“My skills and my friendships are spread across the campus”

© Virginie Martin-Nunez

© Virginie Martin-Nunez

Yannick Rochat will sustain interdisciplinary collaboration with EPFL in his new appointment as an Assistant Professor of Game Studies at the University of Lausanne. 

Yannick Rochat, a scientist and a lecturer at the College of Humanities (CdH), has recently been appointed as an Assistant Professor of Game Studies at the University of Lausanne (UNIL) in the Department of Language Sciences and Information.

Over the course of his academic career, he has moved back and forth between UNIL and EPFL and across a wide range of different disciplines. When he first began university, he was torn between pursuing studies in mathematics and history and has subsequently worked to bridge disciplinary boundaries in his work as a scholar and teacher. He explains that studying video games is a natural fit for someone with polycentric interests:

“When you create a game, you create a complete world. You borrow from cinema, you borrow from comic books, fromstorytelling, from photography, from music. It is an object that is really multifaceted. And that is a lot like my own professional trajectory.”

Rochat holds a MSc in Mathematics from EPFL and a PhD in Applied Mathematics for Humanities and Social Sciences from UNIL. He completed his doctoral research on character networks in literature under the co-supervision of Prof. Frédéric Kaplan of EPFL and Prof. Henri Volken of UNIL. After graduation, he joined Kaplan at EPFL as one of the very first employees of EPFL’s Digital Humanities Laboratory. He then returned to UNIL where he helped found the GameLab, a video game study group, which is now co-hosted by UNIL and EPFL’s College of Humanities (CdH).

Since 2019, Rochat has been based in the CdH, where he has undertaken a wide array of different research and teaching initiatives, including an FNS-funded project on the use of video games in secondary education as well as an initiative to archive Switzerland’s video-game heritage, Pixelveticain collaboration with Musée Bolo, Atelier 40a and Memoriav. Rochat explains that his own back-and-forth between EPFL and UNIL reflects the fact that game studies have a natural place in both institutions:

“Video games are perfect objects for establishing collaboration between members of UNIL and EPFL. Narration, staging, environmental modeling, and historical knowledge are strong components of these objects. They also are areas in which UNIL has extensive knowledge. Meanwhile, at EPFL you will find experts in programming, mathematical modelling, simulating physical phenomena, but also electronics, architecture, materials and civil engineering. We already observe this in the Video Games and Gamification course, where students from both schools collaborate and enrich one another: video games make it easy to create conversations between these two worlds.”

During lockdown, Rochat helped create a platform for conversations about video games between students and researchers at both EPFL and UNIL through an online seminar Games on Campus, organized in collaboration with Game* and supported by the dhCenter UNIL-EPFL. He also co-hosted a second online seminar, Input, Poke, and Save, that focused on building a wider international community beyond Lausanne to discuss the study of platforms.

Rochat will retain strong ties to EPFL after he moves back to UNIL: “my skills and my friendships are spread across the campus.” He will remain engaged in the interinstitutional work of GameLab UNIL-EPFL and the Digital Humanities Center UNIL-EPFL. Rochat will also continue to teach a course in EPFL’s Social and Human Sciences curriculum on Video games and gamification, together with Dr. Selim Krichane. This is one of several TILT courses, coordinated by Krichane, that are open to students from both UNIL and EPFL.

Rochat is preparing two new collaborative projects that will build bridges beyond Lausanne. The first is a joint initiative with the Bern University of the Arts and the Zurich University of the Arts on the history of Swiss video games from the 1960s through the present covering all the different languages and regions. His second planned project analyzes the comparative history of video games in Austria, Germany and Switzerland, in the framework of an international consortium. He is also working on a local project that will trace the history of a Swiss computer, the Smaky, as a platform that supported an array of educational, commercial, and research activities in Switzerland for several decades and saw the releases of some of the earliest Swiss video games. In sum, Rochat will keep working to develop the field of game studies as a hub for interinstitutional and interdisciplinary collaboration in Lausanne, in Switzerland, and beyond.