Browse projects coming from our ecosystem of graduate students, postdocs, and faculty members.
Discover what we mean when we say we're dedicated to the advancement of interdisciplinary research in games and interactive technologies.
Above Water by Rina Wehbe
Above Water is a digital/physical hybrid game to inform people about the available strategies to cope with two types of Anxiety Disorders - Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder. The game teaches players about existing treatments. This hybrid game is designed to inspire players to share their experiences and develop their own personal narrative. The document also outlines an assessment strategy to study the game and determine its effectiveness as a game for health. The game is designed to educate non-institutionalized individuals with clinical anxiety and panic disorder. Potential players may be diagnosed, seeking intervention information, or a supportive friend.
Allergies and Allegories
Steve Wilcox, PhD candidate from the English Language and Literature department at the University of Waterloo, has begun preliminary research at The Games Institute on treating games themselves as heuristics for knowledge translations.
Allergies & Allegories, which follows from his collaboration with GET-FACTS (Genetics, Environment and Therapies: Food Allergy Clinical Tolerance Studies) is a portion of Steve’s dissertation. This game has players working with Mia, a child who has a peanut allergy and has recently moved to a new school. The objective of the game is to improve the Mia’s well-being, which is a composite of various factors identified in the research conducted by GET-FACTS on children with food allergies in Ontario schools. The objective in creating the game is to work towards lowering the social and cultural difficulty these individuals face by engaging children, adults, students, and teachers with various representations of day-to-day life with food allergies.
Steve will be presenting this idea at the upcoming Sustaining Partnership in Scholarly Publishing conference. He will also be presenting on First Person Scholar, an online periodical that publishes accessible scholarship on games and culture, for which he is co-founder and editor-in-chief.
DualPanto is a new haptic device that lets blind users interact continuously with a changing virtual world rather than being restricted to relying only on audio cues. For blind users, continuous interaction means they can have more enjoyable play experiences with first-person shooting games and sport games.
DualPanto is built out of two haptic pantographs connected to handles. Users operate the me handle with one hand and hold the it handle with the other. The me handle represents the user, while the it handle represents something else, like an enemy. Encoders track the rotation and position of each handle so that motors can calculate the precise location of the avatar in the virtual world.
Interesting fact: DualPanto is named after a 2D haptic device called a pantograph, which has mechanical linkages that are connected based on the shape of a parallelogram.
Gendered or Neutral? Considering the Language of HCI by Cayley Macarthur
A lack of diversity in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields has been a challenge in terms of recruitment, engagement, opportunity and equality spanning decades. It is not well understood how new technologies created by the human-computer interaction (HCI) community affect aspects such as empowerment, diversity, identity and equity in minority groups.
Feminist theory suggests that the abstract, gender-neutral language used to talk about people in HCI would elicit imagery perceived to be male. Research suggests that the “people” words in HCI publications (user, participant, person, designer, researcher) all have a tendency to be perceived as male among a male audience, but females have a more balanced perception of "designer", "person", and "participant".
Greater awareness and sensitivity are needed regarding potential bias implied by these terms that are not representative of the diverse community within and outside of HCI.
Interesting fact: The study collected drawings (about 150 per "people word") plus surveys about the drawing and drawer to determine how people perceived the words vs. who they were.
Hustle and Flow
Hustle and Flow is a SSHRC-sponsored multi-game project that models the simulation and negotiation of transboundary water governance of the St. Lawrence River Basin. The first part of the project is a simulation of the elements at play in the Basin itself. The player takes on the role of an omniscient manager tasked with maintaining and extending the Basin's human and ecological and human-related functions, while satisfying the various stakeholder groups that live in the area. The second part of the project asks the player to take on the perspective of a stakeholder group and work together with others - that have lso played the simulation - to negotiate what policy decisions are best for the St. Lawrence Basin as a whole, while also balancing those wider needs against their (individual) stakeholder needs.
Hustle and Flow was presented at the Institute of Public Administration of Canada (IPAC) conference in Toronto in June 2016, and was presented, (as part of games competition) at the European Conference on Games-Based Learning in Paisley, Scotland in October 2016.
