Instant Replay: Fall 2020

Welcome back to a new year at the Games Institute! Fall 2020 marked the third consecutive term of living amid COVID-19 restrictions so, as you read this issue of Instant Replay, I encourage you to remember that progressing any work at all during a global pandemic is a feat. Though much of our staff’s attention was dedicated to preparing the 5-year Senate Renewal Document, we were still noticing (with awe) all the work that was continuing. Inspired by what we were seeing, we launched a Research Spotlights series to showcase the creative solutions you developed and refined. A trend in this issue is that many members were taking advantage of the opportunities afforded by online tools and using them to emphasize connections with non-local audiences and partners. Read about guest lectures with speakers in other time zones, research that was presented for distant universities and conferences, and the collaborations that took place exclusively online.

The events of 2020 – the Black Lives Matter protests, Uyghur genocide in China, and protests in Poland and Belarus – brought to the fore the urgency of addressing Anti-Racism, Decolonization, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (ADEDI) in our research culture. In September, the GI had its official launch of the ADEDI Working Group, which you can read more about in a dedicated section below. Additionally, the GI partnered with the Council for Research Innovation and Technology (CRIT) and the Research Equity Diversity and Inclusion (REDI) Council to develop events that will advance Racial Equity knowledge mobilization work. In the events section, read about the Racial Equity Board Games Panel, with some very special speakers.

Photo taken by Tina Chan, shared via TwitterWrapping up another Fall semester felt undeniably different due to COVID-19. Typically, Decembers at the Games Institute are one of the best months, with members bringing in freshly baked goods every day and unwinding with Super Smash Bros in the Collaboration Space. Though baked goods and Nintendo Switch couldn’t happen, our replacements – a Discord party, Among Us, and gift bags prepared by Jenn – were just as good if not better since we could include our international members.

I hope to see some of you around this term, donning your new GI masks. We’ll wave from a respectful distance, of course!

All the best,

Marisa Benjamin

Table of Contents

Marking Milestones and Achievements

Dr. Neil Randall receives a CFI grant to launch the StoryBoard Lab

Presentation Room Touch ScreenExecutive Director Dr. Neil Randall was awarded a grant from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation to launch The Storyboard Lab, which will provide the infrastucture necessary to advance research on designing narratives using large interactive displays. Housed at the Games Institute at the University of Waterloo, the interdisciplinary research from this lab will explore and determine best practices for developing innovative narratives, simulations, and wayfaring applications using large interactive displays. Additionally, this lab will support the production of research about user behaviour and the design of user interfaces for this technology.

Tina Chan receives the Young Alumni Award 2020 from Applied Health Sciences

Tina Chan, Games Institute member and Master of Sciences alum from the School of Public Health and Health Systems, received the Young Alumni Award 2020 from Applied Health Sciences. The award recognizes an exceptional recent AHS graduate based on their achievements both from their time during the program and afterwards. Click here to read the full article on the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences' website. 

First Person Scholar announces new Editor in Chief and Co-managing Editors

FPS LogoFirst Person Scholar officially announced the instalment of a new Editor in Chief, Sabrina Sgandurra, and Co-managing Editors, Patrick Dolan, and Lillian A. Black. In the article "It's Dangerous to Go Alone: A Tale of Three Editors" First Person Scholar announces what readers can expect from this transition and shares messages Sabrina, Patrick, and Lillian about their plans for steering the middle-state publication into exciting directions and carrying on with the great legacy established by their predecessors.

Two GI teams among finalists at CHI Play 2020 Student Game Design Competition

Two Games Institute teams were selected to be finalists for the CHI Play 2020 Student Game Design Competition. Competing among 8 other teams, Tina Chan and Adam Leung presented Illuminate (image 1), and Joseph Tu and Ekaterina Durmanova presented Curioscape (image 2).

Illuminate screenshotCurioscape Photo

Launching the Anti-Racism, Decolonization, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Working Group

Fall 2020, the ADEDI Working Group met to appoint a chair and start working on the Terms of References that will inform many aspects of the groups’ approach and direction moving forward. Announcements will be shared with the GI community via the Chair later on this term. In the meantime, please read the statement below that outlines the original intentions for forming the ADEDI Working Group.

