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

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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.

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

#Farmtalk: A Case Study of Farmers on TikTok

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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

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@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".

On the Cultural Inaccessibility of Gaming

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Dr. Emma 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 online and offline. 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 towards journalists, developers and academics who choose to speak publicly about bigotry within the culture since the 2014 rise of #gamergate.

Vossen reflects on the harassment she 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.


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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 and interactive narrative.

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 virtual worlds by writing interactive story lines.

Check out the full game by Stitch Media.

Game 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

Beam Me Round, Scotty!

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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.


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DualPonto is anew 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.

DualPonto 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.

Learn more about the haptic device and its design.

Gendered or Neutral? Considering the Language of HCI

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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.

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

Cap and Trade Simulation

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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.

Download a copy of the game through eCampusOntario.

Covid-19 Vaccine Misinformation

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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."

Digital Oral Histories for Reconciliation

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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?


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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.

Hustle and Flow

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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.

International Conference on Games and Narrative

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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.


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"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!


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Merlynne is a 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 players 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 gameification with narratives and avatars can influence motivation in online peer to peer (P2P) support platforms. This 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.

Seas the Day

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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.

Acces the game through Meta.