Now online: “Queering Complexity Using Multi-Agent Simulations”

Word Cloud of Key Words from Queering Complexity Using Multi-Agent Simulations paper.

Paré, D., Shanahan, M-C. & Sengupta, P. (2020). Queering Complexity Using Multi-Agent Simulations. In M. Gresalfi & L. Horn (Eds.), Interdisciplinarity in the Learning Sciences, 14th International Conference of the Learning Sciences (ICLS), (pp. 1397-1404). London: International Society of the Learning Sciences. Nominated for Best Student Paper at the 2020 International Conference of the Learning Sciences.

The paper proceedings from the 2020 International Conference of the Learning Sciences were released some months ago, but I’m just catching up with this longer blog posting now. Our paper, Queering Complexity Using Multi-Agent Simulations, was nominated for Best Student Paper which is a great honour.

I am a long-time activist-scholar, and when I began my Ph.D. it was with the intention to design and research better ways to engage people in learning about gender and sexuality. When I first began working with my advisor, Dr. Pratim Sengupta, and learned that he and Dr. Marie-Claire Shanahan did public computing research on the giant touch screen computers in the hallway of the Education building at the University, I thought, “Before I finish my Ph.D., I am going to make something queer to put in that space.” The other part of that thought was that my design was not going to be something queer that was easily digestible or a “nice” celebrationTM. This is known in the literature as homonormativity, a framing of queerness within heterosexual ideals so as not to be “threatening” to the normative frameworks of heterosexuality.

Fast forward about a year and a half later, and one virtual reality prototype, a funded documentary film + 360° film, and the Queering VR Chapter nearing publication, plus some conferences, speaking/exhibition engagements – it’s kind of a blur…

I never stopped brewing the idea of queering the boids simulation over that year and a bit, but in March of 2019 I finally took two weeks to hammer out a basic prototype that informed the initial design during our Leighton Studio Artist Residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in April 2019, and was then used was in co-design sessions, two of which are preliminarily analyzed in this paper.

This paper proceeding, Queering Complexity Using Multi-Agent Simulations, is just the beginning and the expanded paper will be able to show cases and an extended analysis. For now, I hope you enjoy and feel free to check out the Flocking QT Stories simulation, which is now online at


In this paper, we demonstrate how multi-agent simulations of gender and sexuality-based marginalization can help us understand gender and sexual experiences as complex, emergent, multi-level phenomena, which involve dynamic interactions between individuals, groups and institutions. We present Flocking QT Stories, a multiagent-based simulation that illustrates how structural (macro-level) phenomena such as gender and sexuality-based marginalization and resilience can manifest through individual-level interactions between computational agents. We then present illustrative cases from an ongoing co-design study with people with lived or professional scholarly experience of gender and sexuality-based marginalization. Our analysis reveals how participants interacted with Flocking QT Stories through turning (Ahmed, 2006) their attention toward marginalized agents, and engaging in multi-level reasoning (Hostetler, Sengupta & Hollett, 2018; Wilensky & Resnick, 1999) to make sense of the audio stories embedded in the simulation as well as the macro-level, emergent behaviors resulting from interactions between individuals (boids), and between individuals and institutions.

Link to paper:

Media: Canada Media Fund Blog

From the Canada Media Fund blog, check out the latest write-up of my research and design work as part of my PhD at the University of Calgary, Werklund School of Education on multiplayer, social virtual reality for learning about gender and sexuality. Thanks to my collaborators on this project: Scout Windsor, John Craig, and Pratim Sengupta.

This project started at the beginning of 2018 and we all learned so much from the design process as well as from showing it to people at various science, technology, and arts events.

We were fairly new to VR design at the time, and wanted to challenge ourselves to design everything ourselves. The design is grounded in the Learning Sciences. All assets were made in VR using Medium and some Google Tilt Brush, and we programmed the multiplayer from scratch.

It was a steep learning curve, but we pulled it together in 4 months around school and jobs. Things we thought would be easy, were hard. Things we thought would be hard, were really hard. lol I’m super proud of our team! 

Body, Avatar and Gender in Virtual Reality [in English]

Corps, avatar et genre en réalité virtuelle [in French]

Now Online: “Queering Virtual Reality: A Prolegomenon”

Now online: Critical, Transdisciplinary and Embodied Approaches in STEM Education. Our chapter,  “Queering Virtual Reality: A Prolegomenon”, by Dylan Paré, Pratim Sengupta, Scout Windsor, John Craig, and Matthew Thompson, is now available from Springer:

Chapter Abstract for “Queering Virtual Reality”

Our chapter, “Queering Virtual Reality: A Prolegomenon” is available here:

Queering Virtual Reality explores how VR can support critical literacies of gender and sexuality.

Although the VR applications used in this study have changed or have been discontinued, the research findings have important broader implications for the design of multiplayer, social VR and avatar creation tools.

The findings demonstrate how STEM innovations (VR & 3D sculpting) can be leveraged to support productive and playful experiences of inquiry about gender and sexuality that can help address LGBTQ+ marginalizations.

We also show how queer and trans encounters with technology can move us away from reifying domains of knowledge, such as STEM, towards questions of who we were, who we are, and who we can become.

This was the first research I did in my PhD and I’m excited to eventually share later research that grew out of the initial seeds planted during these first design conversations.

Most of all, I’m thankful for my collaborators/friends who were willing to jump in, explore VR, and do this research and design work with me. I’m also very thankful to the editors, Pratim Sengupta, Marie-Claire Shanahan, and Beaumie Kim,  whose hard work made this book possible.

I highly recommend checking out the many fantastic chapters that show how STEM education can be re-imagined through critical approaches.

Book Cover for Critical, Transdisciplinary and Embodied Approaches in STEM Education