Wednesday, September 20 , 2017, 8:12 am | Fair 60º

 
 
 
 

UCSB Launches Center for Digital Games Research as Video Games Advance to Next Level

Faculty from disciplines across campus collaborate to create gaming opportunities and skills that help people

Debra Lieberman, director of UC Santa Barbara’s newly created Center for Digital Games Research. With today’s video games playing an integral role in K-12 classrooms, psychotherapy and counseling, and even the medical field, “games aren’t only on a screen,” she says. “Games can be on anything we interact with.” Click to view larger
Debra Lieberman, director of UC Santa Barbara’s newly created Center for Digital Games Research. With today’s video games playing an integral role in K-12 classrooms, psychotherapy and counseling, and even the medical field, “games aren’t only on a screen,” she says. “Games can be on anything we interact with.”  (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)

From the moment Debra Lieberman laid eyes on the first interactive videodisc in 1980, she knew she wanted to make that her career.

Designing video games, sure, but, more specifically, she wanted to study the positive and negative impacts for children interacting with games to improve their experiences.

Back then, kids were the only ones playing video games — a wide gap that has since been bridged by gamers of all ages and consoles of all sizes.

“I want to become an expert in that,” Lieberman said she remembered thinking. “I’m interested in media for good.”

Lieberman lives that dream today as director of UC Santa Barbara’s new Center for Digital Games Research.

The center — not a physical space but a collaboration of faculty across academic disciplines — encourages evidence-based research to assist in designing digital media and games, improving quality and effectiveness in more ways than one.

Think educational, health-minded and problem-solving skills — essentially, games that help people.

The work of 30 affiliated faculty will be supported through the center and a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant, which follows funding the foundation awarded UCSB to establish a similar Health Games Center in 2007.

Lieberman, who also leads that center as a researcher at UCSB’s Institute for Social, Behavioral and Economic Research since 1999, said the Center for Digital Games Research will broaden the scope of the health games center, the work of which will be stored online once its funding expires in August.

“The center is a way to help our faculty coalesce,” she said. “We have big ambition to be a center with big impact. We understand the user.”

Debra Lieberman, director of UCSB’s Center for Digital Games Research, shows off examples of some cancer-related games that teach users about the importance of white blood cells and ways to battle the disease. (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)
Debra Lieberman, director of UCSB’s Center for Digital Games Research, shows off examples of some cancer-related games that teach users about the importance of white blood cells and ways to battle the disease. (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)

Professors in computer science, social sciences, education, English and more will chip in, finding applications for games in everyday life.

As an example, Lieberman described children’s software she worked on in the 1990s while employed at a Bay Area company, developing console games that helped reduce the number of doctor visits for children with asthma and diabetes.

By aligning game goals with health goals — characters sought out and learned about medical supplies — a study showed children who played the game missed school less (fewer sick days) and parents called off work less (fewer days home with sick kids).

Nowadays, video games have found their way into K-12 classrooms, psychotherapy and counseling, even the medical field.

Lieberman said she was especially excited about the impact of sensor data from exercise-tracking devices like Fitbits or information from a GPS.

Patients can do injury rehabilitation remotely, she said, and it might not be long before doctors begin prescribing games as treatment.

“Games aren’t only on a screen,” she said. “Games can be on anything we interact with. Games are experiences. We like the motivation it brings.”

That motivation is bound to carry over to the video game researchers themselves, as well as students — the next generation of gamer researchers.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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