Our Research

The Games Institute (GI) is concerned with the entire research process as a continuum. All stages in the process are conducted by human beings doing their work in the contexts of all aspects of their jobs, their lives, their collaborators and teams, and the societies and cultures in which they live and where impact of the research may be seen. Hence, the GI is about the researcher, with a holistic view of how research works and how researchers make it happen. To this end, the GI values traditional outputs of university research conference talks, journal articles, scholarly books, etc. equally to the implementation of collaborative projects, the management of research teams, the applications for funding whether or not the funding is granted, and the follow through of research results to determine how they might affect audiences both inside and outside the academy. 

The focus is on the full research process and, with it, the stories that emerge from this processvaluing innovation and thinking outside the box in both research and its dissemination. The GI places major importance on the well-being of its members with the ultimate goal that they feel welcome, they are treated well, and learn from each other and their experiences. Researchers guide the GI, and it’s the Institute’s goal to provide the best possible environment physically, socially, and culturally €“ for their work.

The GI's research clusters graphic.
The GI promotes and supports interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary and collaborative research to understand, design, enhance and solve problems through games, game-driven technologies, interactive immersive technologies and experiences. Over the past five years, research has coalesced around three broad clusters:  
  1. Games and Interactive Media Studies;

  2. Games and Interaction Science; and

  3. Games and Interactive Media for Special Purposes.  

The GI’s researchers work within these major clusters. While these clusters, on the surface, focus on either the Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH), Health, or the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines, the interdisciplinary basis of the GI has seen each cluster welcome members from any discipline as their research interests coincide. Found below is a select few of GI member projects to highlight how their work contributes to these three clusters.


Games and Interactive Media Studies

Games and Interactive Media

Games and Interactive Media Studies covers a range of sub-disciplines which, in themselves, have developed as constellations of disciplines largely in the humanities and social sciences. This cluster incorporates game studies, primarily a humanities-based exploration of games and game culture, with digital media studies, a set of linked areas driven primarily by exploring digital interactions, our current media landscape, and media interventions. This cluster also examines the ever-increasing range of issues surrounding art, culture, and human behaviour.

Sample Projects

Allergies and Allegories

Allergies and Allegories Banner Starting Page

Researcher(s): Steve Wilcox

"Uncommon Places: The Multimodal Art of Embodied Invention" develops the concept of embodied invention, an epistemology and design philosophy that treats multimodal media such as comics and videogames as heuristics for translating knowledge between bodies, communities, and cultures. In classical rhetoric, invention refers to the art of discovering knowledge through the commonplaces those opinions, beliefs, and values hold that are common to a particular time and place. Rhetors would train themselves in invention by studying commonplace books texts that contained common expressions, phrases, and allegories of a particular community, region, or culture. Drawing on phenomenology, semiotics, and media theory, this dissertation puts forward an embodied account of invention, one that correlates knowledge of the world with one's positions or place in the world. In order to make this point effectively, and to demonstrate its applicability to design, a portion of this dissertation is argued through a videogame called Allergies & Allegories.

Learn more about the game and the collaboration with GET-FACTS.

Open the poster PDF.

Computational Thematic Analysis of Online Communities

Computational Thematic Analysis of Online Communities poster image of speech bubbles from characters along a road

Researcher(s): Robert P. Gauthier

Robert Gauthier studies online communities, examining how researchers can gain insights that can inform, and even improve, public health practices. He explores the sensitive topic of addiction recovery by using topic modelling from machine learning to understand how Reddit communities provide support. He found that Reddit communities were helping members find activities that could replace addictive behaviors. The communities also allowed people to share negative and positive experiences with members and outsiders, such as family members. Robert found that communities were using Reddit to have these critical discussions because the online platform provides pseudonymity – anonymity while remaining under a re-usable user-name. The pseudonymity is crucial for many individuals to be able to have, or observe, discussions that might otherwise be discouraged or rejected in in-person support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), or other organized therapy. The Reddit communities foster critical and complex discussions such as questioning the religious undertones in AA, or wondering how living in recovery from opiates could interfere with healthcare treatment in a system that prescribes opiates for pain management.

Read Gautheri's research paper.

Open the poster PDF.

Everything Old is New Again: A Comparative Analysis of Feminist Memes

Everything Old is New Again: A Comparative Analysis of Feminist Memes poster title with scrabble pieces spelling "meme"

Researcher(s): Dr. Shana MacDonald

Dr. MacDonald and her team “Feminist Think Tank” are examining several archived collections of feminist media for a comparative analysis of feminist eras to map links between the varied and rich media practices of the time. They hope to combat flattened, antifeminist tropes that often circulate in the on-going rewriting of feminist histories.

Using a data feminist framework, the project utilizes text and image analysis to (1) determine the prevalence of feminist keywords within a series of collections housed at the Internet Archives and (2) compare their frequency and usage across collections to (3) map which feminist terms are most repeated within web archival records of feminist movements in the last four decades.

The collections include historical scopes such as the Fales Library New York Feminist Art Institute and Guerilla Girls collection, the Sallie Bingham Center for women’s history and culture collection, the Tamiment-Wager-Feminism and Women’s Movements collection, and the Schlesigner Library’s #MeToo Web Archives collection.

Datasets are coded, organised, and visualised to determine overlaps in content, media, and form to un/recover intersectional, queer, trans, and Indigenous feminist media practices to better contextualise these practices within the digital present. Rather than defining how eras of feminist activism differ, the project aims to categorize the ways that these eras overlap in their trajectories and shared solidarities to explore how they inform each other over time.

Interesting fact: This project was the first time many of the co-researchers learned how to code!

Open the poster PDF.

#Farmtalk: A Case Study of Farmers on TikTok

Researcher(s): Sid Heeg

Social media continues to shape how information is created, distributed, and received, and new generations of farmers are using social media platforms to engage with their own industry and the broader public. Contrary to a widely held stereotype of a technologically inept industry, farmers engage very actively with social media for a variety of purposes in their work. For example, TikTok is growing in popularity within farming communities as it provides an innovative iteration for their social networks and community. It allows farmers to directly engage consumers to improve food literacy, dispel myths around food production, and provide a better understanding of issues faced by farmers.

PhD Candidate Sid Heeg surveys how farmers are engaging with TikTok to counter mis- and disinformation about their industry, and explores how farmers present their specialized generational knowledge to the public.