Indie Interface Project by Dr. Jennifer Whitson
Many indie game developers struggle to make ends meet. Game audiences are fragmented and difficult to pin down, and ongoing marginalization of women and other under-represented groups is endemic in gaming culture. The Indie Interface project is a partnership with the Indie MEGABOOTH (IMB) and the hundreds of game developers they work with, examining how indie game communities are addressing these issues. It represents a unique opportunity to better understand what we call “indie interface” organizations: how they provide support and stability for economically vulnerable developers, curate indie games for mainstream gaming audiences, and make gaming culture more open and inclusive. Using mixed qualitative/quantitative methods, we've conducted surveys, interviews, and ethnographic fieldwork with developers in the wild (e.g. at their work and where they showcase their games), and since 2016 we've been examining different models for more sustainable and creative game development.
Interesting fact: Most game developer interviews for this project are at massively popular game conventions such as PAX. Dr. Whitson's most memorable interview was in a fortune-telling booth designed to promote the game Barkley 2.
The Kitchen Table
Ryan Clement, PhD candidate from the Department of English Language and Literature at the University of Waterloo, is conducting a study on the effectiveness of games as tools for intercultural communication and knowledge translation.
Since 2014, he has been working with GET-FACTS (Genetics, Environment and Therapies: Food Allergy Clinical Tolerance Studies) with support from the Games Institute, in particular Dr. Neil Randall, and from Drs. Susan Elliott and Jenna Dixon from the Department of Geography and Environmental Management. As part of the project’s mandate to find new and innovative ways to increase overall empathy towards people with food allergies, Ryan designed the Kitchen Table board game. A co-operative game built around family meal planning and dietary restrictions, Kitchen Table challenges its players to work together to ensure there is enough food on the table for everyone to eat, while dealing with issues like cross-contamination and hidden allergens. Kayla Oliveira, a student at the University of Waterloo and GI member, designed the graphics shown below for the Kitchen Table board game pieces.
With an estimated 2.5% of adults affected by food allergies—and 6-8% of children under the age of 31—there exists a substantial generational disconnect over the issue of food allergies and anaphylaxis. Kitchen Table aims to bring diverse groups of people together from within families, workplaces, schools, and other organizations—so that everyone can gain a better understanding of what life is like for a person with anaphylactic food allergies.
While preliminary studies have already suggested the game has been effective at reducing tensions, spreading awareness, and encouraging more empathetic points of view, a more formal study is presently underway. When it is complete, Ryan hopes to be able to provide quantifiable evidence that not only can Kitchen Table be a powerful tool for encouraging empathy towards people with food allergies, but games themselves can be a powerful tool for social change.
Like many of his fellow game scholars and designers, Ryan is an ardent advocate for the capacity of games as a form of media that challenge old limitations and reach incredible new possibilities. As a tool of knowledge translation, they stand unique, not only in their embrace of interactivity and immersion, but also in their incorporation of multiple modes of learning from text-based and pictoral styles to kinesthetic and auditory techniques. Connected with cutting edge technology, yet rooted in the more than ancient human instinct for play, games represent the natural way to learn and to communicate.
That and they can be a whole lot of fun!
References: 1Ben-Shoshan, Moshe and Susan Elliot, et al. "A population-based study on peanut, tree nut, fish, shellfish, and sesame allergy prevalence in Canada." The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 125.6 2010: 1327-1335.
Because of the critiques they leveled at Jackson’s adaptation of LOTR, Emma and Elise decided to make their own adaptation, using the LOTRO game to make a machinima. their adaptation gender-bends and (somewhat, due to the limitations of character creation) race-bends the main characters of the LOTR in order to show that the story is just as interesting and relevant if the characters are not white men. It was very important to us that the story was still recognizable as Frodo’s journey, even with female hobbits. They also wanted to have some fun with the book, bringing in their own politics and making a few jokes that point out odd moments in the narrative, but they took care not to make jokes about the hobbits being female characters.
They filmed LOTR: LH using "digital puppetry" methods for creating a machinima. That is, one person controlled a "camera" character (who would view the action) and another person would control the character(s) who was/were onscreen. Using in-game elements like "emotes" (you can make a character wave, or sit down, for example) they acted out the actions and then recorded dialogue to match up to the actions.
