Instant Replay: Spring 2020

Welcome to Instant Replay: Spring 2020

This is your highlight reel of summaries and anecdotes from the Games Institute's virtual Spring 2020 term!


  1. Highlights from our research news
  2. Equity, Diversity, and Inclusivity practices
  3. First ever virtual GI Jam
  4. Adapting the facility and operations
  5. New and improved GI website
  6. Our Discord server
  7. Graduating members shout-out

Brought to you by Your Instant Replay team: Marisa, Pam, Grace, Jenn, Agata and Cayley

Highlights from our research news bannerHighlights From Our Research News

GI Members Sharing News and COVID-19 Research Expertise 

Many of you responded to calls from the media and Waterloo partners, asking for expertise about navigating life during the pandemic. Here is a non-exhaustive list of stories that were shared throughout the wider community, featuring our members: 

First Person Scholar Indigenous Games Special Issue

Guest edited by Michelle Lee Brown, the First Person Scholar Indigenous Games Special Issue showcases Indigenous game designers, developers and scholars, as they share their stories and insight on the relationships between game design, Indigenous survivance, Indigenous futurisms.

Hosting Research Events, Virtually! 

When CHI 2020 was cancelled, volunteers led by a graduate student, Robert Gauthier, from the UW Human-Computer Interaction (UWHCI) Lab joined together to organize WatCHI 2020, a mini-event hosted virtually to provide a platform for sharing their research. Click this link to watch the presentations from WatCHI2020, then read the articles below for deeper dives into three of the research papers: 

Later in May, we hosted our first ever virtual Brown Bag Talk: Dr. Shana MacDonald talks Publishing in the Humanities, which we turned into a downloadable toolkit

Then, at the end of June, GI volunteer organizers led by graduate student, Marvin Pafla, hosted the GI Jam completely virtually for the first time ever. A story about the event was featured by the University of Waterloo on their homepage. 

Collaborations With Partners 

Partnerships with industry, non-profit organizations, academic collaborators, and governmental agencies are a central part of the Games Institute ecosystem, allowing us to expand our networks and advance research. During Spring 2020, we published a new (and improved) webpage that showcases our research partnerships. We also featured the following spotlight articles that tell stories about fantastic research crossovers: 

A Note From the Researcher Communications Officer 

“I’ve seen how many of you have shifted your research focus in order to adapt to the changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. These new circumstances changed the way we work by not only dramatically altering our time and access to resources, but also impacting our well-being. Nevertheless, when Media Relations called on us, seeking experts to share research with news outlets, multiple members volunteered their time and energy. Then, when the Office of Research got in touch, asking us for a list of COVID-related research, you volunteered your time and energy yet again. I think about all the wonderful research happening in our institute and I can’t help but feel hopeful and proud to be a part of this ecosystem. Your efforts and willingness to share your research with the world are so valuable to people. Thank you.”

Marisa Benjamin  

EDI Banner

Equity, Diversity and Inclusivity (EDI) Practices at the Games Institute 

At the GI, we want to champion EDI initiatives as we advance toward our goal of becoming a global hub of game and interactive technologies research. We are committed to supporting and uplifting marginalized voices and commit to making EDI the foundation of our culture.  

  • The Games Institute announced the formation of the GI working group on anti-racism, decolonization, equity, diversity, and inclusion, bringing together interdisciplinary perspectives to help us make our culture and community more equitable for BIPOC communities. We are committed to continuous growth, education, and action 
  • First Person Scholar published an Indigenous Games Special Issue
  • The Feminist Think Tank joined the Games Institute Slack, implementing weekly meetings surrounding a variety of EDI topics 
  • Members participated in a shutdown STEM event, pausing their regular work to make space for conversations about Black Lives Matter 

GI Jam BannerFirst Ever Virtual GI Game Jam 

The first ever fully virtual GI Game Jam was held on Discord last June. Weeks of prep went into setting up a series of automated systems in order to make the jam as seamless as possible. With a choose-your-own adventure style setup, we were able to bring a large group of people into the Jam that might not have otherwise been able to participate. Connecting time zones and participants from all around the world in one unified place, here are the highlights: 

  • 54 new roles and 57 new channels were created in the server 
  • 25 teams participated  
  • People joined from across the world, from USA to Korea 
  • Age of participants ranged from 6 years old to 50 
  • Our server hosted the opening ceremony, team collaborations, workshops, and showcase 

Discord GI Game Jam ScreenshotRead more about the event in the feature from the University of Waterloo homepage, “Connecting through games”. Stay tuned for future events – our Discord team is already looking into how these frameworks can translate to larger scale events in the future.

Adapting the GI Facility during COVID-19 banner

Adapting the Games Institute Facility and Operations During COVID-19 

In a totally virtual environment, many of us have come to miss the GI in all its capacities including quick Timmie's runs, quick rounds of Captain's Gambit or Overcooked , and just real human contact (who would have thought?).  