Instagram Hacking for the Resistance: @aesthetic.resistance

Instagram Hacking for the Resistance: @Aesthetic.Resistance Banner

Researcher(s): Dr. Shana MacDonald

@aesthetic.resistance is a research creation-based intervention into prevailing Instagram culture that amplifies work from 2SLGBTQIA+ and Black, Indigenous, racialized activists and other equity-deserving communities. It resists the colonial, white supremacist, ableist, and capitalist heteropatriarchal norms of the Instagram platform.

Situated as part of Feminist Think Tank, a feminist run digital media research lab, and building on a series of ongoing projects that explore the trajectory of feminist media activism between the 1960s and the present, @aesthetic.resistance provides a database of feminist historical and contemporary media practices that advance "the personal is political" in aesthetic form.

Feminist Think Tank designed @aesthetic.resistance to co-opt the functions of Instagram via a decidedly aesthetic mode of exploratory knowledge production that does not have a predetermined, tangible, deliverable - what they call a "feminist Instagram hack".

Open the poster PDF.

On the Cultural Inaccessibility of Gaming: Invading, Creating, and Reclaiming the Cultural Clubhouse

Cultural Inaccessibility of Gaming: Invading, Creating, and Reclaiming the Cultural Clubhouse Banner

Researcher(s): Emma Vossen

Vossen develops the concept of “cultural inaccessibility” to describe the ways that women are made to feel unwelcome in spaces of game play and games culture, both offline and online. Although there are few formal or physical barriers preventing women from purchasing games, playing games, or acquiring jobs in the games industry, Vossen’s dissertation explores the formidable cultural barriers which define women as “space invaders” and outsiders in games culture.

Women are routinely subjected to gendered harassment while playing games, and in the physical spaces of games culture, such as conventions, stores, and tournaments. This harassment and abuse has intensified toward journalists, developers and academics who choose to speak publicly about bigotry within the culture since the 2014 rise of gamergate.

Vossen also explores her own experiences as a female gamer as a means of reflecting on developments in the broader culture. This includes discussion of various projects she worked on including a short machinima (a film made within a video game) created with Elise Vist inside Lord of the Rings Online entitled Lady Hobbits, the gender and games advocacy group the Games Institute Janes (GI Janes), and her tenure as a staff member and editor-in-chief of game studies publication First Person Scholar.

The dissertation concludes with a discussion of the harassment Vossen faced from gamergate, and members of other far-right groups while writing her dissertation. Vossen asks how women can study games culture if doing so puts them at risk of becoming targets of harassment and abuse. It underscores the cultural inaccessibility of social justice oriented work in academia and at large.

Interesting fact: In 2017, Vossen made a 60-minute radio documentary “The Dangerous Game: Gamergate and the ‘Alt-right” with CBC Ideas that was broadcast nationally by CBC Radio.

Read Vossen's dissertation.

Places, Please!

Places Please poster image of four phone screens of project demo

Researcher(s): Shawn DeSouza-Coelho

Places, Please! is a joint venture between The Games Institute at the University of Waterloo and the Stratford Festival of Canada. It is a four-player cooperative mobile game designed to stimulate the acts of putting on a theatrical production at the Stratford Festival. Within the framework of these productions, four players take on the roles of each of the four production departments (Acting, Crew, Stage Management, and Tech). All departments must work together to perform stimulated version of the real-life individual and collaborative duties required of them to ensure the smooth running of the show. The game is unique in that the focus is not on these tasks, but on the complex modes of interaction required between departments in their completion.

Open the poster PDF.

Reading Garden

Reading Garden poster title with 2D graphics of apple tree and flowers on a field

Researcher(s): Diane Watson

Reading Garden is a casual 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 to 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.

Our results from two semester-long studies show that participating in simple cooperative social play motivated players to personally read more of the textbook, while competing using the leader boards did not. Cooperation may be more motivating than competition when applied to long-term motivational problems.

Open the poster PDF.

Reparative Play

Reparative Play poster image of various numbered dice

Researcher(s): Giuseppe Femia

Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) is a tabletop role-playing game that allows players to assume the role of their character, creating a division in persona between the players and characters. Role-playing allows players to explore their own identity and that of others.

Femia investigates how D&D game designers can allow players to take part in the creation and exploration of queer identity by roleplaying their in-game characters.

Often times, the societal assumption that everyone is heterosexual and cisgender dominates game spaces. However, D&D campaigns can serve as a source of support for queer communities through the application of an inclusive and queer-friendly game design framework that challenges this assumption.

Read Femia's research paper.

Open the poster PDF.

Rival Books of Aster

Rival Books of Aster poster title with card decks in back

Researcher(s): Adam Bradley, Jonathan Rodriguez, Kent Aardse

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 books 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, the 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.

Open the poster PDF.

Stories in Play: Narrative Formation in Sports and Esports

Stories in Narrative Formation in Sports and Esports poster title with two gamers high-fiving in the background

Researcher(s): John Yoon

Sports depend on narrative to function as media, but they are challenging to narrativize because they are very unpredictable. Narrativizing describes a set of loose practices which weave a coherent story from a disparate set of events or phenomena as a tool for making sense of the world. Yoon proposes a model for analyzing the narrative formation in sports broadcasts by tracking the live narrativization.

This project asks: How does the live narrativization construct a story if the ending is unknown? How does the narrativization balance its desires for narrative coherence and unpredictability?

Yoon creates his own multi-layered narrative model based on Roland Barthes’ function-action-narration schema and applies this model to the National Football League (NFL) and the World Championship Series of StarCraft II (WCS) as two case studies of narrative formation in traditional sports and esports. The comparison of the narrativization reveals that both traditional sports and esports struggle to balance the desire to craft coherent narratives with the randomness of a live event. Yoon proposes that esports must fully embrace their unique digital features even if the digital nature of esports violates contemporary notions of what “real sports” are.
 
Interesting fact: Yoon says: “I’ve been a lifelong esports fan, so it was natural for me to study this nascent phenomenon through a narrative lens.”

Read Yoon's dissertation.

Open the poster PDF.

Structures of Silence: Queering Spatiotemporal Dialogs in Video Games

Structures of Silence: Queering Spatiotemporal Dialogics in Video Games poster title with fantasy castle background

Researcher(s): Betsy Brey

Betsy Brey's dissertation investigates the narrative and community of one of the most successful games of the last decade, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Brey examines the meaning of specific language using “dialogics”, a tool for examining words and language in their present, past, and future social and cultural contexts.

