Current Projects

Affective Evaluation of Games & Interactive Media

Evaluating user experience with affective measures is a field of growing importance in the human factors domain, because the emotional effects of engaging technology, such as movies, mobile networked devices, games and new media, are not well understood. Within this research theme, we are developing and validating robust new methods for physiological evaluation of user engagement components in digital games and new media. In the past, Dr. Nacke has worked in-depth on psychophysiological methods for evaluating player experience, such as brain waves, muscular and skin responses, cardiovascular measures, respiration, eye gaze paths, and pupil dilation. In addition to measuring physiological responses, we are also using full body motion tracking, facial tracking and recognition, behavioral logging techniques, video observation, and subjective responses.

Applied Game Design for Non-Entertainment Systems

In the last couple of years, we have seen a rapid explosion of mass-market consumer software that takes deep inspiration from video games, especially from game design. This phenomenon has been called “gamification” and this game design trend connects existing concepts and research in human-computer interaction, psychology, and game studies, especially serious games, pervasive games, alternate reality games, and playful design. Using game design elements, such as reward or punishment systems, in non-game contexts to motivate user activity has rapidly gained traction in interaction design. This has spawned an intense debate within the professional game development community as well as the development of numerous “gamified” applications – ranging from productivity to finance, health, sustainability, news, user-generated content (UGC), and tutorials. Our goal in this research is to identify what game design elements are especially suitable to motivate behaviour in what areas of non-entertainment products.

Developing and Analysing Adaptive, Enjoyable, and Engaging Human-Computer Interfaces

Funded by an NSERC Discovery grant to Professor Nacke, this research program investigates new ways of building engaging interfaces for games and entertainment applications.

Games User Research

The Canadian computer game industry is the third largest in the world, behind the USA and Japan. The sector contributes $2.3 billion annually to Canada's GDP, it employs 16,500 people, and the demand for skilled talent in creative and technical roles is increasing. An essential area of the games industry is games user research (GUR). GUR focuses on understanding, measuring, analyzing, and designing the user experience in games. GUR draws from theoretical foundations to inform design principles that affect player enjoyment and immersion, and applies evaluation methods, data analytics, statistical analysis, predictive modeling, and visualization to assess player engagement. GUR aims to improve the gameplay experience by conducting usability and user experience (UX) evaluation often referred to as playtesting. Playtesting can be conducted by third parties or by an internal team as part of the same development studio. The HCI Games Group includes the leading researchers in this promising new field in the recent years, having helped define and advance the field. Not all independent developers could afford to hire a full-time internal user research team for their project or pay for third party consultancy fees. The challenge for small studios is to utilize the benefits of GUR while maintaining a strict budget, avoiding unneeded costs, resources, and tools. For this, an effective testing method at the lowest possible cost will need to be investigated. With this goal in mind, an effective user testing approach for indie studios should be delivered in a timely, accessible and, economical fashion. Thus the collaboration with XL to explore effective playtesting methods and tools specifically targeted at improving independent sized games.

Health and Fitness Gaming

In most industrialized countries, a large percentage of adults is obese or overweight because they are physically inactive. This leads to problems, such as decreasing the life quality of individuals and increasing health care costs, especially in North America. The millennial technology-centered lifestyle has brought about unhealthy habits, such as eating more processed food and less physical activity at home. Video games have risen in popularity over the past decades and some have blamed increased game playing habits for an unhealthy lifestyle change. This project investigates whether it is possible to motivate people for a healthy lifestyle and for maintaining increased physical activity by using video games. We are especially interested in exploring game design elements and psychological reward balancing that leads to increased exercise motivation and maintaining healthy eating habits. We are using physiological measures and behaviour tracking to analyse and study habit formation in physically interactive gaming environments.

Interactive and Multi-Modal Experience Research Syndicate (IMMERSe)

IMMERSe– The Interactive and Multi-Modal Experience Research Syndicate-will bring together researchers from a range of games-related fields whose work touches on questions of game experience and immersion. By integrating this research, the IMMERSe Partnership project will lead to new insights into player experience and new strategies for improving it. Our network will bring the research practices and perspectives of numerous disciplines to the understanding of these issues, and combine those practices to build a continually growing body of research, published in journals and books, online, at conferences and at public events. Gaming domains under investigation will include social media and virtual worlds, gambling, “gamification” (the process of introducing gameplay elements into other areas of life), serious games (including simulation, training and educational games), and the full panoply of entertainment gaming. On May 25, 2012, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Image of a video game controller, click on the image to see IMMERSe project themes (SSHRC) announced the awarding of a SSHRC Partnership Grant to the Games Institute to establish a research network for the study of games. As covered by the Kitchener Record, this network joins together six universities and six industry partners to conduct a wide range of studies in player immersion and behaviour in games.

SWaGUR: Saskatchewan-Waterloo Games User Research

The Saskatchewan-Waterloo Games User Research (SWaGUR) program brings together 11 researchers from 7 departments at the Universities of Waterloo and Saskatchewan with the long-term goal of training 85 HQP in GUR in an interdisciplinary environment in collaboration with our industrial partners to serve the needs of an important part of Canada's information technology sector. The team of world-leading games researchers draws upon their interdisciplinary perspectives across science, engineering, social science, and humanities to apply academic learning (courses) and experiential learning (projects) in an industrially-relevant context to train HQP in both research and professional skills. The SWaGUR CREATE initiative addresses the Human Interaction with Digital Information research topic within the Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) target area. With many computing applications (advancing game technology), the proposed program will generate technologies and provide training in the deployment of technologies that change how people interact with digital information, both for entertainment games and for the rapidly growing serious games sector.

Ended Projects