While they knew this would be a big project, there were many aspects of the project that surprised them. Emma and Elise didn’t really realize just how much time it would take, for starters. They knew that they would spend several hours recording and editing, but failed to recognize just how much time it would take to create 6 new characters (between levels 6 and 10), craft and assemble different costumes, rehearse animations and lighting, and learn how to use various programs, like iMovie and GarageBand, on top of scripting, filming, and editing. All told, they spent about 100 hours working from script to finished product. Because of this, they came to have a new understanding of the labour and expenses involved in fanworks. The most complex shots required 8 computers running at the same time, and they also needed computers that could run sophisticated editing software. Even though they both have (relatively) expensive laptops, we still had to go to campus to edit and film scenes, because our comp uters were simply not powerful enough. This was particularly interesting, as fanworks are often used as examples of inexpensive and accessible creation, but this experience has proved that this is not always -- and perhaps not even generally -- true.
They spent hours of time talking about what these characters would be like, their body language, their dress, the way they do their hair, their voice, the relationships to each other and a lot of this work is obviously invisible to a viewer, it looks like coincidence, as it should! The characters were all unique in some way. Their Gandalf for example, is very much Tolkien's Gandalf but she is also an expansion of that character. Emma and Elise make it explicit that she is a bit of an unreliable, flakey windbag who is also filled with wisdom and knowledge. Strider is still the hero that protects the hobbits throughout their journey, but she is also uptight and straightforward to a fault, she can't take or make a joke. Sam is every bit as much of a sweet devoted lover as Tolkien's Sam, but they have demonstrated this in different ways.
For Emma, making this machinima was a reclaiming of the LOTR story for herself because it was the process through which she learned to really love The Lord of the Rings. Going back now and reading the books, she has erased all of the characterization and visuals from the films. For her, their Frodo has become HER Frodo, before Elijah Wood. And This Sam has become the primary Sam to her. Being able to think of these characters in this way allows her to connect with the text on a level that she couldn't previously and in an embodied way. Playing the game, moving through the narrative as her TRUE Frodo and also voicing that Frodo, similar to the way you might feel about a character in a play after portraying them in a production, you feel an embodied connection to that character.
The Pantheon of Dream by Amber O'Brien
The Pantheon of Dream is a digital/physical hybrid role-playing board game that encourages 2-4 players to work collaboratively to craft their own heroic stories each time they play the game. It consists of both a 3D printed game board that the players build as they play the game as well as a digital component that influences how they construct it. The goal of the game is to complete one of many quests by laying paths to certain locations. As they carry out these quests, players will cross paths with creatures, delve into dungeons, and pick up items that will affect their journeys. The Pantheon of Dream is being developed to play with the relationship between two types of narrative: embedded narrative and emergent narrative, in order to explore if doing so increases player immersion. The game undertakes this aim by giving players the ability to weave their stories into the game's narrative.
Quantum Cats by Victor Cheung
Quantum Cats shares the wonder of the quantum world in a new and unique way - through a game. In partnership with the University of Waterloo Games Institute, IQC has created a game that highlights a few of the quantum behaviours that Einstein called 'weird' and 'spooky'.
Quantum Cats is an “Angry Birds” – like game that features four cats, who are launched using an electromagnetic catapult across levels to rescue the world’s kittens (who are coincidentally trapped in nearby boxes). Each cat’s game mechanics correspond to different quantum properties such as Uncertainty, Quantum Tunnelling, and Superposition. The game aims to make quantum mechanics more accessible to the general public, spark interest in quantum computing, and foster public engagement with quantum computing research.
Reading Garden by Diane Watson
Reading Garden is a causal game designed to motivate university students through the long-term motivational problem of reading a course textbook over a semester. In Reading Garden, players grow gardens o level up. Advanced gameplay mechanics are unlocked with a special in-game currency. Players earn this currency by answering a short comprehension quiz based on the assigned readings from the textbook.
Results from twp semester-long studies show that participating in simple cooperative social play motivated players to personally read more of the textbook, while competing using the leaderboards did not. Cooperation may be more motivating than competition when applied to long-term motivational problems.