Brey argues that the players of Skyrim form a “queered dialogic relationship” with how the narrative of the game represents time, space, economics, and politics which can either challenge or reinforce larger systems of power. In this context, “queered” or “queering” refers not to sexuality but to the process of creating relationships between narrative, time, and space that do not align with dominant cultural attitudes and norms. Games have traditionally been studied through a heteronormative narrative lens, which Brey argues is at odds with the inherently queer and fluid narratives of video games.

As one example, Brey examines the evolution of online memes and language that originated in the Skyrim community. One Skyrim meme Brey examines was initially about the fictional political and racial boundaries of the world of Skyrim but then was co-opted and used as a racist pro-Trump meme during the 2016 US presidential election.

While Skyrim seems to promote philosophies of freedom, choice, and liberation, it does so by reproducing colonial narratives without attempting to complicate or push back against them. Skyrim falls short of offering more than sympathy to those oppressed by white, colonial, and patriarchal systems. The ways that players engage with the time and space they have at their disposal within Skyrim often align with systems of oppression instead of critiquing them.

Interesting fact: Over the course of her PhD, Brey has played over 900 hours of Skyrim. Both for fun and research.

Read Brey's dissertation.

Open the poster PDF.

Terrorarium

Terrorarium Banner

Researcher(s): Adam Bradley

In collaboration with Stitch Media and co-funded by Mitacs and SSHRC, the researchers participated in the development investigated Terrorarium, a Personal Computer (PC) game about “wanton destruction and adorable gore in player-made murder gardens”. In the game, you play as a space granny, obsessed with winning the blue ribbon from the Intergalactic Horrorcultural Society. The researchers used the design/development process of creating a commercial game as a case study to further IMMERSe research topics surrounding: narratology, interactive narratives, cultural analysis of games, and innovative gameplay interactions.

The development of Terrorarium helped the researchers understand how the rhetoric of video games and generated visuals in multimodal environments influence young audiences. Using a variety literary, folkloric, and mythology theories, they established how specific actions allow players to engage with the game world, drawing on their real-life experiences with institutions and plants. They expanded the applicability of rhetoric to the study and game design of Terrorarium by examining how the game creates roles for its players. To help understand how environments influence players, researchers also used Terrorarium to understand how to build dynamic, virtual worlds by writing interactive storylines and character backstories.

Interesting fact: There is a live “Moogu Death Counter” on https://terrorarium.games, reaching over 40 million “deaths” and counting. Terrorarium was selected for the IndieCade Festival at the Electronics Entertainment Expo (E3) 2019!

Check out the game by Stitch Media.

Open the poster PDF.

The Pantheon of Dream

 

The Pantheon of Dream poster image of game pieces on table

Researcher(s): 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, 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 type 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 the stories into the game's narrative.

Learn more about the game.

Open the poster PDF.

The PoeTree

The Poetree poster image of paper tree and chalkboard in a park

Researcher(s): Shawn DeSouza-Coelho

The PoeTree is built upon the principle that community is the answer. It is the first step in a multi-year plan to foster community engagement and to provide financial assistance to those communities.

The installation itself consists of a large plastic/metallic tree possessing one hundred and thirty branches made of steel wire. At the end of these branches is an alligator clip, and within the jaws of each clip is a single slip of paper containing a poem. Passers-by are able to take a poem from the tree at anytime they wish. Nearby is a sign that says as much. Also nearby is a small stand with pens and blank slips of paper so that passers-by can also leave their own poems for others to take.

Here we have a simple exchange between strangers, anonymous if they wish to be, and above all emotionally charged. This exchange is another way to know and understand one another through the written word.

Interesting fact: The PoeTree was first planted in Trinity Bellwoods Park in Toronto, ON on August 27, 2017. The PoeTree was at the Schneider Haus National Historic Site on November 4, 2017 for Kitchener's NIGHT/SHIFT Festival.

Learn more about The PoeTree.

Open the poster PDF.

Games and Interaction Science

Games and Interaction Science

Games and Interaction Science covers research in STEM and Health disciplines which is often complemented by the social sciences and the humanities. This cluster studies the multimodal and multisensory means players use to interact with their games and how viewers of virtual reality, augmented reality, and other interactive immersive media engage with their virtual experiences. This cluster also looks at feminist principles in design and how technology should be evolving with anti-racism, decolonization, equity, diversity, and inclusion at the forefront. It also studies player accessibility as well as user interactions with technology and human behaviour. 

Sample Projects

A User Study on Rheumatoid Arthritis Patient Needs

A User Study on Rheumatoid Arthritis Patient Needs poster title with graphic of two heads and medical designs

Researcher(s): Marina Wada

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory joint condition that affects patients throughout their lifetime. For that reason, patients with RA must make several medication choices, each with long-term and short-term side effects that provide a complex basis for medication decision making. Our project employed user-centered design methodologies to collect qualitative data about RA patient's needs and desires: for example, we interviewed patients about how they'd envision integrating interactive technologies to existing medical practices, and learned about non-technology-based solutions the patients were developing for themselves.

We aimed to produce research-based suggestions for improving treatment plans for patients with RA that can inform the development of interactive technologies that integrate Shared Decision Making (SDM) elements, a medical approach that considers patient's individual needs and desires with the physician's expertise to reach a consensus on treatment. Ultimately, our study contributed the conclusion that designs in health technology to support RA patients with SDM may benefit by acknowledging the dynamic nature of RA as a chronic disease.

We gained valuable information from across these categories: chronic patient experiences, chronic disease management, lifestyle challenges associated with RA, and decision making. Exemplary finding included:

  1. Mental health, sexual health, and family planning as it relates to RA patient experiences were overlooked.
  2. Patient agency, which is the ability to exercise autonomy in decisions related to their own health was mentioned to be developed through social support, minor decision making, and gaining greater knowledge about RA.
  3. Over time, participants recalled adapting to mental and physical lifestyle changes that RA demanded. This is important because every patient will go through their own journey in figuring out what works best for them as a coping adaptation to their disease; this also helps inform patient agency.

Interesting fact: We interviews participants from the Canadian Arthritis Patient Alliance (CAPA), a national non-profit patient advocate organization. For more information go to the CAPA website.

Read Wada's thesis.

Open poster PDF.

Adaptive Gamification of Digital Learning Environments and the Ludimoodle Project

Adaptive Gamification of Digital Learning Environments and the Ludimoodle Project poster title

Researcher(s): Stuart Halifax

Gamification, the use of game elements in non-game contexts, is used in the educational field to enhance engagement, motivation, and performance. But which factors influence the impact of game elements on learner motivation? Recent studies show that learners react differently to different game elements and that learner motivation, engagement, and performance vary depending on personality, and game preferences. If game elements are not adapted to learners, it can, at best, fail to motivate them, and, at worst, demotivate them. Therefore, it is essential to adapt game elements to individual learner preferences.

