My research is in the field of Game Design and Development. It revolves around three key areas:
- Games for Health
- Social Games
- Game Analytics and Evaluation
In the first area, Games for Health, I am interested in how we can use video games and new methods of interaction such as the XBOX Kinect, the Wii, and the Playstation MOVE in the rehabilitation of children and adults with kinesiological and myosceletal problems. Towards this end I work with physical therapists in research that has led to the creation of a video game that is targeted to children with cerebral palsy. The game works with specific movements that the player must perform so that the player’s avatar will move, jump and shoot in the game environment. Currently, this game is used in a longitudinal study with children with cerebral palsy, to examine whether playing the game as well as keeping a regular physical therapy program will have any effect in the rehabilitation of these children, compared to a control group that only keeps the physical therapy program. Through preliminary results that we have, I am convinced that such games will become mainstream in rehabilitation methodologies.
The second area of my research is the creation of methods of social game design and development. I strongly believe that we need to first operationalize the term “social game” so that we can understand what about social games is social. Sociability and social game mechanics, the way that sociability is encoded in game rules, is an important part of Player eXperience (PX) for these games. I want to study and develop structures that leverage social game mechanics in a structured way, to support sociability in video games. I also believe that we need to look at the impact of sociability on the PX reported by game players while they play online games. This topic has seen interest by game design and development companies, whose employees attended the SIG at CHI 2011. I aim to further study this topic and believe that it too can be the source of funding, as well as the source of strategic collaborations between university centers that study computer games and game design and development companies. I also need to stress that this research has been funded by a small, but very competitive grant, showing that this type of research is indeed interesting.
The third area of my research is the evaluation of game designs early during the game development cycle, as well as play-testing of the designs. From results that have been recently submitted to journals, I have found that the way that alpha testing occurs in the game design and development industry may be problematic. The reason is the use of experienced players who have considerable experience in the type of game that they playtest. My results show that there is a bias in the evaluation that comes from these players, particularly in the perceptions of usability and general appeal that these players report. There are further issues to be examined here, such as formal methods of game analytics and leveraging of methods from other disciplines, such as the study of “big data” that can help in understanding and analyzing playtesting data.
The overarching goal of my research is to create useful game design guidelines that encapsulate game designer experiences in a concise way, so that they can be reused for the development of successful games, or to be taught in a formal or informal setting. And last, but certainly not least, I’m interested in the designing and developing video games in general. I think that creating video games is an even greater joy than playing them! Here I’m also interested in how to create games that mesh the real and virtual worlds together to create an augmented PX.
And something about my previous research. As a Ph.D. student and for a while after earning my Ph.D. my research revolved around the evaluation of Usability and User eXperience. Towards this end, I worked extensively with evaluating Reality-Based Interaction (RBI). I also received a national grant to develop an agricultural robot that is controlled via a Virtual Reality user interface from the comfort of one’s home, to perform various agricultural tasks, such as spraying trees in a field. This grant was highly interdisciplinary, involving computer scientists, HCI specialists, electrical engineers, and agricultural technologists towards building the robot and its control platform. This grant is now at the ending stage, with results ready to be published in a few months’ time.