

May 2009 - June 2010 Engagement Game Lab // Researcher & Designer

Participatory Chinatown is a 3D, multiplayer game designed to be played in the shared physical space of a town-hall meeting in Boston's Chinatown neighborhood. The goal of this project was to augment traditional meetings by bringing together a digital role-playing hame with face-to-face deliberation. As a member of the design team, I helped develop the game from pen-and-paper prototype to fully developed product. The game was included in an official community process in May 2010, where the meeting experience was held for two evenings (with 40 players/attendees at each meeting). Our user study examines how such digital games can affect the way people engage with community issues participate in a local decision-making processes.

Works in Progress / In Submission

Steven Schirra and Mitgutsch. "Serious Subversive Games: Design Opportunities and Challenges." Journal article under consideration at Human-Computer Interaction journal.

Eric Gordon and Steven Schirra. Play to Engage: Connecting Games with Civic Life. Book manuscript under consideration at MIT Press (Playful Thinking series).


Mitgutsch, Steven Schirra, and Sara Verrilli. 2013. Movers and shakers: designing meaningful conflict in a tablet-based serious game. In CHI '13 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI EA '13). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 715-720.

Eric Gordon and Steven Schirra. 2011. Playing with empathy: digital role-playing games in public meetings. In Proceedings of the 5th International Conference on Communities and Technologies (C&T '11). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 179-185.

Eric Gordon, Steven Schirra, and Justin Hollander. 2011. Immersive Planning: A Conceptual Model for Designing Public Participation with New Technologies. Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, 38 (3), 505–519.

Book Chapters

Eric Gordon and Steven Schirra. 2014 (forthcoming). "Game-based Civic Learning in Public Participation Processes.” In Media Literacy Education in Action: Theoretical and Pedagogical Perspectives. New York: Routledge.

Software Demonstrations (select)

Gerd Kortemeyer, Philip Tan, Steven Schirra. 2013. A Slower Speed of Light: Developing Intuition about Special Relativity with Games. Software demonstration presented at Foundations of Digital Games 2013 (FDG '13). Chania, Crete. [Extended Abstract]

Eric Gordon and Steven Schirra. May 2010. Participatory Chinatown. Software demonstration presented at HyperStudio's Humanities + Digital "Visual Interpretations" Conference. MIT. Cambridge, MA. [Poster]


"Immersive Planning Engagement Strategies." April 2011. Full-day workshop presented at the American Planning Association's 2011 National Planning Conference. Boston, MA.

Conference Presentations (select)

Steven Schirra. April 2012. "The Participation Game: Bridging Historic and Contemporary Civic Game Design.” Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Boston, MA.

Steven Schirra. March 2010. "Living a Double Life: Writing and Teaching Writing in the Age of the Digital Archive.” Paper presented at the University of Connecticut's Fifth Annual Conference on the Teaching of Writing. Storrs, CT.

Steven Schirra. March 2010. "Assigning Nerdiness: Video Games, Identity, and the Required Writing Course.” Paper presented at the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC). Louisville, KY. March 2010.