Hallifax’s research was part of LudiMoodle, a project dedicated to the gamification of learning resources that adapts game elements integrated into the Moodle learning environment to help motivate learners. The project offered insight into the impacts of specific game elements (including timers, leaderboards, progress, avatars, badges, and scores) on learner motivation when using a digital learning environment. Hallifax conducted this research both in France at the University of Lyon, and as a visiting scholar at the Games Institute. Hallifax created an “adaptation engine” that suggests relevant game elements for learners. The engine was implemented for the LudiMoodle project and used by 258 students in four different secondary schools in France. This work represents a significant advancement for the field of adaptive gamification and provides tools and recommendations for designers to help explore different game element designs.

Interesting fact: This project involved the education authority of Lyon, researchers in computer and educational sciences, instructional designers, teachers, and Education Technologies & Digital Learning (Edunao) the company dedicated to the development of the game elements.

Read Hallifax's dissertation.

Open the poster PDF.

Alice and Schrödinger's Excellent Adventure

Alice and Schrödinger's Excellent Adventure poster graphic with cartoon character and cat

Researcher(s): Elise Vist and Lauren Burr

Alice and Schrödinger is a playful exploration of the Mike and Ophelia Lazaridis Quantum-Nano Centre. Using a combination of near-field communication chips, which users access in specific locations, and bluetooth-based iBeacons, which let users know when they're near something interesting, Alice and Schrödinger encourages users to wander around the building, seeking out snippets of conversation between Alice, an Institute for Quantum Computing graduate student, and Schrödinger, her curious and excitable cat. Tours, even self-guided ones, require users to follow a clear, linear path from one fact to another, restricting them to the path that the designer thinks is most interesting. Instead, Alice and Schrödinger allows people to pick and choose what kind of information they're interested in, and let the architecture of the building and their own whims draw them to different locations.

Open the poster PDF.

Beam Me 'Round, Scotty!

Beam Me 'Round, Scotty! Banner

Researcher(s): John Harris

To better study asymmetric co-operative play, we developed our own research prototype game called Beam Me 'Round, Scotty! One player uses a dual-joystick game pad to play the action-oriented role of the courageous space captain, Joanna T. Kirk, who must battle dangerous creatures while attempting to escape a hostile alien world. Simultaneously, a second player assumes the role of plucky engineer, Scotty, using a mouse and keyboard to play a more planning-focused strategy role. Still safe in orbit, Scotty players must use the ship's various special abilities such as heal beams, force fields, torpedoes, and teleportation to help Kirk reach safety. By designing specific challenges that deliberately tilt the direction and degree of interdependence between Kirk and Scotty players, we were able to use our custom-built prototype game as a fine-grained, experimental tool to better understand collaborative game play.

Interesting fact: “Beam Me ‘Round, Scotty!” was awarded both the People’s Choice and Judges’ Choice awards at the CHI PLAY 2015 Student Game Design Competition. One of our subsequent papers regarding BMRS studies #2 & #3 also received an honourable mention (Top 5%) award at CHI 2019.

Read Harris' research paper.

Open the poster PDF.

Designing Persuasively Using Playful Elements

Designing Persuasively Using Playful Elements poster image of game demo; a cat jumping platforms

Researcher(s): Rina R. Wehbe

Why are games difficult? What design decisions affect game difficulty? To answer these questions, our project tests game design decisions in platform games with incremental changes in difficulty. As expected, smaller platform sizes, and quicker speed increase difficulty. However, unexpectedly we found that triple jump is actually less difficult than double jump. We speculate this may be because we are changing the base task instead of increasing difficulty. Furthermore, we also tested changes in perspective (i.e. scrolling along the x-axis, y-axis, or z-axis) and found significant differences.

Interesting fact: This was presented as a paper at the CHI 2017 conference.

Read Wehbe's thesis.

Open the poster PDF.

DualPanto

Dual Ponta Banner

Researcher(s): Dr. Oliver Schneider

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 sports 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.

Learn more about the haptic device and its design.

Open the poster PDF.

Flow Weaver

Flow Weaver poster title; castle-like room in background

Researcher(s): Judy Ehrentraut

You are trapped. Bound by magic by unknown captors. But you are a “Flow Weaver” and can move between dimensions. Travel through different dimensions, learn new spells, and uncover the secrets of this strange world to orchestrate your escape!

Flow Weaver is a VR narrative escape room game that allows you to move between multiple different “flows” as you discover them. The player learns how each unique Flow affects the world and uses those differences to solve puzzles and challenges, learn new skills or spells, and uncover new objects.

Immersion is often interpreted as the feeling of losing awareness of one’s physical body and environment while perceiving the virtual space as “real.” But is that accurate to how we feel when playing games?

Ehrentraut argues that what is lacking in our understanding of immersion is its relationship to “presence,” i.e., the sensation of being spatially located in a virtual environment. Ehrentraut’s experiment matched hand movements using a controller with virtual on-screen hand movements to improve a state of “flow” or immersion.

She concludes that rather than promoting disembodiment in virtual space, there is a need to focus more on the player establishing a connection between physical gestures, on-screen feedback, and haptic feedback. Flow Weaver accomplishes these goals and attempts to reconcile theories about immersion with how players reorient their experiences of “being there” in VR.

Check out Flow Weaver on Meta Quest.

Open the poster PDF.

Gamification: Dynamic Personalization of Gameful Interactive Systems

Gamification: Dynamic Personalization of Gameful Interactive Systems poster title with flow chart graphic and HCI games logo

Researcher(s): Gustavo Fortes Tondello

Gamification, the application of game elements in non-game contexts, can improve user engagement, enjoyment, and behaviour toward digital interactive systems. Existing research suggests that the qualities of users, such as their personality, preferences, or identification with the task, can influence how they use a gameful systems. Given how user qualities shape the gameful experience, we theorize that it is advantageous to personalize gameful systems. We propose a method for personalized gameful design with three steps: (1) classification of user preferences, (2) selection of gameful design elements, and (3) heuristic evaluation of the design. Our method provides practical tools and clear guidelines to help designers effectively build personalized gameful systems. We designed, implemented, and conducted a pilot evaluation of a software platform that allows researchers to generate different experimental conditions for the study of personalized gameful design. This way, different research questions can be answered by gamification researchers.