“In order to ensure the continued awareness and expansion of understanding of issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion, the Games Institute formed the Anti-Racism, Decolonization, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Working Group in 2020. The mandate of the Working Group is to establish policies, practices, and education for Games Institute members, associates, partners, and colleagues. The Working Group is composed of faculty and student members of the Games Institute and is supported by Games Institute Executive and Associate Directors and Games Institute Administration. Its goal is to create, strengthen and implement policies, procedures and culture aimed at ensuring Games Institute’s activities, member composition, administrative and research processes withstand scrutiny in the areas of representation, equity, inclusion, and diversity. It is the ambition of the Working Group that, in time, it will be able to advise project teams on how to make their work reflect these principles, assist faculty supervisors with engaging mentors and co-supervisors for their students to ensure as diverse training as possible, and develop a plan for systematic and ongoing assessment of Games Institute’s progress in this realm.” – from the GI Senate Renewal

Research Dissemination for external publics

Presenting research for partner institutions

  • Jennifer Roberts-Smith, Co-Director of the qCollaborative Lab, presented "Performative Relationality in Design Research" for the School of Art and Design at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Read about it at this link
  • Alex Fleck, English graduate researcher, presented "Communities in Care in Platform Construction: Understanding Video Game Preservation in 2020for the Digital Scholar Lecture Series hosted by McMaster University, the University of Guelph and the University of Waterloo
  • Lillian A. Black, English graduate researcher, presented "It's Queerly Identifiable: Transgender Narrative Reclamation in Overwatch”, also for the Digital Scholar Lecture Series
  • Dr. Lennart Nacke, Director of the HCI Games Group, gave a keynote speech, "The Loot Box of Gameful User Experience", for the virtual Mensch und Computer 2020 conference, Germany's largest HCI conference with 785 participants globally. Watch a recording of the talk on YouTube

Ashley Rose Mehlenbacher and Brad Mehlenbacher talk "Trusting public figures during COVID-19" in Waterloo Stories

Waterloo Stories published a Q and A with GI members Ashley Rose Mehlenbacher and Brad Mehlenbacher, professors of rhetorical studies, about trusting public figures during COVID-19. Drs. Mehlenbacher and Mehlenbacher shared insights into how leaders can more effectively communicate complex scientific and technical information and help people trust them and the information they are providing. Check out the article at this link.

Games Institute member research at CHI Play 2020

CHI Play 2020 is an international Human-Computer Interaction and games conference hosted by SIGCHI. Click the links below to check out the Games Institute member research presented at the conference:

Lindsay Meaning analyzes the video game "Kim" in article published in Loading...

Kim game screenshotIn her latest article published on Loading...Lindsay Meaning analyzes the adaptation of the novel Kim (1901), by Rudyard Kipling, into a video game by the same name, Kim (2016). The article "Adaptations of Empire: Kipling’s Kim, Novel and Game" focuses on the ways the video game deals with the underlying imperial and colonial ideologies of the book.

Gustavo Tondello and Lennart Nacke published research showing that personalized gameful systems lead to higher task performance in Frontiers in Computer Science 

The article, “Validation of User Preferences and Effects of Personalized Gamification on Task Performance”, discusses the results from two studies with 252 participants. Players performed better and found a game more enjoyable when they could customize their experience by selecting game elements, compared to participants who had no opportunity to customize. Click here to learn more about other gameful systems research coming out of the HCI Games Group.

Daniel Harley co-authors "Sound Beginnings: Learning, Communicating, and Making Sense with Sound" in Music Educators Journal

Dr. Daniel Harley, GI faculty member and Assistant Professor at the Stratford School of Interaction Design and Business, co-authored an article entitled, "Sound Beginnings: Learning, Communicating, and Making Sense with Sound" with Drs. Kurt Thumlert and Jason Nolan. Published in the SAGE Music Educators Journal, the article presents five recommendations for music pedagogy and sound-based inquiry that support a more inclusive understanding of music.

Events at the GI

Guest Talk: Research Through Design with Dr. William Odom

Dr. William Odom, Assistant Professor in the School of Interactive Arts and Technology at Simon Fraser University, joined us to discuss the methodology of research through design. He is the co-director of the Everyday Design Studio, specializing in the areas of research through design, interaction design, and tangible computing. He presented findings from projects that exlplored the changing nature of interaction design in response to the increasing role technology plays in mediating everyday practices like reminiscence, self exploration, social connection, the making of home life, and so on. Watch the talk on YouTube.