While you've all been working hard to adapt your home environments to accommodate school and work lives, we've been trying to support your amazing research, create a "virtual GI", and simultaneously prepare the space for our inevitable (staggered, but triumphant!) return.  

Most of this includes liaising with Safety Office, Office of Research, and our other EC1 building-mates to figure out what our requirements are and what overarching University policies ask that we do to make our community as safe and clean as possible. Physically, this has meant lots of construction at the GI to move common areas around, get signs in place, and install wipe dispensers, plexiglass, and other distancing barriers.   

GI staff have been working hard to figure out how to modify the GI space and are mostly…figuring out things as they go along. As Pamela Maria Schmidt might tell you, it's kind of like juggling and you keep getting thrown more balls. Except the balls are on fire. Thanks everyone for your patience! 

GI Website banner

New and Improved GI Website

Our staff worked all term to ensure our website reflects the exciting research and activities happening at the GI so that it can amplify our culture, community, and diversity with the world. We invite you to check out the new Games Institute website – we made so many changes, you’ll hardly recognize it!    

For the first time ever, our website features a virtual tour of the GI so that we can offer an experience of our facility that visitors would normally have to enter the space to get. Though it’s designed for incoming members and campus visitors, our members can also check it our for a little nostalgia and to learn something new about the GI. We spotlight the people, research, and history of the GI to share the welcoming and exciting atmosphere of the space that can be enjoyed wherever you happen to be.

Photo of the collaboration spacephoto of the immersion roomphoto of the presentation roomphoto of the living room lab

Explore our Level Up section where you can find information on our projects, productions, our people and our partners. If you miss walking through our hallway of posters, check out the Projects page under Level Up and discover research projects over the years. Under Productions, you will find many interesting collaborations we consider to be at the heart of the GI. We also revamped our Partners page with new explanations about what it means to be a GI partner, how integral partners are to our research, and a list of projects over the years that were possible thanks to these partnerships.

Discord server banner

Our Discord Server 

From Tutorial to Max Level 

COVID-19 launched us into our utilizing our Discord server in entirely new and more intensive ways than we had originally planned. Not only did it accelerate our original plan to use Discord as a virtual meeting space for members and the community, we reimagined the server as a virtual translation of part of the Games Institute culture. The Games Institute Discord works alongside Slack to be a place for GI news, socials, and office hours, as well as a space to share strategies for adjusting to our new reality. 

Discord screenshotBehind the scenes: the above photo is a screenshot of our Discord!

We continue to work alongside our members to enhance the Discord experience, bringing new features and customizing existing ones in order to give the best server for all. Got ideas? Reach out and help us develop it more!  

Save Point Socializing 

We held a number of social events this term through the Discord server! Newly dubbed “Save Point Socials,” these events served as an extension of the former in-person “Coffee and Toasts.” We had two different varieties: Wellness Wednesdays & Coffee’n’Chill. Alternating throughout most of the summer, we stretched out our bodies (during yoga) and our minds (during in efforts to stay connected and adaptable throughout these isolated times. Our hope is to carry some form of these into the Fall term. We were able to connect and meet new people, facilitating sharing of ideas, technologies, and conversations across disciplinary lines. 

Members also enjoyed a number of virtual pub crawls on Discord over the weekend. All while staying in our bedrooms, kitchens, or living rooms, we were entertained by JackBox games and great conversation. We blared music with the LucioBot and laughed together through competitive games of pitching the best ridiculous product and robot rap battles. We look forward to more of these times, too.

Graduating Members banner

Graduating Members

Many Games Institute members graduated from their academic programs at UW this term, and considering everything going on in Spring 2020, we believe this calls for some extra celebration! Our new alumni are:  

Andrew Cen 

Andrew graduated with a MASc in Systems Design Engineering with a primary focus in digital media design. Andrew joined the HCI Games Group in order to also pursue his passions in game design, development and Games User Research.   

Caroline Wong 

Caroline graduated with a MASc in Management Sciences, and spent the last 3 years working as a part of the UW HCI TouchLab. In her master's thesis, she compared people's experiences with information visualizations using mouse, touch, and physical interaction techniques. During her time at the GI, Caroline was also involved in research projects on investigating tabletop interfaces, public large interactive displays, use of creativity in games, and gender inclusivity in makerspace environments

Kenny Fung 

Kenny graduated with a Masters in Computer Science, where he completed research with the HCI Games Group on dynamic difficulty in games and improved his skills as a software developer

Marvin Pafla

Marvin graduated with a Masters in Systems Design Engineering and completed a thesis which explored explainable AI and Human-AI collaboration. Over the course of his degree, he worked with Axonify through a Mitacs partnership, helping advance their research in explainable AI.

Pamela Maria Schmidt 

Pamela graduated with an MA in English, Experimental Digital Media from UW where she explored the function of hope in apocalyptic video games, which intersected climate related catastrophes and technological paranoia.  

Congratulations to all Spring 2020 graduates and graduates from Winter 2020 who also missed an in-person convocation. We are excited to see what you do next and will cheer you on in person as soon as that’s possible!