The Games Institute acknowledges that we are living and working on the traditional territory of the Attawandaron (also known as Neutral), Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee peoples. The University of Waterloo is situated on the Haldimand Tract, the land promised to the Six Nations that includes six miles on each side of the Grand River.
The Games Institute (GI) is concerned with the entire research process as a continuum with publication only one stage along the line. 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 their research will impact. The GI is about the researcher, with a holistic view of how research works and how researchers make it happen. To this end, traditional outputs of university research – conference talks, journal articles, scholarly books, etc. – are valued and yet equally valued are the implementation of collaborative projects, the management of research teams, the applications for funding whether or not the funding is granted, and the following 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 process—valuing 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 as an Institute learn from them 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 Research Direction
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:
Game and Interactive Media Studies;
Game and Interaction Science; and
Interactive Media for Understanding.
The GI’s researchers work within these major clusters. While these clusters, on the surface, focus on either the Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH) or the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) clusters, 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.
Game and Interactive Media Studies
Game and Interactive Media Studies covers a range of sub-disciplines which in themselves have developed as constellations of disciplinary focuses 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.
Allergies and Allegories
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.
@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
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.
In collaboration with Stitch Media and co-funded by Mitacs and SSHRC, the researchers participated in the developmen\n\t\t\tinvestigated Terrorarium, a Personal Computer (PC) game about “wanton destruction and adorable gore in playermade 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 storylines.
Game and Interaction Science
Game and Interaction Science covers research largely in STEM and Health disciplines but 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 equity, diversity, and inclusion at the forefront. It also studies in part player accessibility while understanding user interactions with technology and human behaviour.
Beam Me Round, Scotty!
To better study assymetric co-operative play, we developed our own research prototype game called "Beam Me 'Round, Scotty!" One player uses a dual-joystick gamepad 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. Sinultaneously, a second player assumes the role of plucky emngineer, 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 dilberately 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 gameplay.
DualPonto is anew haptic device that lets blind users interact continuously with a chaning 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.
Interactive Media for Understanding
Interactive Media for Understanding is a cluster derived from the concept of serious games and expanded to include game-driven simulations in any immersive media. The GI was created in part because of the belief among the founders that games can teach. This cluster requires strong interdisciplinary collaboration, and, in a very real sense, draws together the two clusters described above. This focuses on games and immersive, interactive media to understand the learning potential of these projects moving beyond screens for entertainment alone.
Cap and Trade Simulation
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 dioxidde 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 roleplay as regulators (the government) or regulated facilities (a power company, a cement manufacturer, etc.). They discover how thier sector and choices affect the carbon emissions as well as the best strategies that can be adopted to lower emissions.
Covid-19 Vaccine Misinformation
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 specifcally 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.
Digital Oral Histories for Reconciliation
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, gamedesigners and theatre artists is working with former residents of the Home to develop cirriculum for Grade 11 Canadian history students.
The cirriculum includes a VR expriencebased 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 understadning across difference. DOHR is guided by the Restorative Inquiey'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 bettre 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?
Hustle and Flow
Hustle and Flow is a SSHRC sponsored mult-game project that models the simulation and negotiation of transboundary 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
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.
"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 reigons 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.