Racial Equity Board Games Panel

Drs. Kishonna GrayLai-Tze Fan, and Aynur Kadir discussed how board games can inspire conversations that confront racism and educate players about what needs to be done to address systems of white supremacy. Watch the panel at this link. The Games Institute partnered with the Research, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (REDI) Council and the Council for Responsible Innovation and Technology (CRIT) to host this panel as part of the larger event, UW’s first ever Racial Equity Board Game Showcase, which will take place Winter 2021 under the guidance of University of Waterloo’s Office of Research and with consultation from the Equity Office.

Google Stadia's Allen Bevans guest lectures on Games in the Cloud for Dr. Lennart Nacke's UX class

Allen Bevans, User Experience (UX) Research Manager for Stadia at Google, presented "Building User Experiences for a cloud-native gaming platform" for Dr. Lennart Nacke's Design and User Experience of Interactive Games class, DAC 305. Allen Bevans provided insights gained from his experience working as a games user researcher and UX researcher first at Electronic Arts, then Google play, to his current position with Google Stadia, the cloud gaming platform.

Allen’s lecture was made possible with the help of Xinyi (Annie) Zou through the Global Spark initiative. Learn more about games user research at the Games Institute from the HCI Games Group, here.

Partnership News publish "A call for respect, inclusion, fairness, and transparency in SIGCHI" in ACM's Interactions magazine are a group of intersectional feminists who aim to raise awareness of feminist issues in HCI and technology, generally. In their article, "A call for respect, inclusion, fairness, and transparency in SIGCHI" they advocates for structural change in SIGCHI that recognizes the interlocking nature of marginalizations.

Dr. Lennart Nacke launches 3 new Mitacs partnerships

Dr. Lennart Nacke is the Principle Investigator for three Mitacs partnership grants, awarded October 2020, to advance research for new industry partners, AlphaLabsMLD Solutions, and Wiggles 3D. Over the course of the next 8-months to one year, Nacke and graduate and postdoctoral researchers from the HCI Games Group, the Games Institute, and the Stratford School of Interaction Design and Business will generate research-based solutions and outcomes to address each partners’ needs.

  • AlphaLabs: Improving User Experience and Accessibility of Online Medical Test Data via Gameful Design
  • MLD Solutions: Studying Gameful Design for Bite-Sized Information
  • Wiggles 3D: The Impact of Cultural and Economic Factors on Play and Purchase Decisions for Tabletop Games 
    • October 2020-April 2021
    • Researchers: Joseph Tu (graduate researcher) and Derrick Wang (graduate researcher)

Updates from the CanHaptics Network

The CanHaptics network brings together Hapticians across Canada to create a research hub. When the pandemic began, Dr. Oliver Schneider and other members of the CanHaptics Network were faced with the question: how do we study, let alone teach haptics which is completely dependent on touch interface and sensation, remotely without touch?

CanHaptic Network Members decided to co-create and co-teach a haptics course for students studying haptics at the partnering universities. After months of planning, Oliver along with his colleagues Dr. Vincent Levesque (ETS), Dr. Karon MacLean (UBC), Dr. Jeremy Copperstock (McGill), Dr. Pourang Irani (UofM) are jointly teaching this virtual haptics course – the first of its kind – to their graduate students for the W21 term.

Games Institute Podcast

The Games Institute Podcast shift from recording in person to recording via Microsoft Teams to accommodate COVID-19 restrictions. This change enabled us to create video recordings which we began publishing to YouTube in the Fall term, thereby improving the podcast’s overall accessibility.

