$250K grant will help computational media researchers use alternate reality games to study resilience

Magy Seif El-Nasar, Computational Media Professor at UCSC
Elin Carstensdottir, Computational Media Assistant Professor at UCSC
By: Melissa Weckerle

Baskin Engineering’s Magy Seif El-Nasr, professor of computational media and vice chair of the serious games program, and Elin Carstensdottir, assistant professor of computational media, were awarded a $250,000 grant from the James S. McDonnell Foundation (JSMF) to study resilience through the use of virtual environments.

El-Nasr and Carstensdottir will develop an Alternate Reality Game (ARG) —a type of game that simulates real-world environments but places participants in an alternative narrative—to better understand how people cope with stress and anxiety caused by unpredictable events, from pandemics and extreme weather to political and social unrest.

The researchers will collect data from a target population of first-year college students. Their aim is to study how individual resilience impacts college students and how they learn new coping strategies. Seif El-Nasr and Carstensdottir hope that their findings will guide future studies into techniques and interventions that enhance individual resilience.

The project is a collaboration between Seif El-Nasr’s Game User Interaction and Intelligence (GUII) Lab and Carstendottir’s Interaction Dynamics Lab.

Seif El-Nasr’s lab uses artificial intelligence algorithms to assist in engineering more intelligent, engaging game designs that enhance the user experience. Her lab recently received a separate $32,770 gift from Benshi.ai to investigate User Experience (UX) in mobile health (mHealth) applications, as part of Bensh.ai’s work to reduce health inequalities through Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Carstensdottir, who is an alumna of Seif El-Nasr’s lab, conducts research in the areas of game and human-computer interaction, interactive narrative and design, user experience, and social behavior simulation.