Interesting fact: The Gamification User Types Hexad Scale, which we helped develop as a practical method for classification of user preferences, has already been answered by more than 22,000 internet users and has been cited more than 100 times in scholarly publications as of July 2019.

Read Tondello's dissertation.

Open the poster PDF.

Gamification in the Banking Sector

Gamification in the Banking Sector poster title; screencap of game demo in background

Researcher(s): Dr. Neil Randall

Scotiabank and the Games Institute partnered together on a project that utilizes game simulations and gamification to impact saving behaviours. The Games Institute developed a gamified experience for customers using Scotiabank’s apps and websites to drive financial behavioural change. Designers implemented a “choice-and-consequence” system that simulated multiple financial decisions throughout a person’s life. This process was challenging as the simulation can only represent a limited number of choices and impacts, which need to feel realistic.

To create the game platform and scenarios, the designers used Scotiabank’s “Behavioural Archetypes”, i.e., people in different financial situations. The players start the game by self-selecting one of the archetypes and proceeding with the relevant lifestyle scenario. One scenario involves a simulation of a new graduate moving to a city in response to a job offer. The game simulates numerous decisions related to savings behaviour, spending behaviour, and planning. The team’s goal is for the game to impact user behaviour through a deeper understanding of the consequences of their financial decisions.

Interesting fact: The designers modelled the game after the structure of “Choose Your Own Adventure” novels. The researchers and designers combined their differing expertise around gamification, choice-and-consequence games, user expertise, and player behaviour to create a unique experience that improves financial literacy.

Open the poster PDF.

Gendered or Neutral? Considering the Language of HCI

Gendered or Neutral? Considering the Language of HCI Banner

Researcher(s): Cayley MacArthur

A lack of diversity in STEM 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 hav ea tendency to be perceived as a male among a male audience, but female 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.

Read about the full project.

Open the poster PDF.

Identifying Questions for Game-based Learning Through Deep Learning

Identifying Questions for Game-Based Learning Through Deep Learning poster title; circle graphic in background

Researcher(s): Marvin Pafla

Game-based learning tools often use questions to measure and encourage learning but generating these questions can be challenging. That is why Pafla partnered with Axonify to design, implement, and evaluate systems that can apply machine learning to large texts (such as textbooks) to automatically generate questions for game-based learning tools.

Machine-learning can help large companies like Axonify generate questions for their learning management system for frontline employees. These systems will enable Axonify to scale its products to incorporate a greater amount of source material, develop more robust sets of questions, and serve a larger market.

Interesting fact: Former GI Postdoctoral Fellow, Dr. Deltcho Valtchanov, worked with Axonify on his own Mictacs project. Now working at Axonify, Deltcho helped set up this new partnership for Marvin.

Learn more about the Mitacs project.

Open the poster PDF.

Interactive Training Tool for Injury Assessment of a Human Joint

Marco Moran Ledesma demonstrating a 3D printed leg with close-ups of the knee joint

Researcher(s): Marco A. Moran-Ledesma

When someone injures a joint or ligament in their leg, the only way to properly diagnose the damage is through scans and medical imaging, but what if an accurate diagnosis could be performed right when the injury happened through a hands-on assessment? Moran-Ledesma has dedicated his PhD research to exploring this question with the goal of helping health care practitioners design easy to use and easy to access training equipment. This has become the basis of his 3D printed artificial human joint.

Mimicking a human leg, the artificial joint has been constructed using a wide variety of different 3D printed materials with the goal of making this tool easy to fabricate, assemble, and implement as a teaching device for clinical instructors and kinesiology students. Using silicone-based skin layers and internal wires to stimulate an injured or torn ligament, the materials mimic the texture, feel, and density of an injured joint which would improve the hands-on training kinesiology students need when making assessments.

An additional component to the training and implementation of the artificial joint is to incorporate virtual reality (VR) for more immersive training simulations. The use of VR would have students perform an assessment on the artificial joint that is collocated with a virtual avatar in a clinical setting. The result of this hybrid training simulation will better educate students about injury assessment.

Interesting fact: As of 2023, Moran-Ledesma is on version 5.0 of the leg to make it "Doctor Proof" accounting for how often the leg breaks under rigorous testing in medical environments.

Open the poster PDF.

Makerspace Mapping Opportunities for Improved Equity in Makerspaces and Virtual Reality

Makerspace Mapping Opportunities for Improved Equity in Makerspaces and Virtual Reality poster title

Researcher(s): Cayley MacArthur

What can we learn from gender-imbalanced maker groups to support the diverse needs of makers in STEM-focused environments? What systemic barriers prevent the successful adoption of new technologies (like virtual reality) by diverse makers, specifically women?

Cayley MacArthur’s PhD dissertation analyses the impact of equity, diversity, and inclusion within STEM-focused environments by examining women’s experience in these disciplines and spaces. The promise of “making” – that is, learning, experimenting, DIY, creation, re-appropriation, or otherwise – has become a popular topic in human-computer interaction (HCI) research. Making and “makerspaces” are of interest to public and private institutions for their potential to build confidence and potentially inspire new career paths in STEM.

MacArthur examines how these environments are often not designed to be accessible to women, people of colour, and people with disabilities by conducting ethnographic fieldwork with diverse makers. For example, she examines how VR research is designed, conducted, and reported in ways that are systematically biased against women.

This research considers what steps we need to take to make these spaces more inclusive and inviting to marginalized groups.

Interesting fact: Turns out quilting bees can serve as comparative models for game jams! MacArthur attended a lot of both for her research.

Read MacArthur's dissertation.

Open the poster PDF.

Player Agency, Decision-making, and Morality in Cinematic Choice-based Adventure Games

Player Agency Decision-Making and Moraality in Cinematic Choice-Based Adventure Games poster title; zombie hoard background

Researcher(s): Karina Arrambide

Cinematic choice-based adventure games (CCAGs) offer examples of complex decision-making through player choices. These games are a perfect opportunity to understand player agency through the decision-making processes of players.

Do players feel a sense of control over their decisions in CCAGs? Do they feel differently when watching someone else’s gameplay instead of playing the games themselves? Do players translate their real-life morality to their gameplay, or are they driven by experimentation?

Arrambide’s dissertation provides an in-depth investigation into agency and decision-making terminology to improve CCAGs and player experience. While we can learn a lot about agency and morality from game design theory, it is essential to understand that players and theorists often have entirely different definitions of terms like “agency,” “decision-making,” and “morality.”

Arrambide also conducted multiple studies focusing on player agency and morality in CCAGs. She found that while feelings of agency were increased when participants made decisions, they often felt like they did not receive meaningful feedback to indicate that their decision mattered. She also found that players enjoy experiences where they can personalize their character based on their morality.

