3/2014, In English, Koulutus ja oppiminen, Tutkimus ja innovaatiot

Exploring interactive gameplay for well-being enhancement – How an international cooperation involving a multi-disciplinary team are developing state-of-the-art 3D computer games for special-needs users

1. Introduction

The project, begun in September 2013, is run in Finland by SAMK’s Well-being Enhancing Technology Research Group (WET-RG) and in Ireland by DKIT’s Department of Computing & Maths. It brings together WET-RG’s research expertise with DkIT’s experience in developing state-of-the-art 3D computer games. It builds on existing research cooperation e.g. WET-RG, who developed GaMeRGames to support Memory Rehabilitation for older adults, already evaluated in Finland (Koivisto et al. 2013), are conducting comparative trials of this serious game app for people affected by dementia, in a day care centre in Dundalk, Ireland (The Birches 2014). This work also builds on experience gained in previous comparative trials in Finland and Ireland into serious games for primary school maths education (Kiili at al. 2014).

2. Approach taken and key objectives

The approach taken was innovative and explorative. The project combined the strengths and expertise of staff in both colleges and provided the opportunity for on-line and on-site collaboration, discussion, and evaluation of work in progress. This included site visits (involving SAMK physiotherapy and DkIT games students) to the client residential care community (Kuanummen Koti 2014).

The theme of well-being enhancement, especially relating to special needs end users, presented a significant need and an opportunity for cross-disciplinary collaboration. Expert input was sought from SAMK’s Research, Development & Innovation lab (automation), Social and Healthcare faculty and DkIT’s School of Health and Science. The entrepreneurial potential of each game was also given importance from the initial stage to the final game prototype.

The project had three key objectives:

1. “Well-being enhancement”. Teams were given creative freedom to interpret the theme. However, each team needed to show how their game concept could address some specific well-being attribute (e.g. physical dexterity, cognitive capability or mood improvement). In keeping with recognised international best practice, the games needed to employ the principles of Universal Design. Universal Design promotes the design of products, environments, programmes and services to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, regardless of their age, size, ability or disability.” (Universal Design 2014).

2. “State-of-the-art”. Game prototypes utilised state-of-the-art development tools for 3D visualisation, animation, sound and user interaction. A high degree of sophistication and functional capability was demanded. Each game needed to demonstrate technical excellence in all aspects of its design and implementation. A further challenge was to adapt features of the game play and user interaction to be more playable by people with a specific special need or impairment, requiring novel approaches to design and development of user interaction.

3. “Design for Somebody”. User-centric techniques were employed putting the end user at the centre of the process. Teams used an agile software development process and toolset (Scrumwise 2014) allowing careful evaluation of requirements. Iterative prototyping was employed to facilitate further feedback. Expert driven user profiling provided better understanding of special end user needs. The approach of “design for somebody” went one step further encouraging individualised design customisation, including incorporating personal, sentimental content and game artefacts.

3. Game prototypes developed and notable achievements to date

Team “Evoke Studios”: Keith Byrne, Tadhg Deeney, Sean Mc Cooey, Michael Murphy, Nicholas Murray.Their game, “Evoke” (Figure 1) is a third-person sandbox adventure aimed at people affected by mood related conditions such as SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). This game was presented at the Irish National Disability Authority Universal Design Grand Challenge, in May 2014, being shortlisted in the top 7 from over 70 final-year student projects.

Figure 1: Evoke aimed at users with SAD.

Team “Team Symbiote”: Peter Duffy, Colm Grogan, Criona Shine, Hugh Thornton, Ze Hou Zhang. Their game, “Nyx” (Figure 2) is an open world puzzle adventure for people suffering from a physical impairment like MS (Multiple Sclerosis) or MD (Muscular Dystrophy). Internationally, this game won the Microsoft Imagine Cup 2013: Global Citizen Competition and nationally it won the 2014 Honeycomb Creative Awards Best Project. The team have been invited to participate in the European Finals of the Intel Business Challenge Europe (IBCE) in September 2014.