Rival Books of Aster
Rival Books of Aster is a one or two-player mobile collectible-card strategy game that draws on theories of story and myth creation. Players collect cards to create hexes while contributing to the ongoing unveiling of the mythology in the game. There are over 140 hand illustrated spells that players can use to build custom decks and go head to head against other players. Each spell is also a page in a living story book that translates itself and reveals its secrets as the game is played.
Story arcs and plot points are decided by player actions in-game. In essence, players of the game are dynamically being written into the mythology of the game as they play. The game features innovative game mechanics and beautiful hand-painted art by award-winning artists.
Interesting fact: In addition to being available on the iOS App Store, Rival Books of Aster is also available on Steam.
Startling Zones by Shawn Dorey
Studying a Potential Intersection Between Cultural Geography and Game Studies is an analysis of social interactions Shawn entered in as a player of Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) World of Warcraft. He concludes that there are real consequences to the actions in a MMORPG that feed into other aspects of a person's life. His analysis feeds past the mundane of the financial investment players commit in order to play, and looks at the emotional affects these games apply unto their players. It postulates that participating in these online communities is an excursion in making the world smaller, drawing on the work of Joshua Meyerowitz, Marshall McLuhan, Mia Consalvo and many more. Through this research, the simulated class structures within the MMORPG was found to be informed by the class structures and economic inequalities present offline. Ultimately the final conclusion is a call for a more serious approach to how online interactions are handled and dealt with.
Towards a Poetics of Narrativized Play and Beyond
Shawn DeSouza-Coelho, a Master’s student from the English Language and Literature Department at the University of Waterloo, has been studying narrative theory and games with project work in conjunction with the Stratford Festival of Canada.
Shawn’s project began November 2014 and is scheduled to continue until the end of July 2015. However, the project is part of a much bigger digital development project being undertaken by the Stratford Festival and so, in that sense, it is ongoing. It's his hope that the team carries his particular section of this project through to completion, wherein they will possess a fully functioning cooperative, mobile game entitled, Places, Please!: Hamlet Edition. The game is also but one part of his much greater MRP.
The purpose of his research is four-fold. Firstly, he curious about the intersections between narrative and gameplay, asking the fundamental question: How do we play narrative in a game?
Second, aiming towards the poetics, and basing his research on theories of interaction design, affect theory, procedural rhetoric, theatrical dramaturgy, narrative theory, and the like, he is theorizing new ways of creating intersections between narrative and gameplay. These theories manifest in a formal design logic system that he terms 'procedural incongruence'. In this logic system, the controls/mechanics of the game (i.e. the very means by which the player enters into a conversation with the game world) change over the course of the narrative proffered within that game world.
Third, he theorizes and conceptualising a suite of hypothetical and original video games that utilize 'procedural incongruence' as their foundation. The games of particular focus are: Spec Ops: The Line, Set Them Free, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Places, Please!: Hamlet Edition and C33.
The purpose here is to explore 'procedural incongruence' as it manifests in different degrees of narrative ( embedded,  embedded with some emergence,  emergence with some embedding,  emergent, and  something I can only term meta-embedded because it aims to allow players to converse directly with narrative structure as opposed to the content [characters, setting, actions, etc.] through which these conventions typically manifest.)
In terms of methodology, conceptualising the hypothetical games involved playing each game in a detailed way, paying close attention to how interaction can be used to help convey the narrative being proffered in the game world. Second-hand research aids in this process. Both "Set Them Free" and "C33" involved simply beginning from first principles: writing a script, creating a logic system (controls, rules, etc.) from scratch, and, in the former's case, hiring some actors and an audio engineer to help him bring some aspect of it to life. Places, Please!: Hamlet Edition, with its myriad of practical considerations, possessed a considerably more involved and detailed design process involving: first-hand interviews and correspondence with Stratford Festival personnel (actors, crew, tech, and stage management), and cataloging archival material pertaining to Stratford Festival productions of Hamlet. The game was conceptualized from there.
Fourth, aiming beyond, in creating this suite of games, he has become curious as to the impact of this research on industry as well as the academic field of game studies. With this in mind he is investigating three things:
1) Interrogation of wider discourse using games as the interrogative lens. In this I am touching upon two things: A) The ontology of 'affect' and B) An exploration of the validity of Spinoza's "Ethics" through its manifestation as rudimentary game logic.
2) The role of dramaturgy in game design and its possible applications therein.
