Kate Dawson

MA Rhetoric and Communication Design

Kate Dawson.Developing a new language for multi-touch gaming

“Picture a table of about four by two-and-a-half feet where the table surface is a computer screen. The screen responds to multiple types of touch, like an iPod touch, allowing for new functionality and a lot of potential applications.”

As an MA student of Rhetoric & Communication Design, it’s the interactive and visual language of those new applications that interests Kate Dawson most. Participating in an unusual R & D collaboration between the departments of English Language & Literature and Systems Design Engineering, Kate’s major research project (MRP) involves adapting a strategy board game to the multi-touch table-top technology. She adds,

this project shows how two fields can mutually benefit from each other's expertise.

Combining English and communication technology is not so new for Kate, though. After completing her BA Hons in UW’s English Rhetoric and Professional Writing Co-op program, she was well on her way to an exciting career in the technology sector. Yet after a year in a full-time position as a marketing communications specialist with IBM Canada, she realized graduate studies should happen sooner rather than later. She states,

A master’s degree was always in the plan, and while I was at IBM I noticed everything we did was more and more about virtual communications. My interest in this area was growing and I wanted to learn more about it and understand the theory as well.

What’s more, Kate noticed that job postings within her field often call for a master’s degree – so the MA imperative was pretty clear.

While she was particularly interested in exploring the technological aspects of communication design in the master’s RCD program, Kate comments

I ultimately chose to come back to UW because of my positive undergrad experience… I knew I'd be fully supported and working with excellent professors.

Indeed she is, with a scholarship, a research assistantship (RA) and an excellent supervisor match. During one of her required courses in rhetorical theory and criticism, Kate discovered common interests in digital media with her instructor, Dr Neil Randall. She also worked with Dr Stacey Scott of Systems Design Engineering during a technical communications assignment --  and the meeting of minds led to Kate’s part in the cross disciplinary project.

With Dr Randall’s supervision, and close involvement from Dr Scott, Kate’s role in the project is to research game theory and recent gaming applications so that she can develop and present recommendations for transferring a tactile board game to the multi-touch table-top platform. Although Microsoft has already commercialized a smaller version of the multi-touch PC, Kate explains “using the table-top for games is a very new application for this technology, so we are working in areas without much prior research available.” And the new territory obviously appeals to Kate: “I really like that this project is new – it’s more challenging.”

Also challenging is learning the complexities of the board game itself.  Called Pax Romana, the game was developed by Dr Randall and is already commercially available as an advanced  strategy board game.  Giving particular attention to the concept of game immersiveness – the thing that keeps players playing – Kate is identifying how the immersive experience can be enhanced by multi-touch technology with its navigational ease and array of visual options. Kate explains,

One of my communication interests is visual design so one task is to recommend how to make the game visually appealing and easy to interact with.

While much of the coursework Kate has completed for her MA degree has been in rhetoric, semiotics and digital communication, she’s also enjoyed a literary studies course as a secondary interest. In fact, her program is providing other diversifying opportunities through her current RA, in which she is helping to program a mini uWaterloo conference on allegory and cognition.

 July 2009
Wendy Philpott

University of Waterloo

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