Recapping Community News

Preparing the 5-Year GI Senate Renewal

Grace Van Dam, Operations Coordinator in Fall 2020 (and a GI lifer) worked very hard to prepare critical pieces of the GI Senate Renewal Document. She had this to say in thanks for your help: “None of this would have been possible without all of you. The 60+ statements and lists of supported work we received all went towards creating a final document we are proud of. As a GI lifer, I look forward to the next 5 years and trust that the GI will continue to be a place where people can enjoy research, work, and play.” – Grace Van Dam

Discord highlights from Fall 2020

We had not one but two great GI-driven social gatherings for Halloween & the winter break

  • For Halloween, we came in costume and had scary trivia
  • For the Holidays, we collaborated on this story:
  • Among UsAnd, during the party, many of us learned how to play Among Us for the first time
  • We kept up with weekly virtual coffee & chill sessions, which remained a much needed place to reconnect with peers, find solace in social structure & solidarity. Additionally, we hosted community-driven events and activities including virtual parties, writing circles, and streaming sessions. Look forward to more of these this term!

Quick Stats from our Slack ghost

The Games Institute Slack is both (relatively) new, with the first two test messages being sent on February 17th. And yet, it's somewhere that many of us feel like has been here all along.
Let’s take a look at some numbers:

  • Our Slack supported 164 members closing out the year
  • The most messages sent in a single day was 3425, on November 25
  • In total, 218,671 messages were sent!
  • Our busiest channel, #random, had 1,678 messages sent. In a close second is #social-forest-focus with 1,042 messages, where folks do group pomodoro focus sessions
  • Shoutout to Joseph Tu, our most active Slack member, who sent out 20,093 messages
  • And, most excitingly, we have 997 custom emojis (and counting!) that we use to express our true selves

Research Spotlights

Behind the redesign of Energize, the sustainable energy game (pt. 2)

Energize LogoEnergize is an educational tool for understanding how to plan and implement sustainable energy solutions. It represents the potential that games have for teaching people complex ideas, like environmental realities, by demonstrating the obstacles, considerations, and possibilities involved. AC Atienza, English graduate student, collaborated with the Waterloo Global Science Initiative (WGSI) via a Mitacs partnership and co-op term to turn their prototype and concept of Energize into a fully-realized game. In part 2, the conclusion of "Behind the redesign of Energize, the sustainable energy game", we take a deep dive into AC's holistic game design approach and learn how Energize evolved through iterative playtesting.

Research during COVID-19: Collaborating during CHI Season

In our “Research during COVID-19” series, we explore how members of the GI community are navigating their daily lives and innovating to adapt their research and collaboration techniques. This instalment looks at how The Human-Computer Interaction labs at the Games Institute, and at the University of Waterloo, have developed virtual collaboration strategies during the CHI season, a height of the research year.

Spotlight on Dr. Judy Ehrentraut's PhD Dissertation on Posthumanism and Technology

Dr. Judy Ehrentraut's PhD dissertation is an exploration of posthumanisms through digital artifacts, arguing for a theoretical frame called "inclusive posthumanism" that accounts for the ways individuals intersect with technology. She successfully defended her dissertation on November 29th, 2019, completing her requirements and obtaining her PhD in English Language and Literature. In this spotlight article, we look at how Dr. Ehrentraut's dissertation deconstructs perspectives of subjectivities, transhumanism, and techno anxiety to explore alternative structures that make fewer assumptions about life enhancement or prescribed subjectivity.

Research during COVID-19: VR Exergames for Older Adults Living with Dementia, ft. John Muñoz

VR ExergameJohn Muñoz is a Postdoctoral fellow with the Intelligent Technologies for Wellness and Independent Living (ITWIL) Lab. His research involves developing virtual reality (VR) exercise games (Exergames) for people living with dementia. Their design approach is user-centred, which means that John and the research team work directly with end-users and stakeholders to incorporate feedback and improve the VR experience. Thus, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, John faced many challenges to advancing this work, so he and his team had to adapt.

Return to Campus

Return to research has been a complicated and everchanging process that Pamela Maria Schmidt, our Research Projects Facilitator has spearheaded since mid-July. According to Pam, the process is messy and consistently changes, especially since lockdown and red zones influence what we can do.

“I read over 200 pages of documentation and created a safety plan for the GI general as well as for each individual lab,” says Pam. “I’m focusing on liaising with Office of Research and other campus entities on changing procedures, how to best accommodate research and student needs in an environment that seems safe”.

By the beginning of September, we had reconfigured the layout of the space and equipped it with plex-glass shields, floor markers, and safety and sanitation equipment. “I didn’t have a measuring tape for 2m so I took some scotch tape and a 30cm ruler, counted out 2m, and was running around the GI with this piece of tape to ensure social distancing guidelines are adhered to”.

