One of the primary goals for the Games Institute is to foster interdisciplinary collaboration between its members. Over the last five years, the Games Institute has seen the formation of a number of research groups which not only support discipline-specific work but are also open to all Games Institute members who are interested in expanding their knowledge base.
The GI's research groups encourage collaboration and the cross disciplinary pollination of ideas. They also provide peer groups where researchers can discuss, present, and critique each other’s works from a variety of vantage points. All groups are supported by Games Institute administrative staff, including the Research Communications Officer who offers direct support for knowledge mobilization and translation initiatives, media engagements, publication submissions review and grant-writing.
Game Studies Research Group
There are significant differences in how varying disciplinary environments understand, among others, supervision and funding of students which, consequently, creates differences in how students are supervised and how they interact with their colleagues. For example, STEM disciplines favour lab-like structures where students working with the same supervisor form close-knit groups working together, often participating in weekly meetings to report on their progress. In Arts, supervisors oversee the work of their students on a more individual basis, lab-like structures are not common, and students usually conduct their work much more independently than their colleagues in technical disciplines with much less frequent collaboration with their peers.
Recognizing the need and value for humanities students to participate in collaborative, generative, and consistent graduate research sessions, Dr. Neil Randall (English, Games Institute Executive Director) founded the Games Studies Research Group. The group offers a wide array of graduate students from various backgrounds within the humanities the opportunity to discuss their research on a biweekly basis in order to share feedback on research projects, brainstorm new and developing ideas, and generally provide support for Arts-driven game studies initiatives. Members are given a platform to share and explore various research topics, while also participating in multimodal ways of engaging with the material—including live streams, multiplayer critical game sessions, and more traditional deconstruction of shared readings or games.
Despite the hurdles of COVID-19, this group has continued to prosper, migrating their meetings online and offering a haven to these graduate students who may otherwise felt isolated. In many ways, the group has thrived in this online environment, which has offered more ways of connecting research goals, projects, and members together. In addition to their theoretical reflections, the group is also actively working towards a myriad of deliverables to reflect the knowledges, skillsets, and strengths of its members in a tangible way, simultaneously providing CV opportunities and moral support in these uncertain times.
Games and Narrative Group
Led by Drs. Ken Hirschkop and Neil Randall (English Language and Literature), the Games and Narrative Group is a humanities-driven research group focusing on exploring the intersections between game studies, narrative, and rhetorical theory. The group was founded in 2019 in order to provide a way for Games Institute researchers to collaborate on literature analysis directed toward generating research outcomes that articulate how classic rhetorical and narrative theory relate to contemporary game studies research. Almost since their inception, videogames have used narrative. Sometimes the narrative element has been implicit, other times open, but games have exploited narrative techniques, employed narrative suspense, and relied on narrative characters with ever greater sophistication. There is, however, debate over the role narrative plays in videogames. This is what the Games and Narrative Group aims to address through their collective research.
Following COVID-19 restrictions, the group’s weekly meetings moved to an online collaboration platform. Each meeting is dedicated to analyzing a particular reading and object text, determined by the group.
The Games and Narrative Group is in the process of launching a new international conference series to take place virtually in 2021. The inaugural International Conference on Games and Narrative will provide an opportunity to examine the intersection between videogames and narrative through a variety of online formats: live lectures, speaker panels, video essays, workshops, and live streaming gameplay with commentary and discussion. See page 29 for details on the conference.
HCI Games Group
The HCI Games Group conducts research in information and communication technologies, design, psychology, and human-computer interaction related to games and gamification. Led by Dr. Lennart Nacke (Stratford School of Interactive Design and Business) and based at the Games Institute, the group’s current research areas include:
- Gamification: Involves the use of game design principles in systems that primarily support non-game tasks, with the goal of increasing fun, engagement and motivation;
- Games user research: Developing new methods and tools for improving player testing and user research in games and entertainment systems;
- Games for human health, wellbeing, and fitness: Focusing on making sports, physiological exercise, health, and wellbeing applications more playful, especially in light of the recent increase in sensor use and the quantified self movement;
- HCI for games: Finding novel sensors and interaction paradigms that drive the manner in which we interact with computers in a meaningful and engaging way;
- Affective gaming: Research using psychophysiological analysis and physiological sensors to track player sentiments when gauging engagement, cognition and player emotions;
- Social relationship-building games: Developing games and installations that can be used in public spaces to build relationships and foster social interaction in groups.
If you want to learn more about the HCI games group or keep up with their activities check out their website, Twitter and Instagram.
Human-Computer Interaction and Health Lab (HCI+Health Lab)
Founded by Games Institute member Dr. Jim Wallace (School of Public Health and Health Systems) and based at the Games Institute, HCI+Health Lab researchers study how technology can be used to prevent disease, prolong life, and promote human health. The work in the lab is based on the use of theoretical perspectives and research methodologies from the Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) research communities to design and implement new technologies, and deploy those technologies to understand their impact. Areas of interest include: the impact and potential disruption of mobile and wearable devices on the healthcare system; their use in augmenting and betterment of personal health management; the role of computer games in motivating health and well-being; and the role of peer support on social networking platforms like Facebook or Reddit for people with chronic illnesses. Such a wide variety of research questions requires the group to bridge many disciplines from health science, computer science, psychology, to human factors engineering.
The Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) Touchlab
Led by Mark Hancock (MSCI) and based at the Games Institute, the Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) Touchlab is connected with the broader University of Waterloo Touchlab network housed at the Cheriton School of Computer Science. The researchers of the HCI Touchlab employ user research methods and systems design engineering thinking to study technological design and generate knowledge about using technology to improve facets of the human condition. The HCI Touchlab conducts the majority of their research at the Games Institute thanks to its collaborative lab infrastructure. Technologies of interest include VR, 3D printing, videogames, smart devices, large interactive displays, and motion capture.
Research produced by HCI Touchlab members has made significant contributions to the international field of HCI research and has generated knowledge about improving VR experiences by integrating 3D printed objects, addressing gender equity in VR hardware designs, designing videogames that address self-control, designing technology-enabled systems for vulnerable groups, and improving user understanding with data displays.
Virtual Reality Working Group
Led by Drs. Michael Barnett-Cowan (KIN) and Neil Randall (English), the VR Working Group is a Games Institute collaboration initiative for researchers interested in exploring the opportunities VR technology affords. The Working Group meets, on an alternating schedule, at the Games Institute facilities (EC1) and at Barnett-Cowan’s Multisensory Brain and Cognition Lab (TJB), once per week to discuss topics of interest. The group’s membership includes graduate students from Applied Health Sciences, Arts, Math- Computer Science and Engineering. Scholars in the humanities and social sciences working in areas such as literature, history, anthropology, and psychology, recognized long ago the capacity for language and narrative to increase engagement with a story or topic and thus to enhance the flow of information between communities and cultures. At the same time researchers in the sciences, such as HCI specialists, health experts, engineers, and game designers, have developed various technically sophisticated tools for crafting rich, visually-arresting experiences. However, to date there has been little scholarly attention given to what these two groups have to gain through collaboration.
Over the past two years, the beginnings of such collaborations have developed between students from very disparate disciplines who participate in the VR Working Group meetings. Along with research discussions, the group is also tackling the vastly different expectations of various scholarly disciplines and how to ensure that the VR Working Group student members can fully reap the benefits of interdisciplinary collaboration while satisfying the requirements of their specific programs and finding innovative ways of reporting on their activities that would fully project the benefits of such an integrated, multi- and inter-disciplinary scholarship.
Specifically, outcomes from the VR working group have contributed to publications that exemplify the benefits of bringing scholars together from disparate disciplines. For example, kinesiology researcher Dr. Séamas Weech and psychology researcher Dr. Sophie Kenny published a study with findings linking gaming experience with narrative immersion and reduced cybersickness. Furthermore, an English postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Judy Ehrentraut, applied insights she gained from working with Systems Design Engineering graduate researcher Marco Moran-Ledesma in her collaboration with industry partner, Stitch Media, the game Flow Weaver.
The Feminist ThinkTank is hosted by research directors of the qCollaborative (see page 26 for details) and based at the Games Institute. The purpose of the ThinkTank is to advance research thinking towards intersectional feminist design by creating space for interdisciplinary crossovers and idea sharing. Dr. Shana MacDonald (Communication Arts) and PhD researcher Brianna Wiens (York University) are co-directors who established the ThinkTank after touring the Games Institute and observing the success of the other affiliated research groups. Recognizing the potential to bring a similar interdisciplinary approach to their intersectional feminist design research, they worked with the Games Institute’s administrative team to develop an engagement strategy for the ThinkTank.
The Feminist ThinkTank has provided students with opportunities to advance their knowledge through participating in critical reading groups, brainstorming sessions, research review, and research-creation opportunities. For example, in 2019, the ThinkTank hosted a research-creation workshop to develop artifacts that articulate embodied feminisms. Games Institute graduate researchers have learned to integrate complex seminal theories from disciplines such as film studies, gender studies, psychology, rhetorical theory, and critical race studies.
qCollaborative is a joint initiative of researchers from the Games Institute: Drs. Jennifer Roberts-Smith and Shana MacDonald (Communication Arts), along with Dr. Milena Radzikowska (Mount Royal University), and Dr. Stan Ruecker (University of Illinois) and Brianna Wiens (PhD candidate, York University). qCollaborative members work with universities, private industry, government, and not-for-profit organizations in the Americas and Europe. The qCollaborative undertakes design research projects and its work can be described as critical feminist research. Projects are typically collaborative, paced to encourage reflection, and fall into one of four research areas: (1) feminist placemaking, (2) materializing the digital, (3) remediating experience, and (4) design for social justice. Members seek to create safer, more inclusive public spaces for marginalized and targeted communities and are committed to challenging and changing unjust behaviours such as racism, colonialism, (cis)sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, classism, and xenophobia wherever they occur, including in academia, in social justice movements, and in researchers themselves.