Degree Program: Ph.D., Computational Media
Graduate Institution: UC Santa Cruz
Undergraduate Institution: Western New England University
Department: Computational Media
Hometown: Dudley, Massachusetts
Tell us about your research.
Serious Games are games that serve more purpose than just entertainment. You can make games for politics and games for science exploration and all different kinds of games to teach different skills. I’m more focused on therapy games that focus on well-being and health and improving quality of life.
SpokeIt is a big team project I’m working on. We work with UC Davis and we have plastic surgeons, a speech language pathologist…We work with the developmental psychologists here on campus and everybody works together to create a holistic sort of thing that we think will work in the real world. We’re gearing up for release.
SpokeIt is entirely driven by speech. You don’t actually have to touch the iPad to play. It’s a game with this overarching narrative and within that game there are a bunch of therapeutic mini games that focus on different kinds of speech therapy. So, whoever is playing has to talk a lot to get different game events to happen and based on how they’re speaking, that’s how the game will progress. One of the mini games is a musical mini game which focuses on rhythm and articulation. It’s kind of similar to Guitar Hero which has notes going across the screen. Before the note hits the end of the screen, you have to say that word on rhythm and if you succeed it does this little musical jive. Another mini game focuses on initial sound production. There’s this evil storm machine named Eliza and she’s creating all these different storm clouds with lightning and there are these gears you have to turn. When you turn the gears, different words come up and each word starts with the same letter, so it’s the initial sounds. And once you say all three correctly, Eliza will suck up a storm and if you say it incorrectly, she’ll build storm juice and create new storms. The goal of the game is to eliminate all the storms.
How did you get interested in therapy games?
While I was an undergrad, I worked as a respite nurse so I have this medical perspective. My parents are shared living providers and we have a person with cerebral palsy who lives with us. I signed up to be a respite nurse to take care of this person and then it it kind of grew and I ended up helping other shared living providers care for the people living with them and specializing in tracheas and G-tubes and sticking tubes in people and doing that kind of stuff. Back in high school I was in show choir and we performed all over the nation which was really fun. So from being a performer, I have this aesthetic perspective and when I came to grad school I really wanted to mesh all three of the things I’m interested in: the aesthetic, the medical, and the computer science. So, therapy games are kind of the answer.
Why did Baskin Engineering seem like the right place to explore this interest further?
I applied to schools that had computational media majors because I wanted to mix the aesthetic with the sciences and computation. I think having both perspectives, using both sides of your brain, is super important. I came out here to visit the campus and my decision was made once I saw the campus and met my advisor, Sri Kurniawan. She’s supportive but also gives me space when I need it. I just love it here.
I think Baskin Engineering is the perfect place to be fostering the sort of research I’m doing because the faculty I’m working with are rock stars. They’re all really great at what they do: assistive tech, social and emotional computing, serious games. Having that kind of collaboration here is really wonderful. Being in such an interdisciplinary department lets me go off and make the production quality of the game really great while then going off and doing the technical aspects to make those really great. We’re really great at collaborating with other departments and with other schools and it’s really made a huge difference in my work and research.
What’s next after grad school?
I’d love to run a Serious Games for Health Lab or Therapy Game Lab where we build all kinds of systems like this. I think games are a really powerful motivator and I think they have a lot of power to create change for good and teach a skill. I think there’s a lot of negative opinions about games, like games eating your brain or making people violent, but I think they can have the opposite effect when someone makes games for good. I think that’s what I’d like to do, is make a research lab where we can build those games.
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