Figure 2: Nyx aimed at users with MS or MD.

Team “Whooful Games”: Lee Byrne, Stephen Fleming, Senyee Lee, Cian Mc Cormack, Patrick O’Halloran. Their game, “Babel” (Figure 3) is an on-line co-operative exploration platformer game, which explores the use of NVC (non-verbal communication) and gestures to support gameplay particularly for people who suffer from social anxiety. To date the game has attracted a large on-line community of players who signed up as part of user testing.

Figure 3: Babel aimed at users with Social Anxiety.

In June 2014 three students, one from each team, travelled to Finland to conduct user demos at the Kuanummen Koti care community open day (Figure 4). The initial reaction to all three games from care staff, clients, family and visitors was very positive. This trip also afforded the chance to promote the project through local and regional press interviews.

Figure 4: DkIT students showcased their games in Finland.

4. Outcomes and lessons learned

Well-being enhancement was an inspiring and doable theme. The “design for somebody” approach provided real motivation. Two of the student teams were inspired by the needs of a specific individual (e.g. family member). It also enhanced the entrepreneurial potential of the games as evidenced by judges’ comments in the competitions entered. The project demonstrates it is possible to operate a cross-disciplinary, international cooperative endeavour of benefit to all stakeholders.

The involvement of the Kaunummen Koti care community gave a real world context, design inspiration and personalisation. The opportunity for students to travel to Finland and experience firsthand user reaction was a huge motivator. To quote Hugh Thornton (Team Symbiote), “This project gave us the chance to work with real people on a personal level. It was a reminder to us of the people we are working so hard for. It is reassuring to have a Finnish partner to facilitate testing and validate the work we have done”.

The game prototypes employ innovative interaction techniques at the cutting edge of adapted game design. They will be deployed in a longitudinal trial in the care setting, incorporating game analytics, user observation and structured interviews to further investigate their effect and potential. This will be of interest to researchers from across different disciplines. The quality of the work produced is evidenced by the success achieved both nationally and internationally. Team Symbiote is in a business start-up based on this project. The new company, “Mega Future Games” could be the beginning of a real gaming revolution!


Enda Finn, Lecturer, Dundalk Institute of Technology, Department of Computing & Maths, enda.finn@dkit.ie

Andrew Sirkka, Principal Lecturer, Satakunta University of Applied Sciences, Well-being Enhancing Technology Research Group, andrew.sirkka@samk.fi

Sari Merilampi, Project Manager, Satakunta University of Applied Sciences, Well-being Enhancing Technology Research Group, sari.merilampi@samk.fi

Mirka Leino, Project Manager, Coordinator, Satakunta University of Applied Sciences, Well-being Enhancing Technology Research Group, mirka.leino@samk.fi

Antti Koivisto, Researcher, Satakunta University of Applied Sciences, Well-being Enhancing Technology Research Group, antti.koivisto@samk.fi

Koivisto A., Merilampi S., Kiili K., Sirkka A., Salli J. (2013) “Mobile activation games for rehabilitation and recreational activities – exergames for the intellectually disabled and the older adults”  Journal of Public Health Frontier, Vol. 2, No 3, pp. 122-132.

(The Birches 2014) The Birches Alzheimer Day Centre, Dundalk, Ireland. http://www.thebirches.ie (accessed September 2014).

Kiili K., Ketamo H., Koivisto A., Finn E., (2014) “Studying the User Experience of a Tablet Based Math Game” International Journal of Game-Based Learning, 4(1), 60-77, January-March 2014.

(Kaunummen Koti 2014) Kaunummen Koti Community Care, Eurajoki, Finland http://www.kaunummenkoti.fi/etusivu (accessed September 2014).

(Universal Design 2014) What is Universal Design? http://www.universaldesign.ie/exploreampdiscover (accessed September 2014).

(Scrumwise 2014) Scrumwise, Better Scrum. https://www.scrumwise.com/features.html (accessed September 2014).

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