Northeastern professor talks video games at White House

August 2, 2012

Magy Seif El-Nasr, an associate professor of game design and interactive media, discussed the importance of creating video games in a White House meeting last week.

In a White House con­fer­ence last week, Magy Seif El-Nasr, an asso­ciate pro­fessor of game design and inter­ac­tive media at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity, dis­cussed the impor­tance of cre­ating edu­ca­tional video games through inter­dis­ci­pli­nary collaboration.

The meeting, which included industry leaders, pol­i­cy­makers and about 20 aca­d­e­mics from insti­tu­tions nation­wide, was part of the Aca­d­emic Con­sor­tium on Games for Impact and orga­nized by the White House Office of Sci­ence and Tech­nology Policy. The experts exam­ined ways to leverage their indi­vidual areas of exper­tise, share resources and build net­works aimed at sparking inter­dis­ci­pli­nary col­lab­o­ra­tion among acad­emia and industry in the area of “games for impact” — video games that yield sig­nif­i­cant soci­etal ben­e­fits in areas such as as edu­ca­tion and health.

“We’re trying to advance basic research in game design and advance the cur­rent appli­ca­tion of games in areas like edu­ca­tion, health and sus­tain­ability,” said Seif El-Nasr, whose research focuses on enhancing game designs by devel­oping tools and methods for eval­u­ating and adapting game experiences.

In recent years, mil­lions of people have devel­oped a strong reliance on mobile tech­nology. Many people — par­tic­u­larly youth — reg­u­larly plug away on their smart­phones or portable video game con­soles while eating, waiting for the bus or walking down the street, Seif El-Nasr explained; she added that it’s crit­ical to cap­ture the atten­tion of the tech-savvy public through the most pop­ular media.

The bulk of last week’s meeting focused on the impor­tance of pushing the video game field for­ward by fos­tering col­lab­o­ra­tions between aca­d­emic researchers and industry part­ners and by designing strate­gies aimed at improving the chances of receiving gov­ern­ment funding for these projects.

Since 2004, Seif El-Nasr has con­ducted research on using game design as a medium for edu­ca­tion, including the devel­op­ment of a series of engi­neering and tech­nology work­shops for middle– and high-school students.

Seif El-Nasr, who holds dual appoint­ments in the Col­lege of Arts, Media and Design and the Col­lege of Com­puter and Infor­ma­tion Sci­ence, is also working with a Vancouver-based com­pany called IgnitePlay on a project that uses games and social net­works to foster behav­ioral changes that pro­mote healthy lifestyle habits. The project uses real-time behavior tracking and selec­tive infor­ma­tion visu­al­iza­tion as moti­va­tional tac­tics to encourage behav­ioral changes and sus­tain long-term healthy living.

The com­pany, she said, is expected to launch the product within the next month.

Seif El-Nasr’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the White House meeting built upon her inter­na­tional promi­nence as an authority on dig­ital game research. In May, she chaired the Foun­da­tion of Dig­ital Games 2012 con­fer­ence, which took place in North Car­olina. Then in June, she deliv­ered a keynote address in Greece at the 5th Inter­na­tional Con­fer­ence on Per­va­sive Tech­nolo­gies Related to Assis­tive Envi­ron­ments, which explored how social and coop­er­a­tive games can be lever­aged to enhance quality of life.

Photo courtesy of Susan Gold, Global Game Jam