This work provides an understanding of the perceived agency and moral dilemmas of games, which can help game developers optimise the mechanics behind player choices.

Interesting fact: Participants in Arrambide’s studies played popular story-driven video games such as Until Dawn, Life is Strange and Detroit: Become Human, in which the player makes many highstakes decisions.

Read Arrambide's dissertation.

Open the poster PDF.

Predicting Cybersickness in Virtual Reality (VR)

Predicting Cybersickness in Virtual Reality (VR) poster title; VR equipment tested by people

Researcher(s): Séamas Weech, Jessy Varghese, and Michael Barnett-Cowan

The paper “Estimating the sensorimotor components of cybersickness”, published in the Journal of Neurophysiology, presents the findings from our study that measured participant responses to standard neurophysiology tests in relation to later cybersickness in VR. We measured balance control, vection responses, and vestibular sensitivity: we were looking for how well participants maintained balance, how their bodies moved in response to visual stimulation, and how prone they were to dizziness.

Our study found a significant correlation between participant sway patterns during vection stimuli and later motion sickness. Vection stimulation refers to showing participants visual motion cues and measuring whether or not they feel their own body moving as well. We saw that when participants swayed more during vection stimulation, they were more likely to report feeling motion sick during VR. The more we understand about this correlation between sensitivity to vection stimuli and cybersickness, the more we will be able to develop strategies for overcoming VR motion sickness.

Interesting fact: Knowing that vection sensitivity is a strong predictor for VR motion sickness means that researchers now have a way of predicting motion sickness without inducing nausea in participants.

Open the poster PDF.

Games and Interactive Media for Special Purposes

Games and Interactive Media for Special Purposes

Games and Interactive Media for Special Purposes is a cluster derived from the concept of purposeful games and expanded to include game-driven simulations in any immersive media. The GI was created, in part, because of the belief shared by all founders that games can teach. This cluster requires strong interdisciplinary collaboration, and, in a very real sense, draws together the two clusters described above. In particular, researchers considering games and interactive media for special purposes focus their projects, among others, on knowledge translation and mobilization, health applications, social justice intiatives, ethical design of technology and media, and other activities taking games and immersive media beyond screens for entertainment alone. 

Sample Projects

Above Water

Above Water poster image of scattered papers related to health

Researcher(s): Rina R. 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 is designed to inspire players with these disorders to share their experience and develop their own personal narrative. For players without an anxiety disorder, the game teaches about existing treatments, intervention information, and ways to support those with mental health disorders.

Learn more about Above Water.

Open the poster PDF.

Addressing Community Corrections: Applying Gameful Design and Simulation to Support Offender Reintegration with "Rebuild"

Addressing Community Corrections: Applying Gameful Design and Simulation to Support Offender Reintegration with "Rebuild"; people sitting in a row

Researcher(s): Dr. Neil Randall

Correctional Service Canada (CSC) and the Games Institute are collaborating on multiple projects designed to help offenders successfully reintegrate back into society after release.

CSC officers and Games Institute researchers jointly developed the interactive tool, "Rebuild," which will be used after offenders have served their custodial sentences. The game is targeted at increasing players' capacities for obtaining and keeping employment.

Rebuild is part of a five-year collaboration with the CSC to research, design, and build serious games that address each risk factor for reoffending (beginning with risk of unemployment). For example, Rebuild includes interview simulation modules that score the user's performance upon completion. The project is based on extensive research on recidivism (the tendency to re-offend), simulation games, world-building, gameful design, and gamification mechanics.

Open the poster PDF.

Canadian Cap and Trade Simulation

Canadian Cap and Trade Simulator Banner

Researcher(s): Alexander Fleck

The Canadian Cap and Trade Simulator project is a serious game used as a teaching tool that replicates the Canadian "cap-and-trade" system in which carbon dioxide emissions are regulated by the government. The game is designed to be used in classrooms and online by Engineering and Environmental Studies students.

Using the simulator, players learn about how the cap-and-trade system is used as a policy mechanism by the Canadian government to control the carbon emission levels of regulated emitters in the country. Players will role play as regulators (the government) or regulated facilities (a power company, a cement manufacturer, etc.). They discover how their sector and choices affect the carbon emissions as well as the best strategies that can be adopted to lower emissions.

Interesting fact: Cement is in more than you think! It underpins, quite literally, our modern housing and building infrastructure, invisible to most of us (including the 5 per cent of all global carbon emissions that go with it).

Download a copy of the game through eCampusOntario.

Open the poster PDF.

Covid-19 Vaccines and Nanotechnology: An Interactive Game

Covid-19 Vaccine Misinformation Banner

Researcher(s): Dr. Lennart Nacke

The Waterloo Institute of Nanotechnology (WIN) has partnered with the Games Institute and the Human Computer Interaction (HCI) Games Group to create knowledge translation tools for explaining how the application of nanotechnology (the manipulation of materials on an atomic or molecular scale) impacts our daily lives. The first of the "Explaining Nanotechnology to the General Public" projects focused on educating the public about how DNA-based nasal sprays can be used as intranasal vaccines.

The HCI Games Group, led by Dr. Lennart Nacke, worked to showcase the research of WIN members Drs. Roderick Slavcev, Emmanuel Ho and Marc Aucoin through an educational game. Players move through a series of chapters that visualize how Covid-19 is transmitted, infects, and spreads through a healthy respiratory system; how different vaccines have been used to fight the virus; and how nanotechnology vaccines work. The game focuses specifically on the "Synthetic Infection Vaccine", an internasal vaccine currently being developed by WIN researchers in collaboration with Theraphage. While this technology can be used to fight Covid-19, it also has the potential to combat any future viruses we may encounter.

Play "COVID-19 Vaccines and Nanotechnolgy: an Interactive Game."

Open the poster PDF.

Digital Oral Histories for Reconciliation: The Nova Scotia Home for Coloured Children History Education Initiative (DOHR)

Digital Oral Histories for Reconciliation Banner

Researcher(s): Kristina Llewellyn and Jennifer Roberts-Smith

DOHR is a community-driven project that supports the work of the Nova Scotia Home for Coloured Children (NSHCC) Restorative Inquiry. The NSHCC opened in 1921 as a welfare institution for African Nova Scotian Children. Residents suffered the effects of institutional racism over the course of its almost 80 years open. Our team, comprised of educators, historians, legal experts, game designers and theatre artists is working with former residents of the Home to develop curriculum for Grade 11 Canadian history students. The curriculum includes a VR experience based on a representation of the historical Home and 12 oral histories from three former residents. The purpose of the VR experience is to assess if and how virtual storytelling develops students' historical consciousness and fosters a relational understanding across difference. DOHR is guided by the Restorative Inquiry's approach reflected by the African symbol of Sankofa, which means that it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind in moving towards a better future.