3) The role of the humanities scholar within industry. How would such a person, whose sole responsibility is to understand and analyze how a particular object functions and moves its audience, factor into the standard game development process? Would that person factor in at all?
His interests have always been with the very ways that we, as humans, structure our lived realities. Shawn is interested in modes of being, the experience of being, and the ways that we, in essence, cut through all of that so we can shake hands, have coffee, play with our children, climb mountains, and conquer space. He never thought that games would lead me to take up these line of thought once more. But they have. And they do.
Walk-up-and-Play: Overcoming Interaction Barriers in Large Interactive Displays by Victor Cheung
Victor Cheung is currently a PhD student of the University of Waterloo in Systems Design Engineering.
His primary interest is interface & interaction design for interactive surfaces. Personally, he has a wide range of interests including magic, photography, low poly 3D modelling and coffee making. He is also a left-handed person and proud of it.
Victor's dissertation project employs the use of large display to provide engaging experience for passersby in an open setting. One example of this is gameplay that is highly accessible and collaborative in nature. The title, “Walk-up and Play” reflects the aim of his project to create games which anyone can play without struggling with learning rules or confusing button layouts. Currently, collaborative locative games use large displays which are often inaccessible due to their small size and unclear instructions on how to use them. Victor’s work seeks to solve this problem by utilizing bigger screens and gesture tracking technology to draw bigger audiences in.
He is currently working on a simultaneous collaborative game controlled by personal devices called, Multi-Brickout. The game is different from other mobile-connected games because it uses full the full motion of the phone as part of the controller. The game is easy to join in and play because there are no accounts or log in required and players don’t have to mess with QR codes or NFC chips. Using a phone or tablet is innovative and accessible because players are already familiar with their device and (hopefully) enjoy using it. Victor especially enjoys this project because he is always seeking out new technologies to solve current problems in game design.
You can find out more about Victor's project work here.
Why Are Games Difficult? by Rina Wehbe
Why are games difficult? What design decisions affect game difficulty? To answer these questions, Rina's project tests game design decisions in platform games with incremental changes in difficulty. As expected, smaller platform sizes and quicker speeds increase difficulty. However, Rina's team found that triple jump is actually less difficult than double jump. They speculate this may be because they were changing the base task instead of increasing difficulty. Furthermore, they tested changes in perspective (i.e. scrolling along the x-axis, y-axis, or z-axis) and found significant differences.
Words and Worlds: Creating Space Inside and Outside Videogames by Michael Hancock
Michael Hancock’s research interests regarding videogames can be summed up in two concepts: fantasy and science fiction, and textual representation. There are extensive bodies of research that have been done on fantasy and science fiction in general, but relatively little on how that research applies in the videogame media; what do the rhetorics of fantasy become when the protagonist is controlled by the player? What does the megatext of science fiction become when weaved into a multiplayer first person shooter? To speak to textual representation, it is commonplace in the game industry and culture to treat videogames as if they exist in a historical ascent of technological superiority, with visual realism being a marker of superiority. Michael’s research looks into what variants of videogame history we can create if we pay attention instead to how text directs meaning in videogames. These two branches of research come together in the concept of paratext, the objects that are not considered part of a videogame, yet shape players’ interpretation of it. The strategy guide, the instruction manual, the graphic novel adaptation—all of these textual representations guide the player in certain directions, create certain fantasy worlds. Michael sees his role as a scholar to investigate how this guiding happens, and how it reflects on game culture at large.
Michael Hancock is a PhD candidate in the Department of English Language and Literature at the University of Waterloo. His dissertation—as relates to the research above--is on the history of textual representation in videogames, a study which ranges from videogame instruction manuals to the 1989 Amiga game It Came From the Desert, a loose adaptation of the 1954 giant ant, science fiction film Them!. He is particularly interested in three areas of game studies: the social engagements and activities of players, the historical shifts in game design and interpretation, and the formal aspects of video games, as they present themselves to the players. He’s also interested in social applications of digital media in general, and how societies adapt to these new technologies. Michael's current research includes: deadlines in horror videogames, the intersection of videogames and the gothic, and fantasy and commercial structures in match-3 style games. He is formerly the Book Reviews Editor for First Person Scholar at the University of Waterloo.