An Interview with the Games Institute

Monday, May 4, 2015

Jim Wallace
Written by Jim Wallace, Assistant Professor in the School of Public Health and Health Systems

The Games Institute (GI) is a formal research centre that came into existence in June 2011. Staff, students and faculty that are involved with the GI specialize in games related research, and, much like games research, are multidisciplinary hailing from all disciplines. As new games emerge, there will become a significant reliance on emerging technologies, as well as our unique understanding of aspects of gaming like narrative, motivation behind playing the games that we play, as well as how games impact us.

Jim Wallace, the Assistant Professor in the School of Public Health and Health Systems at UWaterloo took some time to reflect about his involvement with the Games Institute during his time as a student and now as an alumnus. 

How did you get involved in the Games Institute?

I was first involved with the GI as a PhD student in Systems Design Engineering. The first project I was involved with was the design of an interactive game called ‘Solar Scramble’ for K-5 children where the planets would move all over an interactive tabletop and the player had to put them back in place. What was great about this project was that it brought together Engineering and English students to create a really fun learning tool — and we ended up being acknowledged in a design competition by SMART Technologies for the work. 

What kind of work do you do with the Games Institute?

Now that I’m working in the School of Public Health, I’m interested in understanding how we can use games to collect health data in a very unobtrusive way, and using that data to promote health and well-being. 

Why are you a proud UWaterloo alumnus?

It’s amazing to think about what Waterloo has accomplished in less than 60 years. I think that a large contributor to this success has been that Waterloo has made a tradition of trying new things, and the Games Institute is a great example. 

What was memorable from your days at UWaterloo that impacted your later research perspectives?

During my first co-op term I worked as tech support for a company whose offices were spread all across Canada, and I was often required to support non-computer experts by walking them through fixes over the phone. As you can imagine, this is not always an easy task. When I think back to this experience I realize that it not only taught me to be a better communicator, but that it instilled in me a sense that computers can and should be easier to use. These experiences lead me to study Human-Computer Interaction in graduate school, and now as a researcher I always strive for computer systems to be as useful and usable as possible. 

What are you working on or developing/ playing with these days?

I’ve mostly been playing with Processing and Arduino. It’s pretty amazing how much you can do with these relatively simple tools. Processing has been my go-to tool lately for just about anything, ranging from smartphone apps to multi-touch applications on our 10’ wide display.