Questions that DOHR asks about VR design include:

>How can we centre former residents' voices in the VR experience?

>How can we ensure that we cause no further harm in our VR renderings of stories about past harms?

>How can we retain complexity in the VR representation of individual, community, and systemic causes of past harms?

>How can we use VR to empower young people to be agents of restorative justice?

Learn more about DOHR.

Open the poster PDF.

Energize - Play for Reality: Conveying Sustainability Challenges Through Game Mechanics

Energize title banner

Researcher(s): AC Atienza

Many Ontario municipalities have agreed to reduce 80% of their carbon emissions by 2050 (80 by 50). However, most do not actually have a plan for how they will achieve this goal. In response, graduate student AC Atienza designed the print-and-play board game Energize as an educational tool. The game was created specifically for students in grades 7 and 8 to learn about energy consumption and pollution in the Waterloo Region. Atienza worked with experts from WGSI to ensure accurate representation of the science and policy challenges pertaining to carbon emissions reduction.

Energize draws attention to the challenges and solutions of how a city can reduce carbon emissions by placing players in the roles of a project facilitator, a financial manager, and others. Each player-character is equipped with different talents (charisma, efficiency, and resourcefulness) and must fulfill their personal goals. However, as the players complete a campaign rally, conduct research, or engage with their own community stakeholders, they must also work collaboratively with others towards the goal of overall 80 by 50 carbon emission reduction in the Region.

Interesting fact: Cement is in more than you think! It underpins, quite literally, our modern housing and building infrastructure, invisible to most of us (including the 5 per cent of all global carbon emissions that go with it).

Access Energize through the Sustainability Office.

Open the poster PDF.

Hustle and Flow

Hustle and Flow Banner

Researcher(s): Alex Fleck, Steve Wilcox, Jonathan Rodriguez

Hustle and Flow is a SSHRC sponsored multi-game project that models the simulation and negotiation of trans-boundary water governance in 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 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 also 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 a games competition) at the European Conference on Games Based Leaning in Paisley, Scotland in October 2016.

Open the poster PDF.

Indie Megabooth

Indie Megabooth poster image of logo and carnival graphics with cats

Researcher(s): Dr. Jennifer Whitson

Indie Interface Project: 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 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 have 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 have 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 (Penny Arcade Expo). Dr. Whitson's most memorable interview was a fortune-telling booth designed to promote the game Barkley 2.

Read Dr. Whitson's research paper.

Open poster PDF.

International Conference on Games and Narrative (ICGAN)

International Conference on Games and Narrative Banner

Researcher(s): Members of The Games and Narrative Research Group

Every two years, the GI welcomes participants to the International Conference on Games and Narrative (ICGaN). The inaugural conference featured presentations from scholars at the forefront of games studies, including keynote Speakers: Drs. Elizabeth LaPensée, Souvik Mukherjee, Clara Fernández-Vara, Jan-Noël Thon, Astrid Enssil, and Kishonna Gray who showcased their ground-breaking research on games and narrative.

Participants examine the intersection between video games and narrative through live lectures, speaker panels, video essays, workshops, and live-streamed gameplay with commentary and discussion. The conference's topics include narrative structure in games, narrative co-creation in games, narratives and social differences, gameplay and narrative, game worlds, and technology and presence.

The International Conference on Games and Narrative is proof of the GI's commitment to connecting with international scholars and advancing research for global impact. The inaugural conference was hosted as an interactive experience that incorporated virtual spaces like Gather and went beyond the typical format of Zoom calls and meeting rooms.

Interesting fact: Participants joined the conference from 47 universities, 28 of which were from outside of North America, as far as Australia and Southeast Asia.

Open the poster PDF.

Illuminate

Illuminate Banner

Researcher(s): Lillian Black, Pamela Maria Schmidt

"Illuminate" is an educational simulation game where players explore solutions to the impacts of climate change. In this interactive game, the player is part of Canada's Climate Task Force on Project Illuminate. As a member of the task force, players must take action to reduce climate risks in three regions across Canada and discover pathways to fight climate change and move us closer to a sustainable future.

Using the Paris Climate Agreement as a primary metric, the player simulates different scenarios by implementing a combination of mitigation and adaptation techniques to see which combination of choices results in the "best" outcome.

In Illuminate, players must complete two missions to finish the game. In Mission 1, players explore ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Decisions from Mission1 will lead players to either a high or low carbon scenario in Mission 2. In Mission 2, players visit three types of Canadian communities (coastal, rural, and urban) and must take action to prepare them for the impacts of climate change.

Illuminate articulates the seriousness of climate change without relying on alarmist rhetoric or scare-tactics, while also (most importantly) emphasizing a message of hope.

Play the game!

Open the poster PDF.

Media Engagement and Covid Mis(dis)information

Media Engagement and Covid Mis(Dis) Information poster title with scattered text boxes

Researcher(s):  Dr. Shana MacDonald, Dr. Kelly Grindrod, and Dr. Moses Tetui

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 Pandemic in 2020, there has been a rise of mis- and disinformation about the COVID virus, mask mandates, and the vaccines. This research engages with vaccine hesitancy and dis(mis)information online to develop a set of tools and best practices to address these issues.

“Media Engagement and COVID Mis(DIS)information” explores the relationship between local Kitchener-Waterloo communities and social media, examining personal, government, medical and professional accounts on social media platforms (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok) to understand how social media audiences respond to and understand information about COVID-19 and the vaccine. Topics explored include COVID-19 vaccines and fertility and pregnancy, the effectiveness of pediatric vaccine for youths ages 5 to 11, COVID-19 boosters, medical exemptions, side effects like myocarditis and pericarditis, and efforts to build trust in COVID-19 vaccines within the local Black community.

This research develops infographics, based on community feedback and peer-reviewed research, about the vaccine’s effects, that are being widely shared on media as tools for healthcare providers, educators, and the general public to use when addressing vaccine hesitancy.

Interesting fact: Drs. Shana MacDonald and Kelly Grindrod first met at the UW daycare centre and have since connected with each other’s research interests.

Open the poster PDF.

