Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada
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Past Winner
2018 NSERC E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowships

E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship

E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship

Department of Computer Science

University of Saskatchewan

Games are emotional experiences, and that’s part of the fun that draws players in. A single game can take players through the gamut: exhilaration, frustration, a heart-racing fear, the surging high of victory, or the crushing blow of defeat. So what if our games could sense those emotions and adapt? Imagine a game that could sense the moment you’re losing interest and provide more of the gameplay that you love. Or a game that could tell the difference between two players’ abilities and compensate so the weaker player could be an equal competitor. These might seem like small tweaks to make games more interesting for players, but they could have much greater impacts for our social and mental health.

Regan Mandryk, a researcher at the University of Saskatchewan, works at the forefront of human–computer interaction. She has made several innovative developments that are making player emotion a greater part of gaming experiences. Mandryk has developed computational models to evaluate player responses to games, using factors such as how hard and fast they press buttons, and reading heart rate and body language using webcams. All of this information reveals when players are getting frustrated or motivated and paves the way for games that tailor their experience to individual players. This personalization will help encourage social play because all players, no matter their experience or skill level, can have an enjoyable experience. Think about grandparents playing video games with their grandchildren — and playing like pros. This kind of gaming helps improve social connections and encourages group activity, benefitting our well-being.

Mandryk thinks there are even greater opportunities for gaming to improve our health. She has helped develop smartphone games that encourage physical activity or mental challenges and adapt to keep the player personally engaged. Games like these stand a greater chance of motivating players to achieve their goals. Mandryk is now exploring how gaming can assist with detecting declines in mental health in patients, embedding elements of mental health assessment into games to develop a new approach for continuously and objectively assessing mental health decline.

Regan Mandryk
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