Thank you, everyone, for your patience as we continue to work things out and focus on doing our part to bring the numbers down in our communities!

Reintroducing new GI Members

Alê Luz (she/her)

Alê is pursuing a PhD in Computer Science: “My research focus is to bring a fun experience to diagnosis and treatment of illnesses in children. I also have a special interest in accessibility and good design that is inclusive and accessibility.” 

Alice Peng (she/her)

Alice is a third year Game Design student currently studying at Sheridan college. “I am currently not working on any research as I am an undergrad/assistant, but my personal focuses and interests are in educational gamification and UI/UX. I am currently working on the GI x WIN project as a designer to translate the technical information of a COVID vaccine into a game.”  

Arielle Grinberg (she/her)

Arielle is pursuing a Management Sciences PhD. Her research involves “Online collaborative spaces for heterogeneous groups (I think!)” She first joined the GI in the summer of 2019 working as a research assistant, but now she’s “playing with the top dogs as a PhD candidate! So excited to be onboarded full-time and be working with Mark on my own projects.”

Dr. Beth Caravella (she/her)

Beth is an Assistant Professor of Visual Studies, Writing Department @ York University (earned PhD in Writing & Rhetoric at George Mason University): “My research focuses on digital rhetorics, and specifically visual rhetorics. Currently I am interested in how video games use visual cuing to develop habits in players, both inside and outside of the game itself. My research also includes aspects of digital storytelling, especially interactive narratives, data visualization, and utilizing gameful design as a means of enhancing gamification practices.” 

Dakota Pinheiro (he/his/him)

Dakota is a 2nd Year PhD with Department of English Language and Literature. “My research focuses on American literature, my current project being an investigation of post-2016 American literature and discourse (especially since the Covid pandemic) using the frameworks offered by protest literature from the 1930s. This project will primarily examine the demands that subjects living under American neoliberalism are subjected to, and the ways that systemic shocks and catastrophes unsettle/reinforce the stability of the subject/state relationship.”  

Ekaterina (Kat) Durmanova (she/her)

Kat also goes by Ekat or Ekaterina. She is a “brand-new” Master's student working towards a degree in Systems Design Engineering under Lennart Nacke in the Faculty of Engineering and as part of the HCI Games Group. “At the moment my research focus is still fairly broad! I am really interested in how games can improve physical and mental health, building healthy habits using gamification, and accessibility.”

Dr. Katja Rogers (she/her)

Katja will also respond to “Kat” or “Kate” or most variations thereof. She is joining as a postdoctoral researcher with Lennart, though plans have been delayed due to COVID-19 but she hopes to move to Canada soon! “My key interests are game audio and embodied interaction in VR. I am currently exploring these interests through research projects on effects of audio feedback on players, asymmetric VR contexts, and different types of realism in games. In the future I am planning to study how all of these aspects (embodied interaction, audio, realism, …) in VR experiences can help with stress recovery from climate change anxiety.”

Dr. Leah Zhang-Kennedy (she/her)

Leah is an Assistant Professor in Interaction Design and User Experience Research at the Stratford School of Interaction Design and Business, University of Waterloo. “My research focuses on human-oriented security and privacy. Previously, I investigated cybersecurity education and literacy for adults and children through multimedia tools. My current interests are in the user experience aspects of security and privacy.”

Mel Edens Chen

Mel Edens is pursuing a Master of Systems Design Engineering. Mel “just started so I am not sure of the details” but identifies these research interests: Gamification of Finance, Gamification of Crypto, and Gamification of learning engineering skills.  

Triskal DeHaven (he/him/his)

Triskal is pursuing a Systems Design Engineering PhD, under the supervision of Dr. Lennart Nacke. “My area of research focus is currently concerned with virtual reality, accessibility, and Games User Research. I completed my masters in Human Centered Interactive Technologies, where my master's thesis delve into the accessibility of virtual reality controls and applications, which is a highly unexplored area at the moment. I have since gotten involved with various organizations to enhance my knowledge on my research areas, including but not limited to; CHI PLAY, GamesUR NA Summit, and AbleGamers.”

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