Merlynne

merlynne banner

Researcher(s): Tina Chan

Merlynne is a single player role-playing game that asks the player to advance the narrative by offering support, advice, and encouragement to non-player characters by using techniques from cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). In the narrative, the player acts as a foreign advisor to the heroic knights, wizards, and kings of Khamelot, as a mysterious plague of negativity starts to hinder their daily lives.

Merlynne is designed to explore how gamification with narratives and avatars can influence motivation in online peer to peer (P2P) support platforms. The goal is to identify innovative ways to increase engagement in P2P CBT platforms, and explore whether presenting mental health tools with creative mediums can attract diverse individuals to the mental health conversation

Read Chan's thesis for more details.

Open the poster PDF.

Pirate Bri's Grocery Adventure

Pirate Bri's Grocery Adventure poster title; pirate corgi on beach with ship and game demo in the background

Researcher(s): Marcela Costa C. Bomfim

Pirate Bri's Grocery Adventure (PBGA) is a gameful mobile app designed to improve student's Food Literacy through situated learning approach to grocery shopping. PBGA combines in-game experiences with the real-life activities of planning at home and selecting foods at the grocery store. PBGA is grounded in Self-Determination Theory (SDT), supporting the psychological needs of competence, autonomy, and relatedness to motivate self-efficacy for long-term healthy behaviour change.

Brigitte, the pirate nutritionist, encourages players to fill their shopping cart with foods that bring balance, variety, and moderation. She provides meaningful information about foods to support informed decision-making. Unlike many apps, PBGA accounts for important nutrients as well as food group proportions (instead of just calories!), based on each player's health needs.

Interesting fact: Pirate Brigitte, the corgi nutritionist from the app, is my real-life dog. :)

Read Bomfim's research paper.

Open the poster PDF.

Quantum Cats

Quantum Cats poster title graphic

Researcher(s): Victor Cheung

Quantum Cats shares the wonder of the quantum world in a new and unique way—through a game. In partnership with the Institute for Quantum Computing, the University of Waterloo Games Institute has created a game that highlights a few of the quantum behvaiours 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.

Interesting fact: Quantum Cats is available as a free download in the Google Play Store and the iOS App Store.

Open the poster PDF.

Seas the Day

Seas the Day

Researcher(s): Dr. John Muñoz Cardona and Samira Mehrabi

Together with older adults, game designers, exercise professionals, kinesiologists, engineers and industry partners, Mehrabi, Muñoz and their collaborators have designed Seas the Day an immersive experience created to promote physical activity among older adults living with cognitive impairments.

Advancements in personalized healthcare using virtual reality (VR) have created opportunities to use games to support a healthy lifestyle. The multi-stakeholder team designed their exergames collaboratively to create attractive, effective, usable and accessible experiences.

Seas the Day uses virtual activities such as Tai Chi, rowing and fishing to encourage players to move their upper limbs, targeting exercises that foster flexibility, strength and cardiorespiratory fitness. This project demonstrates how different stakeholders can contribute to the design of therapeutic games that consider the complex preferences of under-represented users.

Interesting fact: The team created a dolphin in the game to encourage participants to row in the virtual environment. The idea came from a physical therapist who acted as a co-designer throughout the research

Access the game through Meta.

Open the poster PDF.

The GI Janes

The GI Janes poster title; hand on a computer mouse in the background

Researcher(s): Judy Ehrentraut, Elise Vist, Emma Vossen

In 2012, Vossen, Vist, and Ehrentraut created a feminist advocacy group for women in games called The Games Institute Janes or “GI Janes” for short. They noticed increasing hostility to female gamers online in the years directly preceding gamergate and felt the desire to do something within their community to address this sexism directly.

The three graduate students wanted to ensure there was a space for women, including themselves, to comfortably play and talk about games as part of the Games Institute and at the University of Waterloo. During this time, the GI Janes spoke to the media, published articles and podcasts, presented and tabled local festivals, conferences, and conventions, and hosted workshops to spread awareness about the issues present in games culture and the games industry.

A widespread problem that women spoke to Vossen, Vist, and Ehrentraut about was fear and anxiety around playing games with others because of harassment and ridicule. The three grad students decided they wanted to create events where women could come together and play games. They designed these events to be places where women would not feel nervous playing games, where they could discuss the issues they encountered as women, and where they could feel like welcomed participants in games culture.

The GI Janes hosted monthly gaming events in Kitchener and Waterloo from 2013-2016. These included “101 nights” in which they would introduce the basics of a multiplayer game to make it more accessible and less intimidating to inexperienced players.

Interesting fact: The first GI Janes gaming event was held in a basement bar called The Rum Runner in downtown Kitchener. The bar made a custom cocktail called “the GI Jane” and the team set up consoles, televisions, and board games for attendees to play.

Open the poster PDF.

The Kitchen Table

The Kitchen Table poster image of kitchenware graphics and charts

Researcher(s):  Ryan Clement

The Kitchen Table: This two-to-six player co-operative game is built around family meal planning an dietary restrictions. It looks at the emergence of narrative from game mechanics, and how that emergence might be applied to more effective game design. The Kitchen Table game was designed and tested with a study on Persuasive Games and Food Allergies. This project was completed with support from Dr. Neil Randall and the Games Institute, and Dr. Susan Elliot from the Department of Geography and Environmental Management through collaboration with GET-FACTS.

Read Clement's dissertation.

Open the poster PDF.

Video Games and Employee Engagement

Video Games and Employee Engagement poster title with three people around a tablet

Researcher(s): Betsy Brey

Brey worked with Ontario organizational development consulting firm ODScore via Mitacs to engage employees at work using the narrative principles of video games.

ODScore approached the University of Waterloo’s Games Institute for assistance in developing a service for organizational changes. Brey’s unique expertise in communications, engagement, and narrative assisted the company with developing human and narrative centred processes that could be implemented during times of change.

Brey uncovered how employees react during organizational change, focusing on employees’ personal narratives of optimism and empowerment. She made connections between narrative, employee motivation, and engagement and found that incorporating her findings around narrative could help to sustain engagement in the long term.

Betsy’s work has been incorporated into ODScore’s consulting services and has informed a new program that ODScore offers its clients. The research partnership between The Games Institute, Mitacs and ODScore offered Brey an opportunity to mobilize her research skills in an industry context.

Interesting fact: During an initial meeting, Executive Director Dr. Neil Randall convinced Christy Pettit, CEO of ODScore that they should look to humanities researchers, instead of just new software, to better engage employees.

Read more about the Mitacs project.